May 28, 2017

The 2 questions on every buyer’s mind

At any moment in time, C-level executives are looking for answers to two questions:

What should I be doing right now?

What should I be preparing to do in the future?

We need to create a mix of these two types of thought leadership content to maintain strong relationships with their target audiences. Here’s why: Marketers who do this are more successful. In ITSMA’s Thought Leadership Survey, marketers with formal thought leadership processes segment their ideas this way 95% of the time. And those marketers tell us that they are much more satisfied with the quality of the ideas from their SMEs than marketers who have ad hoc processes for thought leadership development and dissemination. Among those who parse ideas, most split the pie in half between two types of ideas:

  • Aspirational. These are the ideas that prompt buyers to think about change. Assuming that you’ve done the necessary research to understand your target audience, that change can be on a personal, organizational, or industry level. These ideas aren’t necessarily about predicting the future or painting a picture of how it will look. Often, they focus on a catalyst for change that may not be obvious. Consultant Fred Reichheld didn’t invent the concept of customer loyalty, but by identifying the marker for it, he changed how many companies approach managing customer loyalty. These kinds of ideas are generally most useful at the Epiphany Stage of the buying process, when buyers are casting about for ideas but haven’t formulated any specific plans.
  • Practical. If these ideas were offered up at a newspaper’s editorial meeting, they’d go in the news hole. They identify a current trend, say a regulatory change, and offer perspective on what the trend means and how companies should react. An excellent, though controversial, example of this is the McKinsey article I wrote about a few weeks ago, about how US health care reform will affect employee benefits. Another great aspect of that piece is that when you click through to the article, you’ll see an aspirational piece positioned next to it entitled “Redesigning Employee Benefits,” which advocates taking a product development approach to the employee benefits process. Practical ideas tend to be more useful to buyers who are in the later stages of the buying process, when they have a more concrete idea of what they want to do but are looking for insight into how to do it.

What’s unspoken here is that you need to develop thought leadership that is appropriate to each stage of the buying process so that buyers (and salespeople) can get the right information at the right time. For example, buyers who are in the Epiphany Stage are looking for new ideas and industry news, while buyers who are actively getting ready to buy and are creating a short list of providers will be looking for case studies that profile how their peers have generated business results. Marketing and sales must agree on the alignment of content to the various buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale. For example, IBM creates specific versions of its thought leadership materials for salespeople to use during their discussions with customers.

Do you segment your thought leadership content?

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Should sales enablement be owned by sales rather than marketing?

I’m wondering if it’s time to take sales enablement away from marketing.

What do I mean by sales enablement? I heard a great definition from my former ITSMA colleague Jeff Sands the other day: Sales enablement is helping salespeople be more credible with customers.

We all know how sales enablement got started in B2B. Marketers helped salespeople put words to the insanely complex products and services they were trying to sell.

Sales enablement used to mean brochures
These words, mostly in the form of brochures, specification sheets, and boilerplate PowerPoint slides, helped salespeople—especially those new to the company—get a conversation going with prospects.

But then the internet came along.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to say, “and then everything changed,” because it didn’t. From what I can tell, the internet didn’t disrupt the basic model for the sales enablement process; it just moved much of it online. Salespeople remained dependent on marketers for information. The internet didn’t make it easy for them to enable each other. Knowledge management systems, for example, were difficult to use and difficult to keep up to date. Salespeople mostly ignored them.

Social media changes sales enablement
But then social media came along and it really did change everything. Salespeople are becoming heavy users of social media, and it takes less than a minute to set up an internal-only micro blogging network, wiki, or online community for them to share their own words with each other.

I know what you’re thinking: when it comes to anything besides selling, salespeople have the attention spans of gnats. They’ll never set up one of these things themselves much less contribute to it.

The link between sharing and fatter bonuses
If they don’t it’s because they don’t see the link between sharing information and fatter bonus checks. Yet as more salespeople start using social media, the link will become more obvious. Sharing information in a way that doesn’t overly sap productivity (hard to do before social media came along) raises all boats. Aberdeen Research has found that salespeople that share information with each other make more money than those that don’t. That same report also found that salespeople that coached one another also made more money.

Who should own the process?
So my question is, now that the center of gravity is shifting from content (brochures, specification sheets, etc.) to conversation (tips on handling an account, coaching videos from sales peers and external experts, etc.) should responsibility for all this stuff remain with marketing? If so, why?

I’d really like to know what you think.

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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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There is only one objective in social media: create learning networks

There is too much wringing of hands and gnashing of teeth about social media objectives and strategy these days. We all assume that our organizations are unique and that we must devote great sums of time and money to figuring out what our particular motivation is for social media and how we will carry it out.

We’re wired as humans to believe that we are each unique and different—indeed, this perception shoulders the bulk of our self-esteem. And yes, we are all unique. A little. But in most things, we’re the same and we can usually acknowledge that.

Not in our businesses, though. In the course of hundreds of interviews with companies over my career, the “yes but we’re different” mantra was a familiar refrain. Companies that made commodity products would tell me with straight faces that even their financial processes were unique—GAAP be damned—and that they needed to customize their software to fit “our ways of doing things.” This also meant they paid millions extra in consulting fees to change the software and millions more the next time they wanted to upgrade their software.

I find that we’re applying the same logic to social media. Let’s sit down and figure out our unique objectives and strategies before we do anything.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have objectives and strategies for social media. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t assume, as we do by default, that ours are much different from anyone else’s.

There is only one objective in social media and it is common across all companies—even across the infamous divide between B2B and B2C: Create learning networks.

And there is only one strategy for carrying out this objective: Find people who are good at developing and disseminating ideas to contribute to and facilitate those networks.

That’s it.

What is a learning network?
The reason I say this is that another hard-wired part of us is the desire to learn. And learning is integral to buying—especially in B2B. Recommend products and services that you haven’t thoroughly researched and you will most likely be out of a job.

But it also applies in B2C. Toyota’s market share wasn’t built by Toyota’s marketing; it was built by Consumer Reports.

Every buyer wants to learn at all stages of the buying process. But no buyer wants to be sold during all stages of the buying cycle.

The purpose of social media is to create learning networks that buyers want to join. The enticements are ideas and education. That means social media are extensions of our content development and dissemination processes. By creating content that offers relevant, timely, and useful ideas and education for buyers at all stages of the buying process, we create the incentives for buyers to engage with us in conversation and community. Whether it’s blogs, Twitter, LinkedIn, or private communities that we build ourselves, the common thread is that by focusing on learning we build and retain buyers’ interest.

Here are the key elements of learning networks:

  • Create an internal learning network. You need to build an internal network that focuses on identifying internal thought leaders and building alliances with external academics and customers who can help develop and test ideas. Primary and secondary research provides the inspiration for some ideas and the objective justification for others. Internal knowledge share sessions and reward and recognition programs provide the motivation for thought leaders to emerge inside the organization and help imbue a thought leadership mindset into the culture.
  • Create a content development process. Using ideas from the learning network, marketing needs to develop content. Marketers must become publishers, with a process for refining and presenting thought leadership content through various vehicles, (such as conference presentations, white papers, social media, etc.). Marketing needs professional content developers who know how to collaborate with thought leaders to develop clear, compelling packages. A calendar helps marketing plan out the frequency and focus of its output. Marketing needs to develop materials that are appropriate to each stage of the buying process, so that customers and salespeople can get the right information at the right time. Marketing and sales need to agree on the alignment of content to the different buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale.
  • Integrate the internal learning network and content processes with social media. Your internal learning network should integrate with the ones you want to build for customers. Internal thought leaders should use social media as a test bed and developing ground for ideas that they later disseminate in more polished form. So for example, a tweet or a posting in a LinkedIn forum leads to blog post, which leads to a video, which leads to a conference presentation, white paper, or private event for top customers.

If learning is the objective, the rest falls into place. Idea- and education-based content is the fuel for building community. The rest is promotion.

What do you think?

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Where should your corporate blogs live?

Earlier this year I surveyed B2B marketers about their approaches to corporate blogging. Their strategies take two basic approaches.

Onsite. These marketers take a direct role in finding and supporting internal bloggers and in helping them develop content. The blogs are an integrated part of the corporate marketing strategy and are usually hosted on the corporate website. Most say that they try to suggest topic areas that fit with the company’s overall thought leadership strategy.

Offsite. Whether through choice or through necessity, these marketers take a more hands-off approach—the “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach. They encourage subject matter experts to blog, track what they write about, and offer blogging guidelines and help when needed. They do not set up or tend corporate blogs. The subject matter experts have independent blogs or speak through third-party platforms like Linked-In, etc.

I don’t think that one approach is necessarily better than the other. But I’d like to hear your opinions. Here are some strengths and weaknesses of both approaches.

Onsite advantages:

  • Built-in traffic. It can takes years to build enough word-of-mouth to build a marketing worthy audience for a blog. The corporate homepage can direct a fire hose of traffic to the blog from the start.
  • Integration with other marketing. Blogs are only part of a thought leadership marketing program. Surrounding the blog with links to other sections of the site gives the blog credibility and helps build interest.
  • Brand respect. Impress visitors by having a summary page of your blogs set against the corporate backdrop.
  • Incentives for bloggers. Being on the corporate site is a good way for bloggers to raise their visibility inside the company and promote their careers. It’s also easier for marketers to justify spending their time supporting bloggers when the blogs are on the corporate site.

Onsite disadvantages:

  • Suspicion. You can’t have a disclaimer on your corporate-hosted blogs. Readers will assume that corporate bloggers will sanitize their opinions and do what they can to promote their companies. That runs counter to the spirit of the best blogs. Of course, a good blogger can break through that suspicion with content that is interesting, unbiased and altruistic.
  • Content inflexibility. Bloggers will feel more irresponsible taking flights of fancy on their corporate-sponsored blogs than on their own personal blogs. And visitors will frame their expectations of the blogs through the expectations they have of the company. For example, visitors may not feel that an executive from a computer networking company should be writing about tangential topics, even if he or she is qualified to do so.
  • Technology inflexibility. Corporate websites are complex beasts that are difficult and expensive to change and require going to another department, IT. Meanwhile, social media technology is changing constantly. Corporate-hosted blogs won’t be able to take advantage of the latest social tools that complement blogs without going to IT and getting some custom coding.
  • Life sentence. It looks bad when corporate-hosted blogs shut down unless there are others to take their place.
  • Failure runs deep. A bad blog with little traffic and no comments reflects badly not just on the blog but on the corporation hosting it.

Offsite advantages:

  • Resource savings. Letting bloggers do their own thing requires little support from marketing. A blogging policy is generally enough.
  • A degree of separation from mistakes. Gaffes by independent bloggers generally don’t lead back to their employers.
  • Thought leadership farm team. Marketers can spot and encourage budding subject matter experts and re-purpose their content as thought leadership.
  • Half-life is less important. Independent blogs can appear and disappear without reflecting badly on the blogger’s company.
  • Technology flexibility. Independent blogs can take advantage of new technology quickly and easily, because most independent platforms are built on standard internet technologies.

Offsite disadvantages:

  • Building traffic takes longer. The search engines don’t pay much attention to blogs with little content. Building up that foundation of content takes time.
  • No integration with marketing goals. You take what you get with independent bloggers. You can’t pick the topics.
  • Limited incentives. Marketers won’t be able to do much for their independent bloggers.

What do you think? How are you handling your corporate blogging strategy?

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What are your best practices for "recession marketing?"

Okay, so I’m not an “A-list” blogger. But I’ve been at it long enough that I’ve earned the right to call in a favor now and then. My web analytics tell me that there are at least 100 people who care enough to let me into their e-mail boxes before deleting me. So I’m going to go all Chris Brogan on you (I mean that in a nice way) and talk to you directly and ask you to be part of my community and talk to me.

If nothing else, do it because you feel sorry for me. My CEO at ITSMA, Dave Munn is looking for stories about how marketers have come up with innovative ways to actually do things better during these tough times. And he wants me, Mr. Research, to find them. Now we do have some research data about the impact that the recession is having on marketers and actions they are taking. And we have lists of marketing best practices that we can rattle off.

But we’re looking for something more human. We need stories.

I’m taking up your time with this because I’m also looking for these stories to be in context. This has been an awful year for a lot of people. I don’t know a friend who hasn’t experienced some kind of loss—whether it be layoffs or job cuts. (Most of my friends are or recently were in journalism.) So I’m looking for two things: stories about ways to do things better and stories about how you’ve kept your sanity and sense of humor at work during these times.

I’ll give you our working proposition: This recession is part of a trajectory that began in 1999, when the dotcom crash set us on a course of cost cutting that seemed temporary until last Fall. Until last Fall, I think many of us thought that somehow those wonderful days of the 90s were going to return: Fat bonuses, full staffs, discretionary options. But now we know that the sense of the temporary that had us looking back to 1998 for our definition of normal is gone for good. Worse, the fat that existed in 1999 did not exist last Fall when companies made more big cuts on top of all the incremental cuts we’ve seen over the years.

The “new normal” as Dave calls it, is one of very small marketing staffs and a network of offshore support. On the one hand, it’s depressing. But there’s also something perversely liberating about it. We can shake off the sense of limbo that comes with the expectation of regaining past losses. We can stop waiting now. And there’s some comfort in that.

And there’s something positive in the idea that we can view this as a clean slate to do things differently. We won’t have the resources of the past anytime soon, so we can look for new ways to do things.

Social media is one new way. Many of the tools are free so the time we devote to them becomes the thing that we need to innovate on and improve.

How are you doing that? What else are you doing to improve marketing? How are you surviving these times?

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Why marketers must become the new publishers

One of the great trends were seeing at ITSMA is increased automation of the lead process. It’s great because the software acts as a battering ram for alignment between marketing and sales.

But this trend has an unintended side effect: it exposes our content development processes (or lack thereof). If we now have a system measuring how long it takes marketing to nurture a lead until it is sales ready, we will now also have a measure of whether the nurturing period increases or decreases over time.

That metric is going to be critically important as we automate the lead process because nurturing is marketing’s special sauce. It’s how we move people tantalizingly close to a sale—without ever putting a salesperson in front of them.

We accomplish this feat through content. And if our nurturing metric is going to improve over time, so must our content.

Improvement through relevance
By improve I don’t mean that we all have to learn to write like Tolstoy. By improve I mostly mean that we need to make the content more and more relevant to target buyers. I’ve spent the last two days as a guest at Marketing Sherpa’s B2B conference in Boston and the many excellent speakers used publishing metaphors constantly. And I think those metaphors are useful for simplifying the content process (and for improving it) because most of us are familiar with the publishing model.

The publishing model is also relevant because as a business model, it is dying—especially for trade magazines. The ad revenues that once funded coverage of every arcane niche of technology have dried up, and so has the content that could have mentioned our companies. Demand for that content hasn’t gone away however, and companies that can provide an adequate alternative will grow their businesses more than those that can’t.

How to adapt the publishing process to marketing
To fulfill an ever-increasing demand for content you need a process. And the publishing process works better than the marketing content development process because the publishing process developed without an overlord (e.g., salespeople screaming for a brochure today or an event tomorrow). The publishing process is intended to identify a target audience, develop an understanding of that audience, and deliver targeted, relevant content. To consistently beat competitors, that content needs to remain relevant and targeted. If it doesn’t, circulation drops, ad revenue drops, and the publication goes out of business.

In other words, relevance is the primary measure of success.

That’s how we should think about our marketing content process. Here are some aspects of the publishing process that drive relevance:

  • Identify the target reader. Publications fail if they don’t grasp exactly whom they are trying to reach and why. Marketers need to do a similar kind of segmentation.
  • Create an editorial calendar. Every good publication has an editorial calendar. When I was at CIO, we despised the calendar process because it was the primary instrument that our salespeople used to demonstrate relevance with potential advertisers (and our competitors could see it). But looking back on it I think we despised it more because it revealed the gaps in our coverage and in our knowledge of readers and their needs. The calendar planning exercise always gave us a ton of ideas that wound up driving much of our coverage for the year—especially since we weren’t a newsmagazine and most of the topics were evergreen. Much of the content we offer as marketers is also evergreen, so there’s no reason not to have a plan for content. If nothing else, it gives you something to wave in salespeople’ faces the next time they come screaming about a brochure.
  • Research the reader. Most magazines do annual reader surveys to ask subscribers what they think of the magazine and what could be improved. Through these surveys, they construct archetypes of the typical reader. Marketers can replace offers with survey questions once in awhile to help build an understanding of timely issues to drive future content.
  • Interview the players and the experts. Journalists aren’t experts in the fields they cover, but they’re experts at finding those that are. They’re also good at finding the people who live the stuff they’re writing about every day. All good journalism comes from expert insight and real-world examples. Marketers need to talk to subject matter experts inside the company, influencers outside the company (analysts, academics, bloggers, journalists), and customers. All you need to do is ask questions and the content will flow out of these people.
  • Audit content. When surveying readers, magazines also ask whether readers like specific articles and subject areas covered in the magazine. Marketers need the same feedback from customers and from salespeople. If you don’t have the money to do research, consider adding a review button or comment feature to content.
  • Diversify content. Most magazines are a mixture of long and short, graphic and text-heavy stories. Marketing content needs to be similarly diverse.
  • Cycle through top reader interests. Magazines develop a short list of topic areas that matter most to their readers and hit those topics regularly as part of the issue planning process. Marketers need to develop a similar list as they plan their content calendars.
  • Be timely. Editors always try to leave room in the planning process for the timely, exclusive scoop—the story that identifies an important trend before others do. For marketers, being timely means having content that matches every stage of the buying cycle, so that you have a chance for an “exclusive” at each stage.

What’s your publishing process for content? What have I left out?

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The information gap between marketing and sales—and how to fill it

I’m hearing a lot from clients and researchers about how vast swaths of salespeople need to be eliminated as companies transition from selling products to services and solutions. The estimates range from one third of the sales force, according to these academics, to as much as two thirds.

It’s portrayed as a DNA thing—some are born to do consultative selling and to have “executive-level conversations” and some are not.

Hogwash.

Now don’t get me wrong. I do think there is a gene for sales. Great salespeople truly are born, not made. They have genetic tendencies towards extroversion, confidence, hope (some would say denial), relationship building, and the real differentiator: emotional perception—usually expressed as the ability to “read people” (and one’s self). (For more on this, read about Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences.)

Why salespeople can’t make the cut
But I think we start slicing the genetic material a little too thinly when we separate the product salespeople from the services salespeople. If you assume that we haven’t hired the wrong people from the start—i.e., the order takers who never really had any true sales skills, or people who are so inflexible or fearful that they simply refuse to try to make the transition—I think we need something else to explain why so few salespeople seem able to make the cut.

I see two big reasons:

  1. Incentives. Salespeople are about the money. It’s the yardstick of success and self-worth. Companies need to make it worth salespeople’s while to endure the longer sales cycle and lower margins that come with services. Of course, devising those incentives, putting them in place, and driving the cultural change necessary to make them stick is a maddeningly complex process that helps keep consultants and academics in business.
  2. Information. This is the one that’s actually within marketers’ control. Information, not DNA, is the most important piece of the consultative sale and the executive-level relationship. With customers able to do so much research online, the way to get in the door these days is to have information that isn’t readily available elsewhere.

Executives live under constant fear of myopia—that by focusing so much of their time on internal operations, they are missing something important out there in the market. Salespeople who can ameliorate those real or perceived fears with information—and keep doing it over time—will outsell the mere backslappers every time. The essence of this skill is always being able to answer the question: “What are you hearing from others?”

Information is marketing’s responsibility
It’s not salespeople’ responsibility to come up with the answer to this question on their own. Executives are looking for reliable, objective, and insightful answers that go beyond an anecdotal summation of what’s going on with the other accounts in a salesperson’s territory.

If marketers aren’t supplying salespeople with the answers they need, then we need to think of ourselves as partly responsible for all those salespeople going out the door in the transition from products to services. We need to supply salespeople with the information that will create the impression among customers that they are missing something if they don’t stay in touch—an information dependency.

How to supply the information salespeople need
We need to set up a reliable pipeline of information that salespeople can access when and where they need it. Here’s how:

  • Get permission. Sales leaders need to agree that information is necessary for their people to succeed. If they don’t, then the pipeline will feed into a black hole. You may need a third party, such as a sales consultant, to convince sales leaders that they need more than intuition to make the sale.
  • Create incentives for sharing. The information pipeline will be stronger if salespeople have a reason to share information about their own accounts with other salespeople and with marketing. Salespeople need to be active contributors to the information pipeline.
  • Monitor the chatter. Few salespeople have the time or the interest in giving marketers updates on what they’re hearing out in the field. Marketers need to be able to capture that information by monitoring the channels that salespeople use to communicate with each other, whether it is through e-mail or CRM systems. Marketing automation and CRM vendors are beginning to offer ways to capture that kind of information.
  • Do the research. Marketers need to do the primary and secondary research on markets and customers to lend the depth and objectivity necessary to create information dependency among customers. Surveys work particularly well for assuring customers that the information they’re getting is more than a veiled sales pitch.
  • Bring in the experts. Marketers need to identify and make alliances with internal subject matter experts, external academics, and analysts and filter and feed that information into the pipeline.
  • Make it a joint pipeline. The channel for monitoring the chatter needs to be integrated with the channel marketing uses to pump information to sales—salespeople need a reason to access it as part of their normal routine.
  • Make it self-service. Salespeople need easy access to the information that marketing gathers if they are to use it. If they can’t find the information they need, they will quickly lose interest.
  • Make it social. Take advantage of social media platforms to create information sharing groups for salespeople. There are ways to create private groups so that the public can’t see your groups or the information you’re sharing. Yammer is one great example of this.

What have I left out? How are you providing the information salespeople need to make the consultative sale?

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The five components of a successful idea marketing program

Recently, I was asked by a former ITSMA client to help put together a plan for a thought leadership program for a B2B technology company that sells both products and services. It forced me to think about all the components necessary to build and sustain a thought leadership strategy. Here are my thoughts on the big pieces. Please tell me what I’ve gotten wrong or left out.

1. Research the need. Most people start with strategy. But starting with strategy assumes a need that may not be there. Doing research first allows you to set goals using reliable, objective data. Then when people start to question your strategy (and they will), you can show them the numbers. Survey internal sales and marketing staff, customers, target markets, and influencers to determine what they are looking for. Here are some questions to ask:

  • Do customers view of you as a thought leader; if not, can they envision you moving into that role?
  • What are customers’ areas of interest?
  • What types of thought leadership vehicles (councils, conferences, white papers, social media, etc.) are target customers most interested in?
  • How can thought leadership influence their buying behavior?

Answers to these questions will help drive the structure of the program and provide a foundation for achieving ROI goals.

2. Determine the readiness of the organization. Professional services firms expect their consultants to be thought leaders and that expectation flows through everything those firms do, from recruiting, to training, to marketing. Thought leadership requires a cultural commitment to the development of ideas and strong executive support. If those pieces are missing, thought leadership will be left to marketing, where it will either mutate into thinly veiled sales content or die out altogether. Marketing can manage a thought leadership program and disseminate content, but it cannot be expected to supply the ideas that form the basis of the content.

3. Build a thought leadership network. I go into more details on a thought leadership network in this post, but the basic idea is that there are two parts to thought leadership: idea development and content dissemination. Marketing is great at the latter, but needs help with the former. A thought leadership network provides a reliable source of content for marketers to package and disseminate. The thought leadership network focuses on identifying internal thought leaders and building alliances with external academics and customers who can help develop and test ideas. Primary and secondary research provide the inspiration for some ideas and the objective justification for others. Internal knowledge share sessions and reward and recognition programs provide the motivation for thought leaders to emerge inside the organization and help imbue a thought leadership mindset into the culture.

4. Create a content development process. Using ideas from the thought leadership network, marketing needs to develop vehicles for disseminating that content to customers and salespeople. The key components of the program are:

  • Create a publishing process and calendar. Marketers must become publishers, with a process for refining and presenting thought leadership content through various vehicles, (such as conference presentations, white papers, social media, etc.). A calendar helps marketing plan out the frequency and focus of its output.
  • Align thought leadership vehicles to the buying process. Marketing needs to develop materials that are appropriate to each stage of the buying process, so that customers and salespeople can get the right information at the right time. Marketing and sales need to agree on the alignment of content to the different buying stages so that sales will get the right signals about when and how to approach customers for a sale.

5. Install systems and metrics for supporting thought leadership. The goal of thought leadership is not just to raise awareness of the company; it is to help make a sale. For that reason, thought leadership programs need to be tightly integrated into the company’s IT systems—and particularly its CRM systems—so that the impact of thought leadership can be tracked all the way through to the sale. These are the key components:

  • Install a lead tracking and nurturing system. Marketers can use the consumption of thought leadership to track the readiness of prospects to buy if they have a system for tracking a prospect’s activities. For example, if a prospect downloads a piece of content targeted to the interest phase of the buying process and reads it thoroughly, a lead tracking and nurturing system can track that activity and send a signal to salespeople that the prospect is most likely ready for a call. As the lead is passed over to sales for follow through, the thought leadership content is tagged as part of the sale. If a sale doesn’t result, the lead can be put back into the nurturing process while keeping track of the content he or she has already consumed. This lead tracking system should be integrated with the company’s CRM system (most traditional CRM systems are not set up to handle lead nurturing) so that leads can be handed back and forth between marketing and sales without losing anyone along the way.
  • Get agreement with sales on a sales-ready lead. The benefits of a thought leadership program will be lost if sales and marketing can’t agree on the point at which the consumption of the content provides a reliable signal of intent to buy. There needs to be a smooth hand off of prospects between marketing and sales for thought leadership to have the fullest possible impact on a sale.

What do you think?

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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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