Inbound Marketing

Bringing Balance to Demand Generation

Those of us who are responsible for demand generation — that is creating programs that provide business opportunities to sales — often have to walk a fine line between driving revenue and long term customer relationship building. As clearly demonstrated in many blog posts by others before, direct marketing has fundamentally changed due to the proliferation of data available to prospects online and technologies to filter out marketing messages. Prospects are no longer willing to be interrupted by messaging about brands. However, this does not mean that we need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Search continues to be a strong driver of pipeline opportunities. This is further demonstrated by the fact that SEM campaigns that are targeted continue to drive results. Additionally, prospects continue to subscribe to receive newsletters and other brand communications via email. This may seem contrary to the opening contention of this blog post — that prospects are no longer willing to receive brand messaging. The key here is relevance.

So What Is A Direct Marketer To Do?

For many, the search bar is the gateway to the internet and it is where brand engagement begins. When someone enters a search term they are looking for an answer to a question. The key is to make your offerings the answer to that question. This shift in online behavior has lead to the rise of inbound marketing which is predicated on brands being findable online. Good inbound marketing has at its backbone a solid understanding of the target customer, a content marketing strategy built around this knowledge, coupled with strong SEO and timely offers. I have written in previous articles about the benefits of content marketing and inbound so I will not delve into that here — the only thing I will reinforce is that for inbound marketing to be successful it needs to be squarely focused on customer pain points and how to solve them through compelling offers.

Know Your Customer Better

To be relevant you must first know your customer. This calls for building a customer database and analyzing your best customers to determine their key motivators, barriers and pain points. Focus on the problems your customers are trying to solve and how you can help them. Think about the search terms they are they entering and why. An effective inbound strategy is guided by the content narrative that flows from this analysis. Once this foundation has been built it is for the direct marketer to determine the most effective channels and programs to engage with customers. But what should be our engagement strategy across these channels — when do we simply inform vs sell, sell, sell?

Keeping a Balanced Narrative

Glengary Glen Ross says “always be closing, always be closing” but your demand gen strategy needs to be more flexible than that. The key to maintaining the balance between demand creation and long term customer relationship building is knowing when customers are passively searching for answers to questions and those pivotal moments when they are actively searching for a solution. It needs to deliver content for prospects in both scenarios while maintaining a focus on how your offerings can solve their problems. Done right, this will naturally lead to those moments when prospects will expect you to close them. And this is when you should never be shy about asking a simple question — would you like to speak with sales?

Marketing & Sales Alignment

Revenue Marketing 101: Get Out of The Office and Spend Time With Sales

In my previous post “Think Your Marketing Doesn’t Need to Show ROI? Here’s Why You’re Wrong” I discussed the importance of revenue marketing which aims to drive revenue by using content and lead nurturing to answer the questions of key decision makers that are party to the buying journey.  This way of marketing relies heavily on two things — deep knowledge of the customer and a keen understanding of the buying process.

A Tale of Two Marketers

Deep knowledge of the customer is the guiding principle behind customer segmentation and further, persona development (insights on personal development via The Buyer Persona Institute).  The challenge that many marketers face is in understanding the buying process. Some of you may have come into Marketing through Sales and therefore, have intimate, first-hand knowledge of the journey the buyer takes to arrive at the purchase decision.  Some of you, may have been born and raised in Marketing and as such do not have the luxury of first-hand knowledge. So if you’re in the latter group what are you to do?  The answer is what I and many others consider to be the most important (first) step in revenue marketing — aligning with Sales.

Aligning Marketing & Sales: Like Any Good Relationship, Quality Time Is Key

“It’s so sad to see when two people who have so much in common – all the same interests, the same sense of humour, the same goals – never become a couple. The same heartbreak often occurs among sales and marketing teams.”

– Sylvia Jensen, How To Spark a Romance Between Sales and Marketing

In her recent blog post for Eloqua entitled 7 Ways Your Sales and Marketing Can Align, Sylvia Jensen lays out 7 key ingredients to Sales and Marketing alignment.  The first ingredient she discussed is “ride-alongs”.

Yes marketers, in order to learn about the sales process and gain first hand knowledge about buyers, your best bet is to go on sales calls — and go on them often.  I would argue that revenue marketers should spend at least 2 days a month with customers to validate buyer personas, tweak your knowledge of the revenue cycle and to form a strong partnership with sales.  In this way you can begin to close the knowledge gap around the sales cycle.

To Take Your Relationship to The Next Level, Give More Than You Take

But it isn’t only about you is it?  The other reason ride-alongs are great is to understand what tools the sales force needs.  What information do they call upon when meeting with different buying decision makers?  How useful do they find the tools already developed by Marketing? Are there significant gaps in these tools?  This is invaluable information that can be gleaned simply by being present and participating.  I can think of many examples of sales tools that I and my teams have developed over the years that originated from these activities.

Aside from filling gaps by developing content that answer the key questions of buyers during their decision making process, ride alongs also give Sales the opportunity to provide input into the creation of the tools they will eventually use.  What’s great about this is that by including Sales early in the process, the resulting sales enablement tools will likely have greater utility and adoption.

At the end of the day, your tools are only good if they are useful.  To make the most useful tools you have to spend time with the people that intend to use them.  Granted, there is more to revenue marketing than alignment with Sales (as I have written in previous posts here) but, without it you will find your demand generation efforts dead in the water.

Content Marketing

Think Your Marketing Doesn’t Need to Show ROI? Here’s Why You’re Wrong

What are the goals of your content marketing efforts?  This is a the quintessential question to ask before embarking upon your content marketing journey — arguably equally as important as knowing the story you or your brand aims to convey to your prospective customers.  Many B2B brands list a myriad of business goals they aim to solve through content marketing. Some of these are listed in the graphic below (excerpt from the Content Marketing Institute & MarketingProfs report “B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends”):

As you can see two of the top three goals — customer acquisition and lead generation — are squarely focused on creating pipeline sales opportunities.  This increased emphasis on revenue specifically, marketing being able to prove it’s role in driving measurable demand, is notable and an admission that this historically has not been our strong suit.

This statement is reaffirmed by a recent Harvard Business Review blog post (albeit with a rather inflammatory title) entitled Marketing Is Dead where they write:

“In a devastating 2011 study of 600 CEOs and decision makers by the London-based Fournaise Marketing Group, 73% of them said that CMOs lack business credibility and the ability to generate sufficient business growth, 72% are tired of being asked for money without explaining how it will generate increased business, and 77% have had it with all the talk about brand equity that can’t be linked to actual firm equity or any other recognized financial metric.”

So as marketers we have a responsibility to leverage our deep uderstanding of the customer, their motivations and objections, and then use these insights to guide content marketing efforts.

In order to continue to enjoy executive buy-in for marketing programs, the focus of our content creation must be to drive revenue by answering the buying questions of key decision makers that are party to the buying journey.  This does not mean that we need to completely abandon brand awareness, thought leadership and driving user engagement — quite the contrary — but today’s B2B marketer needs to accept a greater level of accountability for revenue generation to continue to retain that seat at the decision maker’s table.

Content Marketing

How Not to Fail At Your Content Marketing Efforts

I have written extensively and shared on LinkedIn and other social networks about the importance of content marketing in B2B marketing.  Of course I am not alone.  A recent survey conducted by MarketingProfs entitled B2B Content Marketing: Trends and Benchmarks for 2012 affirms the rising importance of content marketing for the modern marketer.  One point from the survey bears repeating:

“Among B2B marketers, successful content starts with engaging and compelling storytelling (81.5%), originality (52.6%), and customized content (49.2%), followed by well-edited copy (38.5%) and professional writing (38.3%)”

I would argue that this needs to go one step further — we need to know the why of our content marketing efforts.  This is a critical step that most marketers gloss over. In the rush to keep up with the Jones’ we often overlook the why and go straight to the how (e.g., “our competition has a Facebook page, so we need to be on Facebook now! Instead of what is it that we aim to accomplish and what vehicles will help us achieve those goals?”).  This all boils down to knowing the story you aim to tell and forming a content strategy that communicates your story in a compelling way to your current and future customers.

Strategy First, Content Second

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute has written and presented on this point extensively. I had the pleasure of attending Joe’s session during the MarketingProfs B2B Forum in Boston last week. During this session there were many tweetable comments but the one that stuck with me was this:

@boyedoe: Define your editorial mission BEFORE you begin creating content. This will bring focus & clarity to your content @juntajoe #mpb2b

His reasoning for this was driven home by his recent post on this topic entitled Why You Need a Content Marketing Mission Statement in which he writes:

Marketing professionals from so many small and large businesses get so fixated on channels such as blogs, Facebook or Pinterest that they honestly have no clue of the underlying content strategy.

We know content is a powerful weapon within the modern marketer’s arsenal, but without a content strategy (e.g., what you want to say, why you want to say it and to whom you want to say it to) your content marketing efforts will often miss the mark. In short, in marketing it’s important to tell your story (Even in B2B); and ensure your content communicates it clearly.

So my question to you is this — what is your content marketing mission statement?

Marketing Competencies, Uncategorized

The Path I Traveled To Arrive At This Place

Often career paths can be circuitous and at times feel random. But when you arrive at a moment when it all clicks into place, you know it was where you were heading the entire time.

 

I was born in Ghana, West Africa to Alexander and Evelyn. My parents both entered the medical field – my father as an OB/GYN and my mother as a Pediatrician. My early exposure to the field through conversations with my parents, spending time in their offices, being around patients and yes, even watching some of the medical videos, nurtured a curiosity in me about the healthcare field. I remember most vividly watching my first labor and delivery video. For some reason people always thought it would be nice to send those to their doctor. I often wished they had spared us this courtesy. You would think that after these formative experiences I would want to follow in my parent’s footsteps. You would be wrong. As many children of physicians will tell you, I was in no rush to become a doctor.

No, when I was a child I was obsessed with computers. My most prized possession was my Tandy TRS-80 computer. It was a clunker but I spent hours programming on it. At a very early age I learned about computers and structured approaches to problem solving. One program I was particularly proud of was my ATM machine emulator. I remember my mother going on about how Citibank was the first bank to have their own teller network.

I was fascinated with those ATMs and learned all of the prompts so I could go home and build an interactive program that mimicked all of the functionality, minus the giving you cash part of course – after all, I wasn’t a criminal. It was awesome. There was something so elegant about computer programming – so logical even though life often wasn’t. I maintained my passion for computing throughout school even though I didn’t major in it.

I attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City which is a specialized Math and Science high school. Of course I took a lot of science classes – even played the violin. Both of these pursuits moderately held my interest, but I ultimately matriculated with a major in English and a keen interest in political science. At the time even I was scratching my head – what in the world was I going to do with this random collection of interests and how was I going to make a career out of this?

Rather than concern myself with answering that question then, instead I accepted my admission into Oberlin College and I jumped headfirst into the liberal arts college experience. Being a very liberal, liberal arts school I added non-traditional classes to my repertoire like West African Dance and Middle Eastern Studies both of which I greatly enjoyed. West African Dance was a particularly fond memory for me – being from Africa I felt more connected to my culture through the dances I learned and through dance I found a form of expression that gave me a freedom I could never feel with violin or any other instrument I had taken up in the past.

I attended Oberlin for two years and had a fantastic time – too good of a time in fact. You see I still hadn’t answered that question – you know, what are you going to do with your life? I was more interested in having fun and partying. I didn’t want to over-plan my destination; better to enjoy the journey. The problem was I was enjoying myself so much that my parent’s realized that if I stayed I would never graduate. So I left Oberlin after my sophomore year and transferred to the University of Chicago.

At Chicago I focused squarely on political science while taking a number of computer science classes; enough in fact to graduate with an undeclared comsci minor. While at Chicago I also took a programming job at a small computer firm in Hyde Park (their name escapes me unfortunately – consequence of time passing). After my first year at Chicago I also took an internship at AT&T in their famous Bell Laboratories division. I was surrounded by Nobel Laureates, PhDs and countless engineers who had forgotten more about programming and data system design than I had ever learned. It was a great environment and it reminded me of my passion for computing.

After graduating from the University of Chicago with a political science major and a computer science minor, I accepted a position within the elemedia Venture of what was now Lucent Technologies (spun off from AT&T). I was initially responsible for coding and testing one of elemedia’s products for streaming music over the internet, but quickly became interested in how we would communicate to potential customers how our solution would address their needs. It was then that I began making a purposeful transition into marketing.

I volunteered to take over responsibility for the venture’s website, staffing industry tradeshows, and executing the communications plan. My background in technology made me a credible choice, but my training in English and public speaking and performing arts was what allowed me to excel in this role. Shortly thereafter the “little venture that could” attained profitability according to what was laid out in the strategic plan and Lucent decided to re-integrate elemedia into the mothership. Unfortunately, Lucent fell victim to the dotcom crash and closed down elemedia and a number of other divisions, so in early 2000 I found myself out of a job.

While at Lucent, I began attending Stevens Institute of Technology where I was pursuing a MBA in Technology Management. The downsizing at Lucent allowed me to accelerate my education. At Stevens I took the traditional MBA courses – marketing, entrepreneurship, finance, statistics, strategy – but also some non-traditional ones like management information systems, rapid product development, engineering management, project management, and organizational design. It was an incredibly engaging experience. I had finally found my niche and a place where I was unique. I had found a discipline in marketing and an industry in hi-tech that would allow me to take advantage of my comfort in the sciences and the liberal arts.

Riding high on my newfound clarity I joined the marketing group of a small healthcare IT startup after graduating from Stevens. Unfortunately we had a short run but during the search for my next move, I came across an opportunity at Olympus Surgical America.

I hadn’t considered medical devices as an industry before this point but then, given my upbringing, training and career path, it seemed to be a good fit.

 

I joined Olympus’ marketing team as an associate product manager. I remained at Olympus for just shy of 4 years and was promoted to roles of increasing responsibility ultimately rising to Senior Product Manager – I was on my way. When the time came for me to move on from Olympus I looked for a role with a medical device company that had a keen focus on marketing. After a brief search I chose to join Covidien as a Marketing Manager.

From December 2008 through October 2011 I ran thoracic surgery marketing for the US. During that time period I devoted myself once again to becoming a student of marketing – sharpening my understanding of core marketing fundamentals, demand generation and team leadership. It was an uncomfortable yet, exhilarating time. Then in November of 2011 after performing a player-coach role for about a year, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I had arrived.

This past year has been very exciting. I have focused my team on marketing fundamentals and demand generation. I have brought focus, process and accountability to marketing and instilled within my team the importance of linking marketing strategy to execution through marketing systems. My timing could not have been more perfect. You see, at the same time the discipline of marketing was changed. This is demonstrated by the rise of demand generation processes through revenue performance management, content marketing, marketing automation and social media marketing.

I can’t think of a time where there has been more of a need for trained marketers that live and breathe digital but have a focus on healthcare. You might call it luck, but I will simply say this:

 

There is no such thing as luck, only the serendipitous union of diligent preparation and the right opportunity.

Marketing & Sales Alignment

Inspiring Collaboration Through Great Storytelling

Maybe it was the 2 weeks of political conventions or the master class in oratory delivered by Bill Clinton at the DNC this week, but I’ve got storytelling on my mind.

Act I: State The Challenge

One of the key elements that marketers consistently struggle with is managing and coordinating demand generation programs across digital, sales enablement and events channels. We intuitively know that there is strength in numbers. We dare to dream about multi-layered campaigns where our digital efforts are synchronized with and supported by sales activities/initiatives which in turn align with what we do at in-person events. The goal, of course, is that these activities are meaningful and significantly different across channels while still supporting one consistent story.

This all sounds great, but there are challenges that make it difficult to execute in this fashion. One of these challenges is that these three channels do not always report into marketing. So what is a marketer to do? The good news is that this is nothing new.

Act II: Reaching Across The Aisle

One of the core competencies of Marketing is the ability to execute initiatives cross-functionally without reporting authority. Our expertise is in goal alignment and then developing a plan collaboratively with our cross functional partners and then executing on that plan — as a team. But it’s not only about aligning on goals. No, we need to rely more heavily on another expertise for this particular challenge.

Act III: Use Your Story To Rally The Troops

I’ve written before of the importance of telling a story. A clear story increases the likelihood that your message comes across loud and clear to your target audience. But a good story can also inspire internal groups to rally behind your plan. So as you put together your cross channel initiatives, don’t overlook the importance of a clear vision and making that vision come alive for your cross functional partners. This more than anything else may significantly contribute to your plan’s success.

Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing

I came across an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that discussed the end of solution sales – The End of Solution Sales – Harvard Business Review – which upon initial review had me more than a little concerned. As you well know one of the most important tasks of a B2B marketer is to communicate to customers the benefit of the firm’s offering (the suite of products from various divisions that provide customers with a solution that addresses their needs economically).  Yet, here we have an article from a reputable source saying that way of marketing is on its way out. So I read further to get to their central idea:

“The hardest thing about B2B selling today is that customers don’t need you the way they used to. In recent decades sales reps have become adept at discovering customers’ needs and selling them “solutions”—generally, complex combinations of products and services. This worked because customers didn’t know how to solve their own problems, even though they often had a good understanding of what their problems were. But now, owing to increasingly sophisticated procurement teams and purchasing consultants armed with troves of data, companies can readily define solutions for themselves.”

That sounds familiar; especially considering how much information is now readily available online, the increase in the number of decision makers that play a role in the purchasing process and the increase in the importance of clearly understanding the economic impact of purchases. So what is a solutions marketer to do? Do we go to ground and retreat back into the features-and-benefits marketing model? The simple answer is — no. This means that we have to do these three things really well:

    1. Get out in front an use thought leadership to educate customers about the problems they are aiming to solve
    2. Engage customers earlier in their decision making process so we are in their minds early in the information gathering process
    3. Provide them with timely content in the places that they frequent to learn about products that will ultimately make up solution they need

Long story short, think of it as the heroes journey narrative — the hero has a problem, they go on a quest at the end of which there will be a great battle, along the way they meet people and collect tools that will help them in the final battle, and it all culminates in the final conflict where the hero emerging victorious. Wait, what?! Think of it this way:

1) We use thought leadership to highlight the challenges they face and the perils they will have to overcome to be successful (the story is told from their perspective)

2) We insert ourselves early into their discovery journey by participating on the channels that they frequent during their decision making process (the heroes journey)

3) We syndicate our content to inform them of the tools we provide that will help them in the final battle (the tools they collect on their way)

The final battle of course is when they put out bids to vendors for ‘solutions’ and ultimately the negotiation table. If we use these methods the customer will believe they have arrived at the decision on their own through their own research but the reality will be that we were with them all the time. So yes, while the idea of a solution sell at the RFP stage is probably going away, the solution sell is not — it just starts earlier.

How Inbound Marketing Can Keep Solutions Selling Alive [INFOGRAPHIC]

Content Marketing

Infographics and The B2B Marketer – Why Should You Care?

The saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. If that’s true then what about the increasingly popular infographic?  A quick Google search of the term ‘infographic’ returns over 10 million results. Before we get into how B2B marketers should leverage them, it’s important that we answer 3 questions:

    • What are infographics?
    • Why are infographics so popular?
    • How are infographics important to a B2B marketer?

What Are Infographics?

Infographics (a concatenation of information and graphics) are visual representations of information or data. Sounds pretty simple, so what’s all the fuss?  The power of infographics is in their simplicity.  A well designed infographic reduces a complex topic down to its key elements, incorporates that information into a story and then tells that story in a visually appealing way that can be readily consumed by the target audience — sounds like a good meal to me.

So what, you may by now be wondering, do these  magical pieces of content look like and what stories can they help the B2B marketer? For that look no further than my favorite aggregator site visual.ly where you will find a treasure trove of ideas for infographics. Below is an example from the site of a good patient-focused infographic on bariatric surgery options:

Weight loss Surgery Options

While this particular infographic is wordier than most, what I do like about it is that it is clear about what it aims to convey, is visually appealing, includes clinical data from highly reputable sources and makes an effort to convey a complicated concept in a down to earth way. Now that we’ve established what they are and seen examples, let’s see why infographics are so popular.

Why Are Infographics Popular?

Infographics have quickly risen through the ranks of popular content types.  They have become the darling of B2B marketers in many industries including companies like Eloqua who’s wildly popular infographic The Content Grid V2 has enjoyed upwards of 1,000+ social media shares. There are a number of reasons for the popularity of this medium. The one’s that should resonate most with marketers are how infographics are:

    • Part of the rising category of visual storytelling: sites like Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram continue their meteoric growth because of their ability to share images and video. People are pressed for time, content that provides a shortcut to the point wins.
    • Able to convey a concept quickly: with the amount of information the average person is exposed to on a daily basis, we simply don’t have time to devote to consuming a long message. Therefore, brevity is an essential requirement to have your message heard.
    • Accesible, by making complex concepts easier to convey: if it takes too much concentration to ‘get it’, then most of your audience won’t be reached because they just don’t have the time.

Why Are Infographics Important to a B2B Marketer?

Now that we have established why infographics are popular here is why you, a B2B marketer should care.

    • Easily shared socially: made right, people will share the infographic with their network which will further expand the reach of your message.
    • Provide and opportunity to drive viewers back to your brand: with built in calls to action (e.g., QR codes, links back to your website, etc.) you will drive traffic back to your brand as the reach of your infographic increases.
    • Give you double billing: infographics are usually images that are embedded in blog posts or other web copy.  Because of this your infographic, when combined with solid SEM, will show up in Google’s image searches as well as the normal search results.

So how about it — are you intrigued enough to give infographics as try in your next campaign? If so, here are a few resources that may prove useful as you strike out on your creative journey:

Visual.ly Infographic Library (Inspiration)
Visual.ly Infographic Creation Tool
The Marketer’s Guide to Creating Infographics in PowerPoint