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Why B2B Market Segmentation Delivers Sales Growth

The time taken undertake a B2B market segmentation process is rarely wasted. It can be all too easy for a sales department to lack focus and to chase the easy target, the prospects the competitors chase, or the contacts that are always open for a visit without really thinking through which customers are likely to generate the best long term returns.

The result of trying to please / relate to as many customers as possible is an undifferentiated offering that actually fails to please anyone. The key is to focus on the business strengths and use this as a basis to identify the most appropriate target customer groups. The objective must always be to avoid competing on price wherever possible. In this post we cover how a B2B market segmentation process may work, its benefits and risks.

Segmentation offers an alternative to organising marketing effort around products, instead focussing on customers and their needs. It brings focus to the sales effort and negates the ‘me too’ approach that ultimately leads to ever increasing pressure on price. Appropriate market segmentation delivers growth and reduces waste on ineffective sales and lead generation activities.

The obvious question is if market segmentation is such a powerful marketing tool then why are most B2B markets ultra competitive with little differentiation? The answer, to be blunt, is that to follow through the B2B market segmentation approach takes courage. Segmentation often leads to a change in focus and that change is unlikely to deliver significant results in the short term. It can lead to operational change and that will inevitably causes some short term disruption.

Market and customer segmentation can be a complex (and time consuming) subject so it is often best to not to start unless willing AND able to allocate the appropriate resources and act upon the outcome. Buy in (particularly from the sales department) and inclusion is essential as is an appropriate risk assessment. The result of getting the market segmentation process wrong is ultimately lost customers and business.

Rules for B2B market segmentation

There are several basic rules for identifying a market segment:

  • Members of the segment must react in the same way when delivered with the same offer.
  • Each segment must be unique and able to be serviced by a unique marketing strategy.
  • The segment must be of sufficient potential size to justify that unique marketing strategy.
  • The segment must be reachable.

With segments identified it is important to examine each in detail and either modify or discard those that are not a perfect fit as failure to identify segments correctly can be a costly mistake.

When a final list of market segments are available then it is possible to devise a marketing strategy for each and to identify ideal target customers in each segment to attack. Sales resources then may be allocated to ideal customers with the most potential long term value to the business across a number of segments.

A Potential Market Segmentation Process

As a reference point It is useful to document the key existing assumptions about the business. Try to record what the business supplies (not in terms of products), who needs that product or service, why the products or services are needed and (crucially) why should customers pick the business ahead of the competition. The result of the B2B market segmentation process may show that a number of these assumptions are incorrect but it is important to have a starting point.

The next step is to define the overall market in broad terms such as size and geography but be careful with demographics and social information as this can lead to a mass of information that is difficult to interpret and clouds the main issues.

With the above in place the most critical part of the segmentation process can be initiated – the identification of basic customer needs within the market. At this point it is important to forget customers, competitors and products and to identify the real set of needs the business can satisfy within the marketplace.

There are many ways to identify an ideal target customers needs. Purchase history is a starting point but customer surveys, snooping on social media and other appropriate forums, reviewing complaints and returns, lost order / customer information and sales or marketing personnel insights can all help. The objective of the analysis is to identify the range of benefits being sought by the market.

With a set of needs identified it is possible to profile those who have each distinct set of needs, give them an identity and make them real. Only when this is in place is it possible to fit the business (and competitor) products into each group of needs and arrive at a set of defined market segments. The segments may then be evaluated against a set of basic rules outlined above.

Sales v Marketing issues

As noted above the market segmentation process will not deliver unless it is supported by higher management. There are risks and the process itself takes time and effort. B2B market Segmentation cannot be done in a vacuum without the help of a wide range of departments within the business.

To make the segmentation process work requires experienced strategic marketers who can suppress any preconceptions they may have and methodically work through the segmentation process. Crucially, it also requires marketers who can obtain buy in and co-operation from the sales department.

In many B2B businesses there is an underlying tension between sales and marketing and, as outlined in this post from Heinz marketing that is not necessarilly a bad thing, but if sales do not see the benefit of segmentation and the insights it delivers they are unlikely to change existing behaviours. Without sales buy in,  and the co-operation to deliver the customer insights the process requires, then success will be significantly harder to achieve.

Segmentation And The Impact On Lead Generation

With carefully constructed market segments and a detailed understanding of the customers and their needs within those segments customised lead generation processes may be developed for each segment. This both improves the effectiveness of the lead generation process and reduces the waste in sending messages to the group of customers that are never likely to buy.

Inbound marketing processes in particular can be fine tuned to deliver the most relevant information (content) to each ideal customer group by the most effective delivery method, reducing the workload on sales and leaving them free to build relationships and close.

Market segmentation then is far from easy and there is a risk of short term losses to achieve a medium to long term gain. It takes courage from senior management and skilled marketers to deliver. However, the rewards in reduced price pressure, a differentiated offering, reduced waste and sales growth from a set of clearly identified ideal target customers can be significant.

What type of B2B Marketer Does Your Business Need?

How should you recruit and / or train the right B2B marketer for your business? Marketing, when implemented properly, can be the growth engine for your business but putting the right marketing person or team in place is crucial to success and not as easy as it may first appear.

WHAT IS B2B MARKETING

First, it is important to define what you expect from marketing. Put twenty business owners in a room and ask them that question and you may well end up with twenty different answers but we suggest the purpose of marketing is to generate growth – it is as simple as that.

Existing customers may generate the majority of that growth or it may come from new customers and that, to a large extent, defines the type of B2B marketer (or team) that is needed and the skill set required. Marketers, like many other business disciplines, tend to be pigeon holed according to one, or more sub sets of the full range of marketing skills. To find a person, or indeed a team, with the full range of marketing skills is unusual in the SME marketplace.

Before deciding on the type of B2B marketer (and hence the skill set) required it is important to take a step back and consider the strategic position of the business. What level of growth can reasonably be expected? What level of growth can be expected from the existing customer base? Are key customers growing and are there new key projects available? What new products (if any) will be required to support those projects?

What is happening in the marketplace and what impact will these changes have (if any) on the existing customer base? What measure of new business is required? Will that new business come from existing or new markets? These are all key questions to ask before trying to define objectives for the marketing department and therefore the type of B2B marketer (or team) required.

THE TWO TYPES OF BUSINESSES IN B2B MARKETS

The majority of businesses in B2B markets tend to be well established and rely on their growth from existing customers. Marketing activity in this type of business tends to be a care and maintenance function focussed on keeping key influencers within existing customers informed, expanding the contact base and influence, maintaining and re-enforcing the brand (including exhibitions and press), competitor and new project monitoring.

There was a time when the sales organisation performed many of the information type tasks outlined above but as summarized here by David Meerman Scott times have changed, the old push has changed to pull. Marketing now has a key role in engaging existing customers and reinforcing the brand with appropriate information (content).

It is true there is an enormous amount of rubbish written about inbound (content marketing) but when executed correctly by someone (or team) with the appropriate experience it is a key tool in the battle to grow business from an existing customer base. When delivered correctly it leaves sales free to build relationships, manage the sales process and close.

There is always the risk for the business reliant on growth from existing customers that the market will change, key customers will fail to grow (or worse, shrink), key influencers may leave or a new competitor arrives in the marketplace. That risk may be mitigated by attempting to develop new customers or markets but, as noted above, this requires a marketer with a different skill set.

For the business that is new to a market, trying to grow business from a low base, the situation is reversed. Their priority is to generate sales leads, close new business and once closed develop and retain those new customers to build their customer base as soon as possible. However, the new business focussed marketer does not in general have the skills (discussed above), or in many cases the inclination, to generate business from existing customers.

SKILLS REQUIRED BY THE MODERN B2B MARKETER

So what are the skills, required by the ideal marketer (or team) able to grow business from both existing and new customers.

  • Brand management.
  • Exhibition management.
  • Social media.
  • PR and press.
  • Top level design, documentation and print.
  • Sales forecast support.
  • Market and competitor research.
  • Website management.
  • Strategy and planning.
  • Potential customer and contact research.
  • Project management.
  • Customer database management.
  • Supplier management.
  • Content creation and distribution.
  • Email and nurture.
  • Search engine marketing (SEO).
  • Paid search.
  • Website and landing page design and delivery.

At the top of the list are skills almost exclusively required by the “existing customer B2B marketer” moving through the middle where skills are increasingly more focussed on “new business,” reaching the bottom of the list where skills are almost exclusively required by the “new business marketer.”

For the business either focussed entirely on existing customers or new business it should be possible to use the skill set list to recruit and / or train the relevant marketer. However, for the business intent on both growing sales from both new and existing customers there is a problem. If they are a relatively small SME it is unlikely they will be able to afford to employ a team of specialists and, as already discussed, to find one (perhaps two) people with the full range of skills is unlikely.

ACQUIRING THE NECESSARY B2B MARKETING SKILL SET

A business could engage an agency to deliver the range of skills required and employ a generalist to manage that agency, as outlined in this post from Christopher Ryan but there are several potential issues.

A limited number of agencies do have a full skill set and are quite capable of delivering the required growth from both new and existing markets but at a cost beyond most SME’s. However, most agencies claim to retain the full marketing skill set when this is not the case. As a result most agencies are generally more suited to generating demand from either new or existing customers, not both.

Obviously there is the cost issue when employing an agency but worse that cost does not buy any long term benefit for the business as the marketing skills are retained by the agency and when they go they leave no legacy. Further costs are accrued as someone within the business must be available to interface with the agency. They must be at a level to be able to manage suppliers and have sufficient skills to be able to understand what an agency is offering and critically question that offer, its effectiveness and ROI.

One solution may be a hybrid approach of either employing, or promoting from within, one or more individuals with the necessary aptitude to be trained up to take on the full range of marketing tasks. They may be trained by either a series of specialist mentors or a true full service agency that takes on the daily implementation of the marketing function in the short to medium term.

Have you calculated your B2B marketing costs and ROI?

Do you know how much marketing activity you can actually afford? Even if best practice marketing is employed it is not safe to assume that an increase in B2B marketing costs will be more than covered by the resulting sales?

As an example if a manufacturing company intends to increase sales it is reasonable to expect that some extra marketing activity will be required to generate those sales. Of course a proportion of the increase will be generated by existing customers and projects but what about the rest? Marketing activity will be required to generate the required sales leads.

The ideal marketing process may include Content, Website (&SEO), Email, Social media and possibly some Pay per Click. Is it really possible to justify investing in everything or are there choices to be made? The first step is to determine how many sales leads (on average) are required to generate a sale, what is the average value of a sale and therefore how many leads are required. Read more on calculating lead quantity in this post  from Christopher Ryan.

With the number of leads in place it is then possible to develop a process. For a manufacturing business social media should be a low priority leaving Email and website both of which require content. If an Email list of existing customers and prospects is in place then to reach out to these contacts with engaging and valuable content and nurture those prospects going forward is by far the cheapest route.

Simple measurement processes may be put in place to quantify exactly how many leads are generated from an ongoing Email campaign but what if the business suffers from the all too common small list syndrome , what then. Ultimately, a small Email list results in a small number of leads, regardless of how strong your content and nurturing process may be.

Of course you could take the inbound route but that demands both a substantial investment in content, in its many forms, and SEO to ensure your content hub (website) is actually found. Don’t fall for the ‘build it and they will come myth’ as it just won’t happen.

Good quality SEO takes time and effort and that involves cost. Justifying the expense of a full time SEO person can be difficult and it is not something you can expect an existing marketing person to learn overnight. It is important to make a careful analysis at this point of exactly how many sales leads you can expect from inbound marketing (and website) and therefore what you can reasonably invest.

The alternative option is to invest in pay per click but it is important to first check it fits with your type of business. It is well established the majority of prospects look to the organic results on Google before they look to the ad results. PPC has many advantages including the ease of defining cost per lead but it only tends to fit with a relatively small proportion of manufacturing type businesses. It is however easier to equip an internal marketing person with PPC skills than SEO skills in a relatively short period of time.

Cost per lead is generally higher for PPC than inbound marketing or Email. On the flip side PPC and Email are much faster to generate results. However, as mentioned above, Email only works well if you have a good quality Email list. If it is necessary to build a list that can take a significant amount of time and effort. The task is not to blindly invest in marketing but to think through a process that will deliver the required number of leads for an appropriate cost. Crucially, the same analysis will show what is, and is not, a realistic number of leads and therefore a reasonable turnover growth forecast.

 

How To Keep Existing Customers

keep existing customers for longerGiven it costs between five and eight times more to acquire a new customer than it does to keep an existing customer the issue for many businesses is how to keep existing customers happy and onboard. Levels of service obviously have a major impact on customer retention but perhaps less obvious is the impact of ongoing communication. Research from Peppers and Rogers group 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.

Kevin McKeown’s excellent post  reviews the research available on the subject but suffice to say increasing customer retention by only 10% can have a major impact on business turnover and profitability. The challenge then is how to communicate effectively with existing customers on a regular basis.

The traditional approach, in B2B markets, has relied on the sales force to reach out to their customer base on a regular basis but there are several problems with this approach including

  • Competing priorities.
  • Customer resistance.
  • The costs involved.

Ultimately, people buy from people and the power of personal relationships should never be discounted but with sales people routinely incentivized to bring in new customers the time available to service the existing customer base can be limited. With many existing customers in a given area the time available to communicate with each effectively can be minimal.

In many B2B market sectors buyers, and other members of the customer decision making team, are less open to potential supplier visits than they once were. They too have competing priorities and high demands on their available time. With the mass of information available online and an increasing resistance to push marketing they are also likely to seek out the information they need long before engaging with a supplier.

While relationships are important the costs associated with driving to, and meeting with, a customer can be significant. If that visit is simply to maintain a relationship, or deliver information, when there are no projects or opportunities in the pipeline then it is important to evaluate if that cost can be justified. A better approach can be to deliver valuable and engaging information to existing customers on a regular basis without the direct involvement of sales.

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.

Assuming an appropriate CRM system is in place contacts within the customer base may be segmented according to their role and their place in the order placement decision making team. Different sets of content may then be delivered to different groups depending on their information needs. The sales team can have a crucial role in both helping to build a content plan and the contact segmentation process.

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. Of course a marketing person could write an adequate post that may be of interest to an existing customer quality department but a post written by the Quality manager could delve much deeper into a subject and would be of significantly higher value.

Webinars, seminars and in person events can also be excellent methods to deliver information to the existing customer base. A 2014 survey from Softwareadvice.com found trade shows and in person events ranked as a key driver of high quality sales leads in B2B markets. If existing customers sign up for a webinar / seminar or attend a show then that is a great place to start. The key is appropriate promotion of events and generating quality feedback on the subjects existing customers would like to be covered during such events.

The final, and possibly most important, element of the keeping existing customer mix is generating (and acting upon) genuine customer feedback. That feedback may come in directly in response to an issue, it may be solicited directly or it may come indirectly via the sales force. Whatever the source it is crucial it is recognized and acted upon as a matter of urgency.

Given the potential lifetime value of an existing customer and all the time and resources required to replace them if they do leave there is absolutely no excuse for ignoring feedback (or a complaint). Of course customers can be difficult, of course their complaint, or feedback may be unjustified, of course they may be irrational but that comes with the territory, deal with it and move on.

The keep existing customers and extract more from those customers both high levels of service and ongoing communication is key. 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.

This post is an update on a post first published in 2013.

The Key B2B New Market Entry Challenges?

The key challenges associated with entering a new B2B market are not as obvious as they may seem. Yes, you need a killer product or service that fits perfectly with the need of the marketplace but image, relationship and your people are also key. We consider the key B2B new market entry challenges and suggest some potential solutions.

As one of the four routes to business growth covered in Ansoffs matrix the benefits of penetrating a new market are clear but to be a success requires:

  • A solid strategy.
  • A product / service the specifically addresses the needs of the market place.
  • The resources to implement the strategy.
  • The right people, signed up and committed to the cause.

Even with all the above in place there is a problem. It is almost certain there will be entrenched competition in the new market. The influence of their existing relationships with key decision makers and their standing in the marketplace should not be underestimated. People buy from people and there is always an issue of trust that any new supplier to a marketplace must overcome.

Entering any new market is a challenge but given it is one of the main routes to increased sales and growth it is a challenge that must be overcome. That said to try to enter a new market and fail wastes considerable resources and in some cases can be catastrophic for a business.

Each potential new market opportunity should be subjected to an initial screening process before diving in to a more thorough analysis. If the analysis shows there is an opportunity then a solid strategic plan that considers all possible scenarios, risks and resources is required before any attempt is made to move forward.

Assuming you have answered the key marketing questions surrounding your offer and the new market, stated your assumptions, identified risk, truthfully analysed your limitations and built your go to market plan then it is time to address people, relationship and image issues.

Who Will Deliver The Plan

Any strategy and plan is useless unless it is communicated appropriately to those tasked with making it happen, they understand it, are committed to it and are motivated to take it forward. In general people are resistant to change and with many years working in a particular market sector that they understand and are comfortable with may be resistant to stepping outside their comfort zone.

It is important to outline to all company personnel:

  • The reasons for attacking the new market.
  • The opportunity for the business and all those involved it represents.
  • The risks associated with simply focussing on existing markets.
  • An overview of the characteristics of the new market.
  • An outline of the strategic plan and timescales.

To overcome objections, address reluctance to change and secure sign up from all those involved. Not everyone will sign up, there will still be doubters, and strong leadership is required to ensure they are marginalised (or removed) so they do not destabilize the rest. New skills may be required or it may be necessary to hire those with some existing expertise in the new market.

Overcoming Entrenched Relationships

Any new market will have entrenched competition, often with many years’ experience of the market, a presence and a level of trust and existing relationships with the key decision makers. Any competitor with high levels of customer service, reasonable pricing and a progressive attitude to new products and solutions will be difficult to dislodge and all that can be done is to nibble away at their second tier accounts while building awareness in their key accounts.

The focus should therefore be on competitors that have an issue with service, pricing, new products or have become complacent. A focus on pricing should be lowest on the priority list but in any marketplace there will be the opportunity to attack on service and complacency. Potential customers will always be receptive to new solutions that address their needs.

To overcome existing relationship and market presence issues it is often best to attack new markets where the business already has some presence in the key customers, perhaps supplying minor items at a relatively low level. If this is not possible then finding a suitable partner (particularly a sales organisation) with existing access to key decision makers if often the key to success.

New market entry in B2B markets then is always a challenge but assuming the potential is researched appropriately, a strong plan is in place and the business has its key people on-board there will always be potential opportunities where entrenched competitors drop the ball.

B2B Marketing Strategic Planning – Is It Worth The Effort

The reasons for undertaking a B2B marketing strategic planning exercise are well established but too often I have seen the process hijacked or the outcome of the process sitting on a shelf gathering dust. Is it still valid to allocate significant resources to the traditional strategic planning process? Has the World moved on and is it now time for a different approach? We consider the issues.

The theory goes Strategy matches an organisations resources and capabilities with its objectives while considering the restrictions on those objectives imposed by the environment in which the business operates. Strategic decisions affect the long term direction of a business, they deliver control and focus by initiating a series of objectives, targets and sub plans that permeate down through an organisation. All great in principle but:

A 1st World War General said “no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” (paraphrased)

Eisenhower said “plans are useless but planning is everything”

And Mike Tyson said “everybody has a plan until they take a punch in the mouth”

All should have known what they were talking about because if their plans went wrong it was possible somebody was going to die. For the record, I am a great fan of marketing strategy but to blindly stumble into the process thinking it is the cure for all sorts of business ills is a mistake. First, let’s look at some of the problems with the B2B marketing strategic planning process before suggesting a possible solution.

The Problem With Strategic Plans In B2B Markets

Of course, the relevance (or not) of the marketing planning process depends, to an extent, on the market in which a business operates but typical problems are:

  • Failure to analyse the situation appropriately.
  • Unrealistic expectations – Hijacking.
  • Flexibility of plan.
  • Communication / Drive / Relevance.

Analysis

Market analysis is the foundation on which all good strategic plans are based. However there are three main problems

  • Failure to allocate sufficient time and resources to the process.
  • Lack of focus.
  • A blinkered view.

Appropriate analysis is time consuming and, let’s face it, not very exciting. The time and effort allocated to the process is therefore often significantly less than it should be. To stress again, failure to analyse the situation appropriately will only ensure the B2B strategic planning process is built on false (or, at best, incomplete) data.

Given the complexity of the analysis task it is easy to lose focus on what is really important to follow through and what is not. While, as stated above, it is important to allocate sufficient time to the analysis process, time should not be wasted following blind alleys that yield no relevant data.

It is important to keep an open mind at all times and not make bland assumptions. It is all too easy to think, of course we know who our competition is, we know our key markets, our target customer base is clear, but are they? It is important to throw away pre-conceived ideas and assumptions.

Expectations

I remember it well. In my early marketing career I worked with the Sales and Marketing Director on building a strategic plan for a medium sized manufacturing business. We were given the organisations expectations (the result of a recent board meeting) by the M.D. We then worked hard on the process for several weeks, diligently working through the analysis, undertaking internal and external discussions and progressing each step of the process.

One of the final steps was to present the analysis, our conclusions and the draft plan to the senior management team. After a half day of discussion we were reaching a satisfactory conclusion when in walked the company founder who was a brilliant innovator and technologist who had realised where his strengths lay and had delegated Managing Director responsibilities several years earlier.

His strong view was the carefully calculated growth and turnover figures should not be ‘X’ but should be ‘Y’(where Y = X++). This view was based exclusively on a new technology (and potential product line) he had been working on. He forced through his view that a value should be added for this technology with the detailed planning to be added later.

The result was a plan with no foundation, unrealistic expectations and (crucially) no buy in. Looking back the suggested technology and product line was at least 2-3 years ahead of its time but the founder fail to explain / convince those around him of its benefits and the detailed planning to take the product forward, for various reasons, never materialised.

I wish I could say the above was a one off case but I have seen several similar situations since in a variety of organisations. Setting unrealistic target and outcomes is certain to ensure limited (if any) buy in by those who actually have to implement the plan and result in a complete waste of the resources utilized to put the plan in place.

Flexibility

Perhaps one of the major reasons strategic plans are not implemented is they lack flexibility. They follow a rigid path based on assumptions about what will happen in future and what the market and competition will do in any chosen situation.

Unfortunately, nobody can know what the future holds. We may wish to believe if ‘X’ happens the logical thing for our competitors to do is ‘Y’ but competitors are run by people and they are entirely unpredictable.

Perhaps this is the main issue that is eluded to in the above quotations. What happens when the unexpected happens? What happens if we take that ‘smack in the mouth’ If we refer back to the carefully crafted plan does it have the flexibility to cope or is it so rigid that it is no longer applicable to the new situation.

Drive

After all your time and effort on analysis and planning you may have a strong, well thought out, plan with sufficient flexibility to deal with the unexpected but unless that plan can be sold to the masses and buy in secured it will be a complete waste of time and effort.

The word ‘sold’ is the key term as it has to be a standard sales exercise, illustrating the benefits and quantifying ‘what is in it for them’. With buy in secured a plan champion should be appointed to the difficult job of ensuring the plan is a reference document utilized in all key business decisions.

Whatever sub plans and objectives fall out of the main plan must be progressed and followed through and that can be difficult given the many competing business priorities. Many good plans founder because once put in place they are not referred to or utilized and the business continues to bumble along as it did before.

A Possible Solution

One possible solution is to work the theoretical strategic marketing process but only to a point. Analysis, I suggest, remains key as without it there can be no understanding of where a business came from, the environment it operates in, its strengths and weaknesses and what events may impact on the business in future.

With analysis in place it should be then possible to create a series of scenarios of what could happen in future and a basic outline plan of what the business should do if a given scenario were to come to pass. The most likely scenario can then be selected and the remainder of the planning process undertaken.

A balance then needs to be struck between a plan with sufficient detail to flow down through the organisation but flexible enough to be adapted to accommodate minor unexpected events. Should the worse happen and events conspire to make the current plan worthless the planning document remains valid with other scenarios and basic plans already in place.

Is B2B Social Media Worth The Effort

There is a mass of information online, and it seems endless seminars, about the power of social media for business but what is the truth? Is B2B social media really worth the effort?

In my humble opinion for lead generation for SME’s in B2B, markets no it is not. There I have said it, you need read no further. That said, there are other reasons to have a presence on social media but they are perhaps less obvious.

Social Media For B2B Markets – The Numbers

Assessing B2B social media success (or otherwise) for lead generation is a simple numbers game you can try out for yourself. How do you generate leads? I guess part of it is making potential customers aware of what you offer, part of it is building the perception of those that are aware, but not customers, that you are a credible supplier with something that sets you apart from the rest and part of it is to keep touching existing customers.

All of the above assumes you can actually reach out in some way to prospects (not engaged), prospects (engaged) and existing customers. Without getting bogged down in the detail of how you are going to reach out the first step is to determine if your B2B audience is actually on social media.

Simply dig into your CRM and take out 30 of your best customers, 30 randomly selected other customers, 30 engaged prospects and 30 target prospects to give an overall reasonable sample size. Then simply try to identify if those prospects have a presence on social media. In most cases using the basic search tool specific to the social network will suffice. I suggest simply try LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest to minimise the time involved.

Based on my own targeting of potential medium sized companies in a specific B2B market sector I came up with 1 in 9 on Twitter, 1 in 7 on Facebook, 1 in 4 on LIN and 1 in 22 on Pinterest but that does not tell the complete story (see below). Of course every business will be different, with its own set of numbers.

The first pass calculation then is simple. If your numbers are similar to mine and you have a total existing customer plus potential prospect base of 10,000 businesses then roughly 1,000 will be on Twitter and 2,500 on LIN and perhaps social media for lead generation is worth considering. If your target base is only 1,000 customers plus prospects then it is most likely not worth the effort.

Make your own assessment but be careful as there is another, more subtle, issue to be aware of. A business may have a social media account but are they active on that account and, more importantly, who maintains it. My own analysis (and every vertical / business is different) shows that many manufacturing businesses have a Facebook page simply because they think they should. The proportion of businesses actually active on their account is low. The same appliers, to a lesser degree, to the other channels.

It does not tend to apply to LinkedIn but Perhaps more important is who maintains the account. If it is just the business marketing department then is it actually worth engaging if you are really trying to reach out to engineers, project people and quality? To research all of the above may take half a day or so but it is time well spent when compared with the countless hours required to build a social media presence that delivers negligible results.

Choose Your B2B Social Media Channel Carefully

Each social media channel has its own advantages and disadvantages but for manufacturing businesses, and B2B in general, then LinkedIn has to deliver the most value. How to use LinkedIN to grow awareness, find business opportunities and generate leads is a lengthy subject beyond the scope of this post but Pagewiz provide detailed information if you would like to read more.

Pinterest can be worth some time and resources if your product is best promoted in a visual way. Twitter can be useful as a content (blogs, news etc.) broadcast medium and to increase reach but I have to admit I don’t see the value in Facebook for B2B. There are some who would wholeheartedly disagree and it is possible I am missing something but I simply do not get Facebook as a relevant promotional tool for B2B.

Video channels, the most famous of which is YouTube (but there are others), can be extremely effective for some manufacturing businesses but video marketing is again beyond the scope of this post.

So Where Is The Value In Social Media

Having dismissed social media as a lead generation tool it is important to note that it can be effective in three key areas

  • Research
  • A knowledge base
  • As a search engine

A vast amount of information is available on all the major social media channels and much of it would be difficult to find using a traditional search engine. By following key market influencers, competitors and businesses in your own and similar market segments a mass of information is available that can give your company an edge.

Social media is not just for publishing information, just being a passive snooper can deliver some real insights. Personally I have found many tools, resources and even businesses I have since partnered with on social media that I don’t believe I would have come across anywhere else. Just this week a re-tweet pointed me in the direction of a start-up business with a great (low cost) service I definitely intend to trial in the coming weeks.

Finally, social media channels are effectively search engines. The search functions on some may be basic but with practice it is possible to drill down to find great information it may be difficult to find on Google and elsewhere. As a test I typed a phrase from a former life (‘high reliability memory’) into Twitter recently and was surprised by the information returned. There was not a lot of information and much of it was several months old but the search phrase was far from mainstream.

The Problem With Measuring Marketing Results

In principle measuring marketing results is relatively easy but how do you really prove the positive impact of your B2B marketing activity? Yes you can measure clicks, opens, shares, impressions and a host of other signals but how does that relate to sales? While owners of the business may be interested in activity all they ultimately care about is sales.

In an old (but still gold) post Annuitas state ‘The rest of the organization tracks and marches to the beat of the revenue drum. Marketing must follow suit.  Clicks, opens and responses do not mean anything if they cannot be tied back to a revenue stream’

Although it can be difficult, measuring sales leads is one possible answer. However, as there is always a time lag between the lead and the sale it is not a perfect measure. Lead measurement also leaves the marketing department wide open to attack by those who may be looking for somewhere to hide. It is too easy for others to claim the leads are of poor quality, or for the wrong products or from the wrong customers.

Measuring Inbound vs Outbound

The trend towards inbound marketing further exacerbates the problem. A major element of inbound marketing revolves around content but producing and distributing that content comes at a considerable cost. It may be easy to construct an argument that shows inbound marketing is far more effective in B2B markets than outbound but without being able to tie the costs back to a recognizable output (sales) that argument is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Directors and financial officers have often become conditioned to measuring marketing results v budgets based on outbound techniques like traditional advertising, direct mail and exhibitions, it is what they expect and, to a point understand. It may be frustrating that the such activities get approval ahead of an inbound approach but the standard of proof on something that is new is always much higher.

One Possible Solution

When relating marketing activity to results, and specifically to sales there is no perfect answer. One, relatively simplistic, but useful technique is to set a baseline based on past activity. How many leads are generated at present per month and what is the average conversion (leads to sales).

A variance factor may be added to this number (perhaps +5%) then it is relatively safe to assume that if leads increase beyond this level it must be due to marketing activity. This is a particularly useful measure if adding in new marketing processes including inbound marketing.

Leads can then be converted to a rough sales number and compared directly with the marketing costs of generating that sales number to give a ROI. The measure is not perfect as sales numbers can be impacted by a wide range of factors beyond marketing control but it does give an indication that higher management and financial people understand.

Sales may wish to claim that the increase in sales numbers is due primarily to their activity and increased conversions. However, marketing may argue (with some justification) that a major part of that success is due to increased lead quality.

 

 

 

 

Which B2B Marketing Tactics Generate Most Sales Leads?

Note the word ‘tactics’ in the title. Way too much is written about single B2B marketing tactics that will produce a miraculous increase in the number of B2B sales leads in weeks (sometimes days). This is NOT one of those posts.

Expecting any B2B marketing activity to generate meaningful results in weeks from a standing start is a big ask. Generating quality sales leads on a consistent basis requires both a plan and a marketing process and that takes time. That said, the latest reports relating to manufacturing and B2B marketing from CMI and IDM make interesting reading.

Goals / Success Metrics

The Content Marketing Institute (CMI) report shows manufacturing companies tend to measure the success of their marketing campaigns via increases in:

Website traffic 67%.

Sales 48%.

Sales leads quality 46%.

Increased conversion 44%.

It may surprise some that sales is not top of the list but given the sales department and, to an extent, the entire organisation has an impact on sales numbers it is perhaps understandable. Success (or not) in the other categories can be attributed directly to marketing. Traffic and conversion are easy to quantify but lead quality is more subjective.

It is interesting the measurement criteria are not as soft around the edges as those outlined in previous CMI reports. They may be more high level but they are (in general) based on cold, hard fact.

The report (as you may expect) focusses heavily on inbound and content marketing but there is an obvious problem. It states average content marketing spend as percentage of total marketing budget is 22% – so where is the rest?

Outbound marketing Is Not Dead

According to Institute of direct marketing (IDM) report 49% of marketing budget spend was on traditional outbound B2B marketing tactics in 2014 including trade shows (at 15%), Email, direct sales, PR, telemarketing and direct mail. Traditional outbound marketing is therefore alive and well in the manufacturing sector. A fact that is often glossed over by those promoting the brave new world of inbound marketing.

It is interesting to note however that the report also shows only 20% intend to increase trade show spend in 2015 while spending on offline advertising, print advertising and direct mail is expected to decrease dramatically. Only 6% of respondents expect an increase in telemarketing spend. The IDM report also shows a marked shift in spend to inbound marketing as follows:

50% expect to spend more on content creation

45% expect to spend more on social media

40% expect to spend more on SEO

37% expect to spend more on website

This trend is supported by the CMI research

Inbound

The CMI report shows 82% of manufacturers are currently using some form of content marketing with their main objectives:
Brand awareness 89%.

Increased sales 85%.

Lead generation 80%.

Top content marketing tactics used by manufacturers are video (87%), e-newsletter (85%), social media, not blog 85%. Surprisingly case studies are lower in the list at 75% and Blogs at 60%.

What then is driving this move to inbound? Is it simply that businesses recognise the increasing resistance to outbound tactics? Or have they also recognised that decision makers perform detailed research into products, suppliers and services long before they engage with sales? Is it a sheep mentality? Or is there firm evidence of increased marketing ROI? I strongly suspect it is the latter but both the CMI and IDM report lack any data to back this assumption.

Conclusion

Much marketing commentary tends to focus on exclusively outbound or only inbound completely side lining the impact of the other. Inbound has both advantages and disadvantages, as does outbound. What is required is actually an lead generating B2B marketing process that capitalises on the strength of both to deliver on the objectives of the organisation.

Basic marketing principles should apply. It is essential to understand the business target customers, the best way to reach those customers and what B2B marketing tactics are best. The, are the marketing tactics inbound, or are they outbound? Discussion is irrelevant, it is the process that matters.

How To Define Responsibility For B2B Lead Generation

In my experience one issue that creates friction in a business more than any other is the argument over who is responsibility for B2B lead generation. However, often the argument is a response to a more deep seated problem.

It is a fact (often ignored) that internal company politics can have a significant impact on business performance. It is natural staff and middle managers want to progress in the business. For management in particular this requires they deliver against targets and are credited with their part in any major business achievements. It also means they need to avoid association with any negative events.

Managers (and staff) can therefore waste time on positioning rather than concentrating on what is best for the business. The situation is made worse in closely related departments like sales and marketing and strong leadership is required to ensure petty squabbling does not impact on performance.

In larger businesses, where there are separate departments with different heads the potential for conflict is obvious. If the sales numbers are hit the sales department may claim credit, ignoring the impact of marketing. If the numbers are missed then the sales manager may wish to blame the marketing process for delivering insufficient (or poor quality) leads.

Marketing may blame sales for ignoring the larger picture in the pursuit of short term opportunities. They may despair at sales people who claim the reason for poor sales performance is the competitions superior product, or pricing or promotional spend. They may be constantly frustrated that sales follow their own agenda rather than their carefully crafted strategic plan.

In smaller businesses with one manager responsible for both sales and marketing their background (be it sales or marketing) often leads to one area dominating to the detriment of the other. Whichever element suffers then tends to be driven by the other rather than working together to maximise results.

The answer is often to clearly define the objectives for the sales and marketing functions and to ensure that those objectives do not overlap. Both functions may then be credited (or not) with achieving their objectives and on the resulting outcomes on the sales numbers. A natural dividing line is the initial sales lead.

Using the existing sales forecast and the business yearly sales targets it should be possible to calculate what business is already identified and how much more is required. Average closure rates v leads should be well known, it should therefore be possible to calculate the number and type of sales leads required.

Marketing then becomes responsible for generating sufficient quantity, type and quality of sales leads and sales for taking those leads to a successful conclusion. All that is then required is strong management to ensure leads are not routinely discarded but are acted upon. Some sales people will inevitably persist in falling back on their long established relationships with a small group of key customers rather than chasing down new leads.

B2B marketing people need to be managed out of the soft and woolly world of branding and relationship management and into the world of quality lead generation. This may go against their education (blame the CIM for that) and damage some egos but is a necessity for the overall good.

Specifically differentiating the responsibility for B2B lead generation from that of lead conversion may seem an over simplistic approach and in some businesses it may be. However, in a business where petty politics get in the way of sales number delivery it is important to start somewhere. Once firm dividing lines have been established and understood they may be relaxed (to a point) and modified over time.

B2B Marketing Activity Does Not Equate To Marketing Results

It has been bothering me for some time. Why do businesses persist in pursuing B2B marketing techniques that have long been established as a complete waste of time and money? Then yesterday a colleague made a comment and suddenly the answer became clear. It is marketing activity, not necessarily results that can justify the marketing departments (or person) existence.

I still regurlay receive cold calls that start with ‘can I speak for the person responsible for x’. The chances of getting past any receptionist with the most basic of training with that starting pitch have to be minimal. If calling the business owner directly surely the response rate has to be zero.

Let’s assume a cold caller can make 20 calls / hour and they get past one in five gatekeepers (optimistic) their troubles are not over. The person they need to speak to may not be in, or in meetings, or on another call, or away from their desk so reaching the required person could easily take a minimum of three attempts. Therefore in a seven hour day of full on cold calls the caller may reach nine decisions makers (best case). How many will respond to a telephone offer? 1 in 10? 1 in 20? The numbers don’t add up.

Taking another example of banner advertising. Average click through rates have been shown to be 0.08% (Source Sizmek) and 8% of internet users account for 85% of banner ad clicks (source Comscore). Therefore the chances of reaching the target audience are minimal but the cost substantial.

Measuring the effectiveness of advertising is notoriously difficult yet businesses continue to spend significant sums with no real idea of the business the activity generates and certainly no idea how the activity relates to sales leads generated.Measuring ROI on B2B marketing activity

So why persist with these, and other tactics, that deliver little to no return. The problem is perceived activity. Those trained in sales equate activity to results. The logic behind this is difficult to challenge as failure to engage with customers or prospects in some way results in a failure to sell. When times are hard and the eyes of those in charge turn to the sales director to deliver results he or she naturally turns on the sales department to increase activity.

In many B2B organisations, especially those that are medium to small sized, one person tends to head up both sales and marketing. In the majority of cases that person tends to be from a sales rather than a marketing background. They therefore also tend to turn to marketing for evidence of activity first, results second.

Strange as it may seem most marketing people tend to want to stay in their jobs. When any evidence they present that activity based tactics are a waste of time on money falls on deaf ears they fall into line with the activity approach. Marketing process and the long term view disappears out of the nearest window.

The problem for the marketing department in many cases is one of measurement and process. With no process in place and an ad hoc approach it is much more difficult to make a case against the activity approach. To justify any other technique it is essential to have robust measurement data in place showing positive results over the medium to long term.

How To Win Over Competitor Key Accounts

You may have better products or services than the competition, you may have better service and support but the battle to win over competitor key accounts is never easy. Your competitor may be well entrenched and have key relationships built up over several years. Frustratingly, even when your competitor messes up you may still not get a chance.

The solution is not a quick fix and it is resource intensive but it can deliver results over the medium to long term. It requires sales working closely with marketing to identify key personnel to target and their needs.

There are two key issues at play. The first is relationships and the second is fear of change. Over time your competitor will have built close personal relationships with key influencers within the organisation. Even if your sales people can make inroads with one or more lower level people within the organisation it is likely the influencer will have an input before orders are switched away from your competitor and that is where any opportunity tends to come to a shuddering halt.

Fear of change is a natural human emotion and it can also have a real impact on overcoming the competition. A change away from something that may be working but is not ideal tends to be avoided because there is an in built perception that change will lead to a negative result.

Establish A Position To Strike When The Opportunity Arises

Unfortunately the solution will not deliver overnight results and it is a long game that can be resource intensive so it is best to make sure it will be worth it. There are two potential opportunities, the first relies on the entrenched competitor getting lazy. The second assumes that the competitor sales people and account managers cannot really get along perfectly with everybody.

Have the competitor sales people really built out their network to cover all the influencers in your target customer or have they left you a way in. If there is a gap to exploit how do you widen that gap to force your way in. The solution is content (information) but it must reach as many members of decision making team and key influencers as possible and (crucially) it must be matched to their needs.

A drip, drip approach is required so that the influencer recognises you are there, you know your business and market and that you are a credible source. Case studies are the holy grail of content but when they are not available any information that addresses your customers’ key questions or needs is helpful.

While it is important to deliver to all key influencers and members of decision making teams the key is to at least ensure you have a list of influencers (the low hanging fruit) you want to reach. Appropriate content is only part of the battle, it is also important that the content is delivered by the method that is most likely to be engaged with by the prospect.

Where do they look for information? Is it the internet? Is it industry publication? Is it white papers or blogs? Is a well-crafted ENewsletter likely to be read? Whatever channel is used content must be delivered via that channel.

The battle to win over competitor key accounts is never easy and there is no quick fix but by delivering valuable and engaging content to the key influencers your competitor has failed to cover you can at least give yourself the best chance over the medium to long term.

Using Scenarios in B2B Marketing planning

With the financial year end approaching for many manufacturing and B2B services companies many are considering an update of their existing plans or a complete new B2B marketing planning process. However, some perceive the planning process to be flawed and a waste of resources, perhaps rightly so.

In this post we consider the traditional B2B marketing planning process, some of its major flaws and one possible solution.

The Traditional Marketing Planning Process

B2B strategic planning processThere are many texts on the B2B marketing planning process ranging from basic to highly complex but my own favourite is the version laid out in Malcolm McDonalds book ‘Marketing Plans – How to Prepare Them How To Use Them’.

In short it outlines the process as Company objective setting, audit, analysis, define assumptions, set objectives, build strategies to achieve those objectives, estimate results, establish plans and build measurement processes. All perfectly logical and sensible but there is a problem.

Problems With The Standard Approach

A great quote from Mike Tyson ‘Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth’ is quoted by Sir Lawrence Freedman in his re-thinking strategy lecture. He suggests to implement any plan successfully assumes future events fall into place as predicted and that rarely (if ever) happens in reality. While he questions the need for rigid plans he remains a fan of the planning process.

In practice the marketing environment is complex and worse still it is populated by people (employees, competitors, stakeholders) that are anything but predictable. Perhaps this is the reason so many strategic marketing plans end up on the shelf gathering dust. The well thought out plan and process fails to survive the first series of events that do not fit with what was predicted.

How Scenario Building Can Help

On completion of the analysis phase it is useful to try to fit the data available with a number of future scenarios (what happens if!). Some assumptions need to be made so scenario building is a far from perfect science but it does allow a business to at least be prepared should the predicted events unfold.

Business strategy experts suggest it is best to build up to four scenarios, at least one of which should be based on worst case events. It is then possible to play through these scenarios identify key risks and take appropriate decisions on how these risks may be mitigated. It is also possible to identify opportunities that may not be a priority but are worth further investigation.

Although a useful exercise the business still needs to move forward so it is necessary to choose the most likely scenario and complete the strategic marketing plan based on those assumptions. However, plans should always be constructed with a degree of flexibility so that they may be modified (or abandoned) if necessary. With alternative scenarios considered the business is then well placed to react as necessary and the strategic plan becomes a living document.

Overcome The Key Small manufacturing Business Marketing Challenges

Small manufacturing businesses face their own special set of marketing challenges. In this post we cover the four key challenges and suggest some potential solutions.

Not Products But Commodities

Increasingly a problem for a wide range of businesses. I am not quite sure if it is a function of how society in general now functions, a general more competitive environment or hard times in manufacturing resulting in a dog eat dog culture. Whatever the reason it is becoming harder to differentiate products and, as a result, charge a premium.

Manufacturing used to be immune to an extent from this phenomene but no more. Products are increasingly treated as commodities and therefore price alone is king.

Solution: The solution is in two parts. The first is to strive to introduce new products or services as rapidly as possible. It appears life cycles are shortening and therefore the time available to maximise returns is also reducing. As one product reaches maturity (and therefore commodity status) the next needs to be ready.

The second part is actually a key element of all that follows and that is marketing strategy. It is important to understand in intimate detail what it is the business actually delivers, who needs that product or service, why they need it and who else satisfies that need. This is the key to product differentiation.

Customer Retention

Many smaller manufacturing businesses have a relatively small potential customer base. It is therefore essential to keep current customers and to maximise the value of those customers.

Research shows the prime reason customers leave is a service issue (including delivery) but the second most common reason is perhaps a surprise. It is not price but is a perception that the customer is not valued by the supplier.

Solution: keep touching and interacting with the customer. This is a challenge for sales and with the ongoing pressure to secure the next order it is perhaps not a surprise it is often neglected. The most efficient method is to deliver engaging and useful information (content) on a regular basis.

A robust customer feedback system that is designed to deliver a high response rate is key to identifying potential issues with existing customers and dealing with them before they become serious. It can also be a lead in (with happy customers) to securing valuable case studies to use to both extract more from customers and to help with securing new customers.

New Customers Acquisition

The old maxim it costs 5x more to acquire a new customer than it does to retain an existing one tends to hold true. Manufacturing businesses tend to allocate a significant amount of effort to new customer acquisition. Unfortunately much of that effort is often wasted by sales in unproductive meetings based on poor quality leads.

Solution: A well thought out strategy (see above) and appropriate targeting can certainly help. However, the main issue is the game has changed and prospects are much more likely to search for the information they need to make a buying decision (pull) than they ever were in the past. The old push type marketing based on telemarketing, appointment setting, advertising and Emails based on sales copy alone is less and less effective. The process should be identify decision makers, reach out to them with appropriate content or use content to draw them in.

Ad Hoc Approach To Marketing

Without a strategy and a clear understanding of the customer and how to reach them it is all too easy to jump from one marketing activity to the next. To make a success of marketing requires both time and a consistent approach. Falling for the hype about the latest and greatest and marketing technique generally leads to disappointment.

Solution – It takes courage to see it through but what is needed is a marketing process built around the most appropriate marketing techniques. A process that can be measured and optimised to deliver the best approach.

To succeed a solid strategy and marketing process are key. It is also essential to embrace inbound marketing and use valuable and engaging information (content) to fuel the process.

Are Manufacturing Business Marketing Plans Over Reliant On Digital?

When building manufacturing business marketing plans is there a danger of concentrating too much on digital and forgetting offline marketing? Small to medium sized manufacturing businesses are different. Their target customer base may be relatively small, key customer retention is generally all important and the sales cycle may be months, even years. Marketing techniques that work in other B2B verticals and B2C are often simply not valid.

Much published marketing advice seems to focus on Brand (you can read my rant on that subject here), digital marketing and inbound marketing. There is very little comment on what works for smaller B2B and manufacturing businesses. The information that is available generally tries to twist what works for B2C to the needs of B2B.

I am not suggesting digital marketing and inbound do not have a place because they certainly do but I happen to believe offline also has an important role. Two pieces of research in 2014 perhaps support my view. The first from Content Marketing Institute is focussed on inbound (content) marketing but still shows in person events (exhibitions / seminar) as the second highest most effective marketing tactic. The second from SoftwareAdvice showed Trade shows, referral marketing and in house Email as the most effective.

It is important for manufacturing businesses to take a step back, resist jumping on the latest bandwagon and assess what marketing process is really best. The starting point for that process has to be a strategic review.

Strategic Review And Marketing Planning

The exercise does not need to be complex; all that is required is a re-evaluation of what the business sells and to who. What need does the business products or service satisfy, who needs that product or service, who else satisfies that need and (crucially) why should prospects buy from the business ahead of the competition.

It is vitally important to identify what is to be pitched and to who before trying to evaluate the best way to reach them. Too much marketing spend is routinely wasted on the latest trend or what appears to be a good deal without evaluating if it will actually reach and engage the target customer base.

Target Your Potential Customers

With the pitch and the target customers in place only then is it possible to decide the best way to reach them. Social media works well for some businesses but not (in general) for B2B manufacturing businesses where the target customers are often not active on social media channels (LinkedIn excepted).

Your website may be great for existing customers who know it is there and use it as a resource but what about prospects? Can they find your website when they type relevant search phrases into a search engine? Of course, paying for SEO (or PPC) may solve that problem but both tend to be expensive so funds may be best spent elsewhere.

Blogging and all the other elements of content marketing are great but how do you ensure all that information is delivered to a point it has the best chance of being read and engaged with. There is not a lot of point in talking if nobody is listening.

What About Outbound Marketing

As stated above well-chosen exhibitions, seminars and workshops are all effective. Target customers are likely to be there, it is possible to interact with them and deliver the information they need. They can ask questions directly and objections may be addressed. However, exhibitions are generally expensive so it is essential to work out potential returns in advance and track the actual ROI.

There are those who try to classify Email as inbound. Call me a cynic but this is probably because it makes the inbound statistics more attractive. What is true is Email marketing is highly effective if it is content rather than sales message based. Assuming a high quality list and an appropriate CRM system are in place Email allows a manufacturing business to reach out to their customer and prospect base.

If a business has a good story, be it product or business related, then press coverage in appropriate publications still has high credibility and excellent potential reach to the target customer base. The only problem is how to effectively measure the impact. The measurement issue also applies for direct mail that can be effective as a last resort if there is no other way to reach the prospect.

There is however a common theme running through all the outbound techniques that should not be ignored and that is they all need some form of content. Without valid and engaging content they will not work and that leads to the conclusion that the best manufacturing business marketing process is an appropriate mix of inbound and outbound marketing techniques.

B2B Marketing Process And Automation

The real purpose of marketing is quality lead generation not, as many wrongly assume, branding and advertising. A robust B2B marketing process will ensure leads are delivered consistently but on its own it is not enough.  A level of automation is also required to ensure the process may be delivered at an appropriate cost and is both measurable and repeatable.

Disadvantages of the Ad Hoc Marketing Approach

Too often B2B marketing is disjointed with no real plan or purpose. In increasingly competitive markets sales are the top priority and marketing is the poor relation. Company politics and the long established disruptive relationship between sales and marketing often means sales calls the tune.

Sales (rightly so) tend to be focussed on short term objectives (I need ‘X’ to progress this prospect) which leads to requests for marketing support that are random with no relation to any plan or process. In many B2B businesses there is a Sales and Marketing Manager or Director who comes from a sales background and that just exacerbates the problem.

Jumping from one B2B marketing tactic to the next is unlikely to deliver the required result. Even if there is sporadic success it is impossible to identify what generated the positive result so it may be repeated in future. An Ad Hoc approach means marketing is reactive rather than proactive and that is not the best way to run any business department

Following the latest marketing fad, only to abandon it a few months later when it does not generate immediate results, is a hugh waste of cash and resources. Reactive support of sales requests with customised material that could be produced once then delivered simply as required wastes time and effort.

B2B Marketing Strategy Is Key

To move towards a more proactive and planned approach the first step is to define the marketing strategy. A full strategic marketing process is the ideal but as a minimum there should be some consideration of the business objectives, the market, target market segments, competition, the sales plan and how marketing can deliver the quality leads sales need to deliver on that plan.

In practice, there is one major issue to consider before committing the time and effort to preparing a marketing strategy and that is buy in from senior management and sales management. Marketing cannot operate in a silo so if there is no commitment to developing and (crucially) following through on a strategy there is little point putting one in place.

Building A B2B Marketing Process

With a strategy in place, it is possible to consider all the marketing tactics available to the business and how they may be utilised to support various stages in the sales cycle. Working closely with sales the marketing input required to deliver the required outcomes may be quantified in some detail.

Instead of the Ad hoc approach the best marketing activities can be identified, interrelated, quantified and scheduled to deliver the required results. Inputs including both in house and external resources can be planned in and therefore progressed to ensure they are available when required.

Measurement And ROI

When building the marketing process measurement points and the tools used to collect data should be specifically identified. Most digital marketing techniques can be measured in detail but data from the field via the sales force may also be required.

With a process and measurement data in place it is relatively easy to identify what is working well and where there are problems to be addressed. If something works well it can be increased and marketing techniques that fail to deliver may be dropped to be replaced with others with a better chance of success

Marketing Process – The Disadvantages

With the short term demands placed on the marketing department by sales one of the major problems with any B2B marketing process is the time and resource required to put that process is place. It needs real higher management commitment to allow the marketing department the time and space to deliver.

Any B2B marketing process by definition will require a range of interrelated marketing tools and techniques to deliver the required result. This, of course assumes the in house marketing department has experience of a wide range of marketing skills and (most important) have real experience and data on the results they should expect from each technique. If these skills are not available in house a level of outsourcing will need to be considered.

Although the Ad Hoc approach is actually high cost (and low ROI) it is often not perceived that way. When marketing is sales driven it often does not have its own budget and the low ROI can be buried. A process, by contrast, needs a budget and that budget is identified up front. Higher management therefore have a decision to make on approval (or not) and this can stop the marketing process before it even starts.

The Need For Automation

To both minimise the required budget and maximise the ROI of the B2B marketing process it is important to keep costs to a minimum. It is therefore important to think through how the involvement of expensive in house staff can be minimised once the process is in place and running smoothly. Any duplication of effort should be identified and removed and systems and processes made as slick and efficient as practical.

Conclusion

The only way for B2B marketers to show their value is to deliver an ongoing stream of quality leads to sales. They need to move away from reacting to the demands of sales and build a proactive, efficient and repeatable process.

There are undoubted challenges in gaining higher management buy in and support for building the process so, once in place there is an obligation to deliver the maximum ROI. A level of automation is the best way forward (often utilizing external agencies to take on repetitive tasks efficiently) once the process has been built and tested. The best way to deliver consistent results is both B2B marketing process and automation.

4 Advantages and Disadvantages Of Inbound Marketing

Before considering the advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing a definition is perhaps appropriate. According to Wikipedia ‘Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospect’s attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content’

ADVANTAGES

Reduced Friction

Outbound marketing, by its very nature interrupts the prospect and that undoubtedly causes friction. We have all been there rushing around the office getting everything together for a meeting or concentrating hard on the latest spreadsheet when it comes the telephone call from someone pitching for something we did not ask for or prepare for. Does that call leave a good impression of the caller and their business or not? – answers on a postcard please.

Inbound marketing assumes the prospect searches out the information they need when they are ready. It assumes useful, engaging content is placed where the prospect may find it and it leads them down a path to ultimate conversion. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve – as discussed below.

Inbound Marketing Builds Authority

In the above example it was noted how outbound can leave the prospectadvantages of inbound marketing with a bad impression of the company. Inbound is the opposite, it builds authority and credibility. Assuming content is of high quality and published on a regular basis then prospects develop the impression the company is real, in good shape, knows what they are doing and moving forward.

Builds Long Term Relationships

Most (not all) outbound marketing is a one hit wonder. It often relies on the prospect taking whatever action is required upon delivery of a single telephone call, Email, advertisement or piece of direct mail. If you have a limited potential customer base it is simply not practical to burn through your list to achieve only a few results.

Inbound is based on ongoing delivery of information over an extended period of time to build trust and a relationship to the point the prospect is ready, and comfortable, to buy.

Lends Itself To A Process

Particularly in B2B markets decisions are made by a team rather than just one person. All components of that team need to be engaged and all have different needs and information requirements.

Building an outbound process to engage all decision makers can be difficult but with inbound information (content) can be tailored to their particular needs. It can be delivered to the point it is most likely to be read and bring the prospect back to a point (the website) where they can find out more.

With a plan and appropriate content in place a process can be built with many steps leading ultimately to a conversion.

DISADVANTAGES

It Takes Time

Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of them all. With outbound you may burn through a significant number of prospects to achieve one hit but results are possible within weeks. The same is not true of inbound where it will take 3 months absolute minimum from starting the process to see any meaningful returns.

Inbound marketing is more expensive than outbound

There is plenty of information online to state that on average an inbound lead costs significantly less than an outbound lead but sorry, I don’t buy it. There is no doubt any inbound marketing campaign is labour intensive. Content creation takes time, reformatting existing content takes time, publishing the content takes time. There needs to be a content manager and a solid plan. A wide variety of skills sets are required (see below) and all of this comes at a cost.

Inbound Skill Set Requirements

With outbound having well-honed skills in one or two disciplines may suffice but not for inbound. To succeed in inbound marketing requires skills in website development, blogging, social media, content creation / sourcing and SEO to name but a few. For one person to have all these skills is a big ask hence either more people are required or the process needs to be outsourced and automated.

Measuring ROI

measuring inbound marketing ROIAs inbound marketing is predominately digital marketing based it should, in principle, be relatively simple to measure the ROI. Unfortunately, relating activity to leads generated is not that easy. It is possible to measure results at many stages in the process (clicks, downloads, follows etc.) and to fine tune the process accordingly but to obtain a direct relationship to leads generated can be more of a challenge.

There is a mass of false information and myths online. There is little doubt that inbound marketing has some real advantages but it is also important to understand the disadvantages that many seek to gloss over. What really delivers the best results is the appropriate mix of inbound and outbound activities that generates the required outcome regardless of the situation a business may find itself in.

How To Choose The Best Content Delivery Channel

To succeed in inbound (content) marketing requires both the creation of valuable, engaging content and the delivery of that content via the most appropriate content delivery channel.  If either element is missing then the required result will not be achieved.

To prevent your organisation from being cut out of the loop before they get anywhere near an opportunity it is essential your business information and content is available to potential customers whenever they may need it. Research from Marketing Leadership Council shows B2B business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57% of the purchase process is complete. They are sourcing information on products, services and suppliers, making comparisons and decisions long before engaging with a supplier.

What Information Do Customers Require

Detailed analysis to find the best content delivery methodIt is clear B2B buyers are sourcing their own information but what information are they looking for and where do they look for that information that is the key. Content delivery is often the number one challenge for any inbound marketer and a subject that is often glossed over. Get it wrong and the entire inbound marketing process can be a complete waste of time and money.

Let’s take a typical example and assume a business is looking for an electronic component for a high reliability application. What information are they likely to search for? Design will often look for a datasheet and perhaps application notes, quality will look for qualification data and supplier approvals, buyers will look for price and delivery information, purchasing and project management will look for financials, potential supply issues and compare suppliers.

If the product is available as standard from a number of known suppliers then, in reality, each member of the decision team will have their own pre-conceptions of the potential supplier. There is little doubt this has a major influence on the ultimate decision. If trying to overcome a weak position all that can be hoped for is a change of that perception based on a positive experience as information is collected at every touch point.

What Content Delivery Channels Are Available

The most likely information resource used by members of the decision making team will be the internet via a simple organic search. If the search is relatively trivial, for example for a part number or datasheet page position is critical. If each possible supplier is shown at position 1, 2 and 3 then there is no real distinguishing factor. It is only if one or more suppliers are down on page 2 or below there is an issue. The key is to make information as easily accessible as possible by employing search engine marketing to boost the profile of the website online.

For none standard products research shows white papers are used extensively for product / supplier research and offline resources like print (press releases) and exhibitions and seminars still have a place. Despite the hype social media is not a well-read medium in B2B markets but video (you tube) can be effective for the right type of business.

Extensive research into exactly which resources potential customers utilise can ensure significant resources are not wasted on content production that has little chance of reaching the audience. The sales department can help if they ask the right type of question during general conversations with customers and feedback the response. Sales and marketing need to work closely together to identify likely touch points for various members of the decision making team at various points in the sales cycle.

For suppliers trying to crash the party of an entrenched competitor where it is difficult to deliver information to a point where it may be read and have an impact then Email remains a useful marketing tool. The key is to forget the traditional salesy type Email and deliver a well-designed E Newsletter instead based on the best content available with links back to the main business website to read more.

The choice of the best content delivery channel then is vital. That choice must be based primarily on detailed research of which delivery channels are used by potential customers. Only with this research in place is it possible to focus on how to best compete for customer attention on those channels.

Telemarketing Is Not dead – It’s Only A Flesh Wound

Despite the rumours telemarketing is not dead. There is little doubt it has been seriously damaged by overuse and poor practice but in this post we discuss where it still has a place as part of a marketing process.

First, let’s look at some recent examples of calls to my own business and why telemarketing no longer works as a stand-alone prospecting or (worse) appointment setting tool.

    1. 1.       Pitch – I am in your area tomorrow and giving out 5 minute appointments tobusinessman reacts to telemarketing assess your telephone requirements.

What’s wrong? – Where is the value in that statement for me? We all know the appointment will be more than 5 minutes and I am not a complete idiot and can work out for myself that the purpose of the visit is to qualify me in / out and try to sell me something. It is all about the supplier and not me or my needs.

  1. 2.       I am from xyz and I would like to meet with you to discuss your insurance needs.

What’s wrong? – Similar to the above but not quite so bad – at least they have mentioned my needs but I have a good idea of what my insurance needs are / are not. I don’t need anyone to help with that.

  1. 3.       I am from xyz print company I noticed from your recent blog that you still believe print can be an effective way to generate business. We specialize in high quality print in low to medium volume. I wondered if you could spare some time so I could introduce the services we offer.

What’s wrong? – Not a lot really? They have done some research and know their product is likely to fit with my needs. They have told me their services are different in some way and there is no sales push. However, there is a problem and that is I do not have any print requirements at present and I am busy so they are highly unlikely to secure an appointment.

Prospects with no immediate requirement are a major problem for any push marketing technique and particularly telemarketing. Unless a major brand able to throw money at ongoing awareness campaigns any push marketing technique that reaches a prospect will be instantly forgotten unless there is an immediate and pressing need.

In the consumer world low value purchases that present little risk may be purchased almost on a whim but that is not the case with B2B where purchases may be extensively researched. A cold call or direct marketing approach is likely only to cause friction and not distract the prospect from their own research process unless very lucky and the communication hits at just the right time.

Let’s look at some numbers. If we assume it is possible to make 20 calls per hour on average (a challenge for those without experience and a thick skin) and 1 in 5 of those calls reach a decision maker then it is possible to reach approximately 30 prospects in a full working day. How many of those are likely to have a pressing need? Even if they are in buy mode how many will be put off by the fact you have interrupted their work flow and / or their inbuilt prejudice against cold calling

Many will say (with justification) inbound marketing is the solution. As inbound is based on delivering information (content) to a point it can be read and engaged with by a target audience it should be much more effective. It is available when a prospect is ready to research the products and suppliers that may support their needs, it builds credibility and draws the prospect in.

The inbound arguments all appear to make perfect sense but the reality is somewhat different. Building an effective inbound marketing process is far from easy and, once built, it is resource intensive. Any new inbound marketing campaign will take months to deliver meaningful results.

There is a great line in Michael Gerber’s book the E-Myth that states ‘keep the curtain up at all costs’. Behind the inbound marketing curtain is this. Yes inbound works but if you look behind the curtain of those using inbound marketing you will note they are also employing a large element of outbound.

So telemarketing is not dead, it is not even seriously wounded, it has just changed. Even with the best inbound strategy at some point a potential supplier needs to engage, one on one, with a potential customer and all the data and automation in the world cannot deal with that. My first boss in sales, nearly 30 years ago said ‘people deal with people’ and that (in my view) has not changed.

The best approach can be inbound marketing with some element of telemarketing (or other outbound technique) to take a sales process forward. Telemarketing has really just moved its position in the process from the first line of attack to a progressing element.

It’s only a flesh wound quote courtesy of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Black Knight sketch.

Email Or Social Media Marketing – Which Delivers The Highest ROI?

What delivers the highest marketing ROI in B2B markets Email or social media marketing? The issue is complex and there is no single answer that applies to all industries but based on experience, research date (where available) and some broad brush numbers we try to answer that question.Is the highest ROI generate by EMail or social media marketing

The first point to consider is how many prospects or customers will actually read the message. Symantec estimates 92% of all Email sent is spam and a MailerMailer report indicates that average Email open rates have fallen consistently since 2007. The problem may be that the advantages of Email are also its worst enemy. Its low cost and ease of use make it the ideal medium for the spammers. Email credibility and open rates have declined as a result.

So social media marketing is the way forward? Well it’s not quite that simple, analytics firm Sysomos found that 71% of Tweets on Twitter are ignored by those who receive them. A Pew study found that 41% of Twitter users check the site less than every few weeks. Some report only 1% to 5% of the people that liked a business page actually have the opportunity to view posts.

Email v Social Media – Comparison Methodology

So whatever medium is used a large percentage of targets will simply ignore the message. All that can be done is to build trust and increase read rates as a result. Building an army of genuine follows (there is no point just targeting numbers) and an Email contact list of real subscribers with an interest in the content will certainly help but that is only part of the answer.

Which social media channel is best to compete with EMailOur Email or social media marketing analysis assumes that activity is based on delivering quality content and not pushy sales messages. The debate rages about the purchase of Email lists v opt in lists but that is the subject for another post. If we assume that the Email is addressed to a named person then experience shows a 15% open rate (min) is a reasonable expectation. Assuming an enquiry rate based on 2% (not unreasonable) of those who open then a monthly Email sent to a list of 1000 names should generate three enquiries per month.

Social media covers a wide range of channels. A B2BMarketing.net report found that B2B marketers are far more active on LinkedIn and Twitter than on Facebook. The report found 74% of businesses have a LinkedIn profile that they regularly update compared with 73% on Twitter. By comparison, just 53% have a regularly updated Facebook profile with YouTube (37%) and Google+ (26%) further back. Pinterest and others are further back still but starting to catch up.

Which channel works best for a business depends on the target audience and if they are active (or not) on the channel. LinkedIn, in our view is a special case and is excluded from the following analysis (expect more on LinkedIn in a future post). For those in B2B markets LinkedIn can be much more than standard social media channel. It is also an industry specific search engine and research tool.

Email v Social Media – The Numbers

Although there are many social media analysis tools available it remains difficult to determine how many targets actually engage in some way with the information you post. If we take Twitter as an example and assume most of those following you are following more than 200 others then the chances of them actually seeing your tweet in their feed are remote – unless they are one of the more switched on Twitter users and are using lists. Our own view is less than 1% of followers will engage in some way with a Tweet.

Of course there are many ways to increase engagement (photography, post time, subject etc.) but we are focussing here on broad numbers. Engagement on Facebook (measured by either a comment or like on a wall post) again is less than 1% according to the analysis in this post and elsewhere. There is evidence that similar rates of engagement can be expected from Pinterest and others.

Many studies conclude that when posting content to social media a mix of own content mixed with quality content of others is the best mix both for engagement and for generating more followers / friends. The ratio of own curated content of others compared to own is recommended as anywhere between 1 in 5 and 1 in 10. To simplify the numbers a ratio of 1 own content to every 3 curated has been used in the following analysis.

For many small and medium sized businesses publishing more than two pieces of content per working day is a challenge. Given the above ratio that equates to a maximum of 12 pieces of own content each month. Assuming 1000 active followers / friends spread over Facebook / Twitter, 1% engage with posts and 2% of them make an enquiry it relates to 2 enquiries / month.

Conclusion

So in the great Email or social media marketing debate Email wins? Well, again it is not quite that simple as there are many other potential advantages of social media. For businesses of an appropriate size with the right organisation and right mix of customers social media can be used as a customer management / support tool. Appropriate outreach via social media can be used to secure high quality backlinks and boost the business website SEO and social media can be an excellent tool for keeping up to date with the latest news and best practice in any industry.

The key is the activity (or not) of the target customer / prospect base on the chosen social media channel. In the ideal case any Email list will be based on opt in or (worst case) a targeted list purchase. It is therefore known that whatever message is delivered will reach the target audience. The only issue then is engagement and open rates. The same is not true of social media as without adequate research you could simply be talking when nobody is listening.