Nov 10, 2007

Importance of Strategic References

I've talked about the importance of having a solid reference program in place as part of your overall branding strategy.

I like to segment reference customers into three types: Strategic, Marketing and Service/Solution References.

Strategic References are created because both you and the customer need/want to work together closely to achieve key business outcomes of mutual value. This common interest is key to a long term "profitable" partnership where you work together to develop new solutions and markets. This is accomplished by jointly conceptualizing, implementing and then promoting the solution to generate awareness, word of mouth and to advance each others strategic objectives (translation: competitive advantage, sales, productivity).

Case Study
We recently attended an industry tradeshow with the Michener Institute, a strategic reference customer, who demo'd a virtual microscopy solution. Simply put, this solution replaces glass slides with digitized ones and the computer screen takes the place of the microscope.

This is at the very early adoption stage but it is now being taught to healthcare professionals in classroom settings to teach microscopic (say that three times fast!) diagnosis. We wanted to show this technology to various healthcare stakeholders to demonstrate its potential in improving healthcare during the education and healthcare delivery stages (by the way we put in the communications and storage technologies that enable this solution to perform properly and securely).

The customer gathered feedback and generated awareness about this solution now being used to teach their students. It positioned them as unique and innovative. From our perspective our customer advocated our company as a key stakeholder in developing, implementing and supporting the technology that enables students to learn using this solution. Prospective customers heard firsthand what it is like working with our company and how we are solving their problems and in this case helping them innovate. The results were positive for our customer and my company both during and after the show. In fact two articles will be written about this solution in Canada's largest circulated Healthcare Technology Magazine.

Oct 7, 2007

If you're not measuring ROI start now!

Many marketers and more importantly CxOs are familiar with the quote from a former adverstising executive that went something like this:
" I know that 50% of my advertising is working. I'm just not sure which 50%
it is."

If I was to say this to the owner or CEO of a company, I'd better have something to protect myself!

It can be difficult to measure results however you must find a way to do this, and by the way, the results that matter the most are revenue, gross margin and cash. Sure things like awareness, recall and positioning are important but, if a marketer wants to sit at the executive table and be considered a peer .... hard quantifiable results is what matters....period.

So how do you do that? First of all this isn't a discussion about Marketing ROI systems, CRM applications and web analytics. It's about figuring out what you can do to directly generate sales opportunities for your sales reps, distributors and partners.

Here's a "to list":

  • The first thing you need to do is come up with a sustainable campaign (should last six to twelve months, but this depends on what you sell, how you sell and the length of your sales cycle. Hint: if it's $50k or more expect a longer sales cycle) that is aligned with what your sales reps need AND ARE incented to sell.
  • Get the pieces together, establish your budget and expected ROI
  • Socialize the campaign with your reps, sales manager(s) and then the CEO. If the reps see that this campaign will help them retire their quota and make their jobs easier you have a better chance of this being a success and yielding a return.
  • Define what a "qualified lead" means to the sales team (don't miss this step).
  • Tweak the campaign based on feedback and execute and begin measuring!

In terms of ROI you should aim for a 10-1 return as a minimum. For every dollar spent on marketing $10 should be created in revenue or better still gross margin contribution. The size of the opportunity pipeline would depend on the quality of the leads, average size of a sale and your sales reps closing skills.

Measurement should be as simple as possible and all sales opportunities must be tracked by you! You'll need help from your sales reps to ensure that all eligible sales are tagged to the campaign. This requires diligence, persistance and follow up on your part. If your reps aren't using a CRM system and/or you don't have a public sales pipeline you can review you'll need to create a campaign pipeline and manage it with the sales manager. This is critical. Reps are the engines that close deals. They sometimes keep things very close to the vest. You cannot rely on this approach when measuring a campaign. You need to manage and monitor the campaign pipeline with the sales team.

Jul 14, 2007

Make The Most of Every Marketing Dollar

In my previous post Building Your B2B Brand, I emphasize the point that a brand is build on reputation. References are an integral part to building your reputation. This article on Forbes gives a good overview of the Reputation Institute's approach to measuring a company's reputation. In a nutshell it boils down to treating your customers and employees well.

Jul 8, 2007

Building your B2B Brand (it's all about your reputation)

Don't be led to think that branding and advertising are the same thing. Branding isn't about what you say it's about what people think and feel about you, your people, your product and your company.

Whether you sell to consumers or to businesses the most important "brand attribute" is your reputation. I'm amazed at how companies pick mascots, have stupid characters, use silly slogans that don't tie back to the companies value proposition/customer experience.

Let's take a look at examples from each extreme:
During the .com/.bomb craze we all had more money then sense and branding meant superbowl ads, "eyeballs", and business plans on PowerPoint. So, let's benefit from hindsight shall we?

What does this sock have anything to do with the benefit of shopping online at Nothing! The fact that they couldn't come up with something that represented the value/benefit of shopping online should have been the first sign that was doomed!

Red Bull
Drink a few of these puppies (pun intended) and your heart beat is racing! Whether you agree with taking external stimulants to increase energy or not, Red Bull gets it from a branding perspective.

They sponsor sports performers including drag racers, F1 drivers and daredevils. These "hero endorsements" (a term coined by my 10 year old daughter) represent people at the razors edge of speed, performance and exhilaration. I sure hope nobody overdoses on this stuff though!

Years ago some idiot decided to poison some Tylenol tablets in a US city. What did Tylenol do? They pulled every bottle off the shelves across North America (maybe globally). Tylenol then began producing tamper proof packaging. To this day I trust Tylenol.

"Branding" is not a fad and not something you do with a creative director at an ad agency. It is a sum of all the experiences and interactions your customer has with you! Here are some things to think about as you build your "brand" (reputation):

1) What is it that your company or product does for your customer?

2) How do customers feel and think when they use your product or service?

3) What do they experience when working with your professional services organization?

4) What is unique about your service experience over your competition? Do your customers view it as unique?

5) What is it like for your customers to conduct business with your company?

6) What do your sales and services people think are the most important things we should do for our customers?

If you can't answer these questions, find out!

Build your reputation and your brand will look after itself. How do you do this? The key building blocks to building your reputation are the following:

1) A customer reference program - a formal corporate program that tracks customer satisfaction and builds a pool of reference accounts that will endorse your company.

2) Word of Mouth - buyers of B2B products and services seek advice from people they know and trust. Your reference program will help create word of mouth but you'll need to think about how you can also get unbiased mindshare from industry leaders.

3) Thought Leadership - producing value add content and experiences that position you as an expert in your field.

4) Feedback loops - talk to your customers, talk to your sales reps and talk to the founder of your company...regularly. Learn what is working well and what isn't. Find out why.

Building your reputation occurs one day at a time and it depends on customer interaction, input and doing the right things to help your customers be successful. That's what you advertise.

Jun 17, 2007

Generating Revenue through Campaigns and Events-Part Two

Ted Levitt defined marketing as "getting and keeping customers". A campaign must be engineered and executed with this in mind. When engineering a campaign you must take into consideration your two core audience members: your customers and your sales force.

A campaign must create value for your customers, your sales organization, your business units and your CEO. Let's look at each one of these stakeholders:

Customers/Prospects - A campaign is an invitation to customers and prospects to learn how your company, service, solution (look for an article on what a "solution" should mean) or product will solve key problems in an organization......PERIOD. Problems in business typically evolve around: productivity, protection, profit, communication, competition and culture. Remember, time is the knowledge workers is precious....a campaign must have a compelling reason for them to invest their time to learn more about what you have to offer.....PERIOD.

Sales Organization - Whether you have one rep, a sales force, sell direct or through partners these people must be motivate to execute, support and participate in your campaign. It's pretty easy to do this! Help them retire their quota and strengthen relationships with their accounts.

Business Units (BU) - Your campaign will be promoting the services, solutions and products that BU's are responsible for. Tie in your campaign to the areas that are of most value to them (be careful on this because conflict does happen between BU and with Sales Organization because there can be conflicting agendas and priorities).

CEO(owners, shareholders, "C-suite etc) - I don't know any CEO who isn't concerned about Cash, Profit and Revenue. Make sure that your campaign factors in these three key metrics.

Here ares some additional things to think about:

1) "Tarket Markets" - be careful how you define these

Contrary to what many say going "vertical" is time consuming, expensive and narrows your potential audience. While vertical marketing (targetting specific industries on their own, e.g. healthcare or finance etc) can work for niche products my preference is to market how you are solving key business problems that Executives and Department leads can relate to cross industry. Only large enterprises have the resources to truly go "vertical". Leave other B2B marketing instruments for vertical alignment. Define the three top problems you can solve and for who and engineer and create compelling story that people want/need to hear.

2) Remember the 4 R's of B2B Marketing- Campaigns must be build around this marketing framework. If you don't you'll alienate the key stakeholders you server as a B2B marketeer.

3) Attendance or Appointments - Revenue generation campaigns should focus on event recruitment or sales appointments. You want customers/prospects to express interest in learning more about how you can help them be successful. This works best through conversation and interaction. So you either want them to attend an event (in person or online) or meet with people from your company (sales rep, snr. execs, experts etc.)

4) It's always a conversation - A campaign begins and ends with a conversation.

Telemarketing is not a "dirty word" unless your selling windows to consumers during dinner time! Most B2B "buyers" accept telemarketing as a necessary way for "suppliers" to promote themselves. It is cost effective and if you have something meaningful to offer it is very productive.

Whether an event or appointment(might as well consider it an event too) conversation and interaction is a must. Questions you pose in your presentations for example should stimulate discussion and clarify whether you can help them or not.

5) Measure, measure, measure - as is the case with events all campaigns must(not should) be measured. You need to achieve a 10:1 ROI. Ensure that all sales opportunities uncovered, advanced or closed due to this campaign are tagged to it.

May 26, 2007

Generating Revenue through Campaigns and Events-Part One

While it is obvious that B2B marketers must create awareness and demand it is important to realize that in the eyes of your CEO s/he wants this to translate into results. The best result is Revenue Generation.
This may be obvious for most of you but the primary way to do this is through campaigns and events.

When planning events of any kind you must deliver meaningful value to your audience. There are two core audiences you need to take into consideration. The first, is your customers and the second is your sales force.

The primary directive for all events is to provide customers with meaningful informational/educational content that will help them in their businesses....period. Adding entertainment of some form will enhance the overall experience for some customers. It can also make the experience more memorable.

The good sales reps will use these events to socialize with their accounts. (Note: sometimes you may choose to exclude sales reps, I disagree with this approach. Good sales reps are valued by the customer not despised).

All events should be overbooked because there will be 10 to 20 percent no shows/cancellations. Take a lesson from the hotel industry.

Here's some additional things to think about:

1) The Presentation - in my years of experience I've learned that the most important part of any presentation is the presenter! Put someone in front of your customers who is an expert in their field and/or on a particular topic. The presentation must be balanced so that it informs/educates and links your offerings in a logical fashion. The customer is expecting a bit of a "pitch" so don't be shy...but don't be pushy!

2) Go over the agenda - tell the audience what you're going to cover and get their feedback. They may have a few things they want to ask and learn about that aren't on the agenda.

3) Make it interactive - encourage audience participation. This is sometimes tough because some folks don't want to ask questions for whatever reason. How many times have you been in a presentation where the speaker asks "does anyone have any questions?" and there is silence? The way to deal with this is to ask the audience a question first or even better have one of your own employees ask a question. This helps break the ice.

4) Measure, measure, measure - get feedback from the attendees. Do it through surveys but also go up and ask them! This is the primary thing you should do during the social event that follows the presentation. Also, good marketers, measure the impact the event has on the sales and the sales process. An event can uncover an opportunity and it can also advance one. You must get your reps to provide you with this information. Sales opporunities need to be tagged to events to help justify the expense and determine the ROI. A minimum ROI target should be 10 to 1

5) Location - make sure that the location is close to your customers, is well known, easy to get to and don't scrimp on quality (food, decor, service etc.). Whether it is an in-person or online event make sure the quality of the delivery is HIGH.

Apr 6, 2007

The Four "R's" of B2B Marketing

2/15/09: Stayed tuned for an updated version. Minor enhancements including changing one R from "revenue" to "return".

B2B marketing professionals can benefit from taking this approach when defining their marketing plans. What I call the four R's. I use these as guiding principles regularly for planning and tactical execution. A B2B Marketer, in my view, is responsible for the following:

1) Revenue - marketers must generate revenue opportunities. This is accomplished by executing demand generation campaigns and special events that generate sales opportunities for the sales force. This must be measured and reported.

2) Reputation - marketers must build the company's reputation. This is the primary way a B2B company builds it's brand. This is accomplished through case studies, testimonials and a formal reference program. Customer engagement and collaboration is critical.

3) Relationships - marketers must put on creative events that build relationships with customers, partners and the media. These events can be social or educational in nature and must provide real value to the intended audience. They act as a mechanism to create and strengthen relationships and reduce "distant gaps".

4) Relevant - marketers must have something meaningful, relevant and of value to offer the customer or partner. It must also be relevant with respect to what the company has to offer and what the sales force is prepared to talk about with customers and prospects. People are over-communicated to today. Be relevant and provide value in the form of knowledge, networking and keep it relevant.

These four principles help me guide my marketing efforts each day.

Mar 4, 2007

Welcome to the B2B Marketing Blog

This blog's goals are to share knowledge, experiences and create professional relationships with marketing professionals.

Introduce yourself and/or your company and join in the conversation and share your experiences so we can learn and become better Marketing professionals.

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