Sunday, July 29, 2012

What Makes Marketing Content Insightful?

For the past several months, the Corporate Executive Board has been advocating a new approach to selling, one that is based on the premise that what business buyers really want from potential vendors - and by extension their sales reps - is fresh insights about how to improve their business. The new approach was described in a book by Brent Adamson and Matthew Dixon titled The Challenger Sale that was published in the fall of 2011.

In a recent post at The Sales Challenger blog, Mashhood Beg outlined CEB's view of what constitutes insight, and more particularly commercial insight. To define these terms, Beg compared them to some of the other types of information that are used in sales messages. These various types of information are illustrated in the following diagram.

CEB defines five types of information.
  • General Information - The full "universe" of information that is available to potential buyers. General Information may or may not be credible or relevant to a particular prospect.
  • Accepted Information - Accepted Information is information that is both credible and relevant for a particular prospect. Accepted Information does not teach a prospect anything new - it just confirms what the prospect already knows.
  • Thought Leadership - This type of information is credible and relevant, but in addition, it teaches prospects something new - something they would not have learned elsewhere.
  • Insight - According to CEB, Insight is information that disrupts a prospect's status quo. Think of it as Thought Leadership with a kick. Insight introduces prospects to new ideas and simultaneously highlights the disadvantages (costs) of their status quo. The idea is to cause the prospect to feel a sense of urgency to act.
  • Commercial Insight - CEB describes Commercial Insight as information that points a prospect to one specific potential supplier. In other words, Commercial Insight introduces new ideas to a prospect, highlights the disadvantages of the prospect's status quo, and argues (either expressly or by implication) that one specific supplier is better suited than others to help the prospect address the issue or problem.
In CEB's view, Commercial Insight is the most powerful kind of information for sales messaging because it emphasizes (again, either directly or implicitly) the unique or superior capabilities of your company.

From a marketing perspective, I have a couple of concerns about the emphasis that CEB places on Commercial Insight. First, marketing content that qualifies as Commercial Insight may also be fairly promotional. Promotional content can be appropriate for prospects who are in the later stages of the buying process, but the same content may well be a turn-off for early-stage buyers. Second, if it's not really well-crafted, marketing content that qualifies as Commercial Insight may come off as biased and, therefore, not completely trustworthy. It takes a good bit of skill to create a content resource that points to your company and retains an "objective" look and feel.

For these reasons, I contend that most marketing content should strive to qualify as Insight, but not necessarily Commercial Insight. Marketing content, particularly content that is intended for early-stage buyers, should provide new ideas and highlight the disadvantages associated with current practices, but it shouldn't try too hard to point to a single company.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Why Marketing/Sales Alignment May Not Be Enough

In December of last year, The Chartered Institute of Marketing in London published a report advocating that companies should merge their marketing and sales functions. The report received a significant amount of coverage in Great Britain's marketing-related media, and it triggered a lively conversation in the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Network discussion group at LinkedIn.

Aligning marketing and sales has become a major objective for many B2B companies. Easy access to information has fundamentally changed how business buyers research potential purchases and made them less dependent on sales reps. As a result, marketing must play a larger role in the demand generation process, and this makes it necessary to (a) rethink and reengineer the traditional roles and responsibilities of marketing and sales, and (b) ensure that the buying experience provided to prospects is seamless, regardless of whether he/she is interacting with marketing or sales.

Few people now disagree with the proposition that it's important to forge a closer alignment between marketing and sales, but, there's little support for merging marketing and sales organizationally. The issue provokes a visceral response from both marketing and sales professionals which, if nothing else, demonstrates that there is still a widespread belief that "sales is from Mars, marketing is from Venus" despite all the talk of building a closer relationship. Below are just a few of the common arguments for keeping marketing and sales as separate business functions.
  • The activities performed by marketing and sales are significantly different.
  • The knowledge and skills needed by marketers and salespeople are significantly different.
  • Marketing and sales operate on different time horizons. Sales focuses on short-term results, while marketing focuses more on longer-term objectives.
  • If marketing and sales are merged, one or the other will be neglected, and the company will suffer as a result.
These are all important issues, but they are challenges that can be managed. The real issue for company leaders is:  What is the best way to organize and manage our demand generation activities and programs given the realities of today's B2B marketing and sales environment?

For B2B companies with lengthy and complex demand generation cycles, I suggest that there are compelling reasons to unify marketing and sales. These are the kinds of companies that need the greatest transparency across marketing and sales activities and the highest level of marketing and sales integration. If we were starting fresh today, without preconceived ideas and the "baggage" of tradition, would this be a hard or controversial decision? I suspect not.

If we approached the issue objectively, we would recognize that our prospects move through one buying process, not a "marketing" process and a "sales" process. At some points during the buying process, the best way to engage with a prospect is via a marketing outreach, and at other points, the optimum way to interact will involve a sales rep. Marketers and salespeople will perform different activities, but all of these activities must be components of a single, integrated demand generation function. Given this reality, I think most people would decide that all demand generation activities should be part of the same organizational unit.

I doubt that many companies will move quickly to merge marketing and sales into a unified demand generation function. The political and cultural opposition is simply too strong. However, I believe that five or ten years from now, many more B2B companies will be using a unified organizational structure for their demand generation function.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Core Components of Effective Marketing Operations

(Recently I had the opportunity to write a guest post for the blog published by ADAM Software. ADAM is a provider of marketing execution software that encompasses digital asset management, product information management, catalog automation, and marketing asset management/web-to-print. This article is a republication of my guest post.)

Managing marketing operations is now an essential core competency for larger business enterprises. Today’s marketing environment is more complex than ever, and marketers remain under constant pressure to achieve more results with the same or fewer resources. After focusing initially on improving the effectiveness of individual campaigns and programs, marketing leaders are now turning their attention to increasing the efficiency and productivity of marketing operations.

Marketing operations can be defined as the activities and processes that are required to perform the marketing function and manage the marketing organization effectively and efficiently. The growing importance of marketing operations is evidenced by the fact that many companies now have marketing executives and managers who are dedicated to marketing operations management. Recent research by IDC revealed that the marketing operations role represents about 6% of the total marketing staff, and it is the fourth largest job “category” for a large marketing department.

One key to maximizing the productivity of marketing is to recognize that marketing operations is a business system that is composed of several complementary and interdependent activities and processes.

The diagram below depicts the major components of a marketing operations system in a large or midsize organization. I’ll discuss the individual components in a moment, but first a word about the diagram itself.

The Toyota Motor Corporation is known worldwide for the Toyota Production System, a set of principles and practices that many people now refer to as “lean manufacturing.” In the late 1960’s, Toyota was teaching its suppliers how to use the Toyota Production System, and the trainers needed a tool that would visually capture the core principles of the system. The result was a diagram that is now known around the world as the “TPS House.” The beauty of the TPS House diagram is that it shows the major components of the Toyota Production System and illustrates that all of the components are essential to optimizing manufacturing. Take away any component, and the “house” will fall. The same principle applies to a marketing operations system, and that’s why the diagram below is modeled after the TPS House.

As the above diagram shows, a marketing operations system is composed of four major components.

·         Digital asset managementDigital marketing assets provide the fuel that powers marketing campaigns and programs. Therefore, managing the creation, distribution, and use of marketing assets is part of the “foundation” of a well-constructed marketing operations house.

·         Business process managementMarketing is one of the last major business functions to fully leverage process management and automation. Today, however, workflow design, management, and automation are essential to optimize marketing operations. Business process management is part of the foundation of the house both because it’s essential and because it permeates all aspects of marketing operations.

·         Marketing resource managementIn addition to the foundation, the marketing operations house contains two “pillars.” Marketing resource management encompasses inward-focused activities and processes such as planning and forecasting, budgeting, and data governance. Today, one of the most significant marketing resource management activities is the selection and implementation of appropriate marketing technology tools.

·         Customer engagement managementThis pillar of the marketing operations house encompasses activities that influence or involve direct interaction with customers and potential customers. As the diagram shows, these activities will include analytics and predictive modeling and marketing program design and execution.

The house diagram illustrates that optimizing marketing operations requires a concerted effort across several activities and processes. Improving a single activity or process isn’t necessarily bad, but it may not have a significant impact on the overall system.

This same principle applies to the use of marketing technologies. A so-called point solution may improve a narrow set of activities, but the impact on the overall system may be minimal. To maximize productivity, marketers need an integrated suite of technology tools that collectively support all the major components of marketing operations.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

How to Break the Grip of the Status Quo

In his 1989 best seller, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote that effective people practice the habit of "putting first things first." By this, Covey meant that effective people focus most of their attention on things that are truly important.

Covey used a matrix diagram to illustrate that we spend our time in one of four ways. My version of Covey's matrix is shown  below.

Quadrant I of the matrix contains tasks, issues or problems that are both urgent and important. These are the things that command most of our time and attention.  Quadrant II contains tasks, issues or problems that are important, but not urgent. Covey argues that highly effective people find ways to spend more of their time addressing Quatrant II issues. Quadrant III issues are urgent, but not important, and Quadrant IV issues are neither important nor urgent. Covey says that effective people stay away from Quadrants III and IV as much as possible because, urgent or not, these issues aren't important.

Believe it or not, Covey's time management framework provides important insights for B2B marketing. Today's business buyers are incredibly busy, and like most of us, they spend most of their working time dealing with issues or problems that they perceive to be important and urgent. If they don't see a problem or issue as both important and urgent, they won't give it much attention.

This explains why the status quo is usually your biggest competitor. According to SiriusDecisions, the first step in the B2B buying process is "loosening of the status quo." Unless you break the grip of the status quo, your prospect won't even begin a serious buying process.

The key to breaking the grip of the status quo is convincing your prospect that the problem your product or service will solve is both important and urgent, that it belongs in Quadrant I. You must, in essence, provide the answers to two questions: Why is it important for me to address this problem or issue? Why should I deal with this problem or issue now?

Most potential buyers that you encounter won't immediately view the problem you can solve as important or urgent. He or she may not be aware of the problem or understand its ramifications. For most prospects, therefore, the problem will fall into Quadrant IV of Covey's matrix. To get a serious buying process started, you'll need to elevate the problem from Quadrant IV to Quadrant I. As the diagram below illustrates, you first need to establish the importance of the problem (get it to Quadrant II), and then create a sense of urgency about solving it (move it to Quadrant I).

Marketing content has to play a pivotal role in establishing both importance and urgency. A growing number of companies are now using marketing content that does a pretty good job of establishing importance. Far fewer companies excel at creating the required sense of urgency.

One of the most powerful ways to establish the urgency of a problem is to make the cost of delay visible to a prospect. That's why I include a cost of delay calculation in every ROI calculator I develop. However, ROI calculators are typically used by sales reps during the later stages of the buying process, and you also need to make the cost of delay visible at the beginning of the process.

Here are a couple of ways to solve the puzzle.
  • Incorporate the cost of delay in a white paper that discusses the economic benefits of your solution. Ideally, you would draw on a real-world example involving one of your existing customers. If that's not possible, create a realistic hypothetical example.
  • Develop a self-assessment tool that enables prospects to estimate the economic value they would obtain by purchasing your solution. It's relatively easy to add a cost of delay calculation to this type of tool.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How To Make Content Creation Easier

There's no longer any doubt that compelling, buyer-focused content is essential to B2B marketing success. But, creating good content resources (white papers, e-books, webinars, etc.) is not an easy job, especially if you don't have much content development experience. One way to make content development easier is to use a proven process every time you need to create a new content asset. After nearly two decades of creating content, I've come up with a process that works for me, and I follow that process in every content development project.

Writing a white paper or an e-book, or preparing materials for a webinar is always easier if you follow Stephen Covey's famous advice to "begin with the end in mind." This means that it's important to make some basic decisions about the content asset you're creating early in the development process.

The starting point, of course, is to define the general topic that the asset will address, determine what format will be used for the asset (a white paper, e-book, etc.), and specify the approximate length of the asset (in words, pages, minutes, etc.). However, it's important to go beyond these basic attributes. There are three specific questions that I always want to answer early in any content development project.
  • What are the primary objectives for the content asset, both for the "consumer" and for the content provider?
  • Who is the primary target audience for the asset? What are the characteristics of the "ideal" reader/viewer/listener?
  • What are the major themes that will appear in the asset? What will the main points of the "storyline" be?
The answers to these questions provide two important benefits. First, by making these decisions early in the project, you will simplify the content creation process. For example, understanding who the primary target audience is for a content asset shapes how I will write about a topic. That understanding makes it relatively easy for me to identify what aspects of a topic should be emphasized. These answers also help ensure that the final version of the asset will stay true to your objectives and perform as intended. In essence, they provide a mechanism for benchmarking your work.

To make sure that I've answered these questions and to give me a reference to use throughout the content creation process, I use a tool called a Content Resource Brief. This one-page document is designed to capture the intended objectives, target audience, and major themes for a new content asset. The version that I use for most content development projects is shown below.

If you'd like a PDF of this tool, please send me an e-mail at ddodd(at)pointbalance(dot)com.