Sunday, November 29, 2015

Why You Need to Ditch Marketing Campaigns in 2016

Marketers have long used campaigns as the basis for planning marketing efforts. And for decades, the campaign paradigm worked reasonably well. Today, however, rising buyer expectations and changing buyer communications preferences require new kinds of marketing communications methods that don't fit the traditional campaign construct. As a result, several marketing thought leaders now contend that the campaign paradigm is obsolete. For example, Forrester Consulting recently wrote:

". . . most companies are stuck in an old campaign mindset and a corporate reality where each of their touchpoints is typically the domain of separate channel silos . . . The overall result is often messaging, execution, and delivery strategies that are fragmented across touchpoints and out of context to the consumer." (The Rise of Marketing Orchestration)

The reality is, it's time to ditch the campaign model and replace it with a planning framework that enables marketers to better align their activities with both buyer realities and critical business objectives. Therefore, the primary output of your planning process should be a marketing communications plan that embodies a cohesive, balanced, and value-driven marketing effort.

The diagram below shows the major elements of a marketing communications plan, which is similar in several ways to the B-to-B Marketing Campaign Framework developed by SiriusDecisions.

Value Themes

In a marketing communications plan, value themes replace campaigns as the primary organizing principle. Value themes are derived directly from your value propositions, but a value theme may encompass more than one value proposition. For example, your product or service may enable your customers to reduce three distinct kinds of costs, and therefore you've developed three value propositions to reflect these benefits. In a marketing communications plan, these three value propositions might well be embodied in one "cost reduction" value theme.

Value themes are designed to be used for a relatively long period of time, usually at least a year, and they act as the primary guide for developing your marketing messages and content resources. Most B2B companies will have between one and four value themes for each product or product family and target market combination.

Marketing Program Families

Marketers in B2B companies are tasked to achieve several marketing objectives, and each of these objectives demands a distinctive set of marketing activities. In a marketing communications plan, these activity sets are called marketing programs, and most B2B companies need four types of marketing programs:

  • Reputation-building programs are primarily designed to build brand awareness and credibility with potential buyers in the target market.
  • Demand creation programs are primarily designed to acquire new sales leads and nurture those leads until they are ready to engage with sales reps.
  • Sales enablement programs are primarily designed to provide content and intelligence that supports the efforts of the sales force.
  • Retention & growth programs are primarily designed to sustain and enhance relationships with existing customers, improve customer retention, and increase "share of wallet."
Marketing Tactics

Your marketing communications plan will also include the specific tactics that you will use to execute each marketing program. The important point here is that most tactics can be used in all four types of marketing programs, although some tactics will play a more significant role in some types of programs than others.

Market Intelligence/Performance Measurement

The final component of a marketing communications plan is a system for (a) gathering and analyzing information about buyer needs, preferences, and behaviors, and (b) measuring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. In today's B2B marketing environment, no marketing communications plan is complete without a system for leveraging data to better understand potential buyers and for measuring marketing performance.

Marketing campaigns are no longer the best way to play and organize marketing efforts. For more effective marketing in 2016, think instead about developing a comprehensive, value-driven marketing communications plan.

Top image courtesy of via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Marketing Planning for 2016 - How to Get Started

In my last post, I made the point that marketing planning for a B2B company has become a complex undertaking. I also argued that, while it's impossible to eliminate the complexity associated with marketing planning, you can make the job more manageable - and the outcome more successful - by using a sound planning process and framework. The diagram below presents a high-level, simplified view of the planning process and framework that I use when working with a B2B company on a marketing planning project.

The first step in your planning process for 2016 should be to review your company's overall business strategy for next year and identify the strategic business objectives that marketing will be expected to influence. For example, your company's business strategy will almost certainly include an overall revenue growth objective, but it may also include distinct revenue objectives for specific products or product line, geographic markets, or customer segments. Having a clear understanding of these strategic business objectives will enable you to align your marketing efforts with those objectives.

The next step in the planning process is to focus on three core components of any sound marketing strategy - the definition of the target market, the value propositions that you will communicate to organizations in your target market, and the buying group, the individuals within prospect organizations who will make or influence the decision to purchase your products or services.

Defining your target market, developing compelling value propositions, and identifying the buying group are critical for effective planning because these factors largely dictate the content of your marketing communications plan.

Think of it this way. If you've ever watched someone install a tile or hardwood floor on a home improvement TV show, you may remember that the installer spends a great deal of time making sure that the first row of tiles or boards is straight and square with the walls of the room. After the first row is in place, the rest of the installation usually goes fairly quickly. That's because as long as the rest of the tiles or boards "fit" with the first row, the whole floor is almost guaranteed to turn out right.

The definition of your target market, your value propositions, and your buying group are like that first row of floor tiles or boards. They provide the "landmarks" and reference points for the development of your marketing communications plan.

Target Market and Value Propositions

Defining your target market and developing value propositions is almost always a "back and forth" process. That's because it's likely that your products or services can create value for users in several ways, but it's also likely that they will create more value for certain kinds of companies. Therefore, the most effective way to deal with these two factors is to start by understanding and describing how your products or services will create value for users. From my experience, the best way to capture this insight is to answer a series of questions and record your answers in what I call a customer value map. Here are the questions:

  1. What are all of the significant reasons that companies have for purchasing a product or services like ours? What problems or needs motivate the buying decision?
  2. What kinds of organizations are likely to have the problems or needs that underlie these reasons to buy?
  3. What specific outcomes are organizations seeking when they decide to buy a product or service like ours?
  4. What specific features and capabilities of our solution will produce these desired outcomes?
  5. What will the economic benefits be if these desired outcomes are achieved?
The Buying Group

Once you have defined the target market and identified how your products or services will create value for companies in your target market, it becomes somewhat easier to identify the buying group. When you develop your customer value map, you will identify the problems or needs that motivate organizations to purchase products or services like yours. A good way to identify the buying group is to add a question to your customer value map (after question 2 in the above list):  "Who within these organizations is most affected by each problem or need (who has the most to gain if the problem is solved and the most to lose if it isn't)?"

For most marketers, the primary output of the annual planning process should be a marketing communications plan that describes how you will tell your story to potential buyers. In a future post, I'll explain how to build and effective marketing communications plan.

Note:  If you'd like to learn more about developing value propositions and see an example of a customer value map, take a look at my white paper titled,"How to Create Irresistible Value Propositions."

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why Marketing Planning is Hard (and How to Make It Easier)

With less than two months remaining in 2015, many marketers have already started planning their marketing efforts for 2016, and most others will begin their planning process over the next few weeks. To develop a successful marketing program for a B2B company, marketers must make several important decisions, and those decisions require answers to a number of questions. Some of the most critical questions are:

  • What kinds of organizations will make our best prospects?
  • How will our products or services create value for those prospects?
  • What individuals in the prospect organizations will make or influence the decision to purchase our products or services?
  • What "arguments" will we use to persuade potential buyers to purchase our products or services?
  • How will we demonstrate the value (ROI) that our products or services will deliver to a prospective customer?
  • What content formats and communication channels will we use to tell our story to potential buyers?
  • What technological capabilities will we need to develop or acquire in order to effectively implement our marketing programs?
  • What human skills and capabilities will we need in order to successfully develop and execute our marketing programs?
  • How will we evaluate the effectiveness of our marketing efforts?
  • What financial resources will we need in order to adequately fund our marketing efforts?
From these questions, it should be clear that planning a comprehensive marketing effort for a B2B company is not a simple undertaking. And the reality is, I could easily have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled the number of questions that I included in the above list.

Planning an effective B2B marketing effort has become more complex for a variety of reasons that have been widely discussed over the past few years. For example:
  • The abundance of easily accessible information has shifted power to buyers and placed them firmly in control of the buying process.
  • The abundance of information has also elevated buyer expectations and made buyers more demanding than ever before.
  • The proliferation of content formats and communication channels enables buyers to obtain information in the ways they actually prefer, and this multiplies the volume and variety of marketing content resources that companies must develop and the number of channels they must use to effectively reach buyers.
These and other factors have made it more challenging for B2B marketers to plan, develop, and execute marketing programs that will create the kind of meaningful engagement with potential buyers that drives higher sales.

While it's not possible to eliminate the inherent complexities of marketing planning, you can make the job more manageable by using a well-designed planning process and framework. A good process and framework will help ensure that you address all of the issues that are important to the success of your marketing effort, and that you deal with those issues in the right sequence.

In my next two posts, I'll describe an approach to marketing planning and a planning framework that I've found to work well in B2B companies.

Image courtesy of David Wilson via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Why Sales Reps Should Be Involved in Lead Nurturing

Last month, Howard Sewell, the President of Spear Marketing Group, published a blog post with the provocative title Please Don't Let Your Sales Reps Nurture Leads. In his post, Howard described a personal experience of becoming a lead for a marketing technology company. He had contacted the company because he thought its technology might be useful for a prospective client campaign. Howard spoke with a salesperson and got pricing information.

The prospective campaign was cancelled, so Howard e-mailed the salesperson, gave her the news, and told her that he would keep her company in mind for the future. From then on, Howard received a monthly phone call from the salesperson, who would leave a voicemail saying something like, "I was just wondering if you have any needs currently where we could help."

In his post, Howard argues that these kinds of calls "are the worst possible use of a sales rep's time." He goes on to write, "Placing calls to leads that were once qualified, in the hope, by some accident of timing, that the prospect may yet have a need again, is destined to be a fruitless and thoroughly unproductive endeavor." Howard closes his post with the emphatic statement:  "Get your salespeople out of the lead nurturing business."

Howard Sewell is one of the B2B marketing thought leaders that I pay close attention to, and I always find his views insightful. In this case, I agree with Howard that the tactic used by the salesperson was essentially worthless. However, I don't agree that sales reps should stay out of lead nurturing.

In my experience, the most effective lead nurturing programs utilize several methods and channels of communication and involve both content-based communications (which are typically handled by marketing) and person-to-person communications (which are typically handled by business development reps or salespeople).

Recent research has confirmed the importance of including person-to-person communications in the lead nurturing process. For example, it its 2015 B-to-B Buying Study, SiriusDecisions found that sales reps from winning vendors were involved at every stage of the buying process, and that sales rep interactions with potential buyers are particularly significant during the early stages of the buying cycle. And research by the IBM Institute for Business Value found that even millennial B2B buyers prefer to have direct contact with vendor representatives during the research phase of their buying process.

There's no doubt that content-based communications will continue to play the dominant role in lead nurturing, but there's no real substitute for person-to-person communications. When you have a personal conversation with a buyer, you have the potential for a richer exchange of information. A personal conversation provides three distinct advantages over content-based communications:

  • It enables you to more accurately assess how interested a potential buyer is in your product or service and where he or she is in the buying process.
  • It allows you to discover and then explore issues or topics that arise unexpectedly, and these unanticipated discussions can provide insights that may enable you to help the potential buyer move forward in the buying process in a more expedited fashion.
  • It enables the seller's representative to establish the personal "connection" with the potential buyer that will be needed to ultimately produce a sale.
To be effective at lead nurturing, sales reps must remember that lead nurturing conversations are not "sales calls." But that's a topic for another blog post.

Image courtesy of Flazingo Photos via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What's Old and New in Account-Based Marketing

If you're involved in B2B marketing, you're probably aware of the hype surrounding account-based marketing (ABM). Some industry thought leaders are touting ABM as the "next big thing" in B2B marketing, and research confirms that the enthusiasm for account-based marketing is growing. For example, in the 2015 State of Account-Based Marketing Survey by SiriusDecisions:

  • 92% of respondents said that account-based marketing is "extremely" or "very" important to their overall marketing efforts.
  • 61% of respondents whose companies had implemented ABM said they plan to invest in technology to support their ABM efforts over the next twelve months.
Most of the hype about account-based marketing tends to portray ABM as a "new" type of marketing. In reality, account-based marketing is an amalgamation of old and new marketing principles and methods, and a set of relatively new, technology-enabled marketing techniques.

What's "Old" in Account-Based Marketing

The defining characteristic of account-based marketing is that it focuses on a group of identified or named accounts. ABM programs or campaigns are directed at relevant individuals (decision makers or influencers) who are affiliated with those named customers or prospects. This aspect of account-based marketing is by no means new.

Any business or marketing strategy worth its salt will include a definition of the company's target market, and this has been true for decades. In addition, for years, many B2B companies have been using direct marketing methods that focus on specific individuals who are affiliated with the business organizations that are in the company's defined target market.

So, in short, some of the fundamental principles and methods of ABM aren't new, but in fact, they embody techniques that many B2B companies have been using for years. However, this doesn't mean that the current incarnation of account-based marketing is simply a rehash of "old" marketing methods and practices.

What's "New" in Account-Based Marketing

Two characteristics distinguish the current practice of ABM from the "account-based" marketing campaigns and programs of the past. First, we now have technology tools that are enabling several new ABM techniques. For example, we now have the ability to target online advertisements and customize website content for individual named accounts or for specified types of accounts.

The second defining attribute of current ABM efforts is the level of coordination among marketing, sales, and business development activities. Today's most effective ABM programs typically combine content-based interactions and human-to-human interactions to create an integrated communications plan for each target account. In companies with the most successful ABM programs, marketers, sales reps, and business development reps work jointly to develop and then execute the integrated communications effort. This characteristic has caused some ABM thought leaders to argue that account-based marketing should really be called something like strategic account development because it encompasses much more than marketing.

ABM can be a powerful approach to demand generation for many B2B companies, and new technology tools can certainly enhance the effectiveness of ABM efforts. But ABM isn't entirely new, and successful ABM programs will incorporate many long-standing marketing principles and techniques.

Image courtesy of Cliff via Flickr CC.