December 22, 2014

Should we stop marketing to the CIO?

Technology marketers have spent the last 25 years trying to get and keep the attention of the people with their hands on the technology tiller inside multi-billion dollar organizations, CIOs.

And for nearly that long, pundits have been predicting that the CIO role would become extinct, and that the strategic decisions about technology would be subsumed into the business.

Those pundits have always been wrong. But this time, they may finally be right—at least about certain types of CIOs. For marketers, this diminished relevance of certain CIOs means two things, I think. First, that they must know more about their CIO audiences than ever, and second, they must rethink how they market to target companies.

Cloud creates a new buying decision pattern
In our ITSMA Webinar How Cloud Computing Will Change Marketing last week, one of our guests made a bold prediction: Major IT services deals will, in the future, bypass IT.

Now, you may say that few big IT services deals ever went through IT. They are too important not to be made by the business. Perhaps, but in most cases, CIOs were crucial to making sure that the deals didn’t completely fall apart. Business people heard grand promises of business efficiency, cost savings, and competitive differentiation, while CIOs provided crucial translation that weighed those promises against the reality of 30-year-old legacy systems, dispersed business units and geographies, business process vagaries, tangled infrastructure—basically, the IT hairball that threatens to choke any deal after it is signed.

CIOs’ power is rooted in complexity
For marketers, having good relationships with CIOs was like knowing the bouncer behind the velvet rope. It got you in the door and created a crucial ally for making deals that everyone could live with.

But while CIOs may have been crucial to the deals, there was always a problem. CIOs’ power has, to a certain extent, always been rooted in something that business people hate: complexity. CIOs were the only ones who had any insight into how the individual hairs of the IT hairball were knotted together.

Trying and failing to dislodge the IT hairball
For the last ten years, providers have been trying to dislodge the hairball. It began with Application Service Providers (ASPs) that promised to surgically remove the hairball from the throat of the business. But these outfits could never remove the lump entirely and failed to run things any more efficiently than internal IT departments could.

Then came the Software as a Service (SaaS) providers, who offered certain applications and business processes through their own servers. But most of these applications were peripheral and could only shave little slices off of the hairball.

Cloud moves IT outside the company
And now comes cloud, which is basically ASP with a lot more technology power and sophistication and without the reptilian brand associations. Providers now say that through some combination of cloud technologies, they can blast the hairball to dust and let companies create services that are not hampered by underlying technology complexity. A report from the Corporate Executive Board entitled The Future of Corporate IT predicts that up to 80% of application spending will move outside the company.

What will happen to CIOs
Let’s assume they are right. It seems like a good bet—Moore’s Law doesn’t show any sign of slowing down yet. Here’s what will happen to CIOs if the cloud prognostications come true:

  • The traditional technology-focused CIO will become irrelevant. There will be an entire category of CIOs that marketers should no longer waste time and resources on: Operational CIOs. These are the CIOs who keep the lights on in the IT infrastructure. They buy the hardware and services for the data centers. These CIOs will be written out of the equation when the infrastructure moves into the cloud.
  • Internal IT projects will become external services deals. Another CIO archetype, the Transformational Leader CIOs that have been focused on using IT to improve business processes, may disappear as distinct IT leaders. Those projects will happen outside the company, in the cloud. These CIOs could move to become heads of the specific business services that run in the cloud and manage the relationships with providers, predicts the Corporate Executive Board.
  • IT departments will shrink dramatically. The Corporate Executive Board predicts that 75% of in-house IT positions will disappear in the next five years. What few positions remain will be dedicated to supporting specific business services.

What will happen to marketers
Okay, so what does all this mean for marketers? I see four key shifts:

  • The technology sale will become the business service sale. All of this could spell the end of what we have traditionally called the technology buyer. The sale will have to be made on higher level technology-based business services. Marketers will need to stop focusing on technology-based pitches.
  • The importance of audience segmentation in B2B will increase. More than ever, marketers will need to know which CIO archetype they are talking to and make sure they are not wasting time on those who can’t impact the business service sale.
  • Idea marketing will become more important. With speeds and feeds no longer relevant, marketers must get the attention of customers through ideas about how to improve business services rather than technology comparisons.
  • Relationships will matter more after the sale. The cloud means that everything becomes a service. Without the IT hairball to lock providers and customers together in a death embrace, the barriers to switching providers will come down. That means that marketers will need to devote more attention and dollars to the loyalty stage of the buying process.

What do you think? How will cloud change the CIO and marketing to the CIO?

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B2B social media lessons from Steven Slater and Mark Hurd

At first glance, Steven Slater seems like a total crackpot—cursing out a passenger on the intercom and snagging a few beers on the way to a fun-house exit on the inflatable emergency slide (admit it, haven’t you always wanted to slide down that thing yourself?).

But we’re in the era of social media now, so there are breadcrumbs in the forest that lead us to a fuller explanation of who Slater is and why he did what he did. Valleywag did a great piece on the trail of anguish Slater left on a social media site called Airliners.net about how airlines’ absurd baggage fees had caused an explosion in carry-on baggage that pits passengers against crew and puts everyone in danger.

Social media fills in the background to the blowup
Thanks to the site, we discover that Slater has loved flying since he was a kid. His father was an airline pilot and he waxed poetic about seeing planes take off. His posts chronicle the sweeping arc of frustration felt by a veteran flight attendant (he has been flying since 1990) over the steady decline of an industry that he clearly loves.

Following the trail of bread crumbs leads us to a caring, thoughtful person. Of course, he shouldn’t have done what he did, but it’s clear that his slide into the sunset is built on a foundation of heartfelt frustration rather than a crackpot’s whim.

Even the mighty leave a trail
From the yin of Slater we have the yang of Mark Hurd’s implosion at HP. It’s difficult to tell exactly what went on between Hurd and Jodie Fisher, but it isn’t hard to find a breadcrumb trail of what people of HP thought of him. And in the wake of his firing, that’s exactly what journalists and their audiences were interested in knowing. When the mighty fall, we all want to know what those involved really thought about the powerful icons.

You can do that on a social media site called Glassdoor. Go there and search on HP, and you can see that as of today anyway, employees are dissatisfied. And until Hurd was fired, his picture went next to that 2.4 out of 5 rating. The first review I saw listed under the search was entitled, “OK to work for, but watch your back.” Nothing like faint praise.

The data is available to pass judgment
In a piece on SiliconValley.com, they interviewed the CEO of Glassdoor, who was able to offer an assessment of Hurd’s reign based on over 1000 reviews of people who work there. As a researcher, I know that that is a pretty respectable survey sample. And since Glassdoor is a site with a higher purpose than ranting about your employer (people go there looking for job postings and to get a sense of the going salaries in their professions) it’s likely that it represents a fair cross section of HP employees, rather than just the angry ones.

The information from a social site like this changes how journalists can write about a huge company like HP. Rather than trying to craft an objective view of what HP employees thought of Hurd based on a handful of interviews with a few (possibly disgruntled) ex-employees, the reporter is able to build a credible case for the fact that, as it says on the headline, “Few HP workers shed a tear for Hurd.”

So what can we take away from all this as B2B marketing professionals? Here are a few thoughts:

  • We must monitor what’s being said about our companies online. The trajectory of Slater’s postings look a lot like the things that customers say about our complex B2B products and services, which have a much longer arc of relationship than B2C. Our customers aren’t going to do a United breaks guitars on us. They are much more likely to build a reasoned head of steam over a long period in places like message boards.
    Longtime customers look especially like Slater. They may have come on board at a time when your products and services offered more than they do now or worked differently. Like Slater, their expectations may be born of an entirely different era that they think was “better” than today. We need to keep track of the arc of sentiment and reach out to these customers before the blowup.
  • We must be able to engage with customers through social media. It isn’t enough to discover that customers are mad at us online. We need a process and people for reaching out to them. Imagine if someone at JetBlue had reached out to Slater based on his postings and asked him to talk about his growing frustrations? He certainly wouldn’t be facing federal charges and an end to a long career. Similarly, there are many ways we can intervene in our B2B customers’ frustrations. We can invite them to talk with an internal SME, create a session about the issue at the next user conference and invite to attend, etc.

What do you think? What else do we need to do?

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In social media, no one knows you’re an introvert

Peter Steiner's cartoon
Image via Wikipedia

Two interesting posts this week on how our personalities affect our online behavior. First, Paul Dunay (did I mention that Paul is my favorite B2B blogger yet today?) expresses shock that he turned out to be an extrovert on the Myers-Briggs personality test and wonders if you need to be an extrovert to be in social media. Then David Weinberger, big thinker, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto (and nice guy) proposed an interesting framework for determining our internet personalities.

Reading these got me thinking that we probably need to rethink the concepts of introversion and extroversion in social media marketing.

Since I’m a completely unqualified to comment on matters of psychology, I immediately came to certainty on Paul’s query (no!) and, of course, came up with a theory.

On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog
And the fact that I’m writing about it here proves that you don’t need to be an extrovert to be in social media. I am an “I” with a capital I. (Though I can sometimes fake extroversion when I speak in front of a group that doesn’t know me.)

Could I have revealed all that in a casual conversation with someone I don’t know very well? Doubtful. But can I do it on my blog? Hell yeah! (I never say Hell, yeah in real life—well, hardly ever.)

I think social media turns most things we think about innate personality on its ear. Think of how people contract avatars in games that represent the person that they want to be (or are but can’t show).

But as Paul points out, that self is often lazy and fearful. Research has shown that even in lively online communities, only 10% actively contribute, and about 1-2% actively become leaders of topics and post new threads.

How can we help customers be extroverts?
Those numbers look bad, but we have to think of them from our customers’ perspectives. What if you post a thread on a topic that your company doesn’t want you talking about? What if you wind up looking like an idiot in front of your peers and embarrassing yourself and your company?

Now juxtapose that against the wild sharing that we do on personal devices and networks. Many, many people are revealing themselves in ways that they would never do in real life and on Myers-Briggs tests. Twitter is like a virtual table in the bar that everyone is dancing on.

I think for marketers, the issue is less about whether our customers will be more extroverted online—they already are. But how can we create more ways to share safely?

What do you think?

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The power of self-regulation in customer relationships

Simple things seem to be the most powerful, don’t they? I think that’s one of the reasons that when people write about an archetypal business, they often use bicycles.

Advertisement for Columbia Bicycles from 1886.
Image via Wikipedia

Clear, simple product that everyone understands, right? Everyone knows what a bike shop does. They sell and fix bikes and they offer accessories.

The bowl of quarters
But Chris Zane thinks of this simple business model differently. He sees it entirely as a service business. And he aims to give away (as in free) as many services to his customers as possible. To bring this across, he uses a simple metaphor: a bowl full of quarters.

In this video of a conference presentation Zane did (don’t bother with the whole thing, just scroll down in the box marked “Chapters” to “Zane’s Cycles”—it’s short and sweet), he offers the bowl to people in the audience and asks them to take from the bowl. He doesn’t tell them how many to take, he just puts the bowl in front of them.

The power of self-regulation
As you might suspect, nobody digs a paw into the thing and scoops out all the quarters. They each take one. This is the power of self-regulation.

The bowl represents the lifetime value of the customer. Zane did research on the bike industry and figures that the average lifetime value of each of his customers is $12,500—from the first bike they purchase to the last, as well as all the accessories. At a 45% margin, that translates to $5600 in profit.

When Zane started out, he faced competition from much larger bike shops, so he couldn’t afford to compete on price of the product.

Can you afford to hand out quarters?
Instead, he started handing out quarters. First, it was free one-year maintenance with each bike. Then when competitors matched it, he made it two years, and then finally, lifetime.

When a customer needs something small, like a nut or bolt, Zane trains his staff (and training is important) to just give them away. If a customer tries to fix a flat himself and screws it up, they get a new tube—no questions asked. After all, what’s a $5 tube when you have $5600 to spend?

For those of us struggling with B2B marketing and all its complexities, this will help clarify some core issues.

Watch the video and you will come away inspired to rethink how you relate to your customers and what your true costs are in serving them. You may even create your own bowl of quarters.

Please say what you think of the video in the comments section.

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How Facebook’s privacy disasters will change B2B marketing

Have you ever noticed that your Facebook profile page looks like one of those horrible qualification forms that we make our customers fill out? If you go to Facebook and look at your profile, your immediate reaction is going to be that it’s asking for too much information.

Social media is beginning to teach us that long qual forms are going the way of the dodo. I’m still looking to pin down incontrovertible evidence of this, but anecdotally I hear from people that when they get rid of qual forms for their content the amount of engagement increases exponentially. The question that we’re asking Facebook is the question that we should be asking ourselves in our marketing: Do we really need all this information?

Facebook has built its business model around gathering as much personal information about us as possible. And just as our traditional thinking about qual forms is failing, so will Facebook’s personal-information-as-currency model. Both Facebook and we have traditionally believed that the content services that we provide—in our case studies, white papers, webinars, etc.—come at a price. It costs us money to produce this stuff, and therefore our consumers must pay a price. That price is personal information, company information, and buying intent. For Facebook, it’s personal information that advertisers can use to target us.

Customers are less willing to give up information
Especially as social media takes off, we’re finding that prospects and customers have less and less patience for giving us that information. The expectation on Twitter is that 99.9% of the time any link that you put in a tweet is going to lead to accessible content. Twitter etiquette, at least as I observe it, is that if the information that you’re linking to is gated, you take up some of that precious 140-character real estate to inform people of that fact.

It seems that Facebook has staked its future not on the interactions that occur between people on its network but on the idea that the value is in the personal information of its participants. This is a disaster if you ask me.

Now let’s compare your profile page on Facebook with your profile page on Twitter. It’s like the difference between someone asking for your e-mail in exchange for a white paper versus them asking for your salutation, your company size, when you are going to buy, your mother’s maiden name and on and on ad nausea.

The key is the interaction—not the information
See, what I think Twitter understands that Facebook and LinkedIn and all of the other permission-based networks don’t is that the key is in the interaction, not in the information.

I admit it; I’m a Twitter bigot. I find much more value in Twitter than in any of the other social media networks. So take my comments with a grain of salt. But I will tell you that this week I attended an excellent event run by Silver pop called the B2B marketing University in Boston. Because of my Twitter interactions with people in the B2B realm, I had all the information I needed to be able to approach four people I recognized at the event (if you’re reading this, you know who you are!) and engage them in real substantive discussions—even though we had never met.

I don’t know what schools they went to, or where they worked before their current jobs, but I know what they think about B2B marketing and I have re-tweeted their stuff and I know they’re smart. Those interactions on Twitter opened up a possibility of a relationship much more easily than being able to read their profile pages on LinkedIn or Facebook. I learn about them and who they are based on my interactions with them and in sharing content that is of interest to all of us.

Viral vs. permission-based
It’s this viral relationship model of Twitter that wins in every privacy showdown between Facebook and its users. There is a cottage industry developing out there for people who want to protect you from Facebook. Reclaimprivacy.org is a small browser based program that practices a kind of benevolent vigilantism and helps you change your vulnerable privacy settings. It’s a great service, but it only reinforces the perception of Facebook as Big Brother. The privacy issues for Facebook are going to be on the cover of Time magazine next week. There’s would be joy in Twitterville this week if it didn’t seem that the founders of Twitter have none of the ego and contempt for competitors that most businesses seem to have. (Of course, it may be a little bit easier to be this way when your own business model remains rather ill defined.)

I don’t know about you, but I’m always annoyed by people whose first question is what I do or what school I went to. But that is how we’re introduced to each other on Facebook and LinkedIn. I’d rather get to know you based on knowing that I have a shared interest with you. Frankly, I can’t imagine why 300 people would read my blog every week if that weren’t the basis of our relationship.

Ask for a relationship, not information
I think that as social media becomes more integrated into our lives and our jobs were going to see that just as with our content we are going to have to get to know one another through our interactions. We need to ask people for a relationship rather than asking them for their information. What if, next time you offer a white paper or video to prospects, instead of demanding their contact information, you invite them to join your community on LinkedIn, or sign up for an event, or follow you on Twitter? This would be the basis of a much more substantive encounter—and potential relationship—just as I had with my Tweeps this week in Boston.

We should all take a lesson from Facebook and understand that getting information from people is not a zero-sum game. It’s a gradual process—the currency of which is trust and exchange of value.

What do you think?

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How to build emotional engagement in B2B marketing

I got a really interesting question last week through my Skribit box: How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

This may be the ultimate question in B2B, especially as we struggle to integrate social media into the overall marketing mix.

Let’s face it, even if it was possible to curl up in front of the fire with a glass of wine and our B2B products and services, no one would do it. Most of the things we sell are about as emotive as army ants.

That’s why I’m going to answer the question (and invite accusations of copping out) by saying that we shouldn’t try to use our dry technologies as the basis for emotional engagement.

We have to stop torturing ourselves trying to write interesting things about our dry technology. That’s what has led to the horrific vocabulary of mindless marketing speak that makes us utter things like “demonstrable value” with straight faces while deluding ourselves that it leaves an impression on customers. (Hey, it was the best thing we came up with at the meeting, so why wouldn’t customers like it, too!?)

Where are thepeople and the stories?
Journalism has long understood that people respond to other people and to stories. Those two things are built into the process. You get fired if you don’t interview people and feature them in your story. And you never get any interesting assignments if you aren’t able to communicate information through a narrative structure—a story with a number of star characters and a beginning, middle, and end.

It’s the same in B2B. It’s why our latest ITSMA marketing budget survey shows (free summary available)that thought leadership has risen to a higher priority level than in any recent year. Ideas can create an emotional connection. Okay, so it’s not big emotion, but it hits some buttons:

  • Gratitude. This company understands my pain
  • Loyalty. I may need to keep an eye on these guys in case they say something else that moves me.
  • Respect. These guys are smart.
Press photo of Sockington.
Image via Wikipedia

But for all of these things to hit, customers need to be able to connect them to people. Social media offers some new ways for us to build emotional connections with customers by connecting them with other people and their stories. (Ever wonder why Sockington is so popular? Even making a cat more like a person works.) Blogs let us feature our subject matter experts (SMEs) not just as brainiacs but as people that customers can eventually feel comfortable reaching out to directly. Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. all do that, too.

But let’s not get too hung up on social media. This has to permeate all that we do. It’s why those expensive private events work so well.

What do you think? How do you use emotional engagement when talking about dry technology?

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Social media raises the bar for customer intimacy

Social media is raising the bar on customer intimacy.

Though it has become a generic term, customer intimacy was first coined by Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema who worked at CSC/Index back in the 90s when I was a thought leadership marketer there. Rooted in Michael Porter’s timeless work in business strategy, Treacy and Wiersema took it a step further with their three “value disciplines.”

The theory is that every company competes in three disciplines:

  • Customer intimacy. These are companies that go out of their way to build close customer relationships. They are focused on lifetime customer value and are willing to incur short-term costs in order to build long-term loyalty and satisfaction—Nordstrom and Amex are a couple of B2C examples.
  • Operational excellence. Customers rely on these companies to deliver reliability and quality at a low price. FedEx is an example, having invented the guaranteed overnight shipping model.
  • Product leadership. These are companies that rely heavily on innovative, exciting, status-conferring new products to hold customer interest. Apple is the most obvious example here (Sony used to be).

Treacy and Wiersema argued that all great companies strive to be leaders in one of these disciplines while maintaining a reasonable level of parity with competitors on the other two. Though the theory was criticized at the time as being overly simplistic, it has held up remarkably well and continues to strike me with its simple (not simplistic) clarity.

Where’s the customer intimacy revolution?
You could argue that two of the three disciplines have already had their revolutions. The quality movement let most companies achieve a high level of reliability and consistency (for example, most car companies score very closely in quality rankings these days), and the venture capital movement (along with 3-D design software) has created a ready avenue for unknown product innovators to gain the spotlight.

Customer intimacy has remained the poor stepchild. There has been no revolution—no breakthrough in process or practice to raise all boats. Hard to manage and to scale, highly reliant on the vagaries of human nature, most companies continue to have poor relationships—or worse, no relationships—with their customers.

Social media is making that fact plain.

But you know, I’m tired of hearing people say we need to get closer to customers. Where’s the 21st-century revolution—the customer intimacy version of the quality movement—to show us how? We’re all struggling to move from the traditional arm’s-length, temporary campaigns to the always-on, direct relationships inherent in social media management.

The good news is that we may look back on social media as the movement that made high levels of customer intimacy as achievable as product quality seems today.

Intimacy through content
I think so because social media is starting to give us a way to scale intimacy. We can do it with content.

Social media reduces the incremental cost of content. We know that in B2B, customers and prospects respond best to ideas, news, research, and how-to—not sales pitches.

Social media is a channel for raising the level of intimacy that we have with customers and prospects with that content. Think of social media management as filling in the gaps. Chunks and snippets of white papers sprinkled through social media like breadcrumbs in the forest let us deliver value and build trust by providing content at a higher level of frequency. Social media that connects one live event with the next one lets us continue to build the relationship. Most of this is content we were going to produce anyway. Social media lets us spread out the cost while also increasing the frequency of touches.

Unspoken intimacy
We tend to think of intimacy as being personal—something for the salespeople. But we can do it by reliably delivering valuable content. Magazines have been doing it for years. Consistency, relevance, and quality create a very intimate relationship with readers. I will never forget the live encounters I have had with readers while attending trade shows when I was at CIO or my bike magazine—people I had never seen or spoken to before—who approached me to tell me how much they loved or hated my magazine without even introducing themselves. In their minds, they had already developed a deeply intimate relationship with the content that they associated me with, and they felt passionately enough to speak it to a complete stranger because I was associated with that content.

It was very easy to strike up a conversation with those people because we already had a lot in common. And I knew that I would probably never see or hear from many of them again because I didn’t have a channel for communicating with them directly once we parted ways—except through the articles I wrote and edited. Few people bothered to write letters to the editor, just as few people contribute to communities or post comments on blogs today. But that doesn’t mean that the intimacy isn’t there. Our intimacy exists mostly through the content—we just have to find ways to surface it.

Social media increases the frequency of those kinds of contacts. I can’t help but think that as the different social media channels continue to evolve, customer intimacy is going to take a leap forward.

What do you think? How should social media evolve to let us create customer intimacy more easily and economically?

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How much do you “charge” for your content?

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, so it’s difficult to actually pull money out of buyers for your marketing content (though there are rare exceptions: McKinsey has been doing it for years with the McKinsey Quarterly).

Yet while generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it. The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events. Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content.

That has to change.

In many cases, we’re charging too much for our content and in other cases not enough. For example, there is no way that the typical Webinar is worth as much as an in-depth research report, yet we make buyers give us the same amount of information for both—we charge them the same price.

Make no mistake; buyers understand the prices behind marketing content. We’re the ones who don’t pay enough attention to it. Here are the components of the price from the buyer’s perspective:

  • Time. They have to spend time filling out the form and predict the amount of time they will need to absorb the content—and probably deal with the emails and calls from pesky salespeople after the fact.
  • Privacy. Buyers understand that they give away a piece of their privacy every time they fill out a form and engage with content.
  • Intention. Buyers want the most valuable content they can get. They decide how to reveal about their intentions based on the value of the content to them. They may also assume that a higher level of intent will net them more valuable content either in terms of quantity or depth.
  • Hierarchy. Buyers are all-too aware of their positions in the chain of command. Those lower down on the corporate ladder are more willing to “spend” their information because they realize that it has less value than those higher up, whose buying power gives them more information riches combined with less willingness to spend it (kind of like rich people in the real economy).
  • Access. Buyers understand that there are different levels of access to content depending on certain factors. They don’t always know what those factors are, but they value access enough to lie. For example, many assume that a higher level of buying intent will get them more goodies, so they say they are ready to buy when they aren’t. Many also assume that if they say that they are vice president instead of a director that they will receive better content and probably better treatment overall.
  • Relationship. This price is one that high-level executives have been calculating for years as providers woo them with memberships in customer councils and invitations to private events. But it’s less familiar to lower-level buyers, who are only beginning to calculate this piece as the economics of social media open up the privileges of relationship from cheesy tchotckes at trade shows to online social networks.
  • Account history. Buyers assume that the price of content will change depending on the number of times they have engaged with you. Even the most basic lead scoring mechanism raises the price of content as buyers consume more of it—i.e., If you download two white papers a week for a month, you should expect a call from a salesperson. Buyers get that—or at least they will probably see the logic in the pricing.
  • Culture and location. Culture, both corporate and social, affects the price that buyers are willing to pay for content. For example, research shows that Europeans value their privacy more than Americans—meaning that their information may cost you more. And some companies have disclosure rules that make it hard for their executives to participate on customer advisory boards.

The price will change
We should evaluate our content pricing models to see if we’re charging the right amounts. We should expect those prices to change as social media takes hold among buyers. For example, 99.9% of the links I click on in Twitter take me directly to the content advertised in the tweets. And when there is a gate, most Twitterers take the precious real estate needed to say that registration is necessary. Just as the web has gutted the business model of publishing it has also reduced the price of marketing content. It has also changed the scope of our content process, as Jon Miller points out here.

Mobile raises the price
But the price can go up, too. That possibility hit home with me this week as I read Steve Woods’ post about the B2B implications of the iPad. Steve points out, among other things, that the richer environment of the iPad could revive the “print” advertising market.

As publishers are able to present content that doesn’t look like crap like it does on a web browser, they can charge more and advertisers can grab more attention. And the multimedia possibilities mean that subscribers to the New York Times might be willing to pay for that embedded video interview with Lady GaGa.

No doubt marketers can also charge a higher price for a white paper that embeds a video case study or a how-to in a great looking media environment. I’m not sure whether the iPad is that environment or not, but we all know that some kind of portable media device will replace our dead-tree publications if the experience is as good or better than we can have with print.

And no doubt the location abilities of mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones will also raise the price we can charge for marketing content. CK Kerley and I went back and forth on this issue as she prepared an excellent piece about how mobile will affect B2B.

My thinking is that we’re so busy assuming that we need to bang down the door to reach buyers that we forget that sometimes they actually want to be found—not necessarily by us but by each other. By acting as a matchmaker at events and perhaps by creating communities with location-based functions, we can help them find each other and get to market to them as the price of fostering the connection.

What are they willing to “pay?”
So there is a price for marketing content. Maybe I’m focusing too much on semantics, but I think lead scoring only gets it half right. We assign points to buyers based on their actions, but we don’t think about it from their perspective. Lead scores don’t ask, “But what are they willing (and happy) to pay for our content?

Thinking about a pricing model for content also helps us target our content to the specific segments of the buying process. I talk more about how we need to vary the amount of information we take from buyers in this post, but the idea that there is a price to be charged and paid makes it clearer in my mind.

How about you?

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Want to understand your customers’ business needs? Give them an award.

Like most marketers, I spend most of my time desperately seeking to understand my target audience (B2B marketers) and delivering content that they find relevant and engaging. It’s a struggle.

But once a year around June, my life gets a little easier. That’s when I get to sit back and watch the submissions for our Marketing Excellence Awards (MEA) roll in. It’s a beautiful thing. Marketers from around the world tell us in great detail about the campaigns and programs that have netted them the most business results.

We have five different categories for the awards that cover important areas of focus for B2B marketers. The number of entries we receive in each category and the quality of those entries give us a sense of marketers’ shifting priorities from year to year and reveal general strengths and weaknesses of the profession (for example, we’re great at sales enablement and demand generation; we suck at metrics—just not in our blood, it seems).

Everybody wins with the MEAs. For us, it’s an opportunity to build a closer relationship with the winners and generate some great thought leadership. The winners get serious recognition for their work that helps their companies and their careers. If you haven’t considered creating an awards program for your target customers, you should.

I wish I could take credit for the MEAs, but it was developed long before I got to ITSMA. I also wish I could take credit for the excellent eBook that oozes with best practices from this year’s winners. You have to check it out. It was developed by my ITSMA colleagues Pam O’Rourke and Maria Lindberg.

However, I can share some of the best practices we’ve developed for separating the wheat from the chaff in the MEAs. The guiding principles we use to determine the winners are the same ones that guide the success of any marketing program: innovation, execution, and business results. We ask a series of questions designed to reveal how well the entrants have fulfilled those three key principles:

  1. What is the story? We humans are wired for stories. What is the narrative that explains what you are trying to accomplish with this program? Creating the narrative helps project members focus their efforts and will help sell the effort to others inside the business and with customers.
  2. What are the motivating factors? Successful marketing programs always have a compelling call to action. But marketing programs are themselves calls to action. There should be an important business justification that causes marketing to create the program. That justification can come from inside, such as wanting to enter a new market or shore up sagging sales, or outside, such as a new competitor entering the market.
  3. What is the customer need? The depth and creativity of your research can be the deciding factor in whether the program rises above the noise in the marketplace. Research provides the supporting evidence for a new insight into customer or market needs. For example, segmentation could reveal a market that you never knew existed. Role-based research can help personalize your message to the needs of the specific buyers and influencers involved in the purchasing decision.
  4. How do you quantify the need? Research also provides the quantification of the need and the benefits of your solution that are most worth highlighting for customers, such as:
    • Improve efficiency
    • Increase customer satisfaction
    • Increase profitable revenue
  5. Where is the innovation? To be sure, one of marketing’s primary roles is to support sales. But marketing should also be helping drive the business strategy and execution of the company. One of the ways to do this is through programs that challenge the current ways of doing things, both internally and with customers. Marketing programs should help the business stand apart from competitors in the segment. The best signal of success is when competitors feel compelled to respond.
  6. What are the constraints? Of course, all marketing programs come with constraints. Budget is the overriding limiter, but it’s important to quantify as many constraints as possible because the limiters help define the ambition of the project.
  7. How do you measure success? Establishing clear metrics before you start provides guard rails for the project and makes it easier to provide progress reports. Of course, knowing the metrics before you start also makes the data gathering process much easier.

Do you have an awards program with your customers? If you already have one, are you asking the right questions to find the best of the best (and make your life as a marketer easier)? Please comment with a link to your awards program and tips for making the most of them.

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Why your marketing to CIOs may be irrelevant—and what to do about it

When I covered CIOs for 13 years at CIO Magazine, I found that it was very difficult to generalize about the profession, beyond a handful of universal problems such as alignment with the business and the complexities and the voracious needs of the IT infrastructure.

If I learned anything in those years, it was that CIOs really are a diverse lot. And that has big implications for marketers.

To market to these people effectively, you’re going to have to get to know them as being part of multiple, unique segments. That means understanding not just the top 10 IT drivers for 2009 as predicted by Gartner or Forrester. It means understanding different CIO roles, skills, aspirations, and business contexts.

CIOs are in fact so different that marketing to them all with the same message means that you’ll be irrelevant at best, and offensive at worst to most of the people you’re trying to reach.

CIOs are not all the same
When I was at CIO, I was very frustrated with the findings from our State of the CIO survey because they were relentlessly identical from year to year. But I know that in speaking to hundreds of CIOs, very few fit into the exact same mold. I found that every CIO I spoke to had at least a few unique issues—whether it is unique industry requirements, organizational complexities, or other things that they were grappling with that I hadn’t heard from anyone else.

So one year when I ran the State of the CIO survey we decided to take a deeper look at this data. We came up with some interesting insights.

For example, we’ve long thought that CIOs in smaller organizations are hamstrung by a lack of discretionary budget to work with, small staffs, and a lack of access to the CEO in the business.

So we started pulling factors like these together, and sure enough, new insights began to emerge. We began to see the CIO in more segmented way, with different drivers and motivations.

This led to what we started calling the “CIO archetypes.” Since I did the original archetypes work at CIO, they’ve morphed a little bit. We originally had four, but today they’ve been reduced to three, and the names have changed:

Function Head. These CIOs focus on keeping the lights on, on the IT utility, and are usually at smaller organizations or divisions within larger organizations.

Transformational Leader. These CIOs tend to be in larger companies and generally serve multiple business entities. Because they have this cross-business visibility, they have the opportunity to become business process experts and use IT to make those processes more efficient and effective. Following through on those process opportunities requires more than programming and project management skills, however. They focus on processes and standards, different organizations, and they do a lot of work on governance; especially concerning what elements of IT are shared and what are local.

Business Strategist. These lucky devils have access to the business and are involved in strategic planning. The best have built up their business skills through direct experience. Others are successful CIOs who take on complementary business roles in addition to IT such as supply chain, for example.

Though CIO no longer tracks a fourth category, I think it’s important to mention:

Turnaround Artist. These are a small, powerful minority of CIOs who defy categorization. You can find the Turnaround Artists in any of the archetypes, but they have one important issue that marketers need to be aware of: they’ve been brought into fix what the business thinks is a broken IT department.

Can you see how these different archetypes have different needs and interests? Have you tried to segment your CIO audience?

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