July 28, 2017

Why salespeople should sell ideas: an FAQ

We all know the increasing importance of ideas in B2B marketing. But idea marketing doesn’t start and stop with marketers. For the program to be successful, those ideas must find their way into the hands of salespeople. And I’m not sure that salespeople share the same passion for ideas as we do. I think they need to be convinced. Please tell me if you think the following does the job:

  • Relationships are what matter in selling. Why should I start selling ideas instead?
    Relationship selling skills matter more than ever. Idea selling isn’t a replacement for any current selling skills. It is an additional tool.
  • But why are ideas so important now?
    Buyers are spending much more time online than they used to. A (fairly old) study by Forbes and Google found that 80% of C-level executives perform at least three web searches per day. That was in 2009. No doubt that number has continued to go up—especially with the rise of mobile and social media.
  • What does online search have to do with selling?
    As buyers do more searching, they are stretching the buying process earlier and earlier, to the point where they may not have a specific product or service in mind when they search. They are looking for inspiration and guidance on the business problems they face. Increasingly, they are going to the internet for that guidance before they speak with salespeople.
  • So you’re saying there’s a part of the buying process that doesn’t involve salespeople?
    No. I’m saying there’s a new part of the buying process that comes before buyers have decided what they want to do. They assume that salespeople can’t help them at that point. And for the most part, they’re right. Most salespeople are still focused on selling specific products and services.
  • C’mon, nobody goes in pitching anymore. I ask them about their pain points and work with them to resolve them.
    Well, ask buyers and they’ll tell you that you should know their pain points before you even walk in the door. They want to start the conversation with their pain points and work forward from there—without talking about what you have to offer them. They are looking for good ideas, facts, and data about how to solve their specific business problems. That’s what they’re looking for on the internet—why shouldn’t they expect it from their providers, too?
  • But I don’t have access to that kind of information.
    Maybe not, but someone inside your organization does. Every B2B company has subject matter experts (SMEs) who are working with customers to solve problems and have deep backgrounds in customers’ processes, industries, and functions. The trick is to discover those sources of ideas in your organization and capture their wisdom for wider distribution.
  • How do we find and tap into those sources of ideas inside the organization?
    Sales and marketing need to work together to develop an idea network—a group of internal and external SMEs that can help develop and vet new ideas and put them into the hands of salespeople. The big strategy consulting firms have been doing this for decades. But it’s only since the rise of search that buyers have begun to expect this kind of original thinking from all their providers. In a recent ITSMA survey, 88% of B2B buyers said that ideas are important or critical for providers that want to make it to their short lists.
  • How do I get these ideas in a form I can use with customers?
    Besides creating idea networks, B2B companies also have to become publishers. With the decline of B2B trade publishing, B2B providers have to pick up the slack. But it can’t be with warmed over brochures. Traditional forms of marketing are still incredibly value later on in the sales cycle, but at the early stages, companies must produce articles and surveys that can compete with what the journalists used to provide. The management consulting companies have built small publishing engines—with dedicated editors, writers, and other publishing experts—inside their four walls. B2B companies that are serious about idea selling need to do the same thing.
  • Great, so you want me to dump a bunch of whitepapers on my customers?
    No, you have to work with marketing to get those ideas translated into a form you can use with customers—whether that be idea salescards, demos, etc. Sales and marketing need to work together to figure that out. This is where many marketing groups fall down; they stop short of translating the ideas into usuable sales materials. Companies need to become as good at idea sales enablement as they are at idea publishing.

Does this look like a realistic list? What have I left out?

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The last of the anti-social marketing tactics

Taglines are the last bastions of a classic, one-way marketing messaging strategy, preserving marketing’s perceived right to tell customers what to think.

In truth, customers have never listened, except in a few cases of companies with the budget muscle to pound the tagline into customers’ heads over and over again though mass marketing and TV.

In B2B marketing, we’ve never been given the right to tell customers what to think, much less the budgets to pound a tagline into their minds. I’ve spoken to hundreds of CIOs in my career as a journalist and I can tell you that at best, they ignore taglines; at worst, they feel their intelligence insulted by them.

And yet we keep spending hard-earned shareholders’ dollars creating these shallow soundbites that are supposed to protect our brands, even though the transparency of the internet, and now social media, have rendered such defenses useless.

Not that the defenses were much more than Maginot Lines to begin with. I recently did a search on some well-known B2B technology brands and compiled their taglines in the list below. Many of these companies compete with one another. Can you imagine being a buyer surfing providers’ websites and seeing even a handful of these in quick succession? I put them in alphabetical order so that you can feel the “Power of Repetition” in the words and “Experience the Selling.” I mean, some of them are just plain incomprehensible, communicating to buyers that we live in “A Certain World of Connected Freedom for Caring People to Passionately Inspire the Valuable Impact of More Enterprise Silliness”:

  • A world of communications
  • Agility made possible
  • Applying thought
  • At the speed of ideas
  • Building a world of difference
  • Building tomorrow’s enterprise
  • Confidence in a connected world
  • Creating business impact
  • Cutting through complexity
  • Experience certainty
  • Experience the commitment
  • Freedom to care
  • Inspire the next
  • Passion for building stronger businesses
  • People matter, results count.
  • The power to know
  • The power of we
  • The power to do more
  • Results realized
  • The value of performance
  • Working with clients, not just for them

It is also interesting to note how many well-known B2B technology companies do not use taglines (at least not that I could see on their home pages): BMC, BT, Cisco, Deloitte, EMC, Juniper, Lenovo, Microsoft, Nokia-Siemens, Oracle, Pitney Bowes, Xerox. Are the marketers at these companies not doing their jobs? Or have these companies decided that they are going to stop trying to sell themselves in a couple of hackneyed words and instead do it through relationships and experience?

There’s even one company, IBM, which inverts the focus of the tagline from internal “capabilities” to something that customers may actually care a whit about: Smarter Planet.

'a Smarter Planet' logo

Image via Wikipedia

Actually, calling Smarter Planet a tagline does it a disservice. Unlike traditional taglines, which generally hang on the corners of websites like misplaced socks, with no discernible connection to anything around them, Smarter Planet is paired up with a lot of interesting thought leadership content that lines up with IBM’s business strategy—it’s a business theme rather than a tagline. I predict that we’re going to see a lot more B2B companies moving in this direction in the coming year.

What do you think? What am I missing about the value of taglines?

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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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6 lessons on how NOT to market to customers

Here’s the kind of pressure that social media puts on us: After not posting anything to my blog in nearly six weeks, I feel compelled to offer an explanation. Isn’t that sad?

Hey, but that’s how it is. Social media are like a school of sharks; keep moving forward or sink lifelessly to the bottom.

Well, I have an explanation, or an excuse, and a damned good one at that. I broke my hip about four weeks ago (my bike slid from underneath me on a rainy morning on my way to work). More specifically, I broke my femur at the hip, which left me with a decision to make: pin together a 51-year-old femur (with its attendant wear and tear) or lop it off at the top and get a brand new, shiny fake hip. Since I can’t resist that new hip smell, I opted for the stainless upgrade.

Now, don’t think I’m looking for an outpouring of sympathy. I’m telling you this because:

  1. I don’t want to lose any more credibility and subscribers than I already have during this lull in activity (as any social media “expert” will tell you, six weeks may as well be six years—unforgivable, unimaginable, and definitely under caffeinated. As one “expert,” (who showed no evidence of ever having blogged herself) once sneered to me, blogging is as easy as “doing email.” Oh, I guess that’s why my inbox is so crammed all the time.)
  2. During my time on serious, hard drugs (narcotics, shh!) I realized that I really have become one of you marketing types. Any time anyone delivers a service to me now, I immediately start thinking about how the service is “being positioned,” and whether the “value proposition makes sense.” I’m a goner. A marketing geek. (I thought drugs were supposed to prevent that sort of thing.)

All of which is a lead-in to this week’s entry, which is what we as B2B marketers can learn from health-care marketing.

The answer is: nothing.

Healthcare marketing is awful, practically non-existent. Sure, healthcare knows how to sell drugs, but in terms of preparing the customer for the experience of service delivery, fuggedaboudit. Here are some examples:

  • Educate the customer—or don’t. Many of us in B2B can be proud of how we educate our customers and prospects on the business issues they face—from current regulatory changes to future “sea changes.” We help ease them into the idea that they need our services and solutions to solve these problems so that the experience of spending all that money feels a little less like stepping off a cliff. Here’s how a doctor introduced himself to me in the emergency room: “Hi, I’m Doctor X. We’ve looked at your x-rays and you’ve broken your hip. You’re going to be going to surgery. Somebody will be in to talk to you about it.” And then he excused himself and left the room and I never saw him again. I wanted to get right up and walk out of there. Oh wait, right…
  • Whatever you do, don’t let the customer meet the people who will actually be doing the work. Unfortunately, this one does often ring true in B2B, at least in my experience in consulting. Send your top dog, most empathetic, articulate, industry-savvy, alpha salesperson in to market the service, and then show up to do the work with the freshly-minted biz school grads and the interns.
    In the trauma ward of the hospital, perversely enough, it’s the opposite. Twenty-something interns come in and tell you how awesome the trauma surgeon is and how awesome your experience is going to be. Then the interns show up again together later on in a big group trailing behind an older, more confident surgeon (surgeons seem to have no shortage of confidence and gain more as they age), making it clear that the interns are still being educated by this person and/or institution, thereby calling into question any of their assessments of the awesomeness of the surgeon. But this guy still isn’t the surgeon. He’s a colleague. Then, as you are lying on a bed outside the O.R. waiting to be worked on, you meet the doctor who will be doing the work. (Thank goodness for Google—the day prior I found that he got five-stars on a health review site! Operated on a New England Patriot!)
  • Delight the customer with an upgrade—for awhile. In both B2B and B2C, we’re getting better about throwing unhappy customers a bone. A discount here, an upgrade there. The short-term costs are marginal compared with the longer-term goodwill they buy. When I finally made it out of the ER and was given my hospital room, I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was a huge room and I had it all to myself, in a newly constructed wing of the hospital. And the nurses were unbelievably attentive. One of them finally acknowledged that I was in the intensive care unit for heart patients (there wasn’t room for me in orthopedics) and that she was “used to giving constant attention to people with zippers in their chests.” Caring for me was “like a vacation,” one of them said. I was in heaven. All the ginger ale I could drink and nurses compulsively asking me what I needed or wanted whenever I opened my eyes.
    Then, the day after surgery, the nurse informed me that I was being moved to be “with my own kind” over in orthopedics. Now, the only time I got ginger ale was when it was delivered on a tray with green Jell-o and chicken broth at mealtimes. But the reduced attention did come with a benefit—I got a little “drug remote” with a red button I could push to administer my own morphine. Later that day, they took away the remote and gave me a roommate.
    Could you imagine after clawing your way to the suite upgrade at a hotel having the desk clerk say, “We’ve found a room like the one you were originally supposed to get—with cleaner carpets this time—and we’ve taken the liberty of moving all your stuff from the suite into that room. Enjoy the rest of your stay.”
  • Segment your audience. In B2B we pride ourselves on knowing our audience. We have marketing designed for the C-level executive, the buyer, the influencer, and the front-line types. Meanwhile, 51 is pretty young for hip replacement. I’ll probably need to have it done again if I hit the average life expectancy of an American white male and manage to hang onto some form of health insurance. Most people who have hip replacements are older. That must be why the exercise sheet they gave me pictured a balding man with white hair and extra lines drawn in his face, a floppy tank-top t-shirt covering a paunch, and spindle appendages meant to approximate arms and legs, wheezing his way through leg lifts. Motivational.
  • Market your strengths. The highest production-value material I received upon discharge was a two-color, 24-page glossy magazine entitled “A Guide to Taking Warfarin.” (They put me on blood thinners for a few weeks after surgery.) The guide to what I should do after having a hip replacement (including exercises) was five Xeroxed pages stapled together.
  • Above all, empathize with the customer. I think we do this pretty well in B2B. We hire marketers and salespeople with direct experience in the customer’s industry so that they can talk to and sympathize with the customer’s pain points. During one of my two two-minute conferences with the doctor in charge of the orthopedics wing (not my surgeon), I made the mistake of asking what sort of pain killers I could expect to receive upon release. He interrupted me with, “No one said hip replacements aren’t supposed to hurt.” Thanks, Doc.

Of course, I can’t complain. I have health insurance, I’m walking again, I’ll be able to ride a bike again, and the accident could have been a lot worse than it was. But healthcare sure could use some help on the marketing front. Anybody got any ideas?

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How to get employees involved in social media: focus on ideas

Many marketers involved in social media management tell me that they struggle to get their subject matter experts engaged in social media. But focusing solely on engagement is the wrong goal. What we should be talking about instead is getting those experts involved in creating ideas.

In an interview this week with Stephanie Tilton (thanks, Stephanie!) on the Savvy B2B Marketing Blog entitled How to Gain Real Traction with Thought Leadership, I talk about how marketers need to create an idea network within their organizations to spur their subject matter experts to start thinking.
Create an idea network as the basis for social media
Marketers need to facilitate a process for internal development of ideas and for external feedback. The combination of internal and external creation and feedback creates friction and competition. Experts need to defend their ideas, get input and collaboration from others, and compete for attention. Here are some examples of how this can work:

Internal

  • Knowledge share sessions
  • Awards programs
  • Primary and secondary research
  • Competitive intelligence

External:

  • Customer councils
  • Collaboration with academics and analysts
  • Partnership with trade associations

Creating an idea network helps demonstrate the importance of ideas to the organization. Many companies take it a step farther by making idea development part of employees’ annual goals. The high-end consulting firms like McKinsey have done this for years. Ideas are baked into the culture. To rise in the firm, consultants know they need to come up with good ideas and try to get them published.

Marketers need to help create that culture in the company by facilitating the idea process. Companies need to create a platform—and an expectation—that enables subject matter experts to be thinking all the time.

When ideas are an expectation, social media participation is easier
When employees know that they are expected to be thinking—and getting that thinking out into the market—engagement in social media participation becomes easier. They have something to talk about! Social media becomes a great test bed for testing ideas and getting feedback. It also becomes a way to slice up big ideas into more consumable pieces.

What do you think? How are you getting subject matter experts to engage in social media?

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How do you know when you’ve reached the next level in social media?

I was thrilled to run a social media workshop this week with a large B2B technology and services provider (and ITSMA member). The great thing about the experience was that this company is already doing social media. In other words, I didn’t have to spend any time defending the honor of social media and explaining why they should be doing it.

This was all about the how.

But even the how was different. This company has established a highly visible presence in social media—indeed, it has won an award for it. The marketing team wanted to do the workshop because, as one executive told me, “We’re committed to social media and we’ve done some good things, but we want to take it to the next level.”

That got me thinking. Exactly what does that mean? What is the next level of social media in B2B and how do you know when you’ve gotten there?

We could all use some way to gauge our progress, especially in large, dispersed companies and marketing organizations. So let’s try to define what the ground level is so we know when we’ve established the base level of organizational social media skills. Here’s my take (I hope you will help me with your thoughts).

  • There is cultural permission to speak. Companies need to give themselves permission to engage in social media, both within marketing and in the broader culture of the company. I speak to many regulated B2B companies who (still) don’t believe their employees can engage in uncontrolled conversations with customers and prospects. The company I worked with this week no longer has that problem.
  • Internal social media is thriving. Most B2B companies I work with are much farther ahead with internal social media efforts than with external. I’m committed to the theory that companies can’t be effective at engaging in social media marketing until they’ve gotten the hang of it internally first.
  • Basic social media governance has been established. I’ve yet to see a B2B company have any success in social media that doesn’t have a social media policy, at least some training, and an informal social media center of excellence.
  • The organization views social media as important to relationship building. Unless social media is embraced by respected subject or experts outside marketing and PR, you haven’t gotten past the first level yet.
  • Social media is integrated with traditional marketing. Most companies need to use social media as adjuncts to traditional marketing practices before they can feel comfortable going farther with it. Social media supports an event, or an offering introduction, then ebbs. It’s hard to go to the always-on mode with social media at first. Most companies just don’t know how to sustain it. But at least they are testing and practicing.

I think this defines the base level of social media capabilities—the things you need to have in place before you can begin down the long road of perfection. What do you think? Do you agree? What would you add or change?

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The prerequisite to effective social media: the idea organization

At the first of ITSMA’s series of road shows this week in Silicon Valley this week (there’s still time to sign up for New York and Boston next week!) I confirmed something I’ve been hearing in my research on idea marketing over the past month: idea marketing requires a deep commitment not just from marketing but from the entire organization.

Eric Wittlake makes this point in a blog post this week and I heartily agree.

But then this got me to thinking, without a commitment to ideas throughout the organization, all these dollars we’re starting to spend on social media will be wasted.

In other words, unless we become idea organizations, we’re not going to have much to say to customers, prospects, and influencers in social media.

What do I mean by an idea organization? Let’s look at some attributes I’m seeing I’m my research:

  • Show commitment to idea development from the top. Some management consulting companies have the commitment to ideas baked into the culture—you simply will not survive as a consultant if you do not create ideas that lead to new IP. For everyone else, a visible commitment from the CEO and other top leaders signals that ideas, not just offerings, are part of all subject matter experts’ jobs.
  • Appeal to their egos. Recognition from peers means a lot to subject matter experts. Some companies get pretty formal about this, creating invitation-only SME councils with entry requirements. For example, one company required that its council members hold at least one patent before they’d be invited.
  • Make ideas part of individual expectations. I’m hearing B2B companies tell me that they are starting to make idea development part of the yearly goals of their subject matter experts. Few go so far as to specify the number of ideas or idea-based content that these people are expected to produce each year, but they have made idea development a part of the yearly review discussion.
  • Give them the tools to think. We’re seeing some companies develop some creative tools for fostering idea development. One company has created an internal portal where project members submit ideas that are vetted and voted on by the project customers. The winning ideas are implemented.
  • Make it competitive. Some companies have companywide competitions for the best ideas or the best white paper. This process is usually facilitated by marketing.
  • Make it visible. You’ll never create an idea organization if ideas are developed in secret. Think about it: if employees aren’t comfortable sharing their ideas with each other, how will they ever be comfortable talking about them in social media? Collaboration—both internally and externally—will help embed idea development into the culture.

Can you start to see that by creating these idea development processes, it becomes much easier for companies to engage in social media conversations that will impress customers and influencers?

What do you think? How are you creating an idea organization?

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What the slow death of B2B publishing means for marketers

Marketers always struggle with what to do next. There so many channels out there and so little time. But if you step back and think about where the real opportunity is for B2B marketers, it is idea marketing. Start with a good idea and the channel questions will resolve themselves.

B2B buyers are tired of marketing, but they’re not tired of ideas. In fact, buyers are hungrier than ever for good ideas presented in an objective way that target their specific needs. The people who used to do that, B2B journalists, aren’t doing it so much anymore.

This cartoon making the rounds online captures the frustrations of trade journalists--and reveals the opportunity for B2B marketers.

The business model is broken
It’s not that the journalists have gotten lazy; it’s a problem with the business model for B2B publishing. The business side of these organizations is trying to maintain profitability by slashing staff and by maximizing online traffic to make up for lost print ad revenue (and other desiccated revenue streams like events).

But unlike the old print subscription models, where publishers qualified their audiences by setting minimum requirements for things like role in the organization and buying power (which allowed them to justify high prices for advertising), online traffic is essentially random. Today, publishers must substitute traffic quantity for quality of subscribers to get advertisers to buy. That drives publishers to produce a lot of short content designed to reach the broadest possible audience (at least one online story about Apple per day for a technology pub, for example).

Half your ad dollars wasted? Try all of them.
Meanwhile, B2B buyers still hunger for good, specific content just as they always have. But because advertisers don’t believe in print anymore, the economics aren’t there for publishers to provide it. We keep hearing that quote from John Wanamaker about how half of his print advertising dollars were wasted. Trouble is, with online that figure is closer to 100%. Advertisers have abandoned print display advertising that at least had some degree of targeting for online display ads that have no targeting at all.

It’s a no win for everybody except the ad agencies. Publishers are left with a trickle of revenue and B2B companies discover just how uninterested a generic online audience is in their products and services. Meanwhile, Google, which has become the biggest ad agency of them all, gets rich by presenting hungry content seekers with links to JC Penney.

From the ashes of trade journalism, an opportunity for marketers
However, the tragedy that has become trade journalism is an opportunity for B2B marketers.

Providers have the opportunity to fill the content gap themselves. Too bad more of them aren’t doing it. Though most respondents in our How Customers Choose research said the quality of their providers’ thought leadership was pretty good, nearly 40% said it could be better. The number one suggestion for improvement: Focus more specifically on buyers’ particular business segment and needs (which B2B print publications used to be measured on each year in reader surveys).

This longing for personalization isn’t just heard in the context of thought leadership, however. When asked to name the number one factor in choosing a provider, variations on the “know me” theme came through 42% of the time.

Measure relevance, not output
But most marketing organizations don’t measure relevance; they measure output—whether it’s in leads or downloads. Marketers need to invest their money where B2B publications used to invest it—in constantly researching their target audiences and identifying the trends and ideas that are most relevant to them. Then marketers need to provide that relevant content.

When they do, they win business. In our recent survey, How Customers Choose Solution Providers, 2010: The New Buyer Paradox (free summary available), nearly 60% of respondents said that idea-based content plays an important or critical role in determining which providers make it onto their shortlists. But if providers go farther and use thought leadership to help companies clarify their business needs and suggest solutions, 30% of respondents said they are more likely to choose those providers. Even better, more than 50% of this group said they would consider sole-sourcing the deal. And this potential windfall isn’t limited to new prospects. Existing customers are also looking for new ideas. There’s no reason you can’t explore the epiphany stage with them more than once.

Does that help clarify what to do next?

What do you think?

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We need a chief marketing analytics officer

There’s lots of talk out there these days about the need for a technology guru within the B2B marketing department. Paul Dunay makes the case for one in this post, and Scott Brinker has been beating the drum for this for some time.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs here, but I wonder about the long-term need for a marketing technologist. In the short term, I think marketing has a lot of catching up to do in terms of technology. Most companies do not yet have closed-loop lead management processes supported by systems, for example.

So we need some important systems installed in the short-term. But once the system of record is installed (and many of them are SaaS), do we really need a CIO for marketing?

We need to connect the analytical dots
I think the larger and more long-term need is for marketing to become data driven. We need to use analytics to quantify and manage how fast we move prospects through the buying process and to increase loyalty and trust after they’ve bought from us.

I’d rather see a chief marketing analytics officer than a chief technologist. Or if this person is going to be a technologist, he or she must have a serious grounding in analytics. B2C companies have these “wonks” today. I think B2B marketing groups need the same emphasis–and that need will never go away once the systems are installed.

What do you think?

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13 questions about social media and idea marketing

Earlier this week I participated in one of MarketingProfs’ TechChats (just do a Twitter search on the #TechChat hashtag to find the dialogue).

It’s a warm-up for the great dialogues we’ll be having at MarketingProfs’ SocialTech conference later this month in San Jose, where I’ll be speaking about social media and the B2B buying process. If you’re in B2B marketing, you gotta go to this thing. All the top social media pros will be there and the focus will be all B2B. I can’t wait.

MarketingProfs’ Megan Leap came up with some excellent questions for me about thought leadership and social media for this week’s TechChat. My answers sparked a lot of debate, so I’ve put them together for you here to see if they will spark the same kind of discussion here. (As an extra added bonus, due to Twitter’s typical evening queasiness, we weren’t able to post all the questions during the appointed hour. So they are all here for your enjoyment.) Please add your thoughts!

Q. Let’s get back to the basics. What exactly IS thought leadership?
A. Ideas that educate customers and prospects about important business and technology issues and help them solve those issues—without selling.

Q. Why should B2B companies try to be thought leaders in their industry?
A. Because online search has become so important to the B2B buying cycle. Content is replacing salespeople in the earliest stages of the buying process. If buyers find your content you’re a step ahead.

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can position themselves as thought leaders?
A. Marketers can never be thought leaders! Especially in social media, their subject matter experts need to take center stage. But marketers must lead and support SMEs in the development and publishing processes. http://j.mp/8YsPBg

Q. What are some ways B2B marketers can improve their thought leadership?
A. By investing more in the idea development piece of thought leadership. Marketers today are too focused on the publishing part. Another way is by picking themes to help guide your TL development. Smarter Planet helps SMEs at IBM focus. http://j.mp/dzaioo

(Note: At this point, we had a lot of discussion about how ITSMA divides thought leadership into two pieces: development and publishing. Some people thought that publishing was too limited a term for describing the process of getting your ideas packaged up and out into the market. My feeling is that it is apt, because the best model we have for doing this is publishing—i.e., traditional media companies. Just because their business model doesn’t work anymore, that doesn’t mean that their model for developing ideas and getting them out into the marketplace should also be tossed out. It works.)

Also at this point, participants started a really interesting debate about the qualities of a thought leader—but that dialogue is too long to reproduce here—you’ll just have to check out the hashtag!)

Q. Who should be in charge of developing thought leadership? Marketing? PR?
A. Marketing. Marketing has more peer relationships with thought leaders inside the company than PR. Marketing is helping develop offerings.

Q. What social media vehicles are best for promoting B2B thought leadership? Video, blogs, Twitter?
A. Whichever channels your prospects are interested in receiving it and at the stage of the buying process they are at. Research them!

Q. How can marketers integrate thought leadership with traditional marketing tactics?
A. ITSMA research shows that nothing comes close to peer networking and small-scale events. So we should find ways to use social media to support and enhance the live meetings. IBM does that. http://j.mp/c9fWuX

Q. What are some qualities of a good social media voice? (Yes, stole this one from your blog 😉
A. I see 15 qualities, but if it had to pick the top one it would be authenticity. More about it here: http://j.mp/cdcbo9

Q. What are some examples of B2B companies who are successfully using social media and thought leadership? Companies who aren’t?
A. I think B2B companies that have social media policies are ahead of the game in using social media and thought leadership. Companies that don’t let their SMEs talk are going to fall far behind.

Q. Let’s say you market a highly commoditized industry. Would you say thought leadership is even more important?
A. I think it’s important for any B2B company. Anywhere there’s a business process you have the possibility to create thought leadership. That’s where the trade magazine explosion of the 60s-90s came from. Heck, I remember a trade magazine about coin-op laundromats! Everyone wants to improve what they do and how they do it. .

Q. Where will social media and thought leadership be in 2 years?
A. More integrated. Companies and customers and prospects will have a more continuous relationship than they do today. Marketing is still very episodic today, even with social media.

Q. What works better: a blog with a multi or single author approach?
A. I think single authors work best, but it’s much more work and can distract from the brand. I see companies adopting multi-authors for that reason (brand defense). But in B2B, people want to connect with other people, not with brands. Most multi-author blogs are really boring, with few posts and even fewer comments.

Q. How can B2B marketers measure their thought leadership investment?
A. There is no measurable ROI from thought leadership. Period. You will never track it through to a sale and if you do, you’ll never be able to separate it from other factors affecting the sale. I wish the pundits would stop selling that fiction. But I guess it keeps consultants in business. Thought leadership has a role to play, but it’s more to do with building a relationship than making the sale. Content builds intimacy between the company and the prospect until you can put them in touch with a salesperson.

Like these answers? Hate them? Have something to add?

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