Smart B2B Marketing Includes A Sales Ride Along; 6 Key Questions

sales-ride-along

We all recall the expression “there’s no such thing as a dumb question”, though I know I’ve violated that more than a few times. Still it’s pretty much a given that it’s part of the essential mindset for any B2B marketer. Where it can pay big dividends is when you make time to go on a ride-along with sales. Here’s why.

In every industry vertical, B2B marketing’s “secret sauce” starts with understanding how your company’s target audience thinks and behaves. In the process it’s also possible to better align the marketing and sales teams to create better synergy for greater ROI.

When you think about it, as a general rule in nearly every business your resident expert on the customer is your sales team. So as soon and often as possible, pick their brain. The best way based in my experience is to suit up and step into their world for some immersion.

When I’ve done this I put on my journalism hat and use the “5W&H” to get the story; who, what, when, where, why and how. This will not only help paint an accurate picture of the customer’s world but establishes a repoire and foundation with the sales team for an ongoing dialogue. As for any doubt about sales willingness to talk, there are few things people enjoy more than talking about themselves and being called upon for their expertise.

So imagine those first few minutes sitting with the sales rep. After the pleasantries, what should you ask? Here are six key questions to get the ball rolling:

  • So how do you get sales? As basic as that may sound, understanding where leads and prospects are coming from is vital to “seeing into the sales funnel” and learning how the current sales process works even if you think you know. Verify.
  • Who are great prospects (and customers)? This helps us understand success criteria and the qualities and quantities associated with them. Finding out how well or poorly marketing’s profiles and more importantly, personas match the feedback from sales has everything to do with our messaging, content strategy, and marketing plan in general.
  • Where are they? Sounds kind of silly at first but it helps uncover as many opportunities as possible to brand, message, solicit feedback, reinforce distinctive competency and employ the most appropriate media and format for delivery of custom content to best move the prospect along (conversions) until they become customers.
  • What sales methodology do you use? This is different from the sales process. Are they using Challenger, SPIN, NEAT, Conceptual, SNAP? Get the context of when marketing can be applied to increase sales’ effectiveness and you’ll also find better alignment between the sales and marketing teams.
  • When do you decide to contact the prospect directly? In companies where they use a MAS (marketing automation system) like Hubspot or Pardot, there are clearly defined protocols for the timing of content delivery and qualification stages before anyone in business development or sales actually picks up the phone or sends a direct email. But in companies that aren’t using MAS, this can be a big blind spot for marketing where we need to shine a light.
  • Why do you think the sales team is successful? This can be a big reveal into the state of mind of the sales team but more importantly where there are gaps that marketing can help address such as creating better presentation materials and leave-behinds, more effective and attractive promotions, or designing professional-looking tradeshow displays for example.

Doing this will at minimum help true up current marketing efforts but also help both sales and marketing to gain greater clarity into the relationship between their respective teams. Tearing down the silos leads to improved cooperation, understanding and communication. These are key ingredients for greater effectiveness that in turn will grow MROI (marketing return on investment) and ultimately company profitability.

Do you have a sales ride along story to tell? Share it here. We’d love to hear about it.

Top 10 Features Every B2B Website Homepage Must Have [Infographic]

Bringing clarity to the marketing conversation is like a breath of fresh air so here’s an excellent infographic courtesy of the folks over at SageFrog Marketing Group that does just that. I’m a big believer in checklists no matter how many times you’ve done it.

Top 10 Features Every B2B Website Homepage Must Have (Infographic)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.sagefrog.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/SF_Top-10-Features-Every-B2B-Homepage-Must-Have-Infographic_FINAL.pdf

No Marketing Mojo? A Third Grader May Have The Answer

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOlku5slL7s

The Meaning of Life

I just happened upon this charming but profound video today, The Meaning Of Life  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOlku5slL7s  Pretty heavy subject but I love how that contrasts with the young voice of our third-grade narrator.  It also struck a chord with me because when it comes to the meaning of life especially our professional life,  I think we all struggle with that. Getting and staying on track with what’s going on in B2B marketing these days is tough, hard work.  Alot of moving parts and more everyday and each one changes, evolves.

So this video reminded me that we are always a work in progress, even when sometimes it may be like watching grass grow. Stuff is really happening though others might find it hard to tell 🙂

Our young speaker has some pretty inspiring things to say to us about what’s holding each of us back and what we can do about it. (okay somebody had to help her write this but that’s beside the point) That’s why I thought I’d share this video in hopes that for those struggling it may provide some inspiration to either get started or if you’ve simply hit a temporary obstacle, how to get rolling again.

So after you’ve watched it,  what can you add to the list of my take-aways below, or maybe add your own? Whatever they are, please post them in the comment box below to share. Looking forward to hearing them!

  • The biggest regret of the elderly on their deathbed, is not what they did but what they didn’t do. The risks they didn’t take.
  • What would your future self say about the ideas you never created, the books you never wrote, the words you never spoke
  • Great men and women never fit in because they stand out.
  • You want to fit in and be cool but greatness isn’t about being cool.
  • The biggest difference between winners and losers is persistence. It’s not talent. It’s persistence.
  • Your character is who you are.
  • Stop thinking, just do it.
  • You don’t get a do over in life so live your dream.
  • You don’t have to be great to get started but you’ve got to get started to be great.

Digital Marketing Success Infographic for Your B2B ‘War Room’

B2B marketing strategy Anyone who is tackling the job of marketing the services and products of their business no matter the size, has a critical mission to map that out to share with others but to also get it clear and well organized in their own head first. And since humans are visual learners by nature, it’s great to have infographics that make it easier and quicker for us to grasp an idea, process or concept.

So when I stumbled upon this Digital Marketing Success Infographic from the sharp folks over at Acquity Group, I knew I should share it. In many ways it reflects my evaluation process for client marketing readiness. Even with it’s ecommerce note, the fundamentals and essential components are just as relevant to your B2B marketing program.

Tack this up in your office and not only will it add to the aura of a marketing war room (okay, the floor to ceiling global maps may have to wait), but it will serve as a constant reminder to keep your mission on track.

Digital Marketing Assessment

Digital Marketing Assessment Infographic

5 Content Marketing Tips; The Market Loves a Good Story

storytelling

“Stocks are pieces of paper with stories attached to them.” Martin Sosnoff — a jaded, opinionated, Bronx-raised money manager and Forbes columnist — wrote that in 1975. It’s still true today. The market loves a good story. Forbes Magazine, Oct 2013

Most of us accept the importance of the face value of company stocks we see traded every day. CEOs, CFOs, shareholders, they all fret over this to some degree. Have a bad quarter of earnings, the market will hear that story and then there’s not so much love from investors. Have a great quarter, suddenly you’re back in good graces. So what does this have to do with B2B inbound marketing? Everything.

The marketers I work with face a variety of issues ranging from the strategic to the tactical. And where I saw a parallel with the Forbes story is when the question turns to just how good is the company or product story, how well is it being told and most importantly, how well is it being heard. Why? The market loves a good story just like Mr. Sosnoff said except in this case the “investors” of interest are our clients and prospects. Think about that. Are the messages and stories found in the marketing content making them believe that your company, it’s thinking and it’s solutions are a “good buy”?

To find out, start by simply going through your website noting copy and images that are too salesy, inward focused, generic and superlative laden.  Buyers are smart and attention span-challenged. “Brochureware” is so 1990’s and simply not compelling enough to have true prospects coming back and following, the very behavior we need to engage, nurture and convert them into our future customers.  So what are some solutions? While not nearly complete, here’s a short checklist of some basics I put together to get started:

  1. Are we broadcasting their favorite station WIII-FM so is it coming in loud and clear? The late Tony Mikes of Second Wind Network used this analogy in his excellent agency workshops. What it means is our audiences don’t have a lot of time to waste and they want to hear “What IIIFor Me” frequently and clearly.
  2. Did we program our content to align with our audience profiles and personas? A good content strategy relies on having well defined customer profiles and personas so we’ll know that the story we’re telling is valuable and relevant to solving their particular problems and not only acknowledge it, but use that as a segue to mention those solutions your company provides. But no sales pitches.
  3. Have we set ourselves apart from our competition? If not then all we may have accomplished is to sell the category, and lost an opportunity to gain mindshare. Perhaps worse is missing the chance to make a deposit in the First National Bank of Thought Leadership that pays dividends in earned trust, the bedrock of every sound relationship.
  4. Would you eat it? A well written story, like a good dish, takes time and talent. Does it read like something that just got slapped together or something you’d send to a colleague or friend and say “this is a great read.” Or to put it another way, is this a recipe we’d serve special guests? Approaching it this way is a form of quality control to never let inferior content slip through. It’s also a great way to build brand equity. Don’t worry either if you don’t have any writers on staff; hire one or retain a PR firm.
  5. Let’s get visual. Humans are visual learners or else where’s the wisdom in ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’?  Consider a variety of media to use to tell your story especially video; besides the fact it’s more engaging, it can get our points across more quickly and coherently than just text. And that’s perfect for all of us who are time constrained.

Good content about your company or products doesn’t just happen, it takes some work. Hopefully these tips will help in that process. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed. What are they? Please share yours.

 

8 Tips For Finding Your Best Inbound Marketing Agency

panning-for-gold-oliver-jewelleryIt’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six years since I practically stumbled on to inbound marketing. I’d bought Seth Godin’s book “Tribes” and it was setting unread on my desk when the president of our agency came in my office to talk about something else. He spotted the book and asked me about it. When I said I hadn’t started it yet he asked to borrow it so I said “sure”.  Little did I know it would be the beginning of a years-long quest to learn, keep pace and apply the best practices and tools of inbound marketing. Today inbound marketing, content marketing and social media along with marketing technology have whipped our little corner of the business world into a virtual froth. Even the company CEO likely has heard about it.

It stands to reason then that unless your company already has the staff resources to pull  this off properly, it makes good sense (and cents) to find an inbound agency to lend a hand. One of these, Kuno Creative has an excellent, free online guide that gives some excellent advice on how to even get budget for your inbound program. It’s called Inbound Buy-In, Budgets and Best Practices . Another terrific, free guide is The Complete Guide To Hiring An Inbound Agency from MLT Creative, an award-winning B2B inbound agency in Atlanta. I highly recommend both of these guides. In addition I’d like to offer some of my own thoughts on getting started on the right foot:

#1 Try some serious soul searching first

What really needs to happen in your company? Branding? Or alignment of marketing and sales to deliver greater ROI? Improved conversion ratios to drive down cost per lead? Or we don’t really know? The adage that you don’t need a map if anyplace will do comes to mind. If yours is not a marketing driven company then all the more important that you get consensus from stakeholders as to the agreed expectations of this exercise especially those that will be deemed successful outcomes both quantitative and qualitative. I will guarantee that once this is done your research on agencies will be more productive, and the dialogue more meaningful.

#2 It’s Not Sold by the Pound or Found in Any Catalog

Sadly a lot of traditional processes like RFPs are borrowed from the corporate procurement department with few changes except to replace “staplers” with “inbound marketing”. To get ahead in inbound marketing means finding the best possible strategic partners and frankly in my book that takes a different approach based upon a deeper understanding.

#3 Are They Eating Their Own Cooking?

When you do a search with “inbound marketing agency”, “best” or “leading” and key words specific to your company category, note the page rank results because it tells you something about an agency’s SEO capabilities. Run a marketing grader on their website.  Hubspot has a good, free one  http://marketing.grader.com/ Note how their website is laid out; is it attractive, and does it draw your eye easily around the page. What do they blog about? Is it well written or produced and entertaining? Are people reposting to Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like? Do they have social media icons on their pages? Are they using conversion forms? Are they applying best practices to their own website or as I like to say, ‘are they eating their own cooking?’ Any agency worth its salt at inbound will be ranking high doing all of these things so keep this in mind and use it to help shorten your list.

#4 Skip the RFP, try the phone

Honestly I think the traditional default to an RFP has been around so long because its often easier to get answers and ideas out of the agencies than it is out of your company execs, marketing group, and sales group. That said even the busiest agency will often welcome the chance to talk with a prospective client.  In the process you can save a lot of time and energy, quickly learn how to improve your qualification process that you can apply on your next call and begin to get a read on the all important question of ‘chemistry’. In this era of transparency and web-centricity, it’s easy to learn a lot before the first call.  Invest that time and then pick up the phone. Think about it; the smartest agencies generally don’t participate in RFPs. Why? They don’t have to.

#5 Should the agency be asked to “present”?

Time is money and if an agency has clearly invested well in a show-case website, fully-optimized and employing best of breed tools and practices, that grades out at 99+, chock full of great content, portfolio samples, client testimonials and basically everything that supports the fact they’re highly competent, it’s a fairly safe bet that the time and conversation can focus more on your issues than the topic of qualification.  In researching for inbound agencies like so many things, time invested is time well spent.  So consider keeping the dog & pony show brief and see which agency has the chops to ask smart questions and think well on their feet, not reading from a Powerpoint.

#6 Plan the Work and Work the Plan

If you must have multiple agencies compete for your company’s business, establish some ground rules and stick with them, respect deadlines for decisions, and don’t’ allow scope-of-work bait-and-switch or creep. And make certain you are dedicating sufficient resources to making the RFP process thorough and stick to the letter of it. It is after all your reputation and the beginning of a working relationship with one of them.  Always best to get started on the right foot.

#7 You Get Out What You Put In

Almost all RFPs ask the agency to recommend a budget but that should come with some strings attached. Free advice is worth what it cost; nothing. Without giving an agency access to in-depth information like your company’s current marketing plan, research, strategy, audience, tools, analytics, etc., an agency’s estimated cost for developing your comprehensive marketing program is largely unqualified and like a loaded weapon; if it goes off in the wrong direction a lot of folks can get hurt.  Be prepared to share A LOT if you expect accurate, actionable advice in return. While you’re at it don’t forget to do some estimating on the value of your company’s  current and potential market share as the basis for ranging in a realistic, effective marketing budget to maintain or grow the business.  Putting dollars to it helps improve the relevance of any figures discussed so when the impulse is to say an agency’s idea “is too expensive”, you’re also ready to answer the “relative to what?” question.

#8 Doc I’ve Got This Problem, Here’s What You Should Prescribe

I don’t know about you but I pay way too much for good medical care so better to let the physicians do their job.  Likewise alot of company execs and owners are anxious to get their inbound program up and running so in their haste may be ready to give orders about what they “really need”. That’s not unusual but a good agency will ask smart qualifying questions to determine your company’s overall marketing readiness.  Do your prospects and customers like what they see/read the first time they come to the website? What do they say about your product/service/buying experience? Maybe there are some branding and web page layout issues to address too.  Are your marketing and sales teams aligned?  You get the point. You are the expert on your company’s products so just be ready to answer a lot of questions, just as many or more as you may have of the agency. In the process you’ll likely figure out which agency is legit and which one is mailing it in.

There’s a joke about an old miser who prayed every night to win the lottery. Finally one night God answered back , “meet me half way and buy a ticket.” Well, finding a winning inbound agency is kind of like that.  So when the temptation is to crank out an RFP and distribute it to an agency list, you might want to consider instead investing your time using these tips and resources.
Tell us what has worked well for you? Or just as importantly what hasn’t?  

The B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap: Three Causes and How To Fix Them

bridging the gapI think most B2B marketers would agree that beyond the technical and design excellence of a B2B company’s online presence, there must be a content strategy and plan that’s getting supported by content experts and thought leaders who are creating authentic, genuine, and compelling content. But it’s not happening as much as it should and here are just three contributing causes to what I call the B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap

#1 Marketing Technology Runs On High Octane Content
The myriad of marketing tools from apps, to cloud ware to automated lead nurturing that we are seeing is wonderful because they remove much of the drudgery in the workaday world of B2B marketing. But this is where B2B company execs trying to support the transition to inbound marketing often make the mistake of thinking marketing technology alone is the solution. They will find dollars to fund MAS, CRM and CMS technology with all its potential of money savings with the expectation it will deliver greater marketing ROI. But without fresh, original and compelling content to fuel it, this is the equivalent of a high performance engine with a one gallon gas tank. Going nowhere fast.  The reality is B2B companies should continuously budget for ongoing content analysis and development if they want to compete for a lead in the pack.

#2 Fresh, New Rubber or Retreads?
Truckers either buy new tires for their rigs or have the old ones retreaded which is just what it sounds like; sticking new tread around the old tire casing. This solution is relatively cheap but also somewhat unreliable. We’ve all seen and occasionally dodged those strips of rubber tread on the interstate some call “road gators”. Those came off retreaded tires. Alot of B2B marketers are doing the same thing with their marketing content. You know what I’m talking about. Look at the volume of blogs that are a rehashing and repurposing of the same conversation. On the other hand, well done fresh content is like a new tire; it almost never fails and develops a good reputation for performance and reliability. All B2B marketing content should be like that but of course it costs more to produce quality. Too many marketing decisions though are based solely on cost instead of ROI and the result can be disappointing. Study the category leader’s online content, follow the best practitioners like Content Marketing Institute and Copy Bloggers or hire someone like Jay Baer, Mark Schaeffer or John Jantsch to help you set up your program.

#3 B2B Inbound Isn’t A Chicken Rotisserie
Recently I read a post by agency new business expert Michael Gass about how ad agencies are requiring staff to be more digital. The lateness of this is a little shocking considering Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan described the new digital citizen in their book Inbound Marketing,

Cover of "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Us...

Cover via Amazon

back in 2009 but at least ad agencies KNOW they have a content void to fill if they are to have any credibility in the new marketplace. Some of their clients are hearing that too. Both camps face the same challenge; developing a content program, executing on it, monitoring the results and using those results to continuously improve upon the content.  It’s NOT a Ron Popeil Chicken Rotisserie where one can “set it and forget it”. It’s more like a fitness lifestyle that requires discipline; stick with it though and you’ll get long lasting, accumulating benefits.

Where else are you seeing issues that are standing in the way of getting your B2B marketing program ramped up and amp’d up? We’d enjoy hearing about them.