October 25, 2014

Is “social media campaign” an oxymoron?

If you had asked me a few years ago whether the traditional marketing campaign had any place in social media I would have scoffed. Just more evidence of marketing’s old-fashioned, ADHD-driven, love-’em-and-leave-’em approach.

I would have had only slightly less disdain for the audience for these campaigns. Fly-by-night opportunists hoping to win your Facebook sweepstakes. Win or lose, after the contest is over, they’d ditch you as quickly as a toddler dispatching a fistful of broccoli.

After all, “engaging” is one of the four components of social media management. If all you do is run contests and campaigns on Facebook, how can you expect to hold onto prospects over the long term?

But then I see something like HP Technology Services (HPTS)’ “Where’s the Humanity in Your Technology” campaign, or Hitachi Data Services (HDS)’ Social Media Buzz campaign. These campaigns were the winners of this year’s ITSMA Marketing Excellence Awards. (You can read synopses of the programs here and here.) The campaigns used two methods that play well to Facebook users:

  • Let them play games. You’ve heard of Farmville, right? Facebook is the fun social network. HP questioned Facebookers about their work styles and matched them to an “IT personality.” Then HP did something cool. It drove them to a microsite featuring a hand-picked group of HP experts (such as these HP cloud experts) with the same “personality.” Visitors could click on the experts to learn more about them and connect directly with them.
  • Appeal to their sense of charity. Many people feel less silly engaging in games and contests if it is part of doing a good deed. Companies are having success pulling in fans by linking to charitable cases. In HP’s case, it was CARE, the aid relief organization.
  • Let them win stuff. Contests, giveaways, and sweepstakes do really well on Facebook. Indeed, HDS initially started publicizing its contest across Twitter, LinkedIn, Google AdWords, and with media partners as well as Facebook, but soon shifted most of the budget to Facebook because response was so much better there. HDS also did something cool. It segmented its offers to get to the audience it really wanted: After running people through a qualification form, the target high-level executives got a chance to win a free IT storage assessment. Non-targets could win Hitachi consumer products and went to a separate database. The strong results from campaign show that C-levels actually are on Facebook and are just as vulnerable to contests as the rest of us.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Koch, you slut. You’re just warming up to social media campaigns because you work for ITSMA and these are the companies who won your contest.

I’m not a slut, I’m a snob
Actually, I’m not a slut. I’m more of a snob. I’m a content guy and I think thought leadership is the best way to build nurturing relationships with contacts in B2B marketing. I still believe that. But my monism was shaken not just by our social media award winners but by something else I saw this week. Marketing automation vendor Eloqua released a SlideShare entitled 10 ways to “solve” Facebook for B2B.

The presentation mostly hypes Eloqua’s Facebook campaign, but a couple of things stood out for me. One was that a sweepstakes drove 43% of the traffic to Eloqua’s Facebook page, far more than other sources.

Plan for the loss of likes
Then came the real epiphany. They actually planned the campaign with the expectation that many of the “Likes” would disappear after the sweepstakes. They planned for it and tried to stanch the bleeding with a steady stream of relevant content to try to hang onto the minority who came for the contest but also had some level of interest in and need for marketing automation.

This is your funnel on Facebook
So maybe this is your funnel on Facebook: Build spikes in traffic with contests and giveaways and then try to slow the losses with content so that the overall pipeline grows somewhat after the giveaways have settled.

What do you think? Can campaigns coexist comfortably with a thought leadership lead nurturing strategy? Or will the campaigns just distract us from the need to do the hard work of a consistent relationship building strategy?

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7 reasons why social media success has nothing to do with social media

This week I was asked to speak on a panel about social media to a group of B2B marketers in financial services. It was great getting the perspective of marketers outside of technology. But they call it “financial services” for a reason: They have all of the same struggles as technology services companies—with the added complication of tons of regulatory requirements.

But when the panel was over, I realized something scary: Most of the success factors we wound up talking about had nothing to do with social media. They had to do with other things that companies have to do before they can successfully engage in social media. Here are some examples:

  • Most C-level executives are not in social media—they’re in search. ITSMA research shows that 66% of buyers seek information themselves rather than waiting to hear from providers. They seek that information through search: 79% of c-level executives do at least three searches per day. They are more likely to encounter our content through search than through the social media channels themselves.
  • Social doesn’t happen in B2B without a culture change. When we surveyed B2B marketers last year, 50% said they do not have a social media policy. It would be easy to say that B2B companies don’t have social media policies because they just don’t get it, or they’re slow and lack resources. But I talk to them all the time and I know that’s not the case for most of them. They hold back because they know that they need the full support, commitment, and participation of the business in social media. Without those things in place, there’s no reason to get into it, because you will fail.
  • Before social media can happen, companies need an idea culture. A lot of B2C social media marketing can come out of the marketing group because consumers are looking for deals, product information, and peer reviews. Marketers can handle all that stuff. But you can’t tweet a 50%-off coupon in B2B. You have to tweet ideas for solving customers’ problems. Marketing can’t do that on its own. Social media is the easy part; idea marketing is the hard part. Top executives and SMEs must commit to making ideas part of employees’ individual expectations. One of the reasons I know that B2B marketers get this is because the number one goal of marketers in our survey was to integrate social media into the larger marketing strategy—to link social media to their idea marketing process and their events—the channels that are proven and where the business has committed to contributing content.
  • The business case doesn’t exist for social media; but it does for idea marketing. When we asked buyers how important good ideas are to the buying decision, 58% of executive-level buyers (people buying more than $500,000 worth of IT services at a pop) say that it is important or critical for making it onto the short list of providers. Let me repeat: More than half of your buyers say that if you can’t demonstrate that you have good ideas for solving their business problems, they won’t buy from you. We asked: If a provider brings you a good idea would you be more likely to buy from them? 30% said yes. Of that 30%, 54% said they’d consider sole sourcing the project. Social media are great for developing those ideas and for making them available to many more people. But first you have to have an engine for creating the ideas.
  • Many B2B companies have already said no to social media. I’ve spoken to marketers who have dipped a toe into social media and pulled it back because they saw that their companies simply weren’t ready. They’ve started blogs where SMEs posted three or four times and then got busy with other things or got bored and the blog went dark. Someone somewhere latched onto that and declared that blogs don’t work. They blame the channel rather than blaming their company’s lack of commitment. Then that gets translated into “social media don’t work for us.” Many B2B companies are just now contemplating getting into social media for the second time.
  • Marketing needs a system of record before it can succeed in social media. Businesspeople don’t care how many Twitter followers you have. They care about the size, speed, and quality of the pipeline. We need a lead management process to act as a place to bring people from social media. In our recent lead management survey, just 53% report consistent definitions of lead tracking that are adopted globally. Only 65% have defined the lead flow process. Without a process for integrating social media into lead management, the ROI of social media in B2B will never move beyond brand awareness and website traffic.
  • Thought leadership is more important than social media. At the earliest stage of the buying process, marketing owns the relationship with buyers. Buyers don’t want to hear from salespeople at this point. We call it the epiphany stage; it’s before buyers have articulated their specific needs. But at this point, buyers are trolling for good ideas, insight into industry trends, and news. Companies must have an engine for providing those ideas in place before they can expect to make waves in social media.

What do you think?

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How to make social media add up

Back in the eighties, when newspapers were only beginning to disappear, I worked for a local paper in a very competitive (journalistically, anyway) part of the world: the moneyed, New York City suburban area of Fairfield County, CT (Greenwich, Stamford, etc.).

Among the five different newspapers that covered the same turf as I did was the New York Times, which had a section called “Connecticut Weekly” on Sundays. In this section, the Times would do something that drove me insane with envy and jealously.

Just as in the main daily edition of the Times, all the news that’s fit to print for the “Connecticut Weekly” section didn’t include sweating the small stuff, the slowly developing, often tedious stories that are the bread-and-butter of local weeklies and dailies desperate to fill their pages.

During the weeks and months that I slaved away on developing stories like a proposed new office development, dutifully updating my readers on every little shift in their fair city’s mood and shape, occasionally something of real interest would happen. A neighborhood might get really angry and stage a rally protesting development, for example.

The predatory strike of summation
In instances like this, the Times would hire a talented freelancer to swoop in like a predatory bird, scanning everything that me and all the other beat reporters on the other local papers had written on the subject in the months leading up to this point and nail the story with a killing strike—a single, cogent, engaging, original (never plagiarized) narrative leading up to the dramatic denouement of the protest. I was so obsessed with following the breadcrumb details of stories like this that I rarely looked up in time to preempt the predatory strike—my only satisfaction came from seeing my serial accounts shifted from their usual spots somewhere deep inside the pages of my newspaper to a brief, fleeting appearance on the front page.

Well, this week I finally have my revenge on the Times, thanks in part, to you.

How to use social media to create thought leadership
In the nearly three years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been relentlessly chronicling my pursuit of the developing story of social media for B2B marketers and absorbing your comments and real-world stories. And while I know that others have already made the predatory strike in terms of trying to sum all this stuff up for marketers, at least I can be the first to digest and transform my stuff into a proper summation narrative. This week, we released my ITSMA Special Report: “How to Fit Social Media into your Overall Marketing Strategy and Make it Stick.”

The report is a combination of the reporting I’ve done here on this blog, case studies of social media that I’ve done for ITSMA, and two surveys that we’ve done at ITSMA over the past three years. But it’s also more than the sum of its parts. In combining all this stuff together, I was forced to create a summation narrative that made sense of all the different pieces. In the process, I discovered five important steps that B2B companies must take to integrate social media into the overall marketing strategy.

Why creating a summation narrative is better than reuse
Putting this report together has made me realize the value of turning the breadcrumb trail into a summation narrative. You’d save yourself a lot of time if you made this part of your content strategy from the beginning. Here are some reasons why:

  • Create a larger goal. About the time that we did our first ITSMA social media survey, I realized that I should begin trying to write about all of the different areas that we were asking about on the survey so that we could come up with something more definitive than a bunch of numbers. Having this goal in the back of my mind helped push me to continue to blog about social media even though so many others were doing the same thing. At some point, I thought, all these little posts are going to add up to something bigger.
  • Motivate yourself to write. As I started investigating and writing about the different facets of social media that we were looking at in our research, it all became like a puzzle with missing pieces. I became driven to fill in those pieces.
  • Create new IP. What drove me especially crazy about the summation narratives that the Times did was how the process of summarizing the story forced the writer to create logic that linked everything together. What were the precipitating factors that had led to the neighborhood revolting against the office development? How were they connected? These aren’t questions that occur to you when you’re focused just on the individual pieces of the story. When I started putting together our social media report, I had to do the same thing. In creating logic to link all the different pieces I had together, I created new IP.
  • Anticipate the next big change. Once you’ve created a larger summation narrative, it becomes easier to see when the world has changed. It’s much harder to see the big changes when you’re focused on the little pieces. Just as I didn’t see the neighborhood insurrection as the defining moment in the office development story, IBM, for example, became so focused on optimizing the individual pieces of its portfolio back in the eighties and nineties that no one saw that the bigger narrative had changed: IT was moving from selling individual boxes to fixing bigger problems with a mix of products and services.
  • Move beyond simple reuse. Sure, regular readers of my blog will recognize some sections of the social media report from some of my posts here, but in nearly every case I had to add more to weave these pieces into the larger picture. Needing to create a larger linking logic gives new life to older content.

I know I’ve been telling you to reuse and re purpose content, but now I realize that there’s another important opportunity in this strategy: creating a summation narrative. What do you think? Have you done this with your content?

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It’s official: Marketing owns social media management. Now what?

We just completed our ITSMA survey on social media. I’ll be reporting some of the major findings here and at ITSMA.com over the coming weeks.

But one finding sticks out. Marketing owns social media management. That’s right. It’s our job.

In our survey, we asked, “In your company, is marketing the catalyst for social media being used by others in the company (product development, HR, etc.)?” 68% of our respondents said yes.

That means that if we are to keep up with our competitors, we’re going to have to take the lead on developing a strategy not only for marketing with social media, but for getting the rest of the organization involved as well.

Will social become a silo within marketing?
This has big implications for how we organize marketing. The biggest implication is that we cannot afford for social media to become a silo or an add-on to our existing marketing organizations. Marketing as a percentage of revenue for technology services companies is at an all-time low—less than 1%. The Great Recession certainly has played a role in that, but the percentage has been dropping more or less steadily since before the dotcom crash, when it averaged about 3%.

Back then, we could still run lush print ads, design fancy brochures and whitepapers, create monster trade show booths, and wine and dine CIOs at the Super Bowl. And to business people, that all represented value. Salespeople and businesspeople could see the talent and creativity in the ads and brochures, relationships being made at the events, and the business cards in the fishbowl.

Today, we do a lot less of that stuff. That’s not to say that these more traditional tactics don’t work anymore and should be abandoned. But we have to find ways to stretch the dollars we do invest in those tactics farther. And we have to use other tactics that, in and of themselves, build trust and relationships with buyers.

That’s where social media comes in. So much of what I see out there today treats social media as a standalone. But the real successes I’m hearing about in B2B use social media to support and extend more traditional tactics. Such as using online communities and social media to build up interest and discussion about our traditional live events both up to, during, and after those events.

Reorganize in an integrated way
So the question for marketing becomes, how do we integrate social media? That was the number one goal of respondents in our survey for the coming year.

Social media consultant Jeremiah Owyang has a good post about different ways that he sees companies organizing for social media that you should check out. It will jog your thinking. But the question I have after reading his post is how does this fit with our existing models of marketing?

As I told Jeremiah in a comment on his post, I don’t doubt the rigor of his (as always) insightful thinking. But I wonder, are companies really reorganizing around social—and should they?

From our research we see that marketing tends to own social media for the rest of the organization. So we’re really looking at how much the marketing function is going to change as a result of social. Today, we see most marketing organizations divided up between corporate and field marketing (central and local) and basically divided up between marcom and everything else. So the real question is how does social impact the ways that we organize marketing today and how does it integrate with the things we already do?

I don’t think we can afford to create a social media silo inside the larger marketing organization. Do you? How are you fitting social into your organizational models?

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Social media isn’t enough. We need a marketing transformation.

During one of the first few days I went to work at CIO magazine in 1995, I had what we called a “vendor visit”—one of many I would have in the coming years. The idea behind the visits was to avoid having us journos become isolated in our ivory tower. We needed to hear from marketers who were out there day-to-day listening to CIOs’ problems and aspirations. Plus, many were advertisers, so the visits made it seem like we weren’t completely ignoring what they had to say.

But mostly we were.

Back then what marketers had to say was all about their offerings. And why not? The IT industry was on fire and the stuff was flying out the doors. Marketers and salespeople didn’t have to do much coaxing to get CIOs to buy, so why get complicated?

But a quick read of our magazine showed that we didn’t write about products. We wrote about the typical concerns of a C-level executive, such as strategy, leadership, organizational design, and change management. Kind of a Fortune magazine for IT executives.

Bibles, vacuums, and boxes
But the vendors had little need to engage with CIOs at that kind of level. And the guy that showed up to see me that day was a representation of the times. Big, stony-faced and intimidating, with a lapsed football player’s gut and a big school ring buried into one of his fingers. He wasn’t a marketer, but he had been sent by a marketer, who hadn’t bothered to accompany him or even send an agency PR person for translation and kind supplication. So much for hearing about the latest strategic trends affecting CIOs.

This guy was a salesman. Could have been bibles or vacuum cleaners, but they didn’t need sales guys for that stuff anymore. They needed guys to take orders for these boxes. He swung his expanded briefcase up onto the table, pulled out a media kit bulging with press releases about speeds and feeds and plunked it down on the table in front of me. “That’s for you,” he said. Then he launched into a pitch, delivered in a tone and with an expression that made it clear that this time could be money in his pocket if it wasn’t for me.

For my part, I made sure I conveyed the same body language, while choosing the chair nearest the door. I counted the minutes (these things go even more slowly when you have to listen).

Michael Jordan and the baseball bat
When it finally ended he said something that I’ve never forgotten. As he grandiosely snapped the buckles on the briefcase and dragged it off the table, he snorted, “CIO magazine, huh? Why don’t you have CIOs writing it?”

At that moment, I realized that I wasn’t just wasting his time. In his mind, I shouldn’t even have been working there. Given my minimal knowledge of IT at the time, I guess he had a point.

But it was clear that he had no concept of how difficult it is to write clear, compelling content about complex subjects. Assuming CIOs would be willing to accept the pay cut, and smart and determined as they are, I’m certain that few have the talent for or interest in the publishing process.

What am I paying for?
Marketers today are in the same position I was with that sales guy in 1995: Wondering how to explain the value and difficulty of creating clear, compelling content about a complex subject.

Except that today many of those sales guys are gone. Today, more salespeople are able to have business and strategy discussions with customers and take the time to listen to their needs. Thus, their skepticism becomes sharper and more justified. If I can do all this in a sales call now, why do I need you?

At ITSMA, we’ve seen investments in the things that we used to identify as the key contributions of marketing—like advertising, brochures, events, and trade shows—shrink consistently. And today we’re seeing marketing budgets as a percentage of revenue dipping to their lowest levels ever—at or below 1%.

Businesses are asking if you’re not doing all these things you used to do anymore, why should I give you more budget? And if I do, what am I paying for?

The model needs transforming
Pledging to do more with social media isn’t the answer. What we need to be telling the business is that we’re going to transform marketing completely. Getting into social media really means getting into publishing. It means creating a constant stream of idea-based content that keeps buyers interested and engaged. That’s hard, and it means a real shift in skills for many marketing departments.

I think the suspicion that we see of social media, which is justified, is mixed with fear. Let’s identify that fear so that marketers will have an easier time making the transition. I think it’s fear that the hardest aspect of marketing, content development, is ascending to become marketing’s most important role, as advertising, traditional PR, and events shrink and fall away.

The content engine
Marketing departments are going to have to transform themselves into content development engines. And just as important, they are going to have to sell the value of that engine to their businesses to prevent further cuts to the budget. As McKinsey consultant David Edelman said at the ITSMA annual conference last November, we can’t make social media an add-on to a system that isn’t adding the value that it once did. We need to look at how to do things differently.

Here are some of the key aspects of that transformation:

  • Marketing is becoming data. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of ads in the old days, but the CEO saw the ads and signed off on them, so that made it okay. We couldn’t measure the effectiveness of events and trade shows, but sales people saw the crowds at the booth and the bar and so it didn’t matter. But as we shift to a content focus, it is all online and its impact is invisible. There is no visual, visceral confirmation of its impact. But a white paper isn’t just content; it is data. It can be tracked and measured.
  • Automation creates metrics. We tear our hair out trying to devise metrics that we can’t report on because we don’t have the data. If we automate the processes that matter, the metrics we need will be staring us in the face.
  • The funnel becomes electric. The impact of our content will be visible if that content is linked to an automated, closed-loop lead process. Getting agreement with sales on a sales-ready lead is critical. And with all the SaaS-enabled software available today, there’s no excuse for not automating the lead management process—at least up to the point where marketing hands over sales-ready leads. You don’t even need to involve IT anymore. And the excuse that these systems don’t integrate with old CRM systems is becoming less and less valid. If the vendors can’t help with the integration, IT can. Marketing needs a better relationship with IT.
  • Content creates relationships. It isn’t enough to develop idea-driven content and ship it out; we have to redesign the creation and dissemination processes so that readers are lured into conversations and relationships. This is where social media tools are helpful. But developing and disseminating content that builds relationships—think publishers and subscribers—takes different skills.
  • Buyers become approachable. After consolidating their power for years through internet search, B2B buyers are beginning to emerge from behind their firewalls and show up in places where marketers can find them. We have to meet them halfway. That requires a culture shift in the company and new skills for marketers and employees.
  • PR becomes conversation. We’re all PR now. Employees, subject matter experts and marketers all need to represent the company, but in a way that is transparent, constructive, and cordial. PR people meanwhile should use their thick skins and relationship skills to help build the conversation in social media. But it means shaking up the PR department and our relationships with PR agencies.

At ITSMA, we’re calling 2010 the year of marketing transformation. We wouldn’t use such grandiose terms if we didn’t see a real need for change. When she saw the trend in the numbers that we prepare our annual budget study, my colleague Julie Schwartz asked an important question: “Do we want to spend another year doing more with less? Marketing has to do things differently.”

We’re going to offer more specific on how marketers should make this transformation backed up by selected data from the 2010 survey at our webcast, The Year of Marketing Transformation: ITSMA’s 2010 State of the Profession Address on January 26.

In the meantime, do you agree that marketing needs a complete transformation? If so, how would you do it?

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Why B2B marketers hate social media

In a recent post, I offered some hard research data to support the growing importance of social media to B2B. But this time I want to address the legitimate concerns that ITSMA clients give us when we talk about the wonders of social media. The case for social media isn’t just about showing how buyers are flocking to social media. It’s also about addressing the very real concern that in a time of stretched budgets and lean staffs, social media becomes yet another channel to manage.

What’s really different with social media?

The End of Control
The biggest difference between social media marketing and other forms of marketing is control. Most marketing channels are focused on broadcasting tightly controlled messages to audiences that have little opportunity to talk back.

Social media is different. The focus shifts from messages to conversations. And those conversations cannot be controlled. Giving up control of what is being said about your company is difficult for most marketers.

But it becomes less difficult when we realize that we never had control of these conversations in the first place.

When buyers engage their most important sources of information—their peers—most of those conversations (90%, according to a study by Walter J. Carl, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Northeastern University) occur in private, far from the ears—and control—of marketers.

A loss of control is nothing to mourn when it was illusory in the first place.

Instead, we should be celebrating a new opportunity. Social media is a way to influence those peer conversations by monitoring them, engaging in them, and managing them through peer-based communities.

Why B2B?
The first hurdle for B2B marketers in developing a social media strategy is presenting a case for why their companies should be involved in social media at all. Social media seems better suited to B2C, with its larger scale and simpler buying process.

B2B companies have fewer, more complex customer relationships and are often conservative and protective of those relationships. With good reason. B2B customers tend to be high on the executive ladder and are usually reluctant to discuss their business strategies in public forums. And while B2C marketers can use social media as a cheap channel for running promotions and driving sales, for B2B, social media does not provide a magic link to sales.

But of course, no B2B marketing strategy does that. B2B marketing lays the path to a sales discussion and supports relationships with existing customers. Social media is another channel for making the connection and building the relationship with customers.

The most important factor in the growth of social media is its potential for collaboration. The most trusted information source for buyers has always been each other. As more buyers participate in social media, and as the tools and possibilities for collaboration continue to improve, social media is becoming an indispensable channel for marketers to help buyers find one another and market to them.

But social media is by no means a silver bullet. It is a new and invaluable channel, but it is not effective unless it is integrated with other marketing channels. ITSMA research shows that B2B marketers are most successful when they use social media to drive prospects and customers to more “traditional” marketing channels such as the website and events.

Yet while social media should not become a separate silo within the marketing organization, it does require some new skills and thinking. For example, it requires a change in the culture of the company—which must accede to social media’s demand for more openness and less control over conversations with customers. Social media also comes with new rules of engagement for both marketers and employees, who will need to become spokespeople for the company and its brand.

Developing these new skills and ways of thinking takes time. This is why every B2B company should be moving into social media to start the process of building the skills and making the broad cultural changes needed to make social media work.

What do you think?

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Social media strategy for B2B: what’s required and what’s optional

Despite all the breathless hype about social media these days, what I hear most from B2B marketers is frustration. Most of the marketers I talk to are trying to reach a few top executives in big organizations who make buying decisions about big, complex products and services. For these marketers, the pool of customers and prospects is small and many of them do not want to engage publicly in social media or are simply ignoring it altogether.

ITSMA research shows that there are other ways to reach these people that are much more effective than social media, such as small, thought leadership-based events, content-rich websites that are optimized for search, and robust reference programs, to name a few. For these target executives, peer relationships are everything, but for now anyway, most of those relationships are happening offline.

For many companies, this translates into a wait-and-see approach to social media.

I think that’s the right decision—up to a point.

For these companies, there is little reason to twitter into the wind. If you’re strapped for resources (who isn’t?) and you can invest in other things that are more effective for reaching your target audience.

But the mistake I think many companies make is assuming that if there is no reason for actively marketing the company through social media then there is no reason to invest in a social media strategy.

I think that’s short sighted.

Here’s why: In marketing, we have a traditional bias towards being active. After all, that’s how we’ve always done it. We push messages out and try to stir up attention. We could control the public conversation because our audience had few public outlets for giving or receiving information. But social media is a vast public platform where eventually the conversation is going to get around to our companies—if it hasn’t already.

So even if there is no reason to have an active social media strategy, there is every reason to have a passive one. By that, I mean monitoring the cacophony of public conversation on the web to determine whether any of it is applicable to your company—and if it is, what you should do about it. This is why every B2B marketing leader needs a social media participation strategy even if he or she does not intend to actively market through social media.

I divide participation strategy into three pieces (I go into each in more detail in this post):

  1. Monitor. Listen for conversation about your company or about relevant issues for you and your customers.
  2. Engage. Develop a strategy for responding to customers and influencers who talk about your company or relevant business issues.
  3. Manage. Decide whether to take an active role in creating conversations and fostering a community.

Though I will probably get some arguments about this, I think the participation strategy is a linear process—i.e., you need to know how to monitor well before you can engage well, and you certainly need to know how to engage well before you can start building community.

We have reached the point where monitoring is an absolute requirement in any B2B marketing strategy. Even if it doesn’t seem that your customers and prospects are actively conversing on the social web, you need to confirm that fact. And even they aren’t talking, there’s no doubt that someone is having a relevant conversation about business issues that are important to your customers—and that you should be monitoring.

This week, Jeremiah Owyang published a great framework of things that marketers have to do to listen well—including a list of vendors who help marketers listen. The only disagreement I have with his framework is that it is about more than listening. Stages 1-3 of his framework are true passive listening and every B2B marketing group should be doing them—regardless of whether they decide to actively market through social media.

But moving from stage 3 to 4 is moving from passive to active participation. There’s a chasm there that many B2B marketers are unwilling to cross. It seems companies are comfortable (in theory if not yet always in practice) up to Stage 3 but beyond that they are terrified. They see the resource commitment ramping up and the potential for mistakes (risk) amplified because now they have to actively engage with people in social rather than just track and listen.

And there’s good reason to be terrified. As effort increases, resource allocation and ROI become issues. Larger companies can shift budget from dying categories like advertising and trade shows into social media without affecting other programs, but many smaller companies never had much budget in those areas to begin with. So social media becomes a larger strategic decision that some would just rather not make right now—so they don’t do anything.

I think we need to parse that decision more. Listening is a requirement, but active participation remains optional.

What do you think?

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Want proof that the C-suite is into social media? Here it is.

There are two rivers of content at conferences. One is the river of planned content—the conference theme, the presentations, etc.; the other is the river of conversation that flows through the event at breaks, meals and receptions. This is where you get the dope on the shared challenges of the attendees.

We just wrapped up our ITSMA Annual Marketing Conference this week and the strongest current driving the river of conversation was social media. Specifically, frustration over how to use social media to reach the C-suite. Most of ITSMA’s clients are B2B marketers from big technology companies that sell big, complex products, services, and solutions. That means that the people buying those services—or at least playing a key role in the decision—tend to be high up on the corporate food chain—the C-suite or just below.

These are not the people we imagine Twittering about their need for complex enterprise IT services. In fact, it’s hard for most of us to imagine these people using social media at all.

CEOs Use Social Media More than Other Buyers
And yet our latest annual survey of 355 buyers of complex IT solutions, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2009: The Importance of Personalization, Epiphanies, and Social Media, shows that the door to the C-suite is opening up. (You can download an abbreviated summary here.)

We found that usage of social media among IT and business buyers of technology rose 50% over last year and finally pushed to majority status—55% said they use social media as part of the technology buying process in 2009 versus just 37% in 2008. More importantly, we found that executives in large organizations use social media more than in smaller organizations, and that C-suite executives actually use social media more than their lower-level buying peers. Just 15% of CEOs and directors said they did not use any form of social media at all, while 34% of manager/directors and 26% of VPs/Assistant vice presidents said they ignore the stuff.

This has big implications for marketers. It means that social media is taking hold within your biggest, most valuable accounts at the highest levels. Sounds like a business case for investment to me.

Another surprise was that the big shots use all of the different social media tools pretty evenly. However, CEOs did show a specific preference for the range of social networking sites—LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo—over Twitter or blogs.

Use Social Media to Drive Peer Connections
This makes sense when you consider what our IT buyers have been telling us for years: that their peers are by far their most preferred and trusted choice for information during the buying process. This year, our research showed that most buyers go to colleagues inside their own companies for referrals of people to talk to about a purchase. No doubt, they would like to expand that circle beyond the company—30% say they rely on peers from councils and communities they belong to, and 29% say they speak to colleagues at other companies for referrals.

Right now, I have to believe that the biggest potential for social media within this elite audience is as a tool for expanding the circle of trusted peers that they can call upon when they’re about to make a big purchasing decision.

What do you think?

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Want to launch a new product or service faster? Do some research.

I helped host an ITSMA round table this week and a near universal complaint from our B2B technology clients was how difficult it is to launch new services in a fast, efficient way. One client summed it up by saying that there are two points of resistance in the process of bringing new things to market. The first comes at the beginning of the process—the “why” battle—where everyone takes pot shots at the new idea. The second comes after everyone signs off on the new offering and they are suddenly confronted with all the things they need to do to make it happen—the “how” battle. The organization goes into a kind of collective amnesia as all the interested parties begin denying that they ever wanted to have anything to do with this misguided thingamajig—what’s it called again?—and complain about not having the resources or the time to make the proposed launch date.

Put more energy into the first battle
Our client said that in the past he has devoted most of his energies to the “how” battle because his company prides itself on seamless delivery. However, this week he said he was going to shift his strategy. “I’m convinced that we put so little into the first battle that we end up spending way more time and money on the second than we need to,” he said.

In other words, companies start trying to deliver new products and services before they’ve adequately answered all the questions about whether this new thing is something customers actually want, whether it’s something that salespeople can actually sell, and whether it is something that operations can actually deliver at a reasonable cost.

Stop relying on human nature
The biggest reason for this lack of investment at the front end is human nature. We’re optimists at heart, and we like to trust that past success will lead to future success. We also like to trust our own instincts and experiences as useful guides. And we don’t like to spend a lot of time weighing our decisions before taking action. Makes us feel weak.

But of course, all we can really ever trust is the data. Good data, that is.

Talk to the right people first
By good data I mean taking a comprehensive research approach during the “why” stage. When we’re thinking about new offerings, we need to consider all the pieces of the business that will be affected by the decision—from customers, to operations, to strategy, to profitability—and factor them into the research.

We need to make sure that we gather the opinions of all the different constituencies that will be affected by the decision. Important stakeholders need proof, through research, as to whether their own experiences, views, and hunches are borne out by the facts. Otherwise, they will fight tooth and nail during the “how” stage because they haven’t really bought into the idea that the new thing is necessary, nor do they want to change what they are doing to accommodate it.

This is why the second fight takes so much time. Those who resist keep going back to the “why” argument and point out that there was never convincing evidence that we needed this new thing in the first place. Meanwhile, the backers of the new thing are convinced that the organization has already invested too much time and money into getting this far and that it’s too late to turn back now. Resistance hardens and it takes much more time and resources to actually implement the new thing—meanwhile, no one’s really sure if it will succeed or not.

It’s tough to work your butt off on something that you’re not sure about. That’s the nut of the problem in delivering new services. Instead of focusing on design and delivery, we’re still wondering—and fighting about—whether what we’re doing is worthwhile.

Do research early and save money on the second battle
It seems like a waste of time to stop and ask everyone what they think before plunging ahead with new offerings, but it will save money in the end.

In working with our clients, we’ve found that it’s particularly important to survey both customers and employees when developing an important new service, because it allows you to put the “why” argument to rest using objective data. You can compare employee perceptions about customer needs and the potential new service with the perceptions and needs of the customers themselves. What a concept, huh?

Now getting customer input isn’t as simple as asking them what they want and then delivering it to them. You need to balance their wants with their willingness to pay for those wants and your ability to deliver on them for a reasonable cost. That’s why the research process needs to be iterative. Here’s a typical progression:

  1. Competitive intelligence. It pays to know what’s available from competitors before you develop your own offering.
  2. Influencer research (analysts, journalists, bloggers, academics, etc.). Get help in determining the need in the market and pla around with options before going ahead.
  3. (Concurrent) Customer research and employee/partner research. Using the competitive and influencer research as a base, develop a survey that asks about the market need and a few different versions of the offering.

If our work with clients is any indication, you’ll be surprised at the gap in perception between customers and employees. For example, one company we worked with was considering offering 24×7 support as a new service, which would have meant a huge investment of resources and big changes in its organization.

On the survey, almost two-thirds of employees said that customers wanted 24×7 support, while just a handful of customers actually wanted and were willing to pay for 24×7 support. What they did want was 12×5 support in their local time zone with the option of 24×7 support for critical issues. The data was incontrovertible evidence that the service offering as originally envisioned was off base. Working with development and delivery people (who took the internal survey), the company worked to modify the offering to meet customer needs—while saving millions in the process.

For marketers, the research becomes great fodder for a marketing campaign that offers rich evidence of listening to customers and developing new services based on their actual needs. Makes our jobs that much easier.

What do you think? Will you share your war stories about new product or service launches?

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Four reasons to stop measuring marketing

It’s time to declare marketing metrics a failure once and for all. ITSMA research has long showed that when we do it at all, we do it poorly. It’s difficult to parse out the contribution that marketing makes to a sale and it’s even more difficult to get salespeople to spend the time figuring out/checking the box/giving credit in the quest to determine whether marketing played a role in making the sale.

So we should just stop. Now.

I’ve had some good conversations this week with ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz and with lead management guru Brian Carroll and we all agree that in the broadest sense, measuring marketing misses the point. We should be measuring revenue and what Julie calls the Cost per Order Dollar (CPOD). Both marketing and sales should work together to reduce CPOD because that’s what really matters in terms of marketing’s contribution to the business. In this report (free with guest registration), Julie points out that marketing’s primary role is to make sales more efficient. Period.

Stop apportioning blame
So why do we continue to measure marketing separately from sales? If we started measuring CPOD and tracked it year over year, we would know that marketing was doing its job without forcing the annual showdown between marketing and the business in which marketing stands before the firing squad to justify its mere existence.

As Brian pointed out to me this week, this is all about growing revenue. It’s time to measure sales and marketing together in that process.

So here are some simple rules to think about:

  1. Stop measuring marketing in isolation. Marketing and sales are both part of the same process: raising revenue. Measure CPOD instead.
  2. Create a unified lead process. You need a closed-loop lead process that tracks prospect activity from beginning to end (and back again, in the case of lead nurturing) that is supported by a system (see this post for more on that).
  3. Get adult supervision. In working with companies to develop lead management programs, Brian has found that the most successful companies have a CEO who does not try to parse marketing from sales and assign credit/blame to each. He or she emphasizes one revenue generating process that both groups contribute to.
  4. Create content that is tied to (and signals) the different stages of the buying process. As we in B2B focus more and more on trying to pull in prospects through thought leadership, we need to understand that our life’s blood is the Epiphany Stage of the buying process. We need marketing content specifically targeted at that stage, as well as the more traditional stages like awareness and interest. When we create content targeted to specific buying stages—and get sales to agree to that categorization—we no longer need to get salespeople to check off the box for marketing’s contribution; that contribution will become implicit.

What would you add to this list?

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