Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Most Popular Posts at B2B Marketing Directions

This will be my last post for 2012, and I want to thank everyone who has spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. I hope that you have found the content here to be both thought-provoking and useful.

Thanks to analytics, I can see how many times each of my posts have been viewed. I thought this would be an appropriate time to share which posts have been most widely read. This ranking is based on cumulative total reads, and therefore older posts obviously have a built-in advantage.

So, in case you missed any of them, here, in order, are the four most popular posts.

Use an Importance-Performance Matrix to Get Marketing and Sales Talking - This post explains how to use an importance-performance matrix to capture the degree of agreement or disagreement between marketing and sales regarding key demand generation activities. The matrix requires marketers and salespeople to evaluate an activity along two dimensions - how important the activity is, and how well the company is performing the activity. An importance-performance matrix can reveal where significant gaps exist between marketing and sales. It won't tell you how to resolve conflicts between marketing and sales, but it will identify the issues you need to address.

Stop Depending on Your Salespeople to Generate Leads - This post explains why B2B companies should not rely primarily on their salespeople to generate new sales leads. Depending on sales reps to generate leads is a long-standing practice in many B2B companies, but changes in the attitudes and behaviors of business buyers make this practice less and less effective.

Stop Trying to Measure Marketing ROI - For the past several years, CEO's and CFO's have been demanding greater accountability from the marketing function, and they have been pressing marketers to prove the value of their activities and programs. In this environment, return on investment has become the "gold standard" for measuring marketing performance. This post explains why you can't use ROI to measure the value of every marketing activity.

It's Time to Fix the Marketing Supply Chain - Marketers are facing tremendous pressures to drive increased revenues and maximize the return produced by every dollar invested in marketing. So, it's understandable that they focus most of their attention on developing more effective marketing campaigns, creating more compelling content, and generating more sales leads. This post explains why the marketing materials supply chain represents a large, and largely untapped, source of both cost savings and revenue-enhancing improvements.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Year-End Lessons From the Past

Early in my business career, I was privileged to have a great B2B sales mentor. I met William in 1988 and interacted with him frequently until his retirement in 1995.

William sold printing presses to commercial printing companies and businesses that had internal printing departments. The company that William worked for was (and is) highly respected within the printing industry, and William was a very successful salesperson.

Early in our relationship, William told me that one important key to his success was identifying which prospects in his territory were ready to engage in a serious evaluation process that would lead to a buying decision. William also told me that, at any given time, only about 10% of the prospects in his territory would fit this description. William realized that he could use his time more effectively and close more deals if he could consistently identify which prospects were ready to begin an "active buying cycle." So, William spent a significant amount of time "taking the pulse" of his prospects.

How did he do this? Well, he spent three or four days of almost every week visiting prospects. Sometimes, he would make appointments, but frequently, he would just drop in. In most cases, the business owner or another senior manager was willing to spend thirty minutes or an hour with William, even when he showed up unexpectedly.

During these visits, William and his prospects would discuss a range of topics - what was happening in the prospect's business and in the overall printing industry and, most importantly, any issues or problems the prospect was having with his equipment. Through these visits, William could get a pretty good idea of which prospects were ready to have a meaningful conversation about buying new equipment. When he identified these "sales-ready" prospects, William would move to a more focused selling process.

I frequently write in this blog about how B2B buyers have changed and why these changes require a new approach to demand generation. So, it would be easy for me to devote this post to a discussion of why William's approach won't work in today's environment. But, as I think about what William taught me, I'm struck more by what hasn't changed.

In 2013, as in 1990, B2B companies will need a way to determine which prospects are ready to begin a serious sales conversation . . . and which ones aren't.

In 2013, as in 1990, B2B companies will need to "stay in touch" with prospects who aren't ready to begin a serious buying process . . . because some day they probably will be ready.

In 2013, successful demand generation will be more about demonstrating value and providing prospects the information they need to make a sound buying decision than about "persuading" an unprepared or reluctant prospect to buy. And, this was largely true in 1990.

The B2B marketing and sales landscape has changed, and the new rules of B2B demand generation do require different tactics and methods. I don't believe that William's tactics will work as well today as they did in the 1980s and early 1990s, but his objectives are just as valid now as they were then.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Do Inbound Leads Really Cost Less?

Advocates of inbound marketing frequently assert that inbound sales leads cost less to acquire than outbound leads. The research usually cited to support this claim is the annual inbound marketing survey conducted by HubSpot. For example, The 2012 State of Inbound Marketing study reported that companies who spend more than 50% of their lead generation budget on inbound marketing programs experience a 61% lower cost per lead than companies who rely primarily on outbound marketing. This finding has remained very consistent from year to year in the HubSpot research.

Measuring the costs of acquiring leads through inbound and outbound marketing channels is important, but that information alone won't tell you whether inbound marketing or outbound marketing is more valuable for your business.

To get an accurate picture of how well any lead source is performing, you also need to know what quality of leads the source is producing. In this context, lead quality refers to the likelihood that a lead will actually make a purchase and become a customer. To incorporate lead quality into your evaluation, you need to use lead converstion rates to translate lead acquisition costs to the customer level.

I can illustrate how lead conversion rates impact lead costs with a simple example. The table below compares the acquisition costs of inbound vs. outbound leads at various stages of the lead-to-revenue cycle.

In this example, I'm using the lead stages defined by SiriusDecisions.
  • Inquiries
  • Marketing qualified leads (MQLs)
  • Sales accepted leads (SALs)
  • Sales qualified leads (SQLs)
  • New customers
The cost-per-inquiry values used in the table are based on recent research by SiriusDecisions. The conversion rates in the table for inbound leads are the overall conversion rates SiriusDecisions says are achieved by the average B2B company. For illustration purposes in this example, I'm assuming that outbound leads convert at slightly higher rates than inbound leads - 2 percentage points at each lead stage.

As the table shows, the cost-per-inquiry for inbound leads is significantly lower than for outbound leads. At $25.00 per inquiry vs. $41.50 per inquiry, inbound leads are about 40% cheaper than outbound leads. However, when measured on a "per new customer" basis (which is the most important number), outbound leads actually cost about 3% less than inbound leads.

I am not suggesting that outbound marketing is "better" than inbound marketing. The lead conversion rates used in my example are for illustration purposes only. In fact, research by SiriusDecisions indicates that inbound leads cost less and have higher conversion rates, on average, than outbound leads. The point here is that you can't evaluate the performance of inbound vs. outbound marketing until you measure lead acquisition costs at the customer level.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Content Marketing Basics for 2013 - The Content Audit

Starting a content marketing program from scratch can feel like an overwhelming task. Content marketing differs from traditional marketing in several fundamental ways, and it will require you to develop and field a very different portfolio of marketing assets.

In this series of posts, I'm describing three preliminary steps that will make the content development process more manageable. The first step is to identify your core customer value propositions because they define the central messages that your content resources need to communicate. The second step is to develop buyer personas because they provide the information you need to make your content resources relevant to your potential buyers.

The third preliminary step is to audit your existing inventory of content resources. A thorough content audit serves two important functions. First, it enables you to create a complete and accurate record of your existing content resources. In my experience, most marketers don't have a complete picture of what content resources they already have. Second, a content audit can be used to identify where gaps exist in your content portfolio, which helps you determine where to focus your content development efforts.

There are three basic steps involved in performing a comprehensive content audit. The first is to document basic information about each of your content assets. The second step is to associate or "map" each content resource to one or more of your identified buyer personas. In the final step, you map each content resource to one or more buying process stages on a per buyer persona basis.

To collect and organize this information, I use three spreadsheets, and I've provided example versions below.

Basic Resource Information

The spreadsheet below shows the basic information that I collect about each content asset. Most of the information required for this spreadsheet is self-explanatory, but I've included an "Instructions" row in the example.

Buyer Persona Map

The spreadsheet below is the tool I use to associate specific content resources with buyer personas. When mapping resources to buyer personas, the basic question you ask is whether a resource contains content that will appeal to a given buyer persona. Does the resource focus on the specific problems and challenges facing the buyer persona? Is the resource targeted for the persona's job function and industry.


You should be able to associate most content resources with at least one buyer persona, but there may be some resources that are so generic that it's just not reasonable to link them to any buyer persona. If you complete your buyer persona map and have any buyer personas with no (or very few) assigned resources, you obviously have a significant gap in your content portfolio.

Buying Stage Map

The final step in the content audit process is to associate your content resources with specific stages of the buying process. When mapping content resources to buying stages, the basic test is whether the resource contains answers for the major questions that a potential buyer will have at that stage of the buying process. The spreadsheet below is the tool I use to perform this step.

In this step, I find it easier to create a separate spreadsheet for each buyer persona. For illustration purposes, I've used a buying process that contains three stages - Discovery, Consideration, and Decision. To create a buying stage map, first select a buyer persona, then go to your buyer persona map and identify all of the content resources that you have assigned to that persona. List these resources in your buying stage map and link each resource to one or more buying stages. Repeat this process until you have a buying stage map for each of your buyer personas. If you don't have content resources for each buying stage for each buyer persona, then you've identified gaps in your content portfolio.

A content audit won't eliminate the work required to develop the content you need, but it will help you prioritize your content development projects.

Read Part 1 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 2 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 3 of the content marketing series here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Content Marketing Basics for 2013 - Buyer Personas

Relevant content is a fundamental requirement for any effective content marketing effort. Today's business buyers are incredibly busy, and they view their time as their most precious commodity. Just as important, buyers now have easy access to a wealth of information, and they've come to believe that they can find whatever information they need whenever they need it. Under these circumstances, relevant marketing content is essential for creating and maintaining engagement with potential buyers.

To create relevant marketing content, you obviously need to know who your potential buyers are, and you must understand what makes them tick. You need to have a clear picture of the problems and issues they are facing on the job and how they are trying to deal with those problems and challenges.

The best tool for collecting and organizing information about your potential buyers is a buyer persona. A buyer persona is a detailed description of an actual type of buyer who is involved in  decisions to purchase the kinds of products and services you provide. A buyer persona is, therefore, a composite description of a type of buyer, rather than a description of an individual human being. It contains demographic data about the buyer and, more importantly, it describes the buyer's business situation and motivations. Developing a persona for each of your significant buyer types will provide the information you need to create content that will resonate with those buyers.

Before beginning work on your buyer personas, you will need to develop your ideal customer profile. An ICP is a description of the types of organizations that constitute your best prospects. An ideal customer profile includes firmographic information such as industry vertical, company size, and geographic location. Much of this information will be included in the buyer personas, but I've found that it's better to develop the ICP first.

In my last post, I discussed the process for formulating your core customer value propositions. One step in that process is to identify the individuals in the prospect organization who are most affected by the issues or problems that your product or service can address. If you've gone through this process, you'll have a pretty good idea of what individuals (described by job title or job function) are part of the "buying group" for your solution. Identifying the buying group is important because it tells you what buyer personas you need to develop.

A complete B2B buyer persona will contain the following eight components:
  • Type of business - The type of business the buyer works for. This will be drawn from your ideal customer profile.
  • Job title/function - The buyer's position in the prospect organization.
  • Buying role - The role the buyer plays in the purchasing decision process. Common roles include the user buyer and the economic buyer.
  • Objectives/responsibilities - The major business objectives and job responsibilities of the buyer.
  • Performance measures - The measures used to evaluate the buyer's job performance.
  • Strategies - What the buyer does to achieve his/her objectives and fulfill his/her job responsibilities.
  • Major issues/concerns - This is the heart of the buyer persona. If you can identify what issues and problems are keeping your potential buyers awake a night, you can create compelling marketing content.
  • Personal attributes - These attributes include the age, gender, education level, and compensation level of your buyer. Obviously, ranges will be used for most of these attributes.
Buyer personas simplify the content development process because they define the target audiences and identify the major issues that your content resources need to address.

In my next post, I'll explain how to use a content audit to determine what specific content resources you need to develop.

Read Part 1 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 2 of the content marketing series here.

Read Part 4 of the content marketing series here.