Monday, May 28, 2012

Help Your Prospects Find the Rest of the Story

One nice thing about publishing a blog is that it allows me to share the insights of really smart people. I frequently use blog posts to point readers to books, research reports, and other content that I believe is valuable. There's also a great deal of value to be found in other blogs, and I realize that I haven't pointed readers to this kind of content as often as I should. So, I'm now planning to devote about one post each month to a discussion of content I've discovered at other blogs.

Ardath Albee and Eric Wittlake are two B2B marketing thought leaders and practitioners that I follow closely. Ardath publishes the Marketing Interactions blog, and she is also the author of eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. Eric Wittlake publishes the B2B Digital Marketing blog, and he heads up the media practice at Babcock & Jenkins.

Both Ardath and Eric recently published blog posts that address the importance of making it easy for prospects to stay engaged with your marketing content.

In New Research:  B2B Content is a Dead End, Eric wrote that many B2B content assets fail to provide readers/viewers/listeners a path for continuing their research. He reviewed white papers published by 10 large B2B marketers and found that:
  • Only two of the white papers provided a link to another content resource
  • Only one of the papers included a link to a web page where more recent content might be found
  • Five of the papers did not include links to a specific product/service page
Eric contends that by not including links to other resources in every content asset, marketers are missing the opportunity to keep prospects engaged with their content.

Ardath makes a similar point in Designing Calls to Action for B2B Marketing Content. She argues that a call to action should be a core component of every marketing content resource. It's important to understand, however, that a call to action doesn't only mean things like, "Have a salesperson call me," or "Schedule a demo now!" Ardath contends that most calls to action should be based on what will be helpful to prospective buyers. That usually means a link to other content resources that will take potential buyers to the next logical step in their decision making process.

Ardath and Eric are making an important point in these blog posts. We now know that most prospects prefer to learn about business problems and possible solutions in bite-sized chunks. For example, research by Eccolo Media and others shows that most buyers prefer white papers that are 4 to 8 pages long. I'm also seeing more and more 30-minute (as opposed to 1-hour) webinars. Delivering content in smaller "pieces" means that no single content resource will tell your prospects everything they need to know.

What you need to do is treat each content resource as one chapter of a novel or one episode of a TV miniseries. Always let your prospects know where to find the next chapter or the next episode.

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Value of Persistence in Lead Generation

In an earlier post, I argued that persistence is critical for effective lead generation in today's B2B marketing environment. Business buyers now have access to a wealth of online information, and they can easily perform research and gather information about products or services on their own. As a result, they are less likely to respond to lead generation campaigns, and this means you usually need to touch prospects multiple times to entice them to respond.

An article in the May issue of Deliver magazine ("Box of Cheer") provides a great example of the power of persistence in B2B lead generation. The article describes a very successful lead generation campaign run by Nuance Communications, a provider of customer service automation products. The target audience for the campaign was 1,416 directors and vice presidents who manage contact (call) centers at 497 US companies. The objective of the campaign was to secure sales meetings with new prospects.

The campaign began with a dimensional mailer that contained several items, including a large printed piece in the form of a "foam finger" (like those seen at sporting events), a customized letter, and three printed magnets. These materials featured a PURL that would take responders to a robust microsite that contained multiple content resources such as articles, reports, and webcasts.

About two weeks after the mailer arrived, Nuance launched a series of four follow-up e-mails featuring an offer of an additional content resource that could be accessed by visiting the microsite. After these four e-mails, Nuance sent the target audience a second personalized letter and a book that included a customer case study. A final e-mail was sent two weeks after this personalized letter.

The campaign produced an overall response rate of 21.7% and generated 48 sales meetings.

The Nuance campaign illustrates the importance of persistence in B2B lead generation. The campaign was designed to include seven coordinated outbound touches over a period of about three months. While the Deliver article did not provide a breakdown showing the response rates for the individual campaign components, it's clear that Nuance believes that all of the touches were critical. The article quoted Marcie Lascher, Nuance's director of enterprise marketing, on this specific point:  "There were many top-tier targets who didn't respond until the fifth or sixth touch that we sent them, so you could make the argument if we had just sent them one or two things, we never would have realized that benefit."

The Nuance campaign provides an outstanding model for B2B lead generation marketing. This kind of multitouch campaign is both necessary and appropriate for companies that (a) need to reach management- or executive-level buyers, and (b) sell more expensive products or services.

As I wrote in my earlier post, there are several ways to bolster the effectiveness of outbound B2B lead generation marketing, and you'll certainly want to apply those principles to your lead generation programs. However, for many B2B companies, nothing contributes more to effective lead generation than persistence.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Why You Need More Than Case Studies

Customer case studies are one of the most popular types of marketing content used by B2B companies. According to research by Eccolo Media, 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). (Eccolo Media 2011 B2B Technology Collateral Report)

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 help lower a prospect's perception of the risk associated with purchasing your product or service.
Because case studies can do so many things well, it's easy (and tempting) to conclude that they're the only type of marketing content you need. That's understandable, but it's wrong.

To market effectively, you need content for all parts of your prospects' decision-making process. That's because the questions that your prospects need to answer change as they move through the buying process. The diagram below depicts the six steps of the B2B buying process suggested by marketing and sales research firm SiriusDecisions. These six steps can be grouped into three buying process phases - Discovery, Consideration, and Decision.

During the Discovery phase, a potential buyer becomes aware of a problem or need and recognizes that the negative effects of the status quo make change a priority. For this to happen, prospects need answers to several questions, including:
  • Why should I change, and why should I change now?
  • How is the problem or challenge adversely affecting my company and/or industry?
  • What will happen if I don't change?
  • What events or circumstances would force me to address this problem or challenge?
Once a potential buyer has committed to addressing a problem or need, he or she will conduct research to identify possible solutions. During this Consideration phase, one of the most important questions a prospect will have is:  How have companies like mine successfully dealt with this problem or challenge?

Customer case studies don't do a particularly good job of answering Discovery-phase questions, but they excel at answering one of the most critical questions that will arise during the Consideration phase of the buying process. This means that case studies can be great lead nurturing tools, but not necessarily great lead acquisition tools.

So, by all means, make sure that your company has several well-written and compelling case studies. But also keep in mind that you need other types of content (white papers, etc.) for effective lead acquisition.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Why "Connecting the Dots" is Key to Marketing Credibility

Seventy-three percent of CEO's think marketers lack business credibility, according to a study released last year by The Fournaise Marketing Group. The study was based on interviews of more than 600 CEO's and decision makers in the US, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

This lack of credibility is one of the main reasons that marketers often find it difficult to win adequate financial support for important marketing programs and to successfully resist budget cuts whenever CEO's and CFO's are looking to reduce expenses.

If we look at a few of the specific findings in the Fournaise study, it's easy to see that marketers' lack of credibility results primarily from their inability or failure to demonstrate the connection between marketing programs and important business outcomes. For example:
  • 77% of interviewees said that marketers talk a lot about brand, brand equity, and other similar concepts that top managers have difficulty linking to results that matter such as sales or profits.
  • 74% said that marketers focus on new marketing trends or channels, but can rarely demonstrate how these new tools will generate business for the company.
  • 72% said that marketers are always asking for more money, but can rarely explain how much incremental revenue the increased investment will produce.
Why Connecting the Dots is Critical

The mission of marketing is to generate revenues and drive revenue growth. This is why companies invest in marketing in the first place. Every marketing activity or program is (or should be) linked to the production of revenues. Marketers must understand how each and every marketing program contributes (or will contribute) to revenue generation. Just as important, it's up to marketers to explain this linkage and make it visible and understandable to the CEO and other senior company leaders. This is what I mean by "connecting the dots." Nothing will enhance your credibility as a marketer more than being able to explain, clearly and persuasively, how your marketing efforts are driving revenue growth.

Connecting the dots for senior company leaders is necessary because the impact of a marketing program on revenue is not always apparent. Many marketing activities do not produce revenue directly or immediately. For example, a company blog rarely produces revenue directly for a B2B company. Not many people will read your blog and immediately visit your website or call you up to make a purchase. A blog can, however, be an effective lead generation tool that will contribute to higher revenues. The "equation" looks like this:  An effective blog = more sales leads = more qualified sales opportunities = more closed deals = higher revenues. The connection between your blog and your company's top-line revenues may be obvious to you, but it won't necessarily be obvious to your CEO.

Your credibility as a marketer ultimately depends on your ability to deliver results in the form of revenues. But your credibility also depends on your ability to explain why and how what you're doing is working.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Why You Need "Blue Ocean" Content

Content marketing is now a core marketing strategy for many B2B companies. Research shows that 9 out of 10 B2B companies are using content marketing in some form. The irony is that the popularity of content marketing makes it more challenging to create content that will enable your company to stand out from the crowd. The job has become more difficult for two reasons.

First, there's more "good" content available. As companies gain experience using educational, informative, and customer-focused content, many get better at creating it. Therefore, potential buyers are now exposed to more relevant and well-prepared content than ever before.

The second factor is that companies operating in the same market segments usually offer products or services that address the same or similar business issues and produce value in similar ways. When these companies create marketing content, it tends to deal with the same general group of business issues or topics. Therefore, the content offered by competitors will often look (or sound) a lot alike.

To capture prospects' attention and set your company apart from competitors, you need to create and use marketing content that provides fresh and valuable insights. This is not easy to do, but one solution is to always be looking for opportunities to create what I call blue ocean content.

The defining characteristic of blue ocean content is that it deals with important, but under appreciated, issues, problems, or ways that your product or service will create value. The matrix shown below illustrates what I mean.

The vertical axis of the matrix represents the importance of a business issue or problem or the significance of a way that your product or service creates value. The horizontal axis represents how knowledgeable potential buyers are about the issue, problem, or value opportunity.

Red ocean content (the upper right quadrant) is content that addresses important or significant issues, problems, or value that potential buyers already know about. (Note:  I've borrowed the red ocean-blue ocean metaphor from Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne.)

Red ocean content, when it's done well, has significant value, but it isn't particularly effective at helping to differentiate your company.  That's because (a) potential buyers are already aware of the problem, issue, or value the content addresses, so you aren't really providing new information, and (b) your competitors are probably offering similar content.

Blue ocean content (the upper left quadrant) describes and explains important or significant problems, issues, or value that potential buyers do not already know about or fully appreciate. Blue ocean content is also more likely to address topics that your competitors aren't dealing with. Therefore, blue ocean content offers prospects new and valuable insights.

Content can achieve blue ocean status in several ways:
  • It can identify and describe the causes and effects of a previously unrecognized problem.
  • It can make the full ramifications of a known issue or problem visible.
  • It can describe a new solution for an issue or problem.
  • It can provide new perspectives on industry issues or problems.
Red ocean content is and will remain valuable in your marketing efforts. Most of your content will be red ocean content because it will always be essential to provide information about basic, known problems, issues, and value. But you need some blue ocean content to effectively capture your prospects' attention and set your company apart from competitors.