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.

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

high-speed1-300x200

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.

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.

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

What’s Happening To Inbound Marketing “MPG”?

ethanol-addedInbound marketing has a couple of big problems.  By that I mean many well-intentioned companies especially those that are just starting their own inbound marketing program are facing two considerable issues.

The first is a common one and that is unrealistic expectations like namely the amount of time and resource necessary to sustain and power an inbound program into a true conversion machine. Getting started is hard. Staying with it just like any good habit is even harder and for inbound that means generating good content and lots of it, day in and day out.

Secondly, the “per unit energy” of online content is going down in a manner of speaking. Content is the primary fuel that powers an inbound program and like what happened when our gov’t mandated the addition of ethanol to our gasoline, suddenly it took more fuel to go the same distance; ethanol just doesn’t have the same energy content and punch. So what in the world does this have to do with inbound you ask?

We are experiencing an astronomical, exponential growth in online content which is the digital equivalent to adding ethanol to your gasoline except what your typical car will run on has a limit so ethanol content is capped; online content dilution has no cap, no governor and so it is getting worse as the volume of online content grows. As the amount of online content goes up, the greater the dilution of its power and so it takes more and more content to “go the same distance”  ie., powering a robust, organically driven inbound marketing program.  And the discomforting part about this equation is it will only get worse, not better. That is the trap and the spiral which I started thinking more about after I read Mark Schaefer’s post on “Content Shock”  http://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/01/06/content-shock/

Let’s put this in the context of the marketplace. Of course it’s competitive and not everyone is at the same stage in their marketing efforts. If you were one of the businesses that jumped on inbound early like back in 2009, consider yourself not just visionary but also lucky. That was like buying Apple stock when it was cheap. Just five years ago online content volume was a fraction of what it is today and there were fewer competitors vying for inbound dominance.  If you got started early it’s likely you’re in the lead and may well have locked it in; late starters will have to mount an extraordinary effort to just get in the race much less take away the lead.

So what’s a marketer to do? Bail? Hit the silk? Take the off ramp? No. Inbound is a vital tool and practice for all but the rarest of businesses. Instead, do like a good financial planner and have a balanced portfolio. A healthy mix of elements in a marketing program that integrate the best of both outbound and inbound by weaving them into an effective conversion process is just smart. Yes by all means have a polished brand, perfected positioning and well crafted content that caters to the needs of your audience and then use them wisely.

As an example, instead of just posting up a best practices on say, farm tractor maintenance and hoping a few people will find it on your optimized, dynamic website, promote it with outbound like an email or direct mail with a link that takes them to a landing page with a portion of your post shown. Then for the entire article in PDF, have a conversion form to collect basic info on new prospects or to update/track activity from current customers, which then goes into a CRM or MAS.

Or, perhaps look over the marketing calendar and strategically time the release of new content around any number of traditional marketing elements like a new product intro, trade show, newsletter or branding initiative and coordinate them so they support one another for greater effect (synergy).

The options are nearly endless but you get the idea. Inbound has a role but it’s not a panacea.  In light of the explosion of online content, there’s an ever greater need for it’s role to be carefully balanced with its ability to deliver reasonable “mileage” (MROI) within an integrated marketing approach.  Now more than ever content generation is something that warrants careful monitoring against the cost of other marketing practices and channels including traditional outbound.  I’m starting to think all inbound programs should carry a disclaimer like those on products and ads;

“Inbound is part of a healthy marketing program, it is not intended to replace it.”