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 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.

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 Content Marketing Wisdom; Four Cues from a Sushi Master

sushi imageThe other night my seventeen year-old son suggested our family watch a movie he found. Of course we all wanted to know the name expecting it to be some block buster, action-flick where likely a lot of stuff “blows up real good”. To our surprise he said, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. I had to ask him to repeat it. Really? Even my wife and older son had to know what was so special about this movie. We already knew my young son loves sushi so it made sense but who is this Jiro and why does he dream of sushi?

As their website explains, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

So we watched it. It was remarkable. It was surprising. This man’s story had life lessons drawn from an incredible, decades old pursuit of one thing; preparing the best sushi. It got me thinking about my life and work as a B2B marketer and what perhaps many of us in this business may need to be reminded who are trying to develop a successful content-driven inbound B2B marketing program where a premium is placed on being remarkable and channeling a passion into authentic, valuable content. That’s a tall order. So to help with that here are four pieces of sage advice from our sushi master and his key partners about their pursuit of serving up the very best “content” every day:

1) Jiro Ono: “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro is revered by his sons, staff and others who have trained under him. He leads by example with a fierce determination to be the best. I seriously doubt that Jiro read Stephen Covey’s book “Principle Centered Leadership” about the Power Process but he sure is a great example of it; “the more a leader is honored, respected, and genuinely regarded by others, the more legitimate power he will have with others.” Bingo! Jiro sure proved that judging from the dedication of his staff who he acknowledges make it possible for him to do what he does every day. In turn Jiro has a following from around the world beating a path to his little restaurant in a subway station to experience his craft. Even though we might be much younger, we can all benefit by applying some of Jiro’s simple wisdom and learn to consistently generate compelling content, either tangible or digital, that turns prospects into customers, even evangelists.

2) Yoshikazu Ono: “Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.”

One of Jiro’s sons offers how he took inspiration from his father amidst the challenge of living in his shadow. Eventually we even learn it is Yoshikazu who actually prepares and serves the sushi for the Michelin Guide reviewers the night they came in. Years of practice and experience driven by a desire to be the best, to keep learning and to keep improving, do pay off. We know the pace of change in our business demands we stay up on the latest in B2B marketing technology and best practices. It’s the “never stop learning” mantra. So where are the “Jiros” of content and inbound marketing to show us the way? Among my favorites are Mark SchaeferMichael GassJay BaerPaul Roetzer, as well as the teams at CopyBlogger, and the Content Marketing Institute to name a few.  Building a first-class online presence means that everyone who has a stake from entry level to the C-suite, should have a list of thought leaders and blogs they follow regularly to continuously draw inspiration and insight.

3) The Shrimp Dealer: “These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.”

Here was one of Jiro’s suppliers telling it like it is. There are no short cuts to legitimate success. Commit, get the skills, and develop a passion. Inbound marketing is no different for it to be successful. Recently Mark Schaefer blogged “If I give away my content, don’t I give away my business?” This is a lot like “build it and they will come.” For many who are managing and running for-profit businesses it’s difficult to believe success lies in placing such a high value on the interests of others to the extent you are willing to give away your best thinking. This takes guts, vision and commitment. It’s also a huge reason why company leaders must be true believers willing to invest seriously in an inbound program if they expect top ROI from it. When they don’t, I call this condition “the irreconcilable paradox”, meaning they don’t really believe in it, they aren’t digital citizens, and they think because it’s online then it must be nearly free and yet they expect great ROI. Nothing could be further from the truth. There must be real commitment to the operating philosophy of inbound marketing for it to achieve its full potential.

4) Jiro Ono: “I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.”

Wow. Imagine if every employee in every company felt that way. The results would be beyond amazing. But the reality is people struggle to get anywhere near this level of satisfaction from their work. In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about “getting the right people on the bus” when he’s referring to the process of building a team to take your company to greatness. Done well it would mean your company has a busload of people like Jiro and his staff who are not only technically skilled at their job, but who also enjoy it!

If you’ve achieved this, then congratulations for that is no small feat. If your entire B2B marketing team has, then you are at or approaching the level of a Jiro Ono and I think we’d all love to hear your story. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a movie made about you!

So do you have a secret to a successful B2B inbound marketing program? Please share it here.