January 21, 2018

The crisis of buyer information in B2B and how to fix it


Image by roboppy via Flickr

The other day, I kept getting calls on my cell phone from the same number. Never left a voice mail, (which my gut was telling me should have been a signal), but the number was local. Could it really be that someone I knew was trying to get hold of me?

So, like a fool, I finally called back (the iPhone makes it so easy to do!). With the kind of maddening irony that makes me flash on doing capital punishment-inducing physical harm to a fellow human, I heard a recorded voice say, “Thanks for calling back. If you would like us to stop calling you press…”

Too bad you can’t slam an iPhone.

Pushing the easy button
The episode reminded me of the sheer desperation, sociopathic lack of empathy, and .0000000000000000001% response rate it takes to do direct commercial marketing via the telephone these days. Some of you may not even be old enough to recall what it was like before the National Do Not Call Registry came along. Don’t ask. You think Wall Street and the banks are evil now? You should have seen what they did to doddering seniors’ life savings via the telephone.

It got me thinking, what if a similar easy button comes along for online marketing? We keep hearing that at some point web users may truly be able to stop you from learning anything about them. The “voluntary policing” being done by the ad industry today online is at best an uneasy truce with an internet public not yet bothered enough, too lazy, or too uniformed to do anything about shutting off the cookie oven for good. Certainly, you know that the kinds of douche bags who practice the aforementioned cell phone marketing are no doubt out there somewhere hatching an internet cookie scheme that will so outrage the American public that the little old ladies (and men) will finally rise up and demand relief, just as they did with telephone marketing.

Obviously, this is less of an issue in B2B than B2C. Cookies help us learn more about our website visitors, but you won’t learn nearly as much about the spending patterns of B2B executives through web cookies as you do with B2C buyers.

Privacy is a concern in B2B, too
Yet even in B2B, we have a growing concern over privacy in lead management. Anecdotally, we hear that content gets exponentially more clicks when there’s no registration form attached to it. And people’s B2C experiences have a habit of leaking over to their B2B behavior. Generally I think we can say that the trend and sentiment among B2B buyers is to hand over less information over time rather than more.

So how to stave off this impending crisis of buyer information? It may seem facile, but social media are the answer. Rather than trading information for value or simply stealing it through invisible cookies, what if we actually did it the way people do in real life: through a personal relationship?

Buyers click more on pages with people
Buyers want to get to know your subject matter experts. They really do. I saw a terrific interview recently with Ethan McCarty of IBM, who talked about how IBM is working to get its employees involved in internal knowledge sharing through social mechanisms. You should read the whole thing, but one bit jumped out at me as great data for proving why we need to get more personal with buyers:

“Through A/B testing we have found that pages with IBMers on them perform significantly better than those that do not have IBMers on them. For example, if we have a web page that is designed to get visitors to click deeper into our site, the presence of IBM experts on the page improves both the performance and the overall feedback we get about the page. It’s kind of no surprise—when we are transparent, people trust us and feel better about the experience. What was interesting to me is that this is even the case when they don’t interact directly with the IBMer on the page.”

Marketers who let their subject matter experts get more personal with buyers will win in the end.

What do you think? Are you making plans for a post-buyer information age? If so, how?

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Why Tut would have been buried with his iPhone

Sure, sure, I know it’s Apple and Apple is to the ’10s what Sony was to the ’80s. But there must be more to the fact that the iPhone/iTouch are the fastest growing technology launch in history (and the iPad so far is on pace to outdo them both).

Now of course you know that the iPhone and iPad are popular because of the way they look. The smooth contours and the shimmering black glass bezels make the devices look more like something out of a Swarovski store than a Best Buy. They bring out our primitive attractions to the bright and shiny. (For sure Tut would have shoved some of the gold trinkets aside to be buried with his iPhone and iPad.)

The default Home screen of the iPhone shows mo...
Image via Wikipedia

But there’s something else here that brings out another primal drive in us. When you look at the screen of the iPhone or iPad you see beautiful little jewel-like icons beaming at you from beneath the glass. What I realized is that the iPhone and iPad aren’t just jewels, they are jewel cases. They contain our collection of applications. And these collections bring out our hunter gatherer instincts like any other collectable—from beanie babies to giant balls of string.

The reason is the iTunes/AppStore model. It lets us do everything that feels good about collecting:

  • Collecting is social. All collecting is driven in part by the desire to connect with others and show off and share what we have with them and talk about it all. Though iTunes could be a lot more social than it is, most applications have dozens or hundreds of reviews. The next step is to create communities around the applications so they can all geek out on it together.
  • Collecting is fun. Is there anything fun about collecting applications for your PC? Though the threat is much less than it was, installing new applications on PCs has always meant the possibility of taking down other applications or the computer itself. And the experience of finding and adding applications is almost always different from application to application. You can’t have fun when you’re anxious. Though the iTunes application store is tightly controlled—probably more tightly than it should be—it is easy and predictable.
  • Collecting is valuable. One of the most depressing aspects of PC applications is that they are basically time bombs that self-destruct with each passing generation of operating system or processor. Now, there’s no guarantee that our iPhone/iPad application collections will survive each new generation of device, but if they don’t, they’re cheap to replace. And in the meantime, they update themselves automatically. All we need to know when we’re collecting is that we’re not being idiots for investing our time in it (it’s okay to look like an idiot for what we collect—in fact, that’s part of the fun).

How to use iPhone apps for marketing
I’m not saying that the iPhone/iPad is going to take over the world, only that the model Apple has developed—and which every other phone manufacturers now trying to copy—is going to endure and will cross over into the business realm.

But as marketers, if we’re going to break into someone’s collection, the bar is set really high. Applications that convert your voice to text or instruct you on which turn to take are hard to top.

We must have the center of gravity for our mobile apps elsewhere. We need to create vibrant communities that customers will value so much that they will want a mobile application so they can keep up with the action anytime from anywhere. That’s how we get into their collections.

What do you think?

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Why B2B marketing will become more visual, vocal, and mobile

The mobile phone has long been an object of affection and obsession for people who like to talk incessantly. But now that mobile phones have become computers that happen to ring, they have become irresistible.

There’s something about having this little device in our pocket that makes it so much more personal—dear, even—than any phone or laptop. (Desktops? I haven’t loved a desktop since my Mac Classic; besides, you can’t even really call them desktops anymore because we do everything we can to hide them from view under our desks, so no love there.)

More than smart
We root for our smart phones to become gifted. I’ve never been as vigilant about new application development as I have since the App Store came along.

And which apps really make us catch our breath? The ones that give us more freedom of time and place. Mobile also drives a craving for immediacy. Inevitably, it’s going to drive us back to our roots as visual storytellers. And that is important for marketers. Increasingly, we are going to have to deliver our messages visually for mobile devices. Here are some reasons why:

  • Mobile drives substitutions for the written word. I’ve often cursed Steve Jobs for not making an external keyboard that would attach to the iPhone (that would be the end of my laptop altogether). But when you see an iPhone app that lets you dictate voice into text with reasonable accuracy (for free), you start to wonder. And when it’s possible to do live, streaming video from your iPhone, you start to realize why Jobs isn’t making the keyboard a priority.
  • The cloud drives mobile to the center of computing. The emergence of the cloud is making these devices more independent. Google is offering offices in the cloud so that corporate IT systems become little more than sync devices for all the work being done away from a desk.
  • Mobile drives an urge for immediacy. The hottest collaboration applications on mobile are those that duplicate the immediacy of a phone call. One of the great lures of Twitter is that we know that it is always changing. IM and texting would be nothing without the real-time dynamic.
  • Mobile makes everything visual. Why have the iPhone and the Droid taken off? Because we can now see into our phones. We can see what others are doing. Even the words are visual now. Would you dream of Twittering without a profile photo or image? And who can resist the river of content that moves before your eyes? Twitter is every bit as visual as it is textual. And nowhere is the visual more dramatic than on your personal mobile device.

What does it mean?
For B2B marketers, this means that video and interactivity are something we need to be thinking about and doing now. Our target audience is ready. For example, a Forbes survey found that C-suite executives are more likely to make the time for a video than other executives. Sure, there are technical issues. Video search isn’t great yet, though it’s improving. But video case studies and interactive product demos—even for B2B services—are going to become more popular on mobile devices. And as mobile devices become our computing devices, that means B2B buyers are going to have a greater appetite for the visual.

What do you think?

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Apple's marketing arrogance

It’s marketing 101: don’t hold your needs above those of your customers—and don’t defy the expectations that you set with them.

Apple has violated both of those rules this week, and I’m sure they could care less—Apple long ago concluded that their products are so much better that customers will overlook the arrogance with which they treat customers. Here’s what happened: Those customers, (like me, ordering my first smart phone ever) who ordered an iPhone 3Gs over the web last week (Apple sent me an email inviting me to order—I didn’t pursue them) were promised that they would receive their phones “by June 19.”

So far, so good. But then Apple sent out confirmation emails to its customers listing a UPS tracking number link to track the progress of the shipment. I love the e-supply chain so I clicked to see UPS’s cool codes and see where they would ship the phone on the way to me (Anchorage, AK—how cool is that?). I was happily surprised when the manifest said I would receive it on June 17.

Then, this morning I saw the TechCrunch story about how Apple is having UPS hold the iPhones at the Louisville, KY hub until Friday—Apple’s official launch date. It makes sense when viewed from the Cupertino Ivory Tower: Why would Apple want customers to get the products they have purchased before we told the world they should have them?

But of course, true to Michael Porter and Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema’s principle of business strategy: companies only do one thing really well while trying to maintain parity with competitors on the things they don’t. Apple creates great products. The rest? Meh. UPS delivers packages efficiently—it is all about operational efficiency and supply chain.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that UPS took those iPhones and delivered the heck out of them. While Apple, which is all about product, didn’t pay enough attention (as usual) to that part of the business. Which meant that after UPS announced delivery dates to its customers, Apple stepped in to put the brakes on—and ordered UPS to go slower.

Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the folks at UPS central in Louisville as the word spread that they had to mothball the phones for two days and not do what they do best—deliver packages fast?

And can you imagine the arrogance of marketers telling their customers that a launch date matters more than satisfying their needs? I can’t. Can you?

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How Can B2B Use Apple's "Skim and Penetrate" Strategy?

Apple is on the verge of making real inroads into the business market, say analysts and academics in this Knowledge at Wharton article.

Yeah, we’ve heard this before.

But maybe this time it’s really going to happen. We’ve all heard about the encroaching consumerization of IT, as the lines between home and work blur and employees bring their applications from home—the most successful of which worship at Apple’s altar of intuitive interface design—into work with them.

Apple is riding this wave with its iPhone. As a marketer, you can’t help but wonder if there was a method to Apple’s madness of making the initial iPhone irresistible to consumers but nearly unusable for businesses. Think about it. Apple is nowhere in the enterprise today. Which do you think would work better as a strategy for breaking into that market:

1. Another cry wolf declaration from Apple that (yet again) it has a product that works as well for businesses as it does for consumers—which falls on deaf ears in the IT department, or

2. Optimize the product for consumer use and convert vice presidents of sales into frothing iTards who start peppering the CIO with emails about how great the phone is and demanding that they equip the sales force with a PDA (which the iPhone is, after all) that actually works and is easy to use.

A Wharton professor, Peter Fader, has anointed the latter as a bone fide strategy, calling it “skim and penetrate.” Here’s the core part of the article that you should memorize:

“Fader calls Apple’s approach a “skim and penetrate strategy” in which Apple “skims” a group of early consumer adopters—say CEOs enamored of a new gadget—and later hopes that these adopters will evangelize the product and help it reach broader adoption.”

My question for you is, how can this strategy work for B2B providers that have not burnished a shiny reputation with consumers? Strip Apple’s allure down to its essence and you get two things: ease of use and elegant design. Two attributes that haven’t exactly caught fire in B2B.

Okay, so consider the skim and penetrate part of this. How could B2B players get “consumers”—i.e. business people who matter–to evangelize your products to the organization? I’m going to get a little silly to jog your thinking. Could there be a “home” version of your software that’s free to use—and that may not even come close to mimicking its enterprise functionality. Indeed, it may have different function entirely, but simply introduces people to you and and your products?

In B2B, the attraction and evangelizing is reversed. IT falls in love with a B2B product and tries to sell it to the business. It’s usually a disaster, because what’s optimized for IT—I’ll categorize this loosely as rational appeal—rarely works for business people, who respond to emotional appeal: look, feel, application to their personal goals.

Yet what is optimized for the consumer can be made to work well for IT.

Is Apple on to something here that we have missed?

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