Reduce The Conflict Between Sales And Marketing

Use inbound marketing and reduce friction between sales and marketing teamsThe potential for conflict between sales and marketing in any B2B organisation is well known. It is counterproductive wasting significant time and effort. In this post we consider if a transition to inbound rather than outbound marketing may help.

It is an unfortunate fact that many B2B sales teams, pressured by call rate and visit targets, waste significant time on prospects unlikely to contribute to sales numbers. They meet visit targets by visiting those they have friendly relationships with on the pretext of ‘maintaining a relationship’ despite there being little to no business opportunity. They waste time on visits simply to deliver information rather than to gather the knowledge that will lead them down the path to a sale.

Marketing teams, with no real understanding of customers real needs or any field experience set marketing strategies that have no real relevance to the marketplace. They focus on activities with no direct relevance to the day to day grind of generating and progressing sales opportunities. They focus on events without being able to maximise the impact of those events or measure its ROI.

Marketing therefore complain that sales are simply following a path of least resistance rather than pursuing their carefully crafted (although probably invalid) strategic direction. Sales complain that marketing have no real relevance and are of no help in their day to day sales process.

If the organisation has managers for both departments then the potential for in fighting and company politics is obvious. If there is a single manager for both then significant effort is required to be judge and jury between the two.

The Move To Inbound Marketing

With the move more to inbound marketing rather than outbound perhaps there is an opportunity to reduce the historic conflict between sales and marketing. Employing a content (inbound) marketing process can actually drive sales and marketing closer together in a joint effort to close more business.

The theory behind inbound marketing appears logical. It states that prospects, tired of the old push sales process, will seek out the information they need to make a decision. During that research process they will find the information provided by a business, interact with that information and seek out the business when they are ready to engage.

Great in principle, not so easy in practice. What is actually required is a sales process fuelled by content (information). At the top level general content can be used to raise awareness and draw the first customer engagement. Further through the process highly detailed information that addresses a particular concern or makes a direct comparison may be required.

Inbound Encourages Co-operation

The only way this process can work is with close co-operation between sales and marketing. If marketing try to create the required content without sales input it will fail. Sales have the relationship, sales control the process, sales understand the requirement but they do not have the strategic, content generating and content delivery channel experience of marketing.

Inbound marketing provides an opportunity to clearly divide sales and marketing responsibilities. Once that division is in place and both sales and marketing understand the benefits then the prospects for conflict are significantly reduced.

To avoid conflict sales priority should be to prioritise and follow up leads and take them to the point of closure while marketing responsibility should be to deliver high quality, relevant leads. It is not the quantity of content that counts but the quality; measured in terms of its usefulness and relevance.

The trick is to re-organise the sales department into those that prospect for new customers and those that maintain and grow the existing base. The skill set of an Account Manager is often different from a finder and closer.

A change in sales structure and organisation is not sufficient to avoid conflict. Marketing need to understand that it is sales who are closest to the customer. They (not marketing) intimately understand customer needs and information requirements and the process required to take a prospect from enquiry to close.

Sales need to be fully aware of what content is to be delivered, by what means and when so they are prepared for sales conversations but ultimately they must depend on marketing to deliver the fuel for their sales process.

With old push style techniques less and less effective the transition to inbound marketing can be achieved without causing conflict between sales and marketing but only with appropriate planning and role specification.

The Rise Of B2B Inbound Marketing

What is driving the popularity of B2B Inbound Marketing

When considering what is driving the move towards inbound (and away from outbound) marketing in B2B markets it is wise to consider both the recent history of search engine marketing and the changes in B2B buyer behaviour.

Recent Changes To Search Engine Marketing.

Three years ago it was possible to build a site with minimal content, stuff what content there was with the chosen keyword, build a high quantity of incoming links with little to no relevance to the site subject and rank at a high position on the search engines as a result. Did that approach deliver a relevant search engine experience to the masses? Did it bring in relevant prospects to the website?

The search engines companies’ prime focus is to deliver a relevant search experience hence they updated their algorithms to give sites using bad practices a much lower chance of ranking in a high position. First to be hit was keyword stuffing then low quality linking practices. However, at this point it was still possible to rank a site using higher quality (some may say still a little Grey Hat) back linking strategies.

Over the past 18 months things have changed dramatically with the introduction of the Penguin 1 and 2 and Panda algorithm updates. These focussed on content, relevance and social signals more than ever before and took a particularly hard line on dubious back linking strategies.

Why Inbound Marketing

As a result so called content marketing has risen in popularity as a major component of best inbound marketing practice. Distributing, relevant, helpful, high quality content is now said to be the key to generating high quality sales leads and improving the rank of a particular website.

Inbound marketing is becoming popular in B2B markets were the old style push marketing techniques are less and less effective. Buyers and members of the decision making team are now much more likely to seek out the information they need (pull) rather than wait for it to be pushed their way.

There is however a problem that is rarely mentioned. Inbound, and in particular content marketing, is time consuming and it only really works with the active participation of the business. The old ways, when back links were all important, meant it was possible for a business to hire a SEM agency and simply leave them to get on with the job. That is no longer possible, and for many small and medium sized businesses that is a problem.

Many businesses are simply too busy or lack the skills to develop and run an inbound marketing process. Outsourcing to a external marketing agency is an option but not as a hire and forget situation. The best way forward for businesses with limited time and appropriate skills is often a partnership between an inbound marketing agency and the business.

 

Simplify The B2B Marketing Strategy And Planning Process

marketing analysis a key element of strategy and planningThe B2B marketing strategy and planning process can be both time consuming and complex for many manufacturing businesses. This post suggests a process to deliver a top level plan that addresses key issues with less time and effort.

For some medium sized businesses the time and resources are simply not available to put a formal B2B marketing strategy in place. For others the planning process produces so much data it is difficult to identify the key issues. The best approach is always to undertake a full marketing audit to ensure nothing is missed but a short cut approach can be to define:

  • Precisely what does the business deliver to its customers?
  • Why are those products or services needed? What needs do they satisfy.
  • Which customers (groups of customers) need what the business offers and why.
  • Given the offer and the need it satisfies who else satisfies that need
  • As there will undoubtedly be competition why should a customer pick the business and its offer ahead of all the rest?
  • How does the business make its offer know to identified customer groups?

Product or Service Definition

It is best to try to define what the business offers in terms of product or service in terms of what its benefits are to customers and what need it satisfies. It is all too easy to get hung up on products or services and fail to understand what the business really delivers to its customers.

Why Is The Product Or Service Needed

To be successful whatever a business delivers must satisfy some sort of basic customer need.  It is too easy to be superficial in the analysis and fail to understand what really drives customer purchasing activity.

Which Customers Need The Product Or Service

Follows on from the above as different customer groups (segments) may have different needs that are satisfied by different products or services. Some of those customer groups may be a perfect match with whatever the business offers, some may be less so. This analysis allows a business to focus its resources on the best customer groups. New customer groups to attack often also fall out from this analysis.

Who Are The Competitors

With the offer and target customer groups selected competitors may be identified. Competitors may be different for each customer group, new competitors may emerge and / or existing competitors may be less of a threat than expected.

Why Should Customers Pick Me

The previous analysis leads to this crucial step. If this cannot be articulated, written down and become the focus of future marketing activity then the business could be in a ‘me too’ position which is a dangerous place for any business.

How do I Raise the Profile Of the Business

The key issue here is focus. Promotional activity should be focussed on delivering the message on what makes the business different to the target customer groups by the most efficient means possible.

The above cannot be considered a replacement for a full B2B marketing strategy and planning process but it can be an interim step that delivers some useful insights.

The Best B2B Content Marketing Tactics

A recent survey by the CMI / Outbrain identified the primary B2B content marketing tactics used by small (10-99 employee) businesses in B2B markets to distribute content. The top ten tactics were (in priority order):

  • Social media (other than blogs)
  • Articles on own website
  • E-Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Case Studies
  • Video
  • Events
  • Articles on other websites
  • White papers
  • Webinars

Which of these tactics are used (either singly or in combination) very much depends on if the target is new customers or existing customers. The high rating of social media is a little difficult to understand as only approximately 5% of B2B sales leads are generated by this medium (source). Its popularity may perhaps be explained by its ease of use and its perceived potential future importance to SEO but due the low conversion rate it is excluded from the following discussion.

Combining B2B content marketing tactics to extract more from existing customers is relatively easy to achieve and measure. As an example blogs, videos, articles, case studies and white papers may reside on the business website and be pointed to via a regular E Newsletter.  An existing customer aware of the company website, and the free information available, may use it as an ongoing resource, raising credibility and keeping the business front of mind.

The main challenge is in delivering useful, engaging content to potential new customers. The first step is to build a profile of who those customers are the contacts within those customers and to segment them appropriately. Either those contacts need to find the published content for themselves (the ideal) or they need to be directed to the content so a two pronged attack is required.

If prospects are to find content then obviously it needs to be placed where they are likely to find it. Research is therefore vital into what resources prospects are most likely to use to research / view content. This task is both critical to success and difficult to implement. If prospects do view content it is important to try to gain their details and the opportunity to keep communicating by giving away some information of value for free in return for a Email address.

The second approach involves connecting with identified prospects via professional telemarketing, direct mail or some other medium to gain permission to keep communicating. Once this permission is secured then the E Newsletter type approach discussed above may be employed.

There are therefore a wide range of tactics to employ to deliver on the goals of content marketing. In all cases it is important to choose the right tactic, or group of tactics to have the best chance to reach the target audience.

Telemarketing Does Not Work! – So What’s The Alternative

B2B telemarketing does not work for increasing numbers of businesses in B2B markets. It fails to deliver both the quantity and quality of sales leads required to take a business forward. This post considers what has driven this decline and discusses a possible alternative.

A recent conversation perhaps illustrates the problem with telemarketing. Recently I was checking invoices and was shocked at the level of the current utility bill. I made a mental note to check out other suppliers and then continued with the day job. By co-incidence a few days later I happened to pick up the telephone when nobody else was in the office and was connected to a lady from a utility company.

The lady asked for me by name (not the usual ‘speak to the person responsible for’) and had obviously taken a little time to research my business, its size and potential needs. It was clear from the way she sought to progress the call that she was a professional telemarketer and not the usual smile and dial type.

Faced with a professional person who wanted to discuss how they may help address my needs it should have been the perfect opportunity to determine if I could secure services at a much cheaper rate. However, my response was to simply thank her for the call but state I was happy with my current supplier (the direct opposite of the truth).

It was later while in the car on the way home that my mind drifted back to the conversation and I tried to rationalise why I had turned away the opportunity. My conclusion was that as a result of constant bombardment by poor quality telemarketing practice I had become conditioned to react as I did.

The problem for telemarketers is it harder than ever to get past gatekeepers (if anyone else had picked up the call I know for a fact the telemarketer lady would not have reached me) and once they reach a contact the chances of a sales lead are lower than they ever were in the past. Prospects are more inclined to do their own research first rather than be coerced into a decision.

At the other extreme one possible alternative is to pull rather than push and to utilise pull marketing to deliver information to potential customers so that they may perform their own research. Obviously the information should be designed to promote the companies capabilities and to guide the prospect down a path towards the point of enquiry but without being a sales document. The result is a much softer process than telemarketing and leads of much higher quality.

There can be little doubt a content marketing campaign takes a considerable amount of time and effort before it delivers any results whereas telemarketing can deliver sales leads within days. The issue is the quality of the sales lead.

Telemarketing operators can be trained and active within hours (to smile and dial) but to find (or train) a professional operator can take considerably longer. In contrast to apply a content marketing process requires a wide range of marketing skills and considerable time and effort.

A third way is to combine telemarketing and content. Telemarketing can be used to introduce a business and secure agreement to simply send information. A process may then be developed incorporating telemarketing for follow up and appropriate nurture, Email for ongoing nurture campaigns with content as the fuel for the process.

What is clear is traditional telemarketing does not work and some alternative method is required to secure high quality B2B sales leads.

 

5 Reasons To Use A External Marketing Team

What value can an external marketing team offer over the in house approach? Is an outsourced marketing agency just another cost or can they deliver real benefits? This post sets out to answer those questions.

Outsourcing marketing to an experienced external marketing team offers a number of advantages including:

  • Divorces lead generation from sales.
  • Outsourcing delivers a wider range of specialist skills than the in house approach.
  • An external marketing team delivers a new perspective.
  • Greater flexibility.
  • Reduced costs.

Divorces lead generation from sales

The issue of who generates sales leads and how they are generated is the primary reason for the historic conflict between sales and marketing. In some small organisations there may only be one direct sales person whose responsibilities include generating the number of leads they require. In larger organisations there may be both sales and marketing which often leads to conflict as each try to justify their own existence.

An external marketing team reduces conflict with salesFailure to define responsibilities will almost certainly result in sales and marketing conflict. A clear definition of the number and type of sales leads is required (marketing responsibility) plus a definition of the required sales value and close rates (sales responsibility) and a clear line where marketing responsibility ends and sales responsibility begins.

Outsourcing can eliminate the waste of time and effort associated with company politics and deliver the clear division of responsibility between sales and marketing improving efficiency and ultimately sales value.

Outsourcing delivers a wider range of specialist skills

Best practice marketing, particularly internet marketing, is changing at a rapid rate and it can be difficult for a small in house team to keep up. As more businesses in B2B markets recognise the benefits of pull marketing the problem is compounded as it brings with it the need for a wide range of skills.

A good outsourced marketing agency will work with a range of clients and can therefore afford to employ specialists in a wide range of marketing disciplines deploying them as required to satisfy the needs of clients.

An external marketing team delivers a new perspective

Often business management and members of the marketing team grow up with the business. New employees naturally tend to fall in line with the business status quo to gain acceptance and job security. As a result there is no strong challenge to accepted thinking in the business and market opportunities may be missed.

Identifying the unique difference in any business and building a plan to capitalise on that difference is of critical importance. Another set of eyes can bring out that unique difference and spot opportunities that otherwise may be missed.

Greater flexibility

The needs of a any business change on a regular basis and it is difficult to resource a marketing department to cover all eventualities. It may be necessary to deliver an important message to the marketplace in the shortest possible timeframe, launch a new product or build a new strategic marketing plan.

Unlike an in house time a outsourced marketing team can be resourced as required to cover any peaks and troughs. Extra resource brought in to cover a peak can simply be dropped when it is no longer required.

Reduce Costs

Following on from the above the decision to outsource marketing can deliver cost savings as the in house team can be kept to a minimum to simply cover ongoing rather than one off tasks. With the level and range of expertise available in the external marketing team it may also be possible to run the marketing department with a lower level (more administrative) person therefore saving the costs of management and more experienced in house personnel.

A external marketing team can therefore deliver a wide range of benefits but it is important to remember an outsourced team will never have the intimate understanding of customers, products or markets as those employed within the business. A partnership is therefore often the best approach between the external marketing agency and key personnel within the business.

 

 

Key Elements Of A B2B Content Marketing Plan

What are the key elements of a B2B content marketing plan and how does it fit into the overall inbound marketing process?

The objectives of any inbound marketing process must be to:

  • Maximise customer retention.
  • Develop strong content of interest to both potential new customers and existing customers.
  • Up sell / cross sell to existing customers and / or persuade them to take more.
  • Position a business as supplier of first choice.
  • Secure more customers

There is little doubt any pull marketing process requires an ongoing commitment of time and resources to succeed. Results are seldom immediate and generally take several months of hard effort before they are delivered.

A solid content marketing process, combined with a well thought out content delivery plan will result in an ongoing, consistent supply of high quality sales leads but the process must be built on solid foundations as follows:

  • Business Strategy and marketing review.
  • Existing customer profile – how can they be reached, what channels do they use, what is of benefit to them, what is the message and what is the sales process.
  • Identify new customers – What market segments, who are the targets, who are the decision makers, how can they be reached, what channels do they use to source information, what content is of benefit to them.
  • Content resources – what is of benefit, does it already exist, how can it be created
  • Raised business profile – How can the business profile be raised, how to increase credibility.

Without a thoroughly thought out and researched B2B content marketing plan any inbound marketing process is destined to fail, wasting considerable time, cash and resources in the process. Many B2B businesses miss the business strategy and review stage (or give it little thought) and fail to achieve their objectives as a result. Failing to analyse where a business is now and where it would like to get to is a fundamental step in any marketing process.

Failing to identify what makes the business different, why it has acquired its existing customer base and what more the business could do for them will ensure any content delivered will be of little value. Without a specific new customer type to attack and a specific message to deliver the chances of securing sufficient new customers is minimal.

A typical B2B content marketing plan can be downloaded here

Web Traffic and Conversions – The Numbers

When first starting out in internet marketing, and without the benefit of bitter experience, it can be difficult to establish what tools and techniques will deliver the best results. What web traffic and conversions numbers are reasonable to expect?

It is impossible to deliver an answer that covers every situation but a late 2012 Optify B2B marketing benchmark report presented some important insights. The report shows on average:

  • Between 4 & 7% of visits results in a lead
  • Between 0.5% and 3.3% of visits (not leads) result in a sale
  • Lead generation is generally proportional to the quantity of traffic with organic traffic leading the way. Over 60% of traffic is via search engines (organic traffic).
  • Google is responsible for over 90% of organic search traffic
  • 12% of traffic is generated by referral websites.
  • Paid search (PPC) results in 10% of traffic with Email contributing a similar amount.
  • <5% of traffic is from social media.
  • Of the Social Media Channels Facebook delivers the most traffic but Twitter the most leads.

The report also delivered some interesting facts on conversions (sales)

  • Conversion is best for Email generated traffic, followed by referral traffic and paid search with Social Media last.
  • Paid search delivers an above average conversion rate.
  • Bing, although responsible for significantly less traffic than Google, does deliver a slightly higher conversion rate.
  • Companies involved in paid search declined by 10% in 2012.

What conclusions can be drawn from the above? Given the value of organic traffic then appropriate search engine marketing to achieve a high position on the search engines is critical. Pay per Click is an alternative but its value appears to be declining. The impact of social media is limited in driving traffic but it does have importance in other areas.

As for conversion then the Email generated traffic statistic may be slightly misleading. We assume this statistic is actually based on Email to a prospect that has already been through some sort of subscriber loop and therefore has some initial relationship with the business. The power of referral traffic assumes the referral is a source trusted by the prospect.

What the report does not cover is how to actually convert web traffic to sales, generate the traffic and the resulting sales. It does not cover best search engine marketing practice, Email subscribe processes, the best paid search methodology or social media as a content delivery channel. However, this information can be sourced from various other surveys, posts and reports freely available via the internet or by hiring in external marketing expertise.

Related Posts

How to choose the best content delivery channel

 

The Short Term Impact Of Reduced Marketing Spending

What is the real impact of reduced marketing spending? Many suggest it is false economy but the truth is, at least in the short term, it can have negligible impact on a business.

With the professional marketing team gone many of the day to day marketing functions may continue. For example general administration staff may allocate some of their time to database update, sending out the latest newsletter or other relatively simple pre defined, routine marketing tasks.

The impact of removing a marketing team very much depends on the specific business and market. The actions of the marketing team can continue to have an impact several months after they have left. The noticeable impact on a business may therefore be insignificant in the short term. How long a business can continue without marketing is the key issue.

For some businesses it may be many months for others a few weeks, it very much depends on what tasks the business needs to perform. If the business must re-position itself in the market then professional marketing strategy and planning skills are required.

If product line rationalization or new product introductions requires marketing skills. Staying front of mind with customers base is not something that may be switched back on overnight. As described above there is a legacy effect when marketing is switched. There is a delay before results start to flow when it is switched back on.

It is important to also consider the impact of reduced marketing spending on other departments. With no marketing support how will sales perform? Sales resource is expensive and if it is not performing to its maximum can be a significant drain on business resources.

In a desperate situation marketing may be cust and there may be minimal short term impact. However, the chances of medium to long term recovery will be compromised if no marketing is in place.

The Value In Content Marketing

Is there any real value in content marketing? With all the hype it is difficult to find any comparative data comparing content marketing with other lead generating activities. This post compares a content marketing approach with telemarketing by comparing cost per lead.

If we assume a cold caller can make 20 calls per hour and 3 of those calls reach a decision maker (optimistic) then 20 decision makers can be reached reached per day -100 per week. As most telemarketing campaigns invest little in targeting the best prospects I find it difficult to believe more than 5% of decision makers reached will agree to meet / move to the next stage.  Therefore, assuming an operator is paid a minimal rate the cost per lead will be (best case) GBP50.

This cost does not include the costs of any calling lists or any pre-qualification of contacts before the call is made. An assumption is also made that the purpose of the call is simply to generate a lead and not (as in best telemarketing practice) to develop a relationship that develops to a lead over time.

To make a direct comparison let’s again assume the purpose of the content marketing campaign is to generate leads and disregard its other potential benefits. From a real life example a content (inbound) marketing campaign run by a medium sized business (36 people) in a B2B market (component manufacture) over a 12 month period shows each sales lead cost an average of GBP61.

At first sight then content, or pull marketing is more expensive (22% more) but the quality of the lead is so much higher. The prospect makes their own choice to make an enquiry and has not been cajoled into it by a telemarketer. In addition, it is probable the prospect persuaded by content marketing has already done some research and comparison and is therefore further through the buying cycle.

Telemarketing is probably one of the cheapest methods of generating sales leads (the reason it is still performed – even if so annoying). From campaign start up it will also generate the first sales leads faster than a content marketing campaign but the real value in inbound, or content marketing is the quality of lead it generates for only a relatively small increase in cost.

Related posts

Telemarketing is not dead

Content marketing – An overview

 

How To Set Up A B2B Lead Generation Team

How should a B2B lead generation team be organised? What tasks need to be completed? What can be covered in house and what should be outsourced?

The first step is to identify precisely what exactly should be classified as a lead and at what point they should be passed through to sales. It is crucial this is agreed between sales and marketing at an early stage to prevent problems, and potential finger pointing, at a later stage.

The next step for the lead generation team is to decide what tactics, both online and offline, will be used to generate those leads. Wherever possible that decision should be based on solid analysis of what has worked well (and not) in the past.

Whatever tactics are built into the lead generation process it is probable content will be the fuel for that process. Content should build credibility and deliver the information the customer decision making team need to make their purchasing decision.

A well designed process will both generate high quality sales leads and help the sales department progress an opportunity to the point of sale. However, to build an appropriate content marketing process is challenging and requires significant time and effort. Typical problems faced by any B2B lead generation team involved in content marketing include (priority order)

  • Producing enough content
  • Producing engaging content
  • Delivering enough variety
  • Inability to measure cost effectiveness
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of time

To construct the best B2B lead generation team it is first important to identify what tasks are required, decide who is best to take on each task then allocate accordingly. Nobody can know the business, what it stands for its customers and market better than the business owners, senior managers and employees so nobody is better placed to generate content.

If the in house marketing department is inexperienced in inbound marketing, external short term support in the form of a mentor or outsourced marketing department can help. Often, external support or guidance may help in building the all important inbound marketing strategy and plan.

The sales department is crucial to success. It is important to integrate them into the process as they are best placed to identify what information is required by customers and prospects and at what point in the process. They will also have an important view on the best delivery methods and how to engage and deliver variety.

An experienced editor in chief (be they in house or external) is important to undercover and modify existing sources of content, combine them with new content and deliver consistently against the content marketing plan.

If the required content marketing skills reside in house then organising effectively is normally simply a process of allocating tasks and ensuring the sales department are integrated effectively. However, in most cases some key skills will be missing that may be filled by outsourcing to a specialist as a specific task or by taking on a mentor. Where external parties are used it is important to acquire from them the appropriate skills so they are only required on a short to medium term basis.

 

Related posts:

How to start a content marketing process

find high quality, engaging content

conflict between sales and marketing

 

How To Retain Existing Customers In B2B Markets

Every business loses a proportion of its existing customers over time. This post discusses how to retain existing customers for longer using content marketing.

Levels of service obviously have a major impact on customer retention but perhaps less obvious is the impact of ongoing communication. Research shows that over 60% of existing customers state they move suppliers simply because they either do not feel valued or their supplier does not communicate with them on a regular basis.

Communicating regularly with customers therefore aids retention but it can also increases credibility and customer engagement. Any supplier able to stay ‘ front of mind’ with customers is likely to increase their chances of securing orders ahead of competition.

The challenge then is to decide what to communicate and how it will be delivered. As the target is existing customers it is reasonable to assume that appropriate contact details will be available and permission to communicate will not be refused. An E-Newsletter is often a cheap and effective way to communicate on a regular basis but it is only of value if it links to helpful, engaging content.

An information hub (usually the business website) may be linked to from the Newsletter, point to other resources, raise the business profile and present offers of potential interest to existing customers. Continually adding useful engaging and valuable content to a website will also increase its ranking on the search engines thereby attracting new customers.

Once a ongoing communication process is established information of value and existing material held within the business can be modified and released to benefit customers. Most businesses will employ key people with a valuable view on markets, products or services who could be persuaded to write something of value, perhaps on a monthly basis.

When attempting to retain existing customers high levels of service and ongoing communication are both key to success. However, simply communicating is not enough as it is important to employ best content marketing practice to deliver information that is both useful and engaging. It is important to decide exactly what information is of use to customers before starting the process.

A sample content marketing process can be downloaded here

B2B Online Marketing – Best Practice Review

B2B online marketing practice appears to be moving towards inbound (pull) marketing and away from the the traditional push but what are the challenges? What works and what does not? A recent survey provides some insights

According to a recent survey of 1,416 B2B Marketers (company size 10-99 employees) in North America by the CMI/Outbrain 94% use content (inbound) marketing and 57% intent to increase spend on the activity in the next 12 months.

The survey shows the number one objective of content marketing activity is brand awareness, closely followed by finding new customers, then lead generation and customer retention. An average taken across the surveyed companies shows 31% of marketing spend is expected to be allocated to content marketing activity and a marked move away from traditional B2B push marketing techniques.

Inbound (content) marketing activities where defined by the survey as (ranked from most to least used)

  • Social media (excl Blog)
  • Article (own website)
  • E Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Case Studies
  • Videos
  • In Person Events (Seminar)
  • Articles (other websites)
  • White Papers
  • Webinars

With many more, lower priority, activities

The key problem areas identified were (not surprisingly) in priority order – Producing enough content, producing the kind of content that engages and producing a variety of content. 57% of those surveyed produce all their content in house, 3% outsource everything and 39% use a combination of in house and outsourced marketing services.

The figure of 94% using content marketing is perhaps a little misleading as this includes a proportion using only 1-2 of the tactics listed above which, in reality, does not represent a co-ordinated content marketing process. However the survey does show that over 50% of those claiming to employ content marketing are using between 5 and 12 different activities and over 20% in excess of 15 activities.

There is little doubt there is a strong move towards pull (instead of push) B2B online marketing. Statistics based on USA based companies do provide some useful insights but I wonder what would be the results of a survey based on UK companies with a similar profile. I suspect the U.K may be somewhat behind the USA.

Related Posts

The rise of inbound marketing in B2B markets

 

What Is The Best Way To Find New B2B Customers – Inbound Or Outbound Marketing?

Use content to secure new B2B customersWhere should a medium sized business in B2B markets allocate their marketing spend? What will deliver the best return and in what timescales? This post attempts to answer those questions by working through a possible marketing process to deliver high value new B2B customers.

Outbound marketing may be defined as the old push style marketing that may include traditional advertising, telemarketing and direct mail. Inbound (or pull) marketing is based on delivering information, building credibility and engaging with prospects in an attempt to be front of mind when an opportunity arises. Definitions can become a little blurred (is an E-Newsletter inbound or outbound?) but the general comparison holds true.

One process to find and secure key new B2B customers may be:

  • Profile existing key customers.
  • Use the profile to identify target prospects and markets.
  • Identify and prepare appropriate engaging content of interest / use to target prospects.
  • Use targeted telemarketing to gain permission to communicate.
  • Deliver content on a regular consistent basis
  • Integrate sales to build relationships and follow through on the process.

It is reasonable to expect current key customers have strong and valid reasons to stay with the business. They must have had strong reasons to choose the business at some point in the past. If these reasons can be identified, it should be possible to find more of the same.

Identify information of interest

With a strong existing key customer profile in place, including a market segmentation analysis, it should be possible to identify what information may be useful to those customers. It is important to look beyond the trivial and identify information of real value. With appropriate content identified a process may then be started to collect and prepare such information on a regular basis.

Analysis and content will be useless without the ability to deliver that content on an ongoing basis. The typical decision making team in a target prospect should be identified and research carried out to determine where those contacts go to find information. Without this information the process will fail.

Secure customer engagement

Content may then be delivered to where it has the best chance of being consumed by the targets, and (best case) secure active permission to deliver more via sign up. In addition a more proactive approach may be employed to gain permission to communicate using a combination of professional telemarketing and sales effort.

The final step then is to ensure quality; engaging content is delivered on a regular basis via the most appropriate channels. A regular (but subtle) follow up procedure via sales and / or a telemarketing operation may then be integrated on a regular basis to improve results

The answer therefore to the question is inbound or outbound the best way to find new B2B customers is a combination of both. Outbound primarily for contact identification, permission and follow up and inbound for the content marketing process.

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Is Social Media A Waste Of Time In B2B Markets?

Many have the view social media is a waste of time for businesses In B2B markets including, it appears, Simon Carter of Fujitsu who said in an article in the marketer magazine of January 2013 ‘social media delivers negligible value for businesses in B2B markets’. In my humble opinion he was spot on but on the other side of the argument there are the social media evangelists who continue to bang the drum.

Three months ago I did not see the value in Social Media for small to medium sized businesses operating in B2B markets, now, my opinion is changing. There is now what I would define as indirect value in a social media campaign.

The Problem With Social Media
There is little point in talking if nobody is listening and that (historically) has been the major problem with social media in B2B markets. If your prospects are not active on social media then what is the point? However, a number of things have changed.

  • Pull (content based) marketing is increasingly more effective than push.
  • Social signals are becoming more relevant to search engine optimisation

Does Social Media Have Any Value Going Forward

It appears the Google (and the other search engine) algorithm will take more account of social signals in future. This will not happen overnight but it is possible (probable?) Google will take account of what information is shared socially, the engagement with that content and rank accordingly.

To extract most benefit from a inbound marketing process a business needs to place quality, engaging content where their prospects and customers are most likely to find it. As discussed above social media channels may not be the best choice but, here’s the controversial bit, who cares. If content is being created and distributed to where prospects can access it (without using social media) then publishing it on social media channels may become simply an SEO activity.

A Lesson From History

Of course engagement is also an issue but perhaps a lesson from recent search engine optimisation history may be worth considering. Backlinks to a website are crucial to SEO. At one point any link would do regardless of relevance which led to the rise of so called link farms but Google rightly clamped down on this practice.

A higher quality link could then be obtained by submitting reasonable quality articles to article directories (article marketing) which was a common practice approximately two years ago. Today, good article marketing is all about engagement and quality writing. However, in the past, all that mattered was the backlink it did not matter from an SEO viewpoint how many prospects read the article, never mind engaged with it. Perhaps the same is now true of social media.

For businesses in B2B markets social media may have negligible direct impact on lead generation (<5% of B2B sales leads generated this way according to one report – Optify 2012) but it does appear to have value as one tool in the search engine marketing armoury. The jury is still out but it is perhaps a trend worth watching.

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B2B Content Marketing – An Overview

bigstock-Content-Computer-Concept--D-I-40612324What is inbound and content marketing and how does it differ from traditional B2B marketing? The profile of inbound marketing has grown rapidly over recent months and many now believe it is the most effective way to raise a business profile. This post set out to define inbound and B2B content marketing and its potential advantages for businesses in B2B markets.

Traditional marketing is based on pushing the message out to prospects and customers.  It involves building close relationships, delivering presentations, advertising, direct mail, telemarketing, Email marketing and a number of other means to push the chosen messages about the business, the brand and the benefits of the product or service

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing still works well for some but others have noticed increasing customer and prospect resistance to these techniques. There has been a shift in consumer behaviour to collect the information they need to make a purchasing decision themselves (pull) rather than wait for it to be delivered (push). There is an increasing break down in trust of advertising, telemarketing and other push marketing techniques.

The alternative is pull marketing where it is not about the messages the business may wish to deliver but about the needs of the customer or prospect. Pull marketing is based on delivering the information potential customers need to make an informed purchasing decision and guiding them appropriately. B2B Content marketing is a key element of the pull marketing process.

B2B Content Marketing Defined

There are many definitions of content marketing but one of the better ones states ‘it is a mechanism to engage with existing and potential customers, build credibility and trustworthiness and ensure the business is front of mind when any opportunity arises’. Potential customers spend more and more time researching suppliers and their products via the internet. It is important to ensure any business has an appropriate internet presence that services those information requirements, builds credibility and ensures the business is front of mind when the time comes to purchase.

To run a successful pull marketing campaign requires quality content delivered on a consistent basis but where does that content come from? The problem can often actually be there is too much content rather than too little and the issue is filtering what is available and placing it into an appropriate order to match the marketing plan. The main challenge is often converting the raw information available into something that reads well, is useful and relevant to prospects and customers.

Existing Sources of Content

Many businesses in B2B markets sit on a large amount of information that may be useful to customers. Any business should have a view (perhaps controversial) of the market it operates in, changes to that market, legislation and trends, all of which may be of interest to prospects. There will often be thought leaders within a business with a relevant view.

There may be information readily available to help customers improve how they use the product or service. Or information in house that can be converted to allow prospects to make informed decisions but not a sales document that will destroy trust in an instant. It could be useful application or quality information is available.

Pull marketing obviously requires well written information but it also requires detailed research into how that content may be engaged with by customers and prospects and how is it best delivered. There is little point in putting significant effort into preparing engaging and relevant information if nobody will read it. A wide range of marketing expertise is required to implement the delivery (copywriting, website build, blogging, social media, Email marketing etc) via the most appropriate channel.

B2B Content Marketing Tactics

A recent survey of B2B businesses showed the most popular content delivery tactics were social media (other than blog), articles on own website, e-newsletter, blogs, case studies, followed by in person events. To give an indication of the complexity the survey lists 26 different tactics and indicates businesses utilising content marketing use an average of 12 different tactics to reach their audience.

The above is only part of the story as the survey also shows the businesses surveyed rate in person events as the most effective tactic, followed by case studies and blogs. Social media does not rank in the top 10! Another report shows that the delivery channel used is critical to the level of engagement. It shows that customers trust case studies and information delivered by professional associations and trade groups more than any other.

Of the key objectives of inbound marketing customer acquisition, lead generation and customer retention not surprisingly all rank in the top 5. The survey shows the top challenges of content marketing are producing enough content (64%), producing engaging content and producing variety of content.

Inbound marketing then can be both complex and challenging but the long term reward of a consistent supply of quality sales leads can justify the effort. In addition implementing good quality content marketing can have SEO benefits, boosting the profile of the business website. Search engine optimisation has changed dramatically over the past 18 months. Good SEO is more about delivering valuable and engaging content than it ever was in the past, which fits perfectly with a content marketing strategy.

The use of content marketing, as part of a inbound marketing process, continues to grow in B2B markets. There is little doubt the process has some real advantages over traditional push marketing but there are also some significant down sides to be aware of. A content marketing process is resource intensive and it requires expertise in a wide range of marketing disciplines. There are challenges associated with generating enough of the right type of content in sufficient quantity and delivering it via the appropriate channels.

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B2B Inbound Marketing – Is All The Hype Justified?

B2B Inbound marketing has been around for some time, so why all the hype all of a sudden? This post dInbound marketing in B2B marketsefines inbound marketing and investigates its recent rise in popularity.

So what is inbound marketing? There are many definitions but as the name suggests the process is based on bringing in warm leads to a business rather than reaching out to cold and unqualified prospects. It is primarily based on a process (also much hyped) known as content marketing that is delivery of relevant, engaging, useful information to prospects to aid them on their journey through the sales process. Its aim is to raise business credibility and keep that business ‘front of mind’ with prospects when the time comes to purchase.

The Sudden Growth In B2B Inbound Marketing

The rise in B2B inbound marketing could be due to the convergence of three key factors. First, particularly in B2B markets, the old push marketing techniques have become less and less effective over recent years. Decision makers, buyers and the population in general  have taken control and are much more inclined to seek out the information they need (pull) than rely on it being delivered (push).

Second, the major search engines (Google in particular) made dramatic changes to the way they rank websites during 2012 with the process continuing into 2013. It appears the search engines are looking for quality content and how that content is shared and engaged with as a major website ranking factor.

Finally, many have been sucked in by the impressive (at face value) statistics surrounding inbound marketing. One report from Hubspot (survey completed in Feb 2013 based on 3,339 respondents) showed 60% of marketers will employ some level of inbound marketing in 2013, 48% intend to increase spend on inbound marketing and 41% agree that inbound marketing delivers a measurable ROI. All that said it is always important to dig into the vested interests of those publishing such statistics rather than take them at face value.

Problems With B2B Inbound Marketing

It is however true to say inbound (or pull marketing) does have its problems. Some tend to focus only on the SEO benefits and forget quality content and engagement is actually the most important. This leads to businesses throwing together as much content as possible without actually focussing on what content is relevant and useful to the target customers.

Integration of sales and marketing is also a problem with various reports showing that sales often simply do not see the benefits of content marketing leading to ongoing friction between sales and marketing. At CEO and CFO level the benefits of inbound marketing are still not fully understood; probably as a result of a failure of the marketing department to prove the benefits.

Creating content is a time consuming task and to deliver that content requires expertise in a wide range of marketing tools and services. Creating enough content, creating content of true value and delivering that content via the most appropriate means to ensure it is read are all ongoing problems.

Given the reduction in effectiveness of traditional push marketing and the impressive statistics associated with the alternative inbound marketing all the hype is perhaps understandable. However, there is no magic bullet and B2B inbound marketing is not without its problems. It requires hard work up front before any ROI is achieved and requires ongoing commitment from the very top if it is to succeed.

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Sources Of B2B Marketing Advice And Support

When looking for B2B marketing advice and support there are number of options to choose from. This post compares two of those options – mentoring and an outsourced B2B marketing department.

The Marketing Mentor

A marketing mentor transfers skills and knowledge to their client so they may perform the task on their own in future without the need for any further support.  Mentors use their skills and knowledge to guidSources of marketing advice and supporte their clients to a specific outcome and are generally employed for several months.

Unlike Coaches, Mentors should be well qualified with many years of relevant experience in one (perhaps two) business disciplines, they do not tend to be generalists. Mentors generally know their market in detail and can suggest a number of well qualified suppliers to help their client but ultimately the client (Mentee), not the mentor, performs the task bringing in and managing external suppliers as appropriate.

Outsourced B2B Marketing Agency

An outsourced B2B marketing agency provides B2B marketing advice but also implements in full leaving the client to get on with their business. In general, an external marketing agency will assume the client has a clear goal in mind whereas part of a mentor’s role may be to draw out a clients true objectives. Given a clear goal and brief an outsourced agency task is to deliver on those objectives in full. They are generally employed on a medium term contract, often in excess of six months.

In the mentor arrangement there is the cost of the mentor, the cost of external suppliers and the costs of managing and working the process in house. There is also the cost of the mentee time when involved in mentored sessions.

With outsourcing there is the ongoing cost of project management, the cost of services supplied and some front end costs associated with advice and support, strategy development, briefing and task agreement. If in house staff costs are excluded the costs of mentoring and outsourced marketing are similar, if they are included the mentor arrangement is more expensive.

The issue is not cost alone as the legacy element of the mentor arrangement should also be considered. A mentor should leave behind a mentee able to take on a particular range of tasks themselves in future; this will not generally be the case when advice and support is delivered by a outsourced marketing agency.

In general a outsourced marketing agency is employed to deliver B2B marketing advice over the long term. The time (and cost) associated with mentoring tends to reduce over time as the person mentored increases their capability.

Ultimately, the choice between mentoring and outsourced marketing tends to be based on the time available to complete the task and the legacy required (if any). Personal preference on how B2B marketing advice and support should be delivered also plays a part.

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The B2B Marketing Agency / Client Relationship – What’s Changed

The relationship between a B2B marketing agency and a client used to be relatively easy to define. Then along came the Google penguin and panda algorithm updates and everything changed. The process used to be simple and tended to follow the steps outlined below:

  • Client has a need / requirement.
  • Several marketing agencies pitch a solution.
  • A marketing agency is chosen and engaged.
  • A detailed plan is agreed between the client and the agency.
  • The agency completes the work with minimal reference back to the client.

This suited both parties as the outsourced B2B marketing agency could simply get on with the job, checking in and gaining approval where necessary, and the client could get on with their business without any significant involvement in the process.

The Clients Role In The Content Marketing Process

Now, post Panda and Penguin and with the rise in popularity of inbound and content marketing, the situation has changed. Only the client, with their intimate understanding of customers and markets, can define precisely what type of content is required at various points in the sales process. It is the client that retains information that could be converted to useful content. Thought leaders with a view on the market and trends are much more likely to reside in the client business than in the outsourced marketing agency.

A much closer relationship is therefore required between a B2B marketing agency and the client than has historically been the case. The client can no longer simply step back and leave the agency to deliver.

Why Employ A B2B Marketing Agency?

This situation begs the question why employ an B2B marketing agency at all? A valid question but an agency can still provide value by:

  • Researching what content is appropriate to each market segment.
  • Utilize their experience to decide on the best content delivery channels.
  • Leading the client through the process, requesting and identifying appropriate content.
  • Building a plan and acting as content editor in chief to deliver on that plan.
  • Taking content, re-writing, expanding and segmenting as appropriate to deliver the best return.
  • Utilizing content to gain high quality links and build the presence of the business website in search.
  • Implementation and delivery.

So there is still a place for a B2B marketing agency but a much closer relationship between client and agency is now required to achieve success. It is important for businesses to appreciate they can no longer hire and forget and for the B2B marketing agency to realise they must change their traditional client management and cost models.

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