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.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What Makes Thought Leadership Content Effective?

The Economist Group recently published a report that provides several interesting perspectives on the development, use, and effectiveness of thought leadership content. Thought leadership disrupted:  New rules for the content age is based on a survey (conducted in association with Hill+Knowlton Strategies) of 1,644 global marketing and business executives that was fielded in April 2016.

Survey responses were segmented based on whether the respondents were marketers (those who plan, develop, or manage thought leadership content) or executives (those who consume thought leadership content). In this post, I'm focusing on the survey data relating to executive respondents.

To set the stage for the data, it's important to understand how The Economist Group defined thought leadership. Here's the definition the firm asked survey participants to read before they took the survey:

"Thought leadership is the practice of influencing a community of interest by developing information, analysis and insight that helps its audience understand its world and plan for the future. It can be delivered through any medium, and can help companies raise awareness, shift perception and increase the status of their brand."

Obviously, this definition is fairly broad, and it gives survey respondents some room to apply their own interpretation of what constitutes thought leadership.

Executives are Becoming Selective

More than two-thirds (68%) of executive respondents said they consume thought leadership content at least weekly, and almost as many (63%) said they have increased their consumption of thought leadership content over the past 12 months. But 75% of the respondents also said they have become more selective in their content consumption over the past 12-24 months, and 82% said that the volume of thought leadership content available is what has made them more selective.

The increased selectivity on the part of executives has made it harder for marketers to create break-through thought leadership content. Surveyed executives reported that, on average, they engage with only about 25% of the thought leadership content they see every day.

What Drives the Consumption of Thought Leadership Content?

The Economist Group also asked executives to identify three factors (from a list of 15) that drive their consumption of thought leadership content. The following table shows the top five consumption drivers chosen by the surveyed executives:

What Makes for Good (and Bad) Thought Leadership Content?

When executives were asked what qualities made thought leadership content compelling, the most popular qualities were:

  • Innovative (40% of respondents)
  • Big picture (36%)
  • Transformative (36%)
  • Credible (35%)
When executives were asked what words they associated with poor thought leadership content, the top three choices were superficial (34% of respondents), sales-driven (31%), and biased (28%).

The Impact of Thought Leadership

The value of compelling thought leadership to sellers is abundantly clear. Seventy percent of executives said that good thought leadership content led them to consume additional content from the same source, and 72% said they are more inclined to do business with organizations that are thought leaders.

Top image courtesy of Abhijit Bhadurl via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Does Personalization Undermine Consensus Buying?

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the findings of a recent research study by Demand Metric that focused on the state of content personalization in B2B companies. Demand Metric found that the use of personalized content was widespread among its study participants. Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents said they personalize content for industry verticals or other market segments, and 61% said they personalize content for specific buyer personas.

Marketing experts have long argued that personalized messages and content improve marketing effectiveness, and the participants in the Demand Metric study overwhelmingly agree with this view. Eighty percent of the survey respondents who use personalized content said that it is "more effective" or "much more effective" than content that isn't personalized.

Not everyone, however, believes that personalization is always beneficial. For the past several months, CEB has been arguing that personalization can actually make prospective customers less (not more) likely to buy. The essence of CEB's argument goes like this:

  • B2B products and services are usually purchased by groups of people, not individuals.
  • These buying groups must usually reach a consensus before a purchase decision will be made.
  • Personalization strategies can make the individuals in the buying group believe more strongly in their own point of view and less willing to compromise, thus making consensus more difficult to achieve.
In an article for the Harvard Business Review, Karl Schmidt, Brent Adamson, and Anna Bird (all with CEB) wrote:

"Conventional wisdom holds that the more personalized a message is, the more effectively it will drive a sale. And indeed, CEB's surveys found that individual customer stakeholders who perceived supplier content to be tailored to their specific needs were 40% more willing to buy from that supplier than stakeholders who didn't . . . But personalization has a dark side. When individuals in a buying group receive different messages, each one stressing that an offering meets his or her narrow needs, it can highlight the diverging goals and priorities in the group, driving a wedge between members and hindering consensus."

CEB goes on to argue that selling companies need tactics and resources that are specifically designed to help buying groups reach a consensus. In addition, CEB contends that selling companies will usually need the help of a champion inside the prospect organization to drive the consensus-building process. CEB calls these internal advocates "mobilizers" and describes the best mobilizers as people who (a) are motivated to improve their organization, and (b) have the organizational clout to bring decision makers together.

To effectively use mobilizers, companies need to identify the right people and then motivate those individuals to play the mobilizer role. Just as important, companies need to provide mobilizers the resources they need to effectively drive the consensus-building process.

What do you think? Can too much personalization hinder rather than help? If so, how much personalization is too much? I'd like to get your ideas on this issue. Please comment on this post, and share your thoughts about whether personalization can actually undermine the consensus-building process. 

Image courtesy of HORANCapitalAdv via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sales Enablement Best Practices and Challenges

Sales enablement has been one of the hottest topics in B2B marketing and sales for the past few years. Last year, CSO Insights launched a new research study devoted specifically to sales enablement, and last month, the firm published the results of the 2016 edition of its study.

The 2016 CSO Insights Sales Enablement Optimization Study provides valuable insights regarding how companies are implementing sales enablement and how well it is working. The 2016 study is based on input from 400 survey respondents, a majority of which (58.9%) are based in North America. Most of the respondents were affiliated with small and mid-size companies. Nearly three-fourths (73.6%) were with companies having $250 million or less in annual revenue, and 42.5% were with companies having less than $10 million in annual revenue.

(Note:  This research focuses primarily on sales enablement best practices, so I think we can assume that all of the survey respondents had implemented sales enablement in some form. In other research, CSO Insights has found that a growing number of companies are implementing a dedicated sales enablement function. In the 2016 Sales Performance Optimization Study, 32.7% of survey respondents said they had a dedicated sales enablement function. That was up from 25.5% of respondents in the 2015 SPO study and 22.6% in the 2014 SPO study.)

Here is a quick summary of three of the major findings of the 2016 sales enablement study.

Sales Enablement is Still a Work in Progress

CSO Insights asked survey participants to assess the effectiveness of the sales enablement initiatives they had implemented during the past two years. Only 31.3% of respondents said their sales enablement programs had met all, or at least a majority, of their original expectations. Another 44.8% said that their sales enablement efforts had met at least some of their expectations.

Formal Planning Matters

In the 2016 study, 9.6% of respondents said they treat sales enablement as a series of one-off projects, 39.5% said they have an informal sales enablement vision, 35.7% said they have a formal sales enablement vision, and 15.3% said they have a full-blown sales enablement strategy (charter).

The study found that formal planning increases the odds of sales enablement success. Over half (51.3%) of the respondents with a formal vision or a formal strategy said their sales enablement initiatives met all or a majority of their expectations, compared to only 34.7% of respondents who had an informal vision or who treated sales enablement as one-off projects.

Sales Enablement is a Multi-Faceted Function

Most companies that have implemented sales enablement treat it as a  multi-faceted business function that encompasses a diverse set of services. CSO Insights asked its survey participants what services for salespeople were part of their sales enablement function, and the table below shows how they responded.

The CSO Insights study contains far more insights than I can discuss in a blog post. I encourage you to take the time to review the full study.

Top image courtesy of Tomas Sobek via Flickr CC.