Interesting concept - layer P2P on your B2B or B2C

Sorry for the long hiatus between posts. I got the flu and it just sucked the will to blog right out of me. But I’m feeling better now, and have just come across a very interesting blog post from The Brand Builder that I thought others might like to read here. It suggests that we have entered a whole new world, where P2P (person-to-person) communications will supplement whatever we all have been doing on the B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer) front already. The title is P2P: Building the new Social Business Culture.

I have generally been underwhelmed by “whole new world” stories in the past, but this one seems somewhat credible to me, and provides specific examples of what will change in businesses going forward, as a result of the new social culture that is emerging and currently demonstrated through the popularity of social media. It may be a bit optimistic in some regards (e.g. that the brand manager is actually going to get out of the office a lot in the future), but in a lot of respects, I think it captures the spirit of the change really well. Enjoy!


Can influence marketing increase adoption?

As the challenging economy continues, more firms that I come into contact with are asking about how to improve their adoption rates. By this, I understand them to mean that they want to know how to get the customers they already have to increase their usage of the products or services they have already bought so that the relationship is more valuable to the firm, and presumably the customer too. It’s a close-cousin to cross-sell, where firms try to get the customers they already have to buy some additional products, so that the relationship increases in value. In the interest of time/space, this post is only going to try to tackle adoption, not cross-sell. It is also only going to focus on influence marketing as a solution, and will not address the myriad other possible solutions that might be invoked in these situations.

Adoption challenges can take at least the following two forms, and each requires different influence strategies.

Adoption challenge #1
The supplier has sold a product into an entire enterprise, but the employees of that enterprise are not embracing it in sufficient numbers to meet the supplier’s objectives. The influence strategy that is most likely to work in this situation is to speak to the non-adopters through the adopters.

For example, say a supplier sold the firm a pet insurance policy for its pet-owning employees, but only a few of the company’s pet-owning employees signed up. What influence strategies would be most appropriate to address this situation?

  • Engage those employees who did adopt the pet insurance to provide live testimonials at the firm’s employee benefits day, during open enrollment meetings, and at brown bag lunches arranged specifically for this purpose. Encourage those giving testimonials to detail how having pet insurance provided them with peace of mind, and helped them to avoid a financial catastrophe when their pet recently required costly surgery.
  • Digitally record testimonials from employees who did sign up for pet insurance, and (with permission of course) make the videos available to the company for use on their intranet, corporate website, and video monitors located at employee sites.
  • Extract quotations from the recorded testimonials and publish the quotations (with permission of course) in brochures about the pet insurance product, and in handouts used for new employee orientation.
  • Adoption Challenge #2
    The supplier has sold a product into one department of a firm, and the appropriate number of people in that department have embraced that product, but in order to meet its objectives, the supplier needs to convince leadership in another department that their workers should adopt that product as well. The influence strategy that is most likely to work in this situation is to explicitly refer non-adopters to the adoptors, rather than having the adopters initiate the dialogue with the non-adopters, as above.

    For example, say a supplier sold marketing services into one of three marketing departments within a large firm, and needs to sell marketing services into the other two departments to meet its objectives. What influence strategies would be most appropriate to address this situation?

  • Leverage your relationship with the department that did buy your services to learn about any important differences between the three marketing departments, to ask for guidance about how best to stimulate a response from the other two departments, and to prepare the key contacts in the client department to answer questions that might be posed by the other departments.
  • Employing what you learned from the client department, reach out to the other two departments directly with information about your services, an offer that will pique their interest, and a specific reference to your relationship with the department that did buy your services. More often than not, that will at least spark an inquiry by the non-adopter department to the adopter department.
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    Are great websites industry-specific or universal?

    I was thinking about what makes a great website the other day, and decided to expand my thinking beyond my own perspective and experience, by turning to the WebAward Internet Standards Assessment criteria, available here. This organization has developed a straightforward list of 7 criteria, as follows:

  • Design
  • Ease of Use
  • Content
  • Copywriting
  • Innovation
  • Use of Technology
  • Interactivity
  • Each year they score various websites against each of these criteria, and then give out a series of awards by industry and also one award to the best website from any industry.

    I was particularly interested in their ranking of technology websites. For example, I read with interest that computer hardware sites outscore the average of all industries. As a group, they tend to score highest in content, copywriting and ease of use and tend to score lowest in innovation and technology. I suspect that anyone who has visited a computer hardware site recently would agree with these scores.

    The question I was left with, though, was whether it makes sense to score these firms against an average of all industries, which included, for instance, religious organizations, educational groups, industry associations, etc. It seems like a low bar to clear to say that an industry group beat the average, when the averages are made up of such a hodge-podge of commercial and non-commercial entities. It also seems to sell a firm short simply to say that it beat the other firms assigned to its industry classification, as that says nothing about what capabilities were available to them during the period of evaluation.

    Maybe it would make more sense to score them against one of the two standards below:

  • A narrower group of firms that more closely relate to their business. For example, for the computer hardware firm, maybe they could be scored against firms in the computer hardware, computer software, computer retailer, information services, interactive services, electronics, and technology segments.
  • A hypothetical standard that takes into account the current state of web technology and trends in social media and other forms of interactivity, and so includes a measure of what they could be doing, and not just what other firms are already doing.
  • I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


    Lead scoring on steroids not for everyone

    I have known about the importance of lead scoring for a long time. For those who don’t understand why lead scoring is important, it largely has to do with the irregular flow of leads. Many sales leads result from marketing campaigns that tend to produce a surge in lead flow right around the time of the campaign. If that surge of leads is passed through to sales without any scoring, sales won’t be able to quickly and easily determine which leads are their highest priority, and they will likely waste a lot of time calling leads that aren’t yet ready to buy, and while they do so, the leads that were ready to buy might be going cold because the sales follow-up was slower than they wanted. So, we score leads as they come in to help sales know which are most likely to buy, and marketing know which need further nurturing before they should be passed to sales. In an ideal world, where there are always enough resources to follow up on every lead timely, I suppose this wouldn’t be necessary, but none of us are living in that ideal world these days, so it really is necessary.

    I read a Marketo white paper the other day that took lead scoring to a whole new level. The white paper is called Are They Hot or Not? A Step-by-Step Guide to Aligning Sales and Marketing by Implementing Lead Scoring, and is available here. Marketo’s suggestion is that we should not only be scoring our leads, but also scoring the prospect company, by aggregating scores for all leads across the company, and scoring each product we hope to sell them, by aggregating scores for all leads across the company by product. These are both very logical extensions of the concept, and so I can see why Marketo would be advocating for them. If these two additional scores could be implemented cheaply and easily, as Marketo says they can, I suppose they might help some highly skillful sales reps or marketing campaign managers to further refine their action plans.

    I’m not convinced that all companies could realize that value, however. For instance, how valuable would those additional scores be to companies that sell only a few products? Or to companies that sell to small businesses where there is really only one buyer? Or to companies where lead flow is more limited, and so you might not get many leads from the same company or about the same product in a given period? My intuition tells me that Marketo’s solution might not be valuable for these companies at all. But nobody should trust my intuition, I don’t. Before considering a solution like this, all companies should put together a business case for the solution that drives to the question, how many more sales would we get, at what cost, if we had this solution in place? If there are sufficient incremental sales or cost savings to justify the investment, then go for it. I’m sure we would all enjoy hearing about your successes.


    Outsourcing demand generation & lead qualification

    I recently read an IDC study from earlier this year that said that 70% of firms surveyed are experiencing longer sales cycles, and 50% of them are experiencing lower lead conversion rates. Taken together, this data drove IDC to the conclusion that firms will need to invest more in lead generation in 2009, to close the sales gap created by the longer sales cycles and lower lead conversion rates. IDC added “in many cases, outsourcing demand generation and lead qualification is the best path to success,” because “most organizations today do not practice this kind of rigor across internal groups and therefore may well find outsourcing a path to delivering higher-quality results.”

    I’m intrigued by these conclusions, having never worked for a company that outsourced either demand generation or lead qualification. I was always under the impression that my employers kept those functions in-house in order to ensure higher-quality results. But the IDC study seems to imply that results would have been better had we outsourced. I’m not sure if anyone is following this blog whose firm has outsourced its demand generation/lead qualification functions, but if so, I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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    TV advertising taking a turn for the better lately

    I don’t normally feel the need to comment on the consumer marketing I see on TV, but it occurred to me the other day that we are currently seeing some of the most fun, positive, helpful brand advertising that I’ve seen in a long time. The Target “Frugalista” ad series is a perfect example. The message of these ads is that cheap is now fabulous, and you can revel in your cheapness without shame in the current economy. As a viewer, I am enjoying watching the series unfold, trying to guess ahead of time what they’ll position as fabulous cheapness in the next ad. I haven’t eagerly anticipated a TV ad in a long, long time. Assuming that others are reacting as I am, I’m thinking Target has hit a home run with this campaign.


    Sales isn’t following up on marketing leads for a reason

    Most people who have studied marketing can tell you that marketing lead generation is about both quantity and quality. However, it seems that in many B-to-B organizations, quality has been forgotten in the quest for quantity. As a result, marketing leads have lost credibility with sales, and are often relegated to the bottom of the pipeline in terms of which leads sales will follow up with first.

    It’s axiomatic in the B-to-B marketing space that sales teams just don’t follow up on marketing leads. I went to a Business Marketing Association seminar the other day where the audience burst out laughing when the speaker suggested that this might be a problem in some firms. That meeting was about a different topic, but I heard a number of people from the marketing function speculate as to why sales teams don’t follow up on marketing leads, and they all seemed to focus on perceived deficiencies with sales. I’m not going to defend the world’s sales organizations, but I will suggest that we marketers could use to take a look in the mirror the next time this issue surfaces. At a minimum, it’s a shared problem, and it’s possible the problem lies firmly at marketing’s doorstep.

    How do I know this? Well…the sales people at every company I have ever worked for were results-driven. They pursued whatever lead was in their pipeline that was most likely to close a sale. If your sales partners aren’t following up on your marketing leads, that’s likely because they have had experiences that tell them that the marketing leads aren’t as ready to buy as other leads in their pipeline. That means that marketing will need to either nurture leads further before sending them to sales, or provide sales with the tools necessary to convert the current marketing leads into closed sales. Oh, and by the way, if your sales tools require more work than shifting focus to other leads in the pipeline, then you really only have one choice….start nurturing those leads until you have improved lead quality to the point that it is attractive for sales to follow up on your leads.

    If you are wondering how to do this, the internet is full of advice about how marketing should go about nurturing leads, often from vendors of software packages that make it easy to manage nurturing campaigns across the spectrum of client and prospect leads. One recent example is Marketo’s The Definitive Guide to Lead Nurturing, which you can get here. In this report, as in all the others like it, you can take the advice with or without the system that they recommend. My only hope is that B-to-B marketers will embrace the key concepts behind lead nurturing, and going forward will accept responsibility for producing leads that are at least as ready to buy as others in the sales pipeline. Once that happens, we’ll stop hearing that sales isn’t following up on our leads, and start hearing a greater demand for leads from marketing.


    Which marketing vehicles are right for you?

    Nearly all the marketers I have spoken to lately have told me the same thing: after the headcount reductions in their firms, they don’t have enough people on their teams, or hours in their own day, to effectively use all the marketing vehicles that are available to them. They feel overwhelmed by the options, and particularly in regard to the newer social media forms of marketing, believe they lack the expertise to be effective.

    I just finished reading The Marketing Accountability Imperative: Driving Superior Returns on Marketing Investments, by Michael Dunn and Chris Halsall. They had a good 7-question filter on page 187 for how to determine which marketing vehicles are right for your firm to use. I thought it might be helpful to folks who find themselves in this situation. If you would like more information on the book, go here.

    Imagine the situation where you have the option of using 20 or more vehicles to promote your product, but you only have the bandwidth on your team to master and execute against 5 of them. How do you reduce the list of options to the 5 best vehicles for your situation? The authors suggest that you ask yourself these 7 simple questions that will rule out the least effective vehicles for your situation, and leave you with only the most effective vehicles to execute upon your strategy.

      Does the vehicle logically fit with your specific marketing objectives? For example, print advertising isn’t great at closing sales, and web forms aren’t great at building awareness of a product. Knowing whether your near-term objectives are about awareness or closing sales could help you to eliminate one of these options.

      Will it reach and resonate with your target segment? Press releases are great for attracting the media’s attention, but not so great at getting IT managers’ attention, or imparting a credible message to them, even if they do happen to see the release. Knowing how to reach your target audience, and what would really be credible to them, will help to eliminate vehicles that won’t reach or resonate with your target.

      Does it fit best with your message and positioning? If your positioning is highly technical and your message somewhat complicated, short vehicles like banner ads likely won’t be the best vehicle for getting that message across. Similarly long vehicles like white papers likely won’t be the best way to sell a product that is simply positioned and with a simple message, like buy Coke when you go to the movies.

      Is it well-suited to your company’s skills and execution capabilities? There is a little nuance to this question, in that you and your team have some capabilties today, and can (and should) build others for tomorrow. Think through both your today and tomorrow scenarios before trying to answer this question.

      Does it have the impact profile that best fits the needs of the brand and business? Some vehicles might be perfectly suited to your product and your team’s capabilities, but typically would produce only a small increase in sales, because they only tap a limited audience. That won’t work well for you, if your objectives are large scale increases in sales. Make sure the vehicles you select really have the potential to meet your goals, otherwise they aren’t worth the time and effort you would have to invest in them.

      Does it have the best track record of absolute and relative returns? Before your final selection of marketing vehicles to meet your current goals, look through your team’s past performance on each vehicle, and understand which vehicle has produced the best results relative to your current goals.

      Is it more efficient relative to comparable alternatives? Lastly, before you choose your final short-list of marketing vehicles, make sure you prioritize them on the basis of efficiency. How much resource (money, time, risk) must you invest to get the desired results. Choose those vehicles with the least expenditure per unit of result, and you’ll be sure to get good value for your investment.

    Many companies, my past employers included, use one or a few of these questions, often choosing their favorites from the top/strategic end of the list and/or from the bottom/tactical end of the list, but leaving out some of the key quesitons in the middle. Leveraging the whole list of questions should enable marketers to eliminate some of the less-effective vehicles for their situation, thus improving the overall effectiveness of their marketing programs.

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    Lifecycle marketing for technology firms - another resource

    I recently wrote a blog post about the need for better lifecycle marketing in technology firms, thinking that technology firms could learn a bit about the topic from financial services firms. After that post, I received a great comment from Georgina Thomas who indicated that the pressures to learn about lifecycle marketing are increasing within technology firms in the current economy.

    The other day I found an additional resource that might help technology firms figure out what steps to take to improve their lifecycle marketing, and so thought I would post again about this topic. Last month, Aberdeen Group wrote a research report called Lead Lifecycle Management: Building a Pipeline that Never Leaks. It’s posted on the Aberdeen Group website, and numerous other places on the web, but you’ll need to provide all of them with some information about you to get it.

    Key takeaways from the report were as follows, that Best-in Class companies are better than the rest of the companies in the study at Lead Nurturing, Lead Scoring and Segmentation and Targeting. Marketing, sales and service leadership at Best-in-Class companies are aligned around the goal of maximizing the number of sales-ready opportunities, and therefore work collaboratively to:

      Document the buying cycle so that employees in marketing, sales and service all have the same understanding of what it takes for the company to get a sale

      Assign responsibility for every stage in the buying cycle between marketing, sales and service

      Assign back-up responsibility, for revisiting an opportunity, if it should fall out of the buying cycle at any stage. For example, maybe sales couldn’t close a particular sale, but the client didn’t buy a competing product either. That opportunity might at some point be reassigned to marketing for further nurturing until they are ready to make a purchase decision.

      Leverage lead management technology, and integrate it with their CRM

      Develop a methodology for ranking opportunities by propensity to purchase

      Display the propensity to purchase ranking in their CRM

      Train their marketing, sales and service employees how to use the propensity to purchase rankings to prioritize their work

      Perform rigorous quantitative analysis on the relationship between their propensity to purchase rankings and actual sales outcomes

      Meet regularly to review successes and failures in their approach to lead lifecycle management

      Feed learnings from sales results back into their propensity to purchase ranking methodology, functional assignments, and understanding of the buying cycle

    Lastly, the authors of this report note that Best-in-Class firms apply these techniques to both client opportunities and prospect opportunities. That seemed obvious to me, and certainly has been true wherever I have worked, but perhaps it’s not so obvious somewhere, so I’ve included it here.

    I would love to hear your stories about lead lifecycle marketing at your firms.

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    Lifecycle marketing for technology firms

    A few years back, I switched from marketing financial services to marketing technology products to financial services companies. It didn’t seem like a very big leap at the time, in fact, I told my friends in the financial services industry that I hadn’t really left financial services at all. But it quickly became apparent that things would be very different in my future than in my past. In financial services, products are fairly commoditized, and marketing is important to promote differentiation where there is not much real differentiation. In technology, at least the part of the industry where I worked -enterprise software - the products are much more differentiated, and therefore marketing is much less important. Sure, these companies still need to generate awareness of their brands and consideration of their products, but they don’t need to close the sale with their marketing, they have a sales force to do that. In this respect, it was clear from the start that I had entered a whole new world.

    There were other big differences as well, but those took a little longer for me to figure out. For example, the financial services world largely operates on a lifecycle marketing strategy, where potential clients are identified and nurtured until they buy, and then nurtured some more until they buy even more of the firm’s services. These firms tend to think in terms of lifetime value of a client, and not get discouraged by a period of limited (or no) profitability up front while they are still building that relationship. In technology, the marketing model is much more focused on new product launches, and less on the lifecycle of the client. The marketer’s role is to get a product launched with as much “buzz” as possible, so that it opens doors for sales people who are calling into those prospective clients trying to make a sale. In general, I think technology marketers are pretty smart, but on this point, I think they could learn something from their financial services brethren.

    What would lifecycle marketing look like for technology firms?
    Lifecycle marketing isn’t difficult, it just requires a little more advanced planning and coordination between functions than individual marketing campaigns. You start by identifying the stages in a customer’s lifecycle. This varies by firm, so you should identify stages that are relevant to your firm, but they might look something like this:

    1. Brand Awareness
    2. Consideration
    3. Conversion
    4. Increased Adoption
    5. Increased Understanding of Value
    6. Advocate for the Brand

    Once identified, you should assign each stage to a group in your firm. Of course, everyone likely contributes to every stage in this cycle, but whose responsibility is it primarily to execute each stage? For example, is it primarily marketing or sales’ responsibility to initiate brand awareness? Most firms would say it’s marketing. Continue down the list for each stage. Some stages may have groups sharing responsibility, and that’s OK too, as long as it’s explicit, and everyone knows their role.

    Once these assignments are complete, determine what steps will be taken by the responsible groups to nuture a prospect or client in each stage, to get them through it to the next stage, and what criteria you will use to determine if they are eligible to move on to the next stage. Success in lifecycle marketing is defined by movement through the lifecycle. Your goal is to get as many prospects/clients as possible through the lifecycle to the last stage, because that is the stage where they are worth most to your firm.

    Metrics are also a bit different in the world of lifecycle marketing. Since success is defined as getting the most customers through the lifecycle as possible to that most valuable final stage, the metrics you use need to assess how many prospects/clients are at each of the preceding stages, and how long they have been there, so that you can get a sense of the pace of movement through the lifecycle and the loss rate you are experiencing along the lifecycle. This approach will help you to identify challenge areas in your lifecycle, so that you can increase focus or investment in those areas, as appropriate.

    As I said, it’s not difficult, just a slightly different way of thinking that I believe could really benefit technology marketers, as their products mature, and their marketing budgets come under greater scrutiny. Rather than just marketing a product launch, and then hoping for the best, this approach enables marketers to influence future purchasing behavior as they deepen the client relationship, producing revenues that are typically substantially higher than those associated with the initial product launch.

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