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

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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 on 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.

The Marketing Automation Train Rolls On- So Who’s Minding the Switches?

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Some big trains are barreling down the tracks in the world of marketing. Noted marketer Paul Roetzer wrote an article about one of them recently, marketing automation and in it he states,

“The art and science of marketing are on a collision course. Many tasks commonly performed by marketers, such as copywriting, data analysis and strategy, are at risk of being computerized in the near future. While this likely means job loss in some areas, it opens up a world of opportunity for marketers and brands to drive innovation and accelerate success.”

The evolution of marketing automation is pulling in some respectable investment money ($400m+) and this change is powered by the proof of algorithms and the promise of artificial intelligence being able to replace human interactions.  In short, if we think marketing has changed a lot in the past decade, we are about to see more that will be even more profound.

So as I read the lines about “while this likely means job loss in some areas” it reminded me of a recent experience that mirrored a similar scenario. Or as the famous baseball player-turned coach Yogi Berra once said, “it was like déjà-vu all over again.” (gotta love Yogi)

Parallel Tracks

Not long ago I was doing some work for a software company that specializes in desktop automation and activity intelligence products primarily used in contact centers and back office operations, that incorporate robotic process automation (based upon algorithms) The industries they serve are harnessing this for enterprise transformation initiatives with the goal of reducing heuristic (people) activity and pushing it to the algorithmic (computer) function. In general this either involves streamlining multiple desktop apps into a single dashboard (automation) or distilling from millions of digital transactions valuable insights to better manage businesses (intelligence).  I clearly remember one day thinking out loud, “are these products part of a big data solution?” and the answer from across the table was a resounding “yes!”

Where these products are put to use, the benefits of operational optimization are huge resulting in companies routinely saving millions of dollars a year through greater efficiency and productivity gains. At the same time both user and customer satisfaction also increase which makes this case of adoption a slamdunk, though in some cases it also means reduced headcount in the business operation. Sounding familiar?

One day as I was working in the company’s Pardot system it struck me that the very smart developers at the other end of the building could likely automate alot of what I was doing. It was both a revelation and a little unnerving.

So What’s Around the Bend? “I’ll Be Baack…”

The question then is, are marketers and their audiences ready for MAPs that not only automate but evolve to be predictive? Corporations are definitely anxious to reap the returns so I think we need to be prepared for the human consequences such as the net loss of marketing jobs from automation, even with the new need for skilled people to run these systems.  Then there are the ever present moral and ethical questions regarding complex processing of our personal data by programmed systems but with less and less human oversight.

That’s because more and more of the work done now by people, will gradually be removed through robotic process automation. “Great!” some would say and to an extent I agree. Out with the mind-numbing work. But, does this mean our ever-so helpful marketing automation platform may one day morph into the Terminator? Well not the one Arnold played but we see it is terminating some jobs already and the net result all depends on a number of factors both internal and external to the companies using these platforms.

So, is robotic process automation the same as artificial intelligence? Well they’re at far ends of an evolutionary scale but there is a growing conversation concerning the pros but also the cons of AI (artificial intelligence). Sound far fetched? Social media expert Mark Schaefer posted on Instagram about some rumblings from SXSW, and there are much sterner warnings of the end game from the likes of Stephen Hawking who has recently been joined in this cautionary prediction by technologists and visionaries Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

For now though the early marketing-machine age is here and now, in fact you could say it likely got started around 2007 as we saw companies like HubSpot, Pardot, Eloqua and Marketo begin arriving on the scene. They have proven their worth beyond a doubt. But when big trains go barreling down the track and they get bigger and faster, the question of who’s minding all the switches takes on greater importance especially when the tracks lead right to us.

Where do you think marketing automation will be in a year? five? What changes do you see, good and bad?

Inbound Marketing Recipe Fails; Bologna Anyone?

bologna

I hope my physician doesn’t read my blog because I have to confess something; I like bologna. Yes, that cheap, valve-clogging, artery-hardening sandwich meat full of fat and salt and oh so yummy with mustard between some lily white sliced bread. Want to notch it up a bit? Fry it.

Okay, it’s a rarity that I eat it because I know each bite is shortening my life but I’m betting there are closet bologna fans out there that just reading this has their mouth watering. So what does this have to do with marketing, in particular inbound marketing?

There’s a good post over on Duct Tape Marketing, the blog hosted by John Jantsch, entitled “Are You Building Your Business With A Crock-pot or a Microwave?” that talks about how inbound differs from, is better than traditional methods. I agree with the analogy (especially any that uses food/cooking to make the point 🙂 ) and how user expectations have to be tempered. What I would add is that far too many B2B companies won’t reap the benefits of inbound marketing and here’s why.

Inbound marketing or at least the theory and rationale behind it can make it the easiest marketing method to sell and yet it is the most difficult to implement often due to misalignment of expectations between user, seller and administrator. This leads to multiple friction points and well, then things heat up and not in the pleasant way we want or expect like with a crockpot or microwave.

Inbound also ‘suffers’ from the need for patience, a virtue in short support in alot of companies. In business what used to be called FedEx mentality is now E-mail mentality; not just overnight but near instantaneous results expectations and I wish I were exaggerating. The C-suite and sales leadership expect marketing support that can help them deliver on this month’s/quarter’s revenue goal, not 9-12 months out and longer.

Adding to the challenge, some companies exhibit a form of post-Great Recession traumatic shock syndrome whose primary symptom is terminal procrastination about pulling the trigger on serious marketing budget/effort. Then when push comes to shove the demand for results, any results, increases exponentially leading to “haste makes waste” as money/time/resources get thrown at solutions. This can be a real toxic stew for those championing a slow-cook method like inbound.

Instead there’s often a knee-jerk response, defaulting to “proven” methods because primarily they offer the path of least resistance in garnering management support. This is what’s frequently behind the recurrent fallback to outbound marketing practices or worse, pseudo-inbound with half-baked or missing components, while kicking that legitimate inbound “can” down the road.

So what do we end up with for a marketing menu plan? Crockpot? Microwave? Forget it. They take too long. Break out the bologna.

Got a story about how you got your stakeholders to “eat healthy”?  We’d love to hear about it.

 

 

Book Review: Social Media Explained-Untangling the World’s Most Misunderstood Business Trend

Yes the full title of this latest book from Mark Schaefer is a mouthful but it’s pure brilliance in clarity, insight and utility cannot be overemphasized. Written in Mark’s typical down to earth style that makes you feel like he’s in the room with you,  it instills a confidence that makes you excited to put social TO WORK.  Truly a must read for your entire staff from Admin to CEO.  Really! Read it and find out why for yourself.

But lCover-for-Social-Media-Explainedet me dispel any notion from the book’s title that this is some remedial or sophomoric read. It’s not. It is though the best book I’ve read for those looking to understand how to make social media an effective part of their B2B or B2C marketing, especially skeptical C-suite execs. Not paddy-cake play time but sound foundation building, actionable steps to determine if social has a role in your company (99% likely a YES!), and then how to make it happen plus realistic expectations.

Already read it? Please let us know what you think.

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?