Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Our Most Popular Posts - 2016 Edition

This will be my last post of 2016, and I want to thank everyone who has spent some of his or her valuable time reading this blog. My goal for this blog has always been to provide content that readers will find to be thought-provoking and useful, and I've been immensely gratified by how this blog has been received. In 2016, our total pageviews more than doubled over the 2015 level.

For the past few years, I've used my last post of the year to share which posts have been most widely read. The 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:

  1. An Inconvenient Truth About B2B Demand Generation
  2. Why Content Marketing is the Best Way to Build the Brand
  3. Use an Importance-Performance Matrix to Get Marketing and Sales Talking
  4. Customer Experience is the New Competitive Battleground in B2B
  5. What Separates Top-Performing Marketers From the Field
Happy New Year, everyone!

Illustration courtesy of Republic of Korea via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Where Is Marketing Spending Headed in 2017?

By this point, most B2B marketers are well into their planning for 2017, and it appears that many marketers will have healthy marketing budgets in the coming year. Several research studies have found that a majority of marketers are expecting their budgets to increase in 2017.

For example, in the August 2016 edition of The CMO Survey (sponsored by Deloitte, the American Marketing Association, and Duke University's Fuqua School of Business), respondents, on average, expected their marketing budgets to increase by 7.2% over the ensuing 12 months. While these results do not cover all of 2017, they still indicate that marketing budgets are likely to rise in the first several months of the coming year.

In the CMO Spend Survey 2016-2017 by Gartner, 57% of survey respondents said they expect their marketing budget to increase in 2017, while only 14% expect their marketing budget to decrease next year.

Where Will Spending Grow in 2017?

So, where will marketers be increasing their spending in 2017?

Marketing Technology - Given the growing dependence of marketing on technology, it shouldn't be surprising that marketers expect to be spending more on martech in 2017. In the State of Marketing Technology 2017 study by Walker Sands Communications and chiefmartec.com, 70% of survey respondents said they expect their marketing technology budget to increase slightly (50%) or greatly (20%) in 2017, and only 2% expect a decrease.

Content Marketing - Recent research also indicates that marketers will be spending more in 2017 on content development and content marketing. In the 2017 edition of the content marketing survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 70% of B2B respondents, and 73% of B2C respondents said they expect to create more content in 2017 than they did in 2016. On the specific issue of content marketing spending, 39% of B2B respondents, and 42% of B2C respondents said they expect their content marketing budget to increase over the next 12 months.

Account-Based Marketing - It also seems clear that marketers will be spending more in 2017 on account-based marketing activities and programs. The growing popularity of ABM is now well established, and research shows that B2B companies are investing more in their ABM efforts. In the 2016 State of Account Based Marketing (ABM) Study by SiriusDecisions, 27% of survey respondents said they were devoting between 11% and 30% of their total marketing budget to ABM. That was up from 19% in the 2015 edition of the study.

And fully 73% of the survey respondents in the SiriusDecisions study said they were spending more or significantly more on ABM in 2016, compared to 2015. It's likely that these spending patterns will continue in 2017, although the rate of spending growth may slow.

Predictive Analytics - In the B2B marketing world, the use of predictive analytics is closely tied to the use of ABM. Therefore, as more and more companies implement ABM, the use of predictive analytics is also likely to increase. In the 2016 Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising, Gartner puts "Predictive B2B Marketing Analytics" at the peak of inflated expectations. Gartner has observed that the market for B2B predictive analytics remains immature, but the firm also says that "the return on investment is often so compelling that many B2B companies are likely to consider adoption over the next two or three years."

Image courtesy of Louise McLaren via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Marketers Believe They are Closing the Technology Gap

U.S. marketers are increasing their spending on marketing technologies, most say they have adopted best-of-breed solutions (as opposed to all-in-one technology suites from a single vendor), and most also say they are doing a pretty good job of extracting value from their marketing technology investments.

These are a few of the findings of the State of Marketing Technology 2017 study by Walker Sands Communications (with contributions by Scott Brinker). This study was based on an online survey of 335 U.S. marketers that was fielded during September and October 2016. Walker Sands conducted a similar survey last year, which makes some year-over-year comparisons possible. While the Walker Sands research didn't focus exclusively on B2B marketers, it's likely that many of the study findings will apply to B2B companies.

When Walker Sands surveyed marketers last year, many were frustrated with the state of marketing technology at their company. Only 50% of respondents said their company was investing the right amount in marketing technology, and only 58% said their technology was up-to-date and adequate.

This year, surveyed marketers were much more positive. Seventy-one percent of respondents now believe that their company is investing the right amount in martech, and 69% said their technology is up-to-date and sufficient to help them do their jobs more effectively.

This positive attitude is reflected in budget expectations for 2017. Fifty percent of respondents said they expect their company's martech budget to increase slightly in 2017, and another 20% said their company's martech budget would increase greatly next year.

Marketers also believe that they are now facing fewer obstacles when it comes to adopting marketing technologies. The table below shows how participants in the 2016 and 2017 studies responded when they were asked:  "What's holding your company back from implementing new marketing technology?"

Despite the progress, however, over half (56%) of the respondents in the latest survey still believe that the martech landscape is evolving faster than their companies' implementation and use of marketing technology tools.

Over the past few years, it's become clear that marketing success depends on the effective use of technology. The Walker Sands research indicates that most marketers are doing a better job of adopting new technology tools, even if they can't completely keep up with the pace of martech innovation.

Top image courtesy of Grzegorz Jereczek via Flickr CC.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Key to Managing Customer Experience Success

Over the past few years, it's become abundantly clear that delivering outstanding experiences to existing and potential customers is critical for competitive success. There's a widespread recognition among marketers and other company leaders that customer experience has become a new basis of competition for B2B companies.

Numerous research studies have shown that company leaders now view customer experience as an important driver of revenue growth and competitive advantage. For example, in the B2B Digital Trends 2016-2017 report by Econsultancy (in association with Adobe), which was based on a survey of 1,141 B2B marketing, digital, and e-commerce professionals, respondents identified optimizing the customer experience as their most exciting opportunity in 2016 and for the next five years.

Several research studies have also clearly demonstrated that delivering great customer experiences drives superior financial performance. For example, annual research by Forrester has found a strong correlation between superior customer experience and superior revenue growth across more than a dozen industry groups.

But despite the undeniable importance of customer experience, and all of the recent attention it's received, there is compelling evidence that most B2B companies are still struggling to provide the kinds of experiences that their customers increasingly expect.

  • A recent report by Gallup stated that only 29% of B2B customers are strongly committed to the companies they do business with, which means that B2B companies are at some risk of losing 71% of their customers.
  • A 2015 survey of 1,350 B2B executives by Accenture found that only 23% of B2B companies excel at delivering great customer experiences, while the majority of B2B companies are "idling in customer experience mediocrity."
Part of the problem is that managing customer relationships is still a fragmented process in most B2B companies. In a recent survey of marketing professionals in 750 mid-size B2B companies, Gleanster Research divided the customer experience lifecycle into five stages and asked survey participants who "owned" each stage. Survey respondents said that marketing owned two stages (awareness and acquisition), sales owned two (conversion and expansion), and service owned one (retention).

The reality is, consistently providing great customer experiences is a complex, multi-faceted undertaking that involves several business functions in a company. But it's also true that if a company wants to achieve customer experience success, it must have a person (or function) who is responsible for coordinating the work involved in customer experience delivery.

In many ways, marketing is best suited to orchestrate the overall customer experience, but this will be a new type of role for most marketing leaders. To succeed, he or she must coordinate the work of several business functions that have operated more or less independently in the past.

In an earlier post, I discussed how marketing leaders can eliminate silos within the marketing function by building a team of teams. That strategy becomes essential when you need to tear down the walls that usually exist between marketing and other business functions that must work together effectively to achieve customer experience success.

Illustration courtesy of The United States Army Band via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Solving the Real-World Challenges of ABM

A few years ago, the noted behavioral economist and best-selling author Dan Ariely described big data in a rather memorable way. He said, "Big data is like teenage sex:  everyone talks about it, nobody really knows how to do it, everyone thinks everyone else is doing it, so everyone claims they are doing it."

With a few minor tweaks, Ariely's description of big data can be applied to account-based marketing:

  • ABM has been one of the hottest topics in the B2B marketing and sales world for the past couple of years. Virtually all B2B marketers are aware of ABM, and the odds are that most are thinking, if not actually talking, about it.
  • Most B2B companies are just beginning to learn how to do ABM. In the 2016 State of Account Based Marketing Study by SiriusDecisions, 42% of survey respondents said they had been using ABM for less than six months.
  • A large and growing number of B2B marketers claim they are doing (or planning to do) ABM. In a survey last fall by Demand Metric, 71% of respondents said they are using ABM, testing ABM, or interested in adopting ABM.
The allure of account-based marketing is easy to understand. According to research by ITSMA, most B2B marketers believe that ABM produces a higher ROI that any other approach to marketing. Users of ABM claim that it provides several important benefits. In the Demand Metric survey mentioned earlier, a majority of ABM users said that it produces increased engagement with target accounts (83%), better sales/marketing alignment (69%), better qualified prospects (66%), more pipeline opportunities (55%), and increased conversion rates (55%).

There's a great deal of hype surrounding account-based marketing, and much of it is justified. However, the hype also tends to obscure or minimize some of the real-world challenges associated with doing ABM well. Successful account-based marketing requires a sound strategy, sufficient financial resources, the right mix of human skills, appropriate technology tools, a high level of cross-functional teamwork, and a long-term commitment.

Beginning in January, I'll be devoting several posts here to the challenging - and often under-appreciated - issues that can make or break an ABM program. In these posts, I'll discuss how to select and prioritize ABM target accounts, how to identify what resources you'll need to build and sustain a successful ABM effort, how to develop the insights regarding target accounts that are required for effective ABM, and how to create the level of customized/personalized content that's needed for ABM success.

These discussions aren't designed to dissuade anyone from adopting ABM. On the contrary, my goal is to provide insights that will help companies become ABM success stories.

Illustration courtesy of Rob Lee via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Most Effective Personalization is Invisible

Delivering outstanding experiences to existing and potential customers has become the prime strategic objective for most B2B and B2C marketers. In the 2016 Digital Trends Quarterly Intelligence Briefing by Econsultancy (in association with Adobe), surveyed marketers identified optimizing the customer experience as their most exciting opportunity.

Most marketers now recognize that the ability to personalize marketing messages and other marketing content is an essential requirement for providing great customer experiences. The authors of a 2016 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) used a quotation from Kristin Limkau, the CMO of JPMorgan Chase, to highlight the importance that marketers place on personalization:  "Achieving personalisation at scale is the biggest and most important challenge for us to get right."

But despite the recent focus on personalized marketing, it's clear that marketers have more work to do to make it truly effective. Research has shown that many customers aren't particularly impressed by the personalization efforts they encounter. For example:

  • In a survey by Adobe, 71% of consumers said they like receiving personalized offers, but 20% reported that offers are not done well, and another 20% said that personalization efforts are too intrusive.
  • In other research by EIU, 70% of survey respondents said that many of the personalized messages they receive are annoying because the attempts at personalization are superficial, and 63% said marketing messages that use their name are so common that they have grown numb to the practice. In addition, only 22% of the respondents said that personalized offers are more likely to meet their needs than mass market offers.
Clearly, most of us want companies to provide personalized messages and content, but many of us are becoming more concerned about our privacy, and we feel that some personalization efforts are just plain creepy. When CEB recently asked a panel of nearly 400 consumers how "online ads that use details about what I have done" make them feel, almost three-quarters (73%) of the responses were negative, and almost half (49%) used synonyms for "creepy."

To avoid the "creepy" element and make personalized messages and content more engaging and effective, marketers must keep one critical principle in mind:  The most effective personalization is usually invisible. By invisible, I mean that the personalization is undetectable by the customer or prospect.

Since the early days of personalized marketing, the most common way to personalize a marketing message has been to include specific facts about the recipient in the message. Some examples would be the recipient's name, her job title, company affiliation, or information about a recent purchase. I call this practice explicit or overt personalization.

It's as if we marketers believe that the effectiveness of personalization comes from telling the customer or prospect what we know about him or her. There may have been some truth to this belief several years ago when personalization was still novel, but today, most types of overt personalization are ineffective at best, and can actually be seen as "creepy" by customers or prospects.

What our customers and prospects really want are offers, messages, and content that are relevant to their interests and needs - in other words, something that is useful or valuable. So, we marketers need to stop telling our customers and prospects what we know about them and start using that knowledge to craft marketing content that provides them real value and utility.

Image courtesy of Lisa Lowan via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

If a Prospect Fits, You Must Not Quit

The most critical component of a successful account-based marketing program is focusing your marketing and sales efforts on the right target accounts. Working with the right accounts isn't the only thing you need for success, but it will be impossible to build a successful ABM program if you target the wrong accounts.

Selecting target accounts is obviously an essential step when you are initially implementing ABM, but managing your list of target accounts is an ongoing task. Over time, it's inevitable that you'll need to add companies to, and remove companies from, your target account list. To make these decisions wisely, it's important to remember what makes a company an attractive target for ABM in the first place.

Most ABM practitioners select their target accounts by identifying businesses that resemble their best existing customers, an approach that's commonly called look-alike modeling. Look-alike modeling is usually effective because it will identify companies with the attributes that make them good targets for ABM.

The following diagram depicts the factors that make a prospect organization attractive for account-based marketing. At the most basic level, attractiveness is a function of high value potential and high buying potential. In other words, does the prospect have the potential to become a large and profitable customer for your company, and is there a strong likelihood that the prospect will purchase your product or service?

As the diagram illustrates, high buying potential is a function of two factors - fit and buying interest. The underlying idea of fit is suitability. Does your product or service effectively address a need or a challenge that the prospect is likely to have, and can your company effectively market to, sell to, and serve the prospect?

The second component of high buying potential is buying interest, which refers to whether a prospect has engaged in behaviors that show an inclination to evaluate or purchase the kind of product or service that your company offers. Indicators of buying interest include direct interactions between a prospect and your company, and other behaviors - usually online - that indicate the prospect may be interested in the kind of product or service your company provides.

Fit and buying interest are both important "markers" of high buying potential, but fit is far more important for ABM purposes, and here's why.

At any given moment in time, a large majority of your most attractive prospects - those with high potential value and good fit - will not be involved in an active buying process for the kind of product or service that you offer, and won't score well on buying interest. Therefore, if you put too much emphasis on buying interest when initially selecting your ABM target accounts, you will omit prospects that you should be targeting.

The same principle applies when you're managing your list of target accounts. At any given point in time, many of the companies on your list may not show significant indications of buying interest. That may mean they're not likely to buy in the near-term future, but it doesn't mean that they are unlikely to buy in the longer term. If you remove such companies from your target account list, you'll be abandoning the opportunity to influence the perceptions and preferences of future buyers.

Successful account-based marketing requires long-term thinking and consistency. The objective is to focus your marketing and sales efforts on those prospects that are likely to become large and profitable customers. Identifying prospects with a high level of buying interest can be valuable because it enables you to use a more appropriate mix of marketing and sales tactics. But when high potential value and good fit exist, an apparent lack of immediate buying interest doesn't justify removing an account from your ABM program.

Top illustration courtesy of Jason Taellious via Flickr CC.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Creating Content that Cultivates Consensus

It's now widely understood that most B2B purchases are made by groups of people. According to CEB, the average B2B buying group now includes 5.4 individuals. SiriusDecisions says that B2B buying groups range in size from 1-2 decision makers to 6-10 or more decision makers, depending on the dollar value of the purchase.

In virtually all cases, these buying groups must reach a consensus before a purchase will be made, and that doesn't come easily or quickly in many cases. Recent research by CEB found that B2B buying groups now typically include diverse stakeholders whose goals and interests can conflict, which can make consensus difficult to reach.

The CEB research also found that while reaching consensus decisions is hard at all stages of the buying process, the greatest challenge is getting consensus on the type of solution to acquire and implement. The second most difficult challenge is reaching a consensus on the definition of the problem that needs to be addressed.

This means that buying groups have the greatest difficulty achieving consensus during the early stages of the buying process, when they are more likely to be performing research on their own and relying on content to help them define their problem and identify possible solutions. Therefore, it's important for B2B marketers to develop content resources that will help buying groups reach a consensus on these essential issues.

Developing content that supports the consensus-building process requires a deep understanding of buyer goals and interests. To lay the foundation for creating consensus-friendly content, you will need to take three steps:

  • First, identify the relevant goals and interests of each member of the buying group.
  • Second, identify which goals and interests are shared by multiple members of the buying group.
  • And finally, identify which goals and interests are in conflict (actually or potentially).
CEB has recently argued that the use of personalized marketing messages and content can actually make it more difficult for buying groups to reach consensus decisions. I don't completely agree with this view, but it is clear that most major content resources, such as white papers, e-books, and longer videos, should contain material that supports the consensus-building process. 

For example, suppose that you are developing a white paper for a specific buyer persona. The overall objective of the paper is to describe the benefits provided by a type of technology solution. In most cases, you'll want the white paper to provide answers to two questions:
  1. How will this type of solution help me [the target persona] achieve my goals and protect my interests?
  2. How will this type of solution help my colleagues in the buying group achieve their goals and protect their interests?
Obviously, the primary focus of the white paper will be on answering Question 1. But if you also address Question 2, you can help your target buyer contribute to the consensus-building process.

Image courtesy of Daniel Orth via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why Marketers Shouldn't Go All In on In-Market Buyers

Some providers of B2B predictive analytics solutions are describing the benefits of their technologies in rather effusive ways. Consider, for example, the following language in a content resource from a leading PA vendor:

"Imagine a world where you can find buyers early in the sales cycle and predict who your next customer will be with 85% accuracy. [XXX's] predictive intelligence engine gives you the ability to see your entire universe of potential buyers at every stage of their buying journey. We uncover net-new, in-market prospects based on powerful data science and billions of time-sensitive intent interactions."

This is heady stuff because the ability to know which prospects are engaged in an active buying process could enable fundamental changes in the practice of B2B marketing. For example, suppose that your company uses account-based marketing. With predictive analytics, you could select ABM target accounts based on both fit (how closely a prospect resembles your best existing customers) and interest (whether a prospect is "in-market"). You could also use your PA solution to frequently update your list of target accounts, so that you have a near real-time view of which accounts are engaged in an active buying process.

This sounds like marketing nirvana, right? When you know which of your prospects are actively in-market, you can focus your marketing programs on this "low-hanging fruit," which should result in higher conversion rates, greater marketing efficiency, and lower customer acquisition costs.

There Be Dragons Here

Focusing marketing efforts on in-market prospects has undeniable benefits, but this strategy also carries some less obvious hazards. If taken to the extreme, it can lead marketers to ignore prospects who don't make the "in-market" cut. This is a dangerous approach because of changes in how business decision makers consume information.

A B2B buying process usually begins when a company's leaders or managers recognize a need or a problem, and decide to do something about it. These "buyers" then gather information about the need or problem, evaluate possible solutions, and may or may not decide to buy a product or service to address the problem or need.

So, our traditional view of buyer behavior is that most information gathering and learning occurs after an intentional buying process is underway. Today, however, information is so readily available that many business leaders and managers routinely consume information about business issues long before they've formed anything close to "buying intent." I've used the term casual learning to describe learning and information-gathering activities that occur before an intentional buying process has started, and it's clear that this type of "low-intensity" learning is becoming more and more prevalent.

What marketers need to remember is that casual learners will form impressions and embryonic preferences based on the content they consume, and that those impressions and preferences will remain influential when they get involved in an actual buying process. Therefore, marketing to casual learners is important, even though most casual learners probably shouldn't be characterized as "in-market."

As predictive analytics solutions get better and better at identifying companies that are in an active buying process, it will be very tempting for marketers to focus more and more of their marketing efforts on active buyers. That's not a bad strategy, so long as you remember that you must continue marketing to prospects who aren't currently "in-market."

There's nothing wrong with harvesting the low-hanging fruit, so long as you continue to tend the immature fruit that's higher on the tree.

Illustration courtesy of Andreas Fischler via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Unfinished Business of Marketing-Sales Alignment

A little over six years ago, I published a blog post that discussed the need for a more collaborative relationship between marketing and sales. Since 2010, I've written about various aspects of marketing-sales alignment 22 times.

I certainly wasn't the first person to discuss the disconnect that frequently exists between marketing and sales or the need for better marketing-sales alignment. For example, the July-August 2006 issue of the Harvard Business Review contained an article by Philip Kotler, Neil Rackham, and Suj Krishnasvamy titled "Ending the War Between Sales and Marketing."

For at least the past decade, both B2B marketing and sales professionals have recognized the importance of forging a closer relationship between marketing and sales. Over the past ten years, many B2B companies have made marketing-sales alignment an important business priority, and some companies have made significant progress in improving the quality of this critical relationship.

Despite the gains, however, two research studies from earlier this year clearly show that marketing-sales alignment is still a work-in-progress for many companies.

The CallidusCloud Research

The 2016 Sales and Marketing Sentiment Study by CallidusCloud was based on a survey of B2B marketing and sales professionals that produced 227 responses. The responses were nearly evenly split between marketers and sales pros. Sixty-two percent of the respondents were based in North America, and 22.7% were based in Europe.

Over two-thirds of the respondents (67.1%) said their company's sales and marketing teams are fully or somewhat aligned. In the 2015 edition of this survey, 71.9% of respondents reported full or partial alignment.

This research also found that both marketers and sales pros are less satisfied with their counterpart's performance in 2016 than they were in 2015. CallidusCloud asked survey participants this question:  "How satisfied are you in the performance of marketing (if you're in sales) or of sales (if you're in marketing)?" In 2016, 26.7% of all respondents said very satisfied or satisfied, down from 38.7% of respondents in 2015.

The CallidusCloud research pointed to several factors that may be making alignment more difficult to achieve. For example:

  • Only 29.8% of respondents said that lead data is fully shared between sales and marketing.
  • 41.9% of respondents said their company uses separate technology solutions to manage marketing and sales. Only 28.3% said their company uses a single integrated technology solution.
The Marketing Advisory Network Research

The 2016 B2B Sales & Marketing Collaboration Study by The Marketing Advisory Network was based on a survey of business, marketing, and sales professionals that produced 123 responses. More than 95% of the respondents were with B2B or hybrid B2B/B2C companies. This study also found several areas of "misalignment" between marketing and sales. For example:
  • 50% of sales respondents (but less than 20% of marketing respondents) said that sales follows up with 95% or more of the leads supplied by marketing.
  • Over 50% of sales respondents (but less than 20% of marketing respondents) said that sales reps regularly use virtually all of the sales assets and tools that their company makes available.

One reason that many companies are still struggling with marketing-sales alignment is that the two functions are still managed separately. I've long argued that optimizing demand generation in today's business environment requires the integration of marketing and sales for operational management and planning purposes. For an in-depth discussion of why such integration is needed, take a look at my earlier post titled Why Marketing-Sales "Alignment" Is No Longer Enough.

Image courtesy of Steven Guzzardi via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Why Successful Marketing Is All About "Give to Get"

Earlier this year, The Economist Group and Hill+Knowlton Strategies published a report regarding the development, use, and effectiveness of thought leadership content. The report was based on a 2016 survey of 1,644 global marketers and business executives.

The survey found that most business executives consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and 63% of surveyed executives said they have increased their content consumption over the past 12 months. But the survey also found that, on average, executives only engage with about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.

The Economist Group attributed this low level of engagement to several factors.

  • The pressure on marketers to produce a "continuous stream" of content makes it more difficult to create the kind of content that executives really value - content that is innovative, credible, and transformative.
  • The proliferation of content has caused business executives to become more selective about the content they consume.
The report also argues that internal disconnects make it harder for marketers to develop effective thought leadership content. For example, most marketers (82% in the survey) recognize that to create compelling thought leadership, content needs to center on the interest and needs of the audience. Yet, when marketers were asked to identify their three more important objectives for creating thought leadership content, four of the five most popular objectives focused on benefits to the brand, rather than benefits to the audience, as the following table shows:

This dichotomy permeates most aspects of marketing, not just content marketing. Senior business leaders are demanding that marketers demonstrate the value of marketing to the business, and marketers are responding by linking their activities to important business outcomes - things like revenue and market share growth. But the reality is, these business outcomes are not directly caused by marketing activities and programs. Instead, they result from how customers and potential customers respond to our marketing efforts.

This means that our ability to achieve our marketing goals depends on whether we are successful at winning the right responses from our customers and prospects. So therefore, the key to marketing success is to make our marketing activities, programs, and content truly useful and valuable to our customers and prospects, and thereby earn the responses that drive our desired business outcomes.

Some thought leaders describe this approach as "putting your customers interests above your own," but I don't agree with this characterization. It's not about subordinating your company's interests to those of your customers and prospects. It's about recognizing that your business objectives are only achievable by making yourself useful and valuable to your customers and prospects.

This post may sound a bit like Marketing 101. I suspect that most readers will agree with what I've just written. But this principle is easy to accept conceptually, and hard to consistently apply in practice, especially when the pressure is on to produce results quickly.

There's nothing wrong with having business outcomes as strategic marketing objectives, but it's essential to remember that these goals are best pursued indirectly.

For another good discussion of this important topic, take a look at this recent article at CMO.com.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Why Marketers Must Beware of Bad "Research-Based" Conclusions

If you're a B2B marketer, you probably read survey reports on a fairly regular basis. They have become popular marketing tools for companies that provide marketing-related services and/or technologies. Survey reports can be valuable sources of information about marketing trends, practices, and technologies, but they can also mislead. Perhaps more accurately, survey results and reports can make it easy for us to draw inaccurate, or at least unjustified, conclusions.

A survey report published this past spring provides a good vehicle for illustrating my point. For reasons that will become obvious, I'll refer to this research as the "PA survey" and the "PA report." I'm using this report, not because it is particularly flawed, but because it resembles many of the research reports I review.

The PA report was prepared by a well-known research firm, and the primary focus of the PA survey was to show the impact of predictive analytics on the B2B demand generation process. The PA survey was sponsored by one of the leading providers of predictive analytics technology.

The PA survey asked participants to rate the effectiveness of their demand generation process as Effective, Neutral, or Ineffective. The PA report then provides data that shows the correlation between the use of predictive analytics and demand generation performance. The following table shows that data:

The PA report contains very strong statements regarding the impact of predictive analytics on demand generation performance. For example:  "Overall, less than one-third of study participants report having a B2B demand generation process that meets objectives well. However, when predictive analytics are applied, process performance soars, effectively meeting the objectives set for it over half of the time." (Emphasis in original)

The PA report doesn't explicitly state that predictive analytics was the sole cause or the primary cause of the improved demand generation performance, but it comes very close. The issue is:  Do the results of the PA survey support such a conclusion?

One of the fundamental principles of data analysis is that correlation does not imply causation. In other words, data may show that two events or conditions are statistically correlated, but this alone doesn't prove that one of the events or conditions caused the other. Many survey reports devote a great deal of space to describing correlations, but most fail to remind us that  correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation.

The following chart illustrates why this principle matters. The chart shows that from 2000 through 2009, there was a strong correlation (r = 0.992558) between the divorce rate in Maine and the per capita consumption of margarine in the United States. (Note:  To see this and other examples of hilarious correlations, take a look at the Spurious Correlations website by Tyler Vigen.)

I doubt that any of us would argue that there's a causal relationship between the rate of divorces in Maine and the consumption of margarine, despite the high correlation. These two "variables" just don't have a common-sense relationship.

But when there is a plausible, common-sense relationship between two events or conditions that are also highly correlated statistically, we humans have a strong tendency to infer that one event or condition caused the other. Unfortunately, this human tendency can lead us to see a cause-and-effect relationship in cases where none actually exists.

Many marketing-related surveys are narrowly focused, and this can also entice us to draw erroneous conclusions. The results of the PA survey do show that there was a correlation between the use of predictive analytics and the effectiveness of the demand generation process among the survey participants. But what other factors may have contributed to the demand generation effectiveness experienced by this group of survey respondents, and how important were those other factors compared to the use of predictive analytics?

For example, the PA report doesn't indicate whether survey participants were asked about the size of their demand generation budget, or the number of demand generation programs they run in a typical year, or the use of personalization in their demand generation efforts. If this data were available, we might well find that all of these factors are also correlated with demand generation performance.

There are a couple of important lessons here. First, whenever a survey report states or implies that improved marketing performance of some kind is correlated with the use of a particular marketing practice or technology, you should remind yourself that correlation doesn't indicate causation. And second, it's critical to remember that the performance of any major aspect of marketing is very likely to be caused by several factors, not just those addressed in any one survey report.

One final comment. Despite what I have written in this post, I actually believe that predictive analytics can improve B2B demand generation performance. What we don't have yet, however, is reliable and compelling evidence regarding how much improvement predictive analytics will produce, and what other practices or technologies may be needed to produce that improvement.

Top image courtesy of Paul Mison via Flickr CC.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

B2B Marketers Embrace Interactive Content

Interactive content has become an integral part of the marketing efforts of many B2B companies, according to a 2016 survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and sponsored by ion interactive.

In this research, 53% of the survey respondents said their organization uses some interactive content in its marketing efforts. Not surprisingly, large enterprises - those with 1,000+ employees - are more likely to use interactive content than smaller firms, but the differences are not as large as many might think. Sixty-five percent of large enterprise respondents said they are using interactive content, but about half of the respondents from mid-size and small companies also reported the use of interactive content.

The CMI survey also indicates that the use of interactive content is growing. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they anticipate their use of interactive content will increase in 2016 compared to 2015. And about one-third (32%) of non-users said they are likely to begin using interactive content in the next 12 months.

For this survey, CMI defined interactive content as "content that engages participants in a two-way dialogue or exchange, often providing utility and usefulness . . ." Some of the more popular types of interactive content include assessments, calculators, contests, quizzes, and interactive infographics, e-books, and white papers.

Benefits of Interactive Content

The majority of interactive content users in the CMI survey said that it provides several significant benefits. The following table shows the percentage of user respondents who agreed or strongly agreed with six benefits statements:

The findings of the CMI research reinforce the results of earlier research by other firms. For example:

  • In the 2016 Content Preferences Survey by DemandGen Report, when participants were asked about several possible changes in their B2B content consumption habits, 84% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with this statement:  "I prefer more interactive/visual content accessible on demand."
  • A 2014 survey by Demand Metric found that interactive content outperforms static or passive content at three critical marketing functions - producing prospect conversions, educating the buyer, and creating differentiation from competitors.
Interactive Content Works . . . If It's Useful to Buyers

The evidence described above clearly shows that interactive content can be a powerful marketing tool. But B2B marketers should remember that interactive content will only produce above-average results if it is useful and valuable to potential buyers.

As more and more companies use interactive content, the "novelty factor" for buyers will begin to wane. So, the real key to success with interactive content is to use interactivity to make your content even more useful and valuable for your potential buyers.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

How to Win the War Against Marketing Silos

One of the biggest challenges facing B2B marketers is the growing complexity of the marketing landscape. The increased complexity has been driven primarily by the proliferation of communication channels, the need to develop and manage an increasing volume and variety of marketing content, and the expanding scope of marketing's responsibilities.

To deal with the increased complexity, marketing leaders have implemented a plethora of new technology tools and added new human skills to the marketing function. Unfortunately, this response has often led to the development of more silos in the marketing organization, which can make it harder to create and execute effective marketing programs in an increasingly omnichannel world.

In their haste to address the growing complexity, many marketing leaders haven't made needed changes in the structure of the marketing organization, or in the processes used to manage marketing operations. A recent report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services described the fundamental problem in unequivocal terms:  "Enterprises are investing millions in new marketing tools to keep pace with customers in the digital age. But maximizing returns on these investments is often undermined by outdated marketing structures and approaches."

Managing a growing number of marketing specialists while avoiding the negatives of organizational silos is not an easy task, but marketing leaders can learn important lessons from Team of Teams:  New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World by General Stanley McChrystal (with co-authors Tantum Collins, David Silverman, and Chris Fussell).

General McChrystal commanded the US Joint Special Operations Task Force from September 2003 until August 2008. During this period, one of the main missions of the Task Force was to defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq ("AQI"). In the early part of General McChrystal's command, the Task Force wasn't winning that fight. Team of Teams describes how General McChrystal and his leadership team transformed the Task Force so that it could defeat a new type of adversary in a new and very different warfighting environment.

The core problem was that organizational silos and bureaucratic management processes were preventing the Task Force from acting quickly enough to deal effectively with AQI. The Task Force included many small, specialized units or teams, each of which was very good at what it did. But, the training and culture that fostered a high level of trust and cohesiveness within each small team also contributed to a lack of trust and cohesiveness among teams. So the Task Force as a whole wasn't as effective as it needed to be.

General McChrystal and his leadership team recognized that they needed to scale the effectiveness of their small teams across the entire Task Force, and they took several steps to achieve this objective.

"Share Until It Hurts, Then Share Some More"

Task Force leaders recognized that every team in the Task Force needed to understand the overall mission, and also needed to be constantly aware of the current status of virtually all Task Force activities and operations. To accomplish this, Task Force leaders replaced the "need to know" mentality normally found in military organizations with information sharing on steroids.

They reconfigured their working spaces to encourage information sharing. All operations were run out of a large central room that had enough space for representatives of all the functional specialties of the Task Force, and for representatives from "partner" organizations such as the CIA. A wall of screens at the front of the room provided real-time information regarding Task Force operations. To further encourage collaboration, this entire room was designated as a "top secret" security space, which meant that almost any document or topic relevant to Task Force operations could be discussed and debated by anyone, anywhere in the room.

Even more important, Task Force leaders conducted a daily briefing that was designed to integrate everything the Task Force was doing with everything it knew. They also developed secure video conferencing capabilities that allowed personnel and representatives of partner organizations who were not in Iraq to participate in the briefings. In military organizations, these types of briefings are typically restricted to senior leaders. At some points, the Task Force invited thousands of individuals to attend the briefings, which shows how far Task Force leaders were prepared to go to encourage widespread information sharing.

Many B2B companies may not be able to reconfigure their physical working spaces to create a room large enough to accommodate the entire marketing team, but all companies can conduct regular meetings that are designed to keep everyone up to date on current marketing activities and plans, as well as any other factors that might impact marketing activities.

The frequency of these meetings should be based on the cadence of a company's marketing operations. The Task Force needed to conduct briefings on a daily basis, but some companies may find that weekly meetings work best, and others may decide that a monthly meeting is sufficient.

Develop "Lateral Connections"

General McChrystal and his leadership team also realized that they needed to increase the level of trust among the specialized teams in the Task Force. Every team needed to have insight into how their peer teams functioned and how their work contributed to the success of the Task Force.

To accomplish this objective, Task Force leaders instituted an "embedding" program. Under this program, an individual from one team (say, for example, a SEAL squad) would be assigned to a different team (such as a team of intelligence analysts) for six months. The purpose of this program was to allow these individuals to see how the war looked from inside other teams and build personal relationships across teams.

Some B2B companies will probably find this type of embedding program challenging to implement, and in smaller companies, it may not be possible at all. When embedding isn't possible, the next-best alternative is to routinely create cross-functional teams to work on major marketing projects. This allows people from different marketing disciplines to form personal relationships, and it requires them to consider multiple perspectives when developing significant marketing programs.

The Point

There are some obvious parallels between the situation that confronted General McChrystal in Iraq and the challenges that today's B2B marketing leaders are facing. Marketing is becoming more specialized, while the need to deliver engaging and consistent customer experiences across multiple touch points on a near real-time basis has never been greater. The "team of teams" approach provides one effective way of accomplishing this objective.

Illustration courtesy of Doc Searls via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Much-Needed Reality Check on Predictive Analytics

Predictive analytics has become one of the hottest topics in B2B marketing over the past several months. In a survey last fall by Everstring, 25% of respondents said they were currently using some predictive tools, and another 47% said they were aware of predictive marketing and were investigating how to use it.

Two recent studies by Forrester Consulting reported even higher usage rates of predictive analytics among B2B companies. In one of these studies, 49% of survey respondents said they were currently using predictive analytics, and another 40% said they were planning to implement predictive analytics in the next 12 months. In the second study, 61% of survey respondents said they were currently using predictive analytics, and another 26% said they were planning an implementation within 12 months.

A new study by Econsultancy (in association with RedEye) provides a much-needed dose of reality regarding the adoption of predictive analytics and the challenges of using it effectively. The Econsultancy study was based on an online survey of nearly 400 digital marketers and e-commerce professionals that was fielded in April and May 2016. About half (51%) of the survey respondents were based in the United Kingdom, 23% were based in North America, and 22% were based in Europe. Respondents represented a wide range of industries.

Fifty-nine percent of the respondents to the Econsultancy survey work for client-side enterprises ("companies"), while 41% work for agencies, vendors, or consultancies. The survey results described in this post are based on the answers given by company respondents only.

The Econsultancy study confirms the strong level of predictive analytics usage. Forty percent of respondents reported that their companies are either currently using, implementing, or have budgeted for predictive analytics over the next 12 months. In addition, 80% of respondents said that the use of predictive analytics is "critical" or "very important" to the future of their organizations. Given this view, it shouldn't be surprising that 65% of the respondents said their company's budget for predictive analytics will increase in the coming year.

The Econsultancy research also revealed that predictive analytics is not a "magic wand that automatically guarantees sales." For example, 53% of the survey respondents from companies currently using predictive analytics said that their sales had significantly increased over the past year. However, 50% of respondents with companies that had "evaluated implementing predictive analytics and decided it's impractical" also reported a significant increase in sales over the past year. So, it's questionable whether the use of predictive analytics was the primary cause of the increased sales in those companies that are using predictive tools.

It's also clear from the Econsultancy study that you can't expect predictive analytics to be an overnight success. Only 23% of survey respondents rated their company as "competent" or "highly competent" at the use of predictive analytics, and 35% of the respondents strongly agreed that they "are yet to realize the benefits of predictive analytics."

Predictive analytics is becoming an important marketing tool for many large and mid-size B2B companies. But like most tools, it will take work and practice to maximize the value of predictive analytics in marketing.

Illustration courtesy of Skye D. via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Dark Side of Marketing Performance Measurement

"Yes, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware of the dark side."

For the past several years, marketers have faced growing pressure to prove the value of their activities and programs. As a result, they are placing greater emphasis on measuring the performance of marketing tactics, channels, and programs, and some marketing leaders are allocating budgets and basing marketing mix decisions on performance measures.

Overall, this has been a positive development. It's hard to argue that marketers shouldn't track and measure the performance of their activities, and use performance metrics to guide marketing investments. Common sense says that this approach should lead to better marketing decisions.

But there's a potential dark side to the current fixation on marketing performance measurement. The problem arises when the ability to measure a marketing activity becomes the primary criterion for determining its value.

When taken to the extreme, this way of thinking can lead marketers to choose marketing tactics based largely on ease of measurement. As a recent blog post put it, "While marketers once accepted as fact that they didn't know which half of their budget was wasted, today they've done a 180 and believe that if it can't be measured, it's not worth doing."

I can understand why marketers are tempted to think this way. After all, in an environment where proving the value of your work can mean the difference between keeping or losing your job, marketing methods that are easily measured can appear to be the safe choice.

But making measurability the prime criterion for determining value is short-sighted and ultimately dangerous. It's a classic example of the McNamara Fallacy at work. The McNamara Fallacy was named for Robert McNamara, the US Secretary of Defense during the Vietnam War, and it relates to his approach to managing the war effort. The term was coined by the noted social scientist Daniel Yankelovich, who described it this way:

"The first step is to measure whatever can easily be measured. This is OK as far as it goes. The second step is to disregard that which can't be easily measured or to give it an arbitrary quantitative value. This is artificial and misleading. The third step is to presume that what can't be easily measured really isn't important. This is blindness. The fourth step is to say that what can't be easily measured really doesn't exist. This is suicide."

 Ironically, some of our efforts to improve marketing performance measurement have also exacerbated its dark side. For example, most marketers are now focused on measuring the impact of marketing activities on revenues. So, we're now constructing complex attribution models in an attempt to assign revenue dollars to specific marketing activities.

Measuring the performance of marketing activities that produce quick results is relatively easy. It's much harder to measure the performance of marketing activities that may not bear fruit for months or even years. For example, the content that you're creating and publishing this year can produce a positive impression in the mind of a potential buyer, and that impression can influence a buying process that won't even begin for two years. Likewise, some of the sales you're closing this year are due, at least in part, to the marketing activities and programs that you ran in 2014 and 2015.

In a recent interview, David Cote, the CEO of Honeywell, described the importance of long-term effects in these terms:  "You do well this year, not because of what you're doing this year, but because of what you did in the previous 5 years."

Marketing activities with long gestation periods, and those whose impacts are several steps removed from the final buying decision can be very difficult to measure. But many of these activities are vitally important for marketing success. Unfortunately, when we fixate on measurability, we can end up under-investing in these critical marketing activities.

As Albert Einstein purportedly wrote on his blackboard:  "Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts."

Illustration courtesy of Kory Westerhold via Flickr CC.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Creating Content for ABM Is Easier Than You Think

Some B2B marketers are looking askance at the growing popularity of account-based marketing. And that's completely understandable. On one hand, evidence shows that ABM is more effective and produces a higher ROI than any other approach to marketing. But, one of ABM's basic tenets is the use of account-specific messages and content. What makes marketers cringe is the thought of having to develop content resources that are customized for dozens of target accounts.

Creating the content that's required to support an ABM program can feel like a herculean task. But it doesn't have to be that way if you take the right approach to content customization.

As the following diagram illustrates, there are six levels of content customization, ranging from generic content (no customization) to content that is tailored for an individual lead. Between these extremes, there's content customized for specific market segments (i.e. specific industries), for specific buyer personas, for specific stages of the buying process, and for specific target accounts.

Even if your company hasn't adopted account-based marketing, you should already be developing and using segment-specific, persona-specific, and stage-specific content. So, when you move to ABM, the real issue relates to how you will provide content that is customized for individual accounts and individual leads.

You can, of course, develop unique content resources from scratch for each of your target accounts. While this can be appropriate in some circumstances, it's extremely resource intensive. So it's not typically feasible to use this approach for more than a handful of accounts.

A far less resource-intensive approach is to convert existing content resources into customizable templates. For example, you can modify an existing white paper to accommodate a custom introduction. To customize the paper, you simply add a unique introduction for each ABM target account.

I've also found that it's often possible to provide a personalized content experience without actually customizing every content resource. I use this approach frequently in my business, and I've found it to be highly effective. The approach is actually quite simple.

Whenever I have a telephone conversation or a meeting with a potential client, I make sure that I identify two or three issues that the potential client is particularly concerned about. Then, when I follow up with the prospect, I use this insight to create a personalized content experience based on a two-step process.

The first step is to identify one or two content resources that are highly relevant to my potential client's primary interests or concerns. Over the past few years, I've developed a fairly extensive library of content resources. So, the odds are good that I already have content that addresses my prospect's main concerns. I simply select the best, most relevant resources to send to my prospective client.

The second step in  my process is to compose a customized "transmittal" message (typically an e-mail) that connects the content resources I'm sending with the specific issues or concerns that the prospect and I discussed.

For example, if I'm sending the prospect one of my white papers, I'll use the e-mail message to point to the specific page or pages of the paper that address the prospect's primary concerns. In most cases, I'll also use the e-mail to relate the discussion in the paper to the prospect's specific business situation. The e-mail message creates context for the paper and makes the paper "feel" like it was customized for this specific prospect, even though the paper hasn't been customized at all. I'll use the same approach for subsequent follow-up contacts with this prospect.

Am I creating content that is customized for this specific prospect? Yes, but what I am customizing is a few short e-mail messages, not entire white papers or other "long-form" content resources.

The bottom line is that creating account- or lead-specific content doesn't have to be an insurmountable task.

Top image courtesy of Shelby H. via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Using Ungated Content to Drive Outstanding Marketing Performance

One of the long-running debates among B2B marketers is whether companies should require registration to get access to content resources, or whether they should make such resources freely available. Gating content enables companies to capture new sales leads and track the content consumption behaviors of existing leads.

Over the past few years, I've seen the views on this issue change. Six or seven years ago, I think most marketers believed that most content resources should be gated, although a few marketing experts like David Meerman Scott have been arguing for some time that most content should be freely available. Today, I think most marketing experts believe that companies should make a significant amount of content available without requiring registration.

In my view, competitive pressures will soon require companies to make most of their content available without registration. A growing number of companies are now making at least some of their content freely available, and as this practice becomes more prevalent, potential buyers will increasingly expect to get access to content without registration.

This expectation will make buyers more selective about the content they are willing to "pay for" with personal information. They will still be willing to register if they believe that a content resource is particularly valuable, but if the resource looks or sounds like others that are freely available, they will be more likely to ignore it.

I now firmly believe that companies should make most of their content freely available, and I am recommending that approach to my clients. This is particularly important for content that is primarily intended for potential buyers who are in the early stages of the buying process and those who are engaged in what I have called casual learning.

Many forward-thinking marketers are already using ungated content to drive highly successful marketing programs. One great example is Health Catalyst, and healthcare IT company that serves integrated health systems and hospitals. At this year's MarketingSherpa Summit, Chris Keller, the Vice President of Marketing at Health Catalyst, gave a presentation that described how the company uses non-gated content to drive outstanding marketing performance.

In his presentation, Mr. Keller said that the leadership of Health Catalyst made a fundamental decision to build market leadership by providing valuable educational content and to make almost all of that content freely available. The only time that Health Catalyst requires registration to access content is if the consumption requires a second step that has value for the prospect. So for example, Health Catalyst requires registration for webinars because it wants to send the registrant e-mail reminders regarding the webinar.

The marketing team at Health Catalyst trusts prospects to step forward when they are ready to have a meaningful conversation about the company's products and services. Mr. Keller said that he and his team operate on the guiding principle that "prospects worth follow-up will ask."

The strategy has enabled Mr. Keller and his team to produce impressive results - a 300% increase in leads, a 550% increase in clients, and a 33% decrease in the length of the sales cycle.

Mr. Keller's presentation provides several valuable insights. A video of his presentation is available here, and I encourage you to watch it. The video runs for about 30 minutes, but it is well worth your time.

Image courtesy of Vince via Flickr CC.