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.

 

 

Sales and Marketing Alignment Evolves; Is the “Saleozoic” Era Ending?

A New Business Era When Sales and Marketing Must Align 

Full disclosure. I am a sales person AND a marketer. To some those may be mutually exclusive and even put me on the lowest rungs of the social trust-ranking right around “ambulance chaser” and “secretly tears labels off pillows”. Still, in over twenty-plus years in the agency world including a partner position, few things are as gratifying for me as making the sale. Before this I sold in the industrial and construction industries. Before that retail. And as a kid and teenager, I went door-to-door selling my lawn services or canvassing for an HVAC company. So on the topic of sales and marketing getting on the same page, I’m glad John Jantsch is putting a white-hot spotlight on it in his new book,  “Duct Tape Selling, Think Like a Marketer-Sell Like A Superstar”.

Maybe it will lend more evidence that we’re actually entering a new era in business where a lot of talk and half measures about sales and marketing alignment will be replaced with real, broad progress.

 

 

The Time is Ripe but Will the C-suite Belly-up To The Bar?

bar sceneRead Mark Schaefer’s interview with Mr. Jantsch and it sounds like John is all over this. Solutions are badly needed for what I have come to term the “prescriptive” and “orchestration” challenges; namely adapting a new sales and marketing alignment methodology and customizing it according to the many verticals and cultures out there. A lot of work goes into carefully prescribing the correct solutions and timing, then diligently managing the conversion and integration process. Naturally for it to have a chance of lasting success, it needs to get a serious, long-term commitment from company leadership because the change resistance is significant.

The Age of Sales Dinosaurs Is Ending; Why They Won’t Go Quietly

raul-martin-t-rex-edmontosaWhere is change resistance coming from? There is a vast, entrenched culture of hard-boiled salesman and managers with their call lists and briefcases whose mindset is by and large, like that of the therapod dinosaurs. They are governed by nature’s law of conservancy that dictates putting forth energy sparingly to conserve it while exploiting those opportunities that produce results of the highest value with the least energy investment (you survival-theme, reality TV watchers already know this). This basic tenet of survival underpins every action so when someone outside the sales team “pack” promotes a new hunting method, there better be hard proof that it not only conforms to this law but puts more ‘food on the ground’. Adding to the challenge is the U.S. business environment today is the pinnacle of “short attention-span theater” so anyone making the case for change must have carefully engineered it to quickly garner interest (just like any good content) with clear CTAs (just like any conversion process) if it has a prayer of getting consideration or buy-in. The preeminent, age-old problem here is getting stakeholders to try something new that runs the risk of starving and that’s not altogether figurative if you’ve ever tried to exist on commission sales, meet quarterly targets or run your own business.

The Emergence of a New Sales Species

The timing of John’s book couldn’t be better given the evolutionary pressure on the sales team that in my opinion is like the natural selection process that follows a cataclysmic event but instead of a giant asteroid hitting Earth, in this case it was the Great Recession. It came along just as a lot of the furry, little and very intelligent content and inbound marketing animals were emerging.
People like warm, trustworthy and furry and embrace them.
People downright fear being stalked by large reptiles.
I like to think John may be documenting the “dinosaur” die off that marks the end of the “Saleozoic Era”, and the emergence of a hybrid or possibly an entirely new species in the evolution of sales and marketing alignment.
Are you seeing this in your company? Are you one of the new breed? We’d love to read about what you’re seeing in our comments section so please share won’t you.

UPDATE:  Since I first wrote this post, John’s book has gotten alot of good review including this very thorough one I recommend, “Out With the Sales Rep and In With The Sales Guide: A Review of Duct Tape Selling”,  from demand gen authority, Dan McDade over at PointClear. Mosey over for a solid CliffsNotes-esque run down by Dan.

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?  

B2B Marketing Could Learn Something From Sales: Skip The Monkey Business

True story. My good friend Ken, had just walked into one of his first sales calls back in the ‘70s and he was feeling pretty righteous decked out in his plaid polyester Haggar suit, new Cross pen and shiny Samsonite briefcase – not to mention the big, curly hairstyle. It was an independent electronics and TV repair shop and it was early so no customers and the owner yelled from the back that he’d be right out.  So with some time to kill he looked around and that’s when he spotted the monkey cage at the end of the counter.

Inside, innocently sitting there wide-eyed was one of those cute, cuddly little monkeys you could order from the small black-and-white ads in the back of magazines like Popular Mechanics.  Well, he thought, this could be fun. Maybe the monkey would jump around a little given the right motivation, like maybe with a poke of the new pen in his pocket.

So just as the pen tip passed through the cage mesh, in a flash a little hand had snatched it and thrown it to the bottom of the cage. Ken stared in disbelief. His new pen was lying in monkey poop, and worse, how would he explain this to the owner? Thinking fast, he realized that if he pulled on the edge of the newspaper lining the cage bottom, he could reach the pen, retrieve it, problem solved. So leaning forward for a better view, he tugged the paper. The monkey watched too, and also immediately noticed Ken’s curly hairdo sticking into the cage. In a split second our monkey had a fistful of salesman hair and with the incredible strength even small primates possess, was bouncing Ken’s head off the monkey cage like a bolo-paddle ball. Realizing his predicament, Ken pried his hair loose from his furry assailant and simultaneously plucked the pen from the cage.  None too soon either because as he gathered his wits while running a hand over his hair, the owner appeared, glanced at him, then the cage and asked, “You haven’t been messing with the monkey, have you?”

I think my friend Ken recovered well under the circumstances and the lesson there is of course, no monkeying around in B2B sales! Today I work with B2B marketing clients to develop integrated marketing programs and the most successful align with the sales program. Like my friend Ken, I was in B2B sales for many years (no monkey encounters thankfully) and we have both found success by following four best practices that I’d like to share because I think they are also relevant to getting a B2B marketing program on track and out front.

Know your products. The best salespeople I’ve ever known always knew their products cold. It allowed them the freedom to relax (which puts the prospect at ease), to listen, to gather the facts and then to focus on solutions tailored to the customer’s needs.  Likewise, B2B marketers who know their company’s products intimately, who understand what motivates their customers , plus who are plugged in to the Inbound Marketing discussion and know what constitutes great Content, are the ones who are succeeding. The next time the VP of Sales or the CFO have a new initiative and come knocking to discuss it, be relaxed and be that great listener which relates to the next point.

Lead with questions. Perhaps one of the greatest strokes of luck for me was minoring in Journalism in college. The basic premise was getting the answers to the who, what, when, where, how and why. This was a practice I carried over into B2B sales, then B2B marketing where it continues to serve me well to this day. It’s surprising what gets revealed with the right questions and the quality ideas that come from careful qualification.

Follow with suggestions. Test those ideas you’ve synthesized through your fact gathering. Occasionally floating one out there will help either validate you’re on the right track or reveal some more finely pointed questions are needed. The Xerox Professional Selling Skills course I took many moons ago called this “identifying and overcoming objections”. Either way, gaining understanding by gradually narrowing questions from broad to specific will lead to the best solutions.

A-B-C:  Always Be Closing.  But not like the “hard sell” that may come to mind. On the contrary, think of it more like the way a doctor is “closing”. How’s that? A physician closes through selective screening by assessing the patient’s condition until they have a diagnosis that they can prescribe a course of treatment.  Developing an effective B2B marketing program can be like that except thankfully without the drafty medical gowns. With all the chatter about the latest marketing technology, best practices, MAS, CRM, CMS, it’s easy to lose focus.

Perhaps these four guidelines will help to minimize the monkey business and make it easier to lay a sound foundation for an effective B2B marketing program. Have an example of how this process or similar has worked for you that you’d like to share? Please take advantage of the comment section below to post it up. We’d love to hear about it.