Thursday, December 26, 2013

Our Most Popular Posts - 2013 Edition

This will be my last post in 2013, 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 blog post has 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 are our five 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. An importance-performance matrix won't tell you how to resolve conflicts between marketing and sales, but it will identify the issues you need to address.

Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand - Some respected marketing industry experts have argued that content marketing has made brand marketing or "building the brand" obsolete. This post argues that building the brand is still an essential marketing objective for B2B companies and that content marketing is now the best marketing tactic to use for branding. For another perspective on the importance of brand building, see Why B2B Branding Still Matters.

Why BANT No Longer Works for Qualifying Leads - One of the most widely-used methods for qualifying B2B sales leads is known by the acronym BANT, which stands for Budget-Authority-Need-Timeline. This post argues that BANT is no longer an effective way to qualify sales leads. In a later post - Rethinking the Value of BANT (It's Not as Outdated as Some Suggest) - I revisited this topic and argued that the BANT criteria can still be useful for qualifying leads if they are used at the right times to answer the right questions.

Stop Wasting Your Time on Superficial Personalization - For over two decades, experts have urged marketers to use personalized messages to boost the effectiveness of marketing communications. The most common way to personalize a marketing message is to include specific facts about the recipient in the message - what I call explicit personalization. This post discusses the findings of two research projects which demonstrate that explicit personalization alone has become an anemic tool for improving marketing effectiveness.

It's Time to Integrate Marketing and Sales - Marketing and sales "alignment" has been a hot topic among B2B marketing and sales professionals for some time. This post argues that it may be time to move beyond mere "alignment" and actually integrate the marketing and sales functions. In a later post - Four Key Ingredients in the Marketing/Sales Integration Recipe - I discussed four critical requirements for integrating marketing and sales.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What the Pleasure Paradox Can Teach Us About Great Marketing

(With Christmas Day only a week away, I wanted to write a post with a holiday theme. Unfortunately, I lack the creativity to write a clever (and poetic) post based on "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" or something similar. This post does, however, make the point that marketers can achieve great success by truly serving their customers and prospects. That message fits the season. Happy Holidays!)

In life and in business, some of our most important goals are best pursued indirectly. All of us want to be happy, but the reality is, we can't achieve happiness by trying to be happy. In the disciplines of philosophy and ethics, this principle is usually called the paradox of hedonism or the pleasure paradox. The pleasure paradox is the idea that happiness can only be acquired indirectly. In his autobiography, the philosopher John Stuart Mill described this principle in the following terms:

"But I now thought that this end [happiness] was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness . . ."

Victor Frankl described the pleasure paradox even more succinctly:

"Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself . . ."

Business success is obviously different from personal happiness, but variations of the pleasure paradox also exist in the world of business. In Obliquity, John Kay called one of these variations the "profit-seeking paradox," which holds that the best way for a business to maximize profits is not to seek to maximize profits.

Although they never used the term, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras described the profit-seeking paradox in their best-selling book Built to Last. Collins and Porras compared the long-term performance of several pairs of companies in the same industry. In each pair, one of the companies (the "visionary" company) had achieved exceptional long-term financial performance, while the comparison company was just average. Collins and Porras found that profit-driven companies were less profitable than companies that were driven by other goals. The authors wrote:

"Visionary companies pursue a cluster of objectives, of which making money is only one - and not necessarily the primary one. Yes, they seek profits, but they're equally guided by a core ideology - core values and sense of purpose beyond just making money. Yet paradoxically, the visionary companies make more money than the purely profit driven companies."

By now, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with marketing. Most marketers would say that the ultimate goal of marketing is to drive revenue growth. But like profit, revenue growth is a goal that is best pursued indirectly. In today's marketing environment, there is a "revenue-seeking paradox," which holds that the best way for marketers to drive revenue growth is to stop focusing directly on revenue growth as the ultimate objective.

Jay Baer captures the essence of this paradox in his best-selling book Youtility. Baer argues that the key to successful marketing is to make marketing useful to the recipient. He defines "Youtility" as "massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers." The underlying message of Youtility is that you will achieve greater long-term marketing success by intentionally promoting less at the point of customer interaction - that revenue growth is a by-product of the help and usefulness you provide.

The revenue-seeking paradox runs counter to the conventional wisdom of marketing that's existed for decades. So, it's not likely that most marketers or other business leaders will rush to embrace it. But those who can put helping above selling will achieve the greatest marketing success.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Why B2B Branding Still Matters

Most of the content that's been published recently about B2B marketing has focused on demand generation topics such as lead generation, lead nurturing, and lead qualification. This is understandable because the providers of B2B marketing automation software have been prolific at developing and publishing content resources that are centered on those topics.

B2B brand marketing or "brand building" has received considerably less recent attention from marketing industry commentators. Some respected marketing experts have even asserted that branding is no longer important for most B2B companies and that new marketing techniques have made B2B branding largely obsolete.

Recent research by CEB and McKinsey & Company reveals that branding remains critical to the success of most B2B companies and that brand building is still an essential marketing function.

In a 2013 study titled From Promotion to Emotion, CEB studied the impact of a strong brand connection on various buyer behaviors. CEB compared the behavior of high brand connection customers with no brand connection customers. High brand connection customers were those who gave brands high scores for trust, image, and industry leadership. The CEB study found that high brand connection customers were:
  • 5 times more likely to give consideration to a brand
  • 13 times more likely to purchase from a brand
  • 30 times more likely to be willing to pay a premium for a brand's products or services
Research by McKinsey has also found that strong brands create significant value for B2B firms. For example, B2B companies with strong brands generate a higher operating profit (EBIT) margin than other firms. According to McKinsey, in 2012, strong brands outperformed weak brands by 20%, up from 13% in 2011.

A strong brand is critical for B2B companies because of the role it plays in a buyer's decision to make a purchase. Most marketers tend to view B2B buying as a rational process. We usually say that business buyers make purchase decisions by following a logical, step-by-step process and move through stages that we label something like awareness, consideration, evaluation, and purchase.

It turns out, however, that B2B buying behavior is often far from rational and that emotions play just as big a role in B2B buying as they do in consumer buying. More importantly, it's now clear that the most powerful emotion in B2B buying is fear. As Gord Hotchkiss wrote in The BuyerSphere Project, "B2B buying decisions are usually driven by one emotion - fear. Specifically, B2B buying is all about minimizing fear by eliminating risk."

A strong brand alleviates some of the fear that business buyers inevitably experience (even if only subconsciously) when they're facing a major purchase decision. The power of a brand to reduce the perception of risk is captured in the old saying:  "Nobody was ever fired for buying from IBM."

The marketing techniques used for brand building have certainly changed. Traditional brand building methods and tactics are far less effective today than they once were. Business buyers are quick to tune out promotional marketing messages, so what companies need is a more effective method for building the brand and communicating the brand promise. As I argued in an earlier post, content marketing is now the best way to build the brand for most B2B companies. The tactics may have changed, but B2B branding is as important today as ever.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two Keys to More Effective Marketing in 2014 - How Marketing Content Must Change

With 2014 now less than a month away, most B2B marketers are well into their planning for next year. For most marketers, the ultimate question is:  What can we do to boost the effectiveness of our marketing efforts in 2014?

This is the second of two posts that are describing two key actions that marketers can take to improve marketing effectiveness in 2014. In my last post, I discussed why most B2B companies need to implement marketing automation and CRM technologies. In this post, I'll describe how marketing content needs to change in 2014.

More than nine out of ten B2B marketers now say they are using some form of content marketing, according to research by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs. The irony is that the popularity of content marketing is creating a new challenge for marketers. As more companies implement content marketing and publish more content, it's becoming more difficult to make your content stand out.

The key to content marketing success in 2014 will be to make your content useful. The concept of utilitarian marketing - marketing that is truly useful to the recipient - has gained increased attention in recent months largely due to the publication of two books - Youtility by Jay Baer, and Ctrl Alt Delete by Mitch Joel.

In Youtility, Jay Baer argues that there are only two ways for companies to break through the marketing and advertising clutter that engulfs today's consumers and business buyers. They can be amazing or they can be useful. Being amazing works, Baer says, but it is more difficult to do and provides less predictable results than being useful.

Being useful is what Baer means by "Youtility," which he defines as follows:

"Youtility is marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that's needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that's wanted by customers. Youtility is massively useful information, provided for free, that creates long-term trust and kinship between your company and your customers."

In Ctrl Alt Delete, Mitch Joel contends that what he calls utilitarianism marketing will be the "next great business disrupter." Joel describes utilitarianism marketing as follows:

"What is utilitarianism marketing? It's not about advertising, it's not about messaging, and it's not about immediate conversations. It's about providing a true value and utility:  something consumers not only would want to use - constantly and consistently - but would derive so much value from it that it would be given front-and-center attention in their lives."

In the CMI/MarketingProfs study mentioned earlier, 73% of B2B marketers surveyed said they are currently producing more content than they were twelve months earlier. There is every reason to think that companies will produce more content in 2014 than they did in 2013. With so much content available, potential buyers have little patience for content that doesn't provide real value and utility. If they don't see value in your content, they'll simply move on to someone else's.

There are several actions you can take to improve the effectiveness of your marketing in 2014, but nothing is more important than producing content that is truly useful to your customers and prospects.

Read Part 1 of the series here.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Two Keys to More Effective Marketing in 2014 - Part 1

Two years ago this month, I published a post here titled Five Ways to Improve Your Marketing in 2012. With the end of 2013 now only a month away, I thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic with 2014 in mind. How much of what I wrote in 2011 is still relevant, and what would I change about (or add to) my 2011 post.

In my earlier post, I made five recommendations:
  • Develop a marketing strategy
  • Shift primary responsibility for lead generation from sales to marketing
  • Increase the number of leads you acquire via inbound marketing
  • Develop and implement a sound lead management process
  • Implement a content marketing strategy
These recommendations are as valid today as they were two years ago, although I believe that the number of B2B companies using some or all of these practices has increased substantially over the past two years.

So, what are the most critical actions that B2B marketers should take in 2014 to boost marketing performance? There are several plausible answers to this question, but I suggest that two actions stand out in importance. In this post, I'll discuss why technology has become all but essential for effective B2B marketing in 2014, and my next post will describe how marketing content must change in 2014.

Why Marketing Technology is Essential

I don't write frequently in this blog about marketing technology for a couple of reasons. First, there are many other good sources of information on that topic. In addition, the hype surrounding marketing technology can easily create the erroneous impression that technology is a "silver bullet" that will automatically improve marketing and sales performance.

It's clear, however, that marketing and technology are deeply entwined and that it's now practically impossible to build and execute effective marketing programs without the use of technology. For example, unless you're working with a very small number of prospects, it's extremely difficult and highly inefficient to run sophisticated lead nurturing programs without the right technology tools.

B2B marketing automation (aka lead management) software enables companies to execute personalized and behavior-driven lead nurturing programs. These technologies also typically enable extensive data collection regarding lead behavior and the use of automated lead scoring systems. B2B marketing automation solutions are typically integrated with CRM solutions, and this combination of technologies can significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of both marketing and sales efforts.

The good news is, both marketing automation solutions and CRM solutions are now widely available as hosted solutions, they are relatively easy to use, and they are affordable for most B2B companies. These factors, combined with the pressing need to improve marketing performance, have made B2B marketing automation software extremely popular. David Raab, a widely-respected marketing automation industry analyst, estimates that revenues from the sale of B2B marketing automation software will reach $750 million in 2013, and the market has been growing at about 50% per year for the past several years.

If you don't have the internal skills needed to successfully implement a marketing automation solution, you should consider working with a marketing services firm that can use these technologies to execute marketing programs on your behalf.

Marketing technology is not a panacea, but it will be essential for effective B2B marketing in 2014.

Read Part 2 of the series here.