August 1, 2014

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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How to write blog posts from a white paper

If you’re a corporate marketer like me, no doubt you’ve been put in the situation I faced this week: you have a white paper that an external content person created for the company and now you need to make that content social. It’s an important part of social media management.

Let’s face it, there are some B2B executives who wouldn’t read a white paper even if you threatened them with lima beans (what, you like lima beans? Eeewww!). ITSMA research shows that buyers want the whole menu of content—not just a white paper here or a video there.

So this week I went back to the white paper writer and asked for a series of short blog posts based on the content in the white paper. This person responded with a good question: How would you like it to read and sound?

I decided to write down the ways. After circulating it with colleagues on my idea marketing team (who came up with good additions), we came up with this list. What would you add (or take away)?

  • New point of view. The white paper has one big idea. Each post should have its own strong point of view.
  • Conversational. Blogs need to take the tone down quite a bit from the formality of a white paper.
  • Humorous. White papers are serious. Too serious, in my mind. I’m trying to bring a lighter touch. But you need to try to make the blog post downright fun if possible. Need to poke fun at ourselves and our readers (without getting personal).
  • Challenging. Good white papers challenge, too, but blog posts can (and should) get away with grabbing a bigger fistful of shirt collar.
  • Passionate. Missing in a lot of white papers, this is the lifeblood of a good blog post. Readers have to feel your commitment.
  • Easy. Blogs are the comfort food of idea marketing: quick, tasty, and not great for your long-term health. That means lists and top tens and bullet points and lots of informative subheads. No long narratives. Unlike white papers, the posts shouldn’t pretend to be all readers need for their long-term thinking on a subject. We invite them to taste the healthier stuff by linking to the full menu through the blog posts.

What would you add to this list?

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Four reasons to hate thought leadership

You may have noticed that I’ve changed the name of my blog. I’ve changed it for two reasons. First, because I’ve left ITSMA and joined SAP, where I will focus on marketing the good ideas of the many subject matter experts there. I’m going to share my experiences in helping to build an engine for developing and disseminating good ideas for SAP (with names changed to protect the innocent and guilty alike). I won’t be focusing on B2B marketing in the broadest sense anymore; I’ll be narrowing things to idea marketing (and the role that social media play in it).

Second, I’m changing the name because I’m going to make it my personal mission to end the use of the term thought leadership to describe this method of marketing B2B companies. I don’t know of another marketing term that gets so much hate mail. I know because I have a column in my Twitter dashboard that searches the term. Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t serve up the hate on the term.

Here are three reasons why their hatred is justified:

  • It’s pretentious. The term implies that practitioners are smarter than everyone else—including every other thought leader out there.
  • It’s a set up for failure. Truly great ideas are rare. Mostly what we do with thought leadership is educate and inform. We add a new twist to an existing idea or we do a deeper analysis of a well-known issue than others. That’s not really leadership.
  • It’s bastardized. The term has come to mean so many different things that it has become a throwaway. I’ve seen the term applied to anything that carries a marketing message. But thought leadership is supposed to be the antidote to the stuff that we (and, more important, customers) dismiss as collateral.
  • It disregards social media. Thought leadership implies depth. It’s impossible for a tweet to be thought leadership but tweets have an important role to play in the development and promotion of ideas. Thought leadership and social media can’t be done in isolation. They are joined at the hip.

I also dislike another term that seems to be gaining ground these days: content marketing. “Content” sounds so achingly dull and bland. And it could describe anything. What customers are looking for are good ideas, not content.

What do you think?

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Is “social media campaign” an oxymoron?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Does integrity make you a social media loser?

In three plus years of tweeting, I’ve picked up what I perceive to be the general etiquette for engaging on Twitter. I’ve also done research asking B2B marketers how they engage and how they educate their employees and SMEs to engage. I’ve rolled all that up into an approach that I doubt constantly.

I don’t seem to be alone. Lots of people seem to be having Twitter identity crises these days. Social media a-lister Chris Brogan, who had a policy of following back everyone who followed him, deleted everybody before finally settling on a few hundred people to follow and shifting his attention to the new social network on the block, G+. Another popular blogger, Mitch Joel, worries that he sucks at Twitter because he doesn’t follow everyone back.

Meanwhile, we have opportunist sites like Triberr that let you “grow your reach” by automatically tweeting things that people in your “tribes” write about, as explained (exposed really), by Neicole Crepeau in this excellent post. What a ridiculous notion, that someone’s content is worth tweeting every time. I don’t know anyone whose content I would recommend to my followers every time (and I have 135 feeds I follow in Google reader). Do you?

It’s always been clear that the people who invented Twitter don’t really know what to do with it, but up to now, it seemed like the users did. Now I wonder. I’ve invested hundreds, maybe thousands of hours into Twitter and I’m starting to feel like a loser. Integrity is one of my few talents and I’m afraid it’s wasted on Twitter.

Here’s my list of what seem like the right things to do on Twitter so that I feel like I’m being a good member of the B2B marketing guild—i.e., helping my followers learn and discover new people who have smart things to say about marketing. Can you add your recommendations to this list or tell me why I’m wrong? If you feel strongly about this, maybe we can turn it into a Twitter pledge and share it.

  • I read everything I link to in my tweets and everything I re-tweet
  • I don’t tweet my blog posts multiple times unless there have been comments that I want to alert people to
  • I do automatically schedule tweets but I don’t auto-tweet stuff I haven’t read
  • I tweet links to content, not quotes from famous people
  • Follower counts don’t enter into my decision whether to follow someone
  • I tweet at least 5:1 ratio of other people’s content to my own
  • I tweet thank yous to people who mention me in their tweets

That’s my list. What’s yours?

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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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9 attributes of the best idea marketing content

Some time back, I blogged about the attributes of a thought leader. Lately, I’ve been talking to B2B marketers about the content delivered by these thought leaders and asking, What defines good thought leadership content? Here’s what I have so far. Surely, you have a suggestion that will get us to ten attributes?

  1. Visionary. It’s best to address a problem before customers realize that it’s a problem.
  2. Provocative. The best thought leadership pieces are bold and attack conventional wisdom.
  3. Differentiated. No “me too” ideas allowed. The ideas should be new (to the target audience, anyway) or offer a unique angle on a familiar subject.
  4. Relevant. Defines a problem or issue that is important to the target audience.
  5. Timely. Being first to interpret the impact of a new regulatory requirement, for example, reduces the chances of being perceived as “me too” thinking.
  6. Has a narrative. Great ideas are better when they are presented in the context of a story with a beginning, middle, and end.
  7. Demonstrates mastery. The ideas should be presented against a backdrop of deep contextual understanding and experience.
  8. Can be delivered on. There’s little point in doing thought leadership if it’s something that the company can’t follow through on.
  9. Backed up by proof. Thought leadership is little more than an interesting opinion unless it is backed up with data and case studies.

What else would you add to this list?

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Is Twitter “social?”

Majority opinion seems to be that Twitter isn’t really a social platform it’s a broadcast medium. A study by Yahoo Research found that 50% of tweets are generated by an “elite” group of 20k users and that those users tend to follow one another rather than branching out—what many refer to as the social media echo chamber.
For these reasons, pundits say that Twitter isn’t much use for reaching B2B customers. But I treasure this “eliteness,” and while older, high-level executive technology buyers are not on Twitter, the younger ones (and those that wannabe C-level executives) are. And in many years of interviewing this audience and blogging to it, they all tell me that they get online to learn, not socialize (even the older ones use online search like crazy.
Twitter isn’t for conversation, it’s for learning.
These days, my audience is B2B marketers and my goal is to help you learn. I have a search column in TweetDeck for “B2B.” I try to check it every day to see what people are sharing. 99% of the time, they’re sharing links to content—blogs, research papers, news stories, etc.—that they think is relevant. I browse through the tweets and look for things that interest me. Then I click through to see if the content is something that I think B2B marketers might learn from. If it is, I re-tweet it or rewrite the tweet if I think there’s a better point to be made about the content than what the original tweeter said.
If I disagree with the content I’ll say so and ask others what they think. Rarely do I see people who believe that the tweet alone is content to be learned from (except those annoying people who think quotes from famous people are worth tweeting). So I treat Twitter like a reporter rather than a cocktail party host.
Learning is social, isn’t it?
The best truly “social” interactions I see on Twitter are organized chats. I’ve been both a featured “guest star” and an attendee and I always learn something. But again, chats as I’ve experienced them have always been about sharing and learning rather than getting to know one another. What am I doing wrong? Am I wrong to believe that B2B audiences will gradually come to social media channels like Twitter to learn?
Many say that marketers are a different breed than “customers,” and what works for marketers won’t translate to the B2B world in general. I don’t think they’re so different. Sure, marketers like to participate in social media more, but that’s because they are the ones charged with making social media happen in their organizations. But just like their audiences, marketers are smart, educated people who like to learn. But I’m left wondering, is sharing content being social?

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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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