Sunday, December 27, 2015

Our Most Popular Posts - 2015 Edition

This will be my last post of 2015, 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, and 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, so older posts obviously have a built-in advantage.

So, in case you missed any of them, here are our five most popular posts.

An Inconvenient Truth About B2B Demand Generation - If you're a B2B marketer, measuring the dynamics of your lead-to revenue funnel is critical to understanding how well your demand generation system is performing. This post shows that the demand generation system in many B2B companies is highly inefficient, and it describes how much improvement is possible through the implementation of best practices.

Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand - Some respected 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 method to use for branding. For another perspective on the importance of brand building, see Why B2B Branding Still Matters.

Use an Importance-Performance Matrix to Get Marketing and Sales Talking - A perennial favorite. 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 issues. 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.

Customer Experience is the New Competitive Battleground in B2B - One of the most widely-discussed topics in marketing circles over the past few years has been the growing importance of providing outstanding customer experiences and managing customer experiences effectively. This post describes the findings of several research studies which show that customer experience has become a new basis of competition and a primary driver of competitive advantage.

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's time to move beyond mere "alignment" and actually integrate the marketing and sales functions. For more about this topic, see Four Key Ingredients in the Marketing/Sales Integration Recipe and Why Marketing-Sales "Alignment" Is No Longer Enough.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Illustration courtesy of Republic of Korea via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

B2B Marketing Developments That Took Center Stage in 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, it's interesting to think about what technologies, practices, or other developments in B2B marketing captured the most attention during this year. The nature of my work requires me to stay on top of trends and new developments in B2B marketing, and therefore I spend a considerable amount of time attending conferences, reading research reports, attending webinars, and performing other types of research.

During 2015, three practices - account-based marketing, predictive lead scoring, and sales enablement - generated a great deal of hype. None of these practices was completely "new" in 2015, but all gained substantial traction among marketers over the past twelve months. Predicting the future is always hazardous, but I think these practices are likely to play significant roles in B2B marketing in 2016..

Account-Based Marketing

The defining characteristic of account-based marketing is that it focuses on a group of identified or named target accounts. More specifically, ABM programs are directed at relevant individuals (decision makers or influencers) who are affiliated with those target prospects. In a recent survey by SiriusDecisions, more than nine out of ten respondents described ABM as "extremely" or "very" important to their overall marketing efforts.

As I have written before, account-based marketing is actually a combination of long-established marketing principles and methods, and new technology-enabled marketing techniques. For example, technology now enables us to target online advertisements and customize website content for individual target accounts. Today's most successful ABM programs also exhibit a high level of integration across marketing, business development, and sales activities. This characteristic has caused some ABM thought leaders to argue that ABM should really be called strategic account development because it encompasses much more than marketing.

Predictive Lead Scoring

Predictive lead scoring is an analytics technique that takes data regarding existing customers from a company's CRM and marketing automation systems, and combines that information with external data to create a profile of organizations that have the greatest propensity to purchase the company's products or services. Then, the scoring software aggregates similar data regarding the prospects in the company's marketing database and compares these prospects to the profile, resulting in a "propensity to buy" score for each prospect.

Predictive lead scoring can enable companies to qualify prospects using much more data than is typically used in traditional lead scoring systems. Therefore, predictive lead scoring qualifies prospects more accurately, and it can identify buying signals that are almost impossible to find using traditional lead scoring techniques.

Sales Enablement

Improving the effectiveness of sales efforts and increasing the productivity of salespeople are not new business objectives, but they have become important priorities for leaders in most types of business organizations. In the 2015 Sales Performance Optimization Survey by CSO Insights, respondents identified increasing sales effectiveness as their second most important objective for 2015, behind only winning new customers. Gartner recently estimated that $297.5 million was spent on digital sales content management systems in 2014.

Sales enablement - in some form - has existed in B2B companies for several years. But over the past five years or so, the interest in sales enablement has increased dramatically, driven largely by the appearance of sales enablement technology solutions. By 2015, the capabilities of sales enablement technologies had become quite sophisticated. Some solutions now have the ability to recommend specific content resources to a sales rep based on data analytics, and most solutions now enable companies to track the usage and effectiveness of their sales content resources.

2015 has been another interesting year in B2B marketing, and I expect more of the same in 2016.

Illustration courtesy of Automotive Social via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Welcome Decline of "Marketing Myopia"

In 1960, Theodore Levitt wrote a landmark article for the Harvard Business Review titled "Marketing Myopia." Forty-four years later, HBR editors commented that Levitt's article "introduced the most influential marketing idea of the past half century."

Levitt's central argument was that companies will cease to grow if they define their business too narrowly - in terms of specific products or services rather than in terms of customer needs. In one of the most memorable passages in the article, Levitt argued that railroads were in decline "because they assumed themselves to be in the railroad business rather than in the transportation business."

For the past few years, I've argued that many marketers are now afflicted with a new strain of marketing myopia, one that is characterized by an almost exclusive focus on marketing communications and the technologies that support them. As practiced in many companies today, marketing means marketing communications and not much more. In terms of the venerable 4P's model of the marketing mix, many marketers are devoting almost all of their time and energy to promotion, and they have largely ceded responsibility for product planning, pricing, and distribution (place) to other business functions.

Recently, I've seen some evidence suggesting that the new strain of marketing myopia may be on the decline. Earlier this year, the Association of National Advertisers (in association with McKinsey & Co. and GfK) conducted a study that primarily focused on the disruptive forces that marketing organizations are facing. The study included a survey of marketing professionals that was fielded in July and August of 2015 and generated 384 responses.

In this study, survey participants were asked to indicate their level of agreement with ten statements that described how marketing's role in their organization could be expanding. The table below shows the percentage of survey respondents who "strongly" or "somewhat" agree with each statement. Percentages shown in red indicate significant increases compared to the 2014 edition of the survey.

These survey results suggest that marketers are taking a bigger role in shaping business strategy and in designing new products or services and new business models. Hopefully, these findings indicate that the attitudes about marketing are changing in many enterprises.

The "prime directive" of marketing should be to develop a deep understanding of potential customers, including their needs, goals, desires, and behaviors. Marketers use this understanding to craft more effective communications with customers and prospects, but these same "marketing" insights should also be used to guide the design, development, distribution, and pricing of products and services that will win in the marketplace.

Astute business leaders are now recognizing that providing great customer experiences is becoming the primary driver of competitive advantage. Recent research by Gartner found that 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience by 2016. Marketing should be the business function that takes the lead in helping the company to deliver great customer experiences, and that requires marketers to focus on much more than marketing communications.

Top image courtesy of Daniel Olnes via Flickr CC

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Why Your View of Data-Driven Marketing is Probably Too Narrow?

One of the most profound changes in the marketing landscape over the past few years has been the dramatic growth of data-driven marketing. While the specific practices vary from company to company, it's almost certain that a large majority of companies are now using data-driven marketing in some form. The attraction of data-driven marketing is so strong that for many marketing thought leaders and practitioners, "data-driven marketing" has become almost synonymous with "effective marketing."

Last fall, GlobalDMA and the Winterberry Group conducted a major research study that demonstrated marketers' commitment to data-driven marketing. This research included a survey of more than 3,000 marketers, advertisers, service providers, technologists, and publishers from 17 global markets. Here are three of the study's major findings:

  • About 80% of survey respondents said that data is important to their current marketing activities, and more than half (57.1%) described data as "critical" to their efforts.
  • More than 90% of respondents said that data is becoming more important to marketing efforts, and over three-quarters (76.7%) said that data is growing "substantially" more important.
  • A vast majority of survey respondents (77.4%) said they they are confident in the data-driven approach to marketing.
The GlobalDMA/Winterberry study also found that most marketers are using data primarily to improve the effectiveness of marketing communications. When survey participants were asked to describe the primary focus of their data-driven marketing activities, 68.5% chose "Targeting of offers, messages, and creative content." When survey participants were asked what factors were responsible for driving their investment in data-driven marketing, the top choice (selected by 52.7% of respondents) was "Demand to deliver more relevant communications to customers/be more 'customer-centric.'"

Therefore, it's fair to say that, as currently practiced, data-driven marketing is primarily about data-driven marketing communications. And while improving the effectiveness of marketing communications is obviously worthwhile, data can and should be used to support other marketing functions that are equally important to business success.

Marketers now have access to more information about customers and prospects than ever before, and this voluminous data can help marketers develop a deeper understanding of customer needs and desires. Companies can leverage this understanding to develop products or services that are more inherently attractive to the company's target market. More than forty years ago, Peter Drucker captured the role and importance of understanding customers when he wrote, "The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product fits him and sells itself."

Data-driven marketing should be about improving the effectiveness of marketing communications, but it should also be about providing part of the intelligence that company leaders need in order to bring the right products or services to the market in the first place.

Image courtesy of Dushan Hanuska via Flickr CC.