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

Marketing Competencies

Discomfort and Becoming A Believer in Digital Marketing

I’ve written previously on the imperitive for marketers to develop a new set of skills to thrive in this ‘brave, new world’ where traditional marketing tactics are increasingly enabled by digital means (The Future of Marketing).  There is no question that the skills required for today’s marketer to be successful are quite different from what was previously required.  So it’s obvious that I’m a believer, but I wasn’t always.  So what, you may ask, motivated my conversion?  The answer lies in discomfort.

First, Admit You Have a Problem

How many times have you heard a marketer express discomfort with questions proving that their programs are working, defending investment in their initiatives, or reporting generally on campaign ROI?  I know that prior to embracing this new way of marketing I felt discomfort frequently.  This was because the metrics I needed to prove the value of my programs were not readily available — I had an analytics problem.

The “Aha” Moment

It was Dreamforce ’11 and I was attending a session led by Brian Halligan (HubSpot). He spoke about how the changes in how today’s consumer researched brands required a fundamentally different approach to marketing.  Intrigued, I then attended sessions led by marketers from many industries who confidently spoke of the metrics they tracked, how they used those metrics to report to senior leadership and gain alignment with sales.  My mind was blown.

From then I began exploring the new tools available to today’s marketer:  content marketing, SEM, social media marketing, marketing automation and the myriad of digital channels to engage with my audience. All of a sudden I could see how these tools could show me which content was driving engagement, which channels my audience valued most, what messages were resonating and where in the funnel I was getting the greatest drop-off.  And what was sweetest was that I didn’t need to rely on an outside agency to generate this reporting. It was my “aha” moment and it was truly exhilarating.  I’ve used this story to motivate my colleagues and team to endeavor to make the same transition.

Become A Student of The New Way

What has been most important for me during this journey has been continuous learning. I now dedicate time on a daily basis to learn more about digital marketing and attending in person events when feasilble.  I’ve learned that in most cases, someone has wrestled with the same issues I am wrestling with and I can invariably learn from their experience.

Is my journey over? No. I’m still working to strengthening my and my team’s analytical skills and  gaining buy in from senior leadership for marketing programs. As with many things it’s a process.   But what I can say is that those moments of discomfort, the fear of defending marketing spend and reporting on campaign progress … I’m having way fewer of those.

Content Marketing, Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing: Does It Apply In Healthcare?

Anyone who follows the healthcare market has read about the impact of healthcare reform and the associated focus on reducing healthcare delivery costs. You’ve also seen the ripple effects of this new focus; as healthcare providers focus on costs they now demand proof that new technologies or “solutions” offered by medical equipment manufacturers provide a measurable improvement in the service they are trying to deliver to the healthcare consumer. Long gone are the days when providers were willing to pay for new products that weren’t clearly differentiated from existing offerings.

Healthcare Providers Are Becoming Savvy Researchers

Healthcare providers are also becoming savvier. They have a better understanding of their purchasing needs. This is due to the proliferation of peer-to-peer forums, group purchasing organizations and information from medical equipment manufacturers. And then there is the internet. Now providers – like consumers in many other industries – have a wide array of online resources at their disposal to research the landscape of products available from a wide array of manufacturers.

In my recent blog post entitled The End of Solution Sales: What This Means for Marketing I discussed the impact of B2B customers becoming savvier in gathering information. The title of the post was somewhat disingenuous – the solution sale isn’t dead. Assuming that B2B customers come to the bargaining table with little information? That’s dead.

Inbound Marketing in Healthcare

Today’s B2B customer (including healthcare providers) does their research before engaging with vendors. This puts pressure on medical equipment manufacturers to deliver proof points about their products and services in the venues that purchasers use the research offerings.

If this all sound very familiar it’s because this is the basic tenet of inbound marketing which relies some key steps:

    1. Creating information (content) that answers your prospect’s questions
    2. Syndicating that content such that when prospects search for answers during their consideration process your content gets found.
    3. Continuously creating engaging content that reinforces how your product/solution addresses their needs.
    4. Driving prospects to a solution (yours) or location (your sales rep or website) where they can continue the evaluation process or purchase.

The key, of course, is understanding the questions healthcare providers will have about these products. These questions usually revolve around clinical and economic evidence. Therefore, content will usually take the form of clinical studies, procedural videos, key opinion leader papers, clinical webinars and product specific collateral. Once the right content is ready the next step is ensuring your content is available where your prospects are looking for answers.

For consumers this search typically begins with Google, YouTube, blogs or socially-powered product review sites. Healthcare providers, being consumers as well, initiate their searches in similar locations but also turn to industry specific resources as well. This is where it becomes important that content strategy, search engine optimization, social media and customer marketing teams are closely aligned.

Breaking Down Marketing Silos

In her blog post Why Only Adaptive Marketers Will Survive Rebecca Lieb of the Altimeter Group writes about the impact of different marketing functions acting fiefdoms:

“Real-time insights, optimization, and shared learnings that inform other initiatives (not to mention that inform their own work) are an impossibility in vertically organized, hierarchical organizations. Enterprises must be able to move as quickly as their customers do. This requires bold realignment as well as informed empowerment.”

Her example focuses on combining centers of excellence in strategy, content creation, search engine optimization, syndication, social media and analytics into a combined demand generation function. The benefit of this COE approach is improved execution speed and effectiveness while reducing duplication.

This is not an easy task – nothing worthwhile is – but the benefits are clear. When inbound marketing is done right and executed in sync with a solid content strategy, customers will seek out your solutions because through their research it has risen to the top of the list; often, before they’ve even engaged with you.

Marketing & Sales Alignment

Don’t Forget About Sales (This Is Not A Love Song)

This is not another blog post about how Marketing needs to do a better job supporting Sales.  Don’t get me wrong, I am all about sales and marketing alignment, but I don’t think it can be forced.  You can lead the proverbial horse to water all you want but if he doesn’t want a drink, you won’t be able to make him.  The critical issue is alignment of goals.  Marketing and Sales have different motivations — Sales is coin operated, Marketing is campaign performance focused (at least that’s the prevailing belief).  This disconnect often results in rifts that can sometimes be adversarial.  So what can we do to move past this barrier?  I think it’s by treating Sales as you would any customer.

When we develop marketing programs for our target external audience, we go through a well structured process that is usually conducted at least annually during the business planning process:

    1. Learn the target’s current state and what their motivations are
    2. Determine what our desired end state is for that target
    3. Understand the barriers that prevent your target from achieving that end state
    4. Create content that addresses the barriers uncovered in Step 3 above
    5. Move the target audience towards the desired end state by launching campaigns that utilize our ‘Marketecture’ in concert with the content created in Step 4

This process is tried an tested so I won’t spend any time justifying that it works. What I will spend time on is linked to the title of this blog post. If this process works so well to get external customers engaged and moving progressively closer to our desired end state, why not apply the same thinking to Sales?  I think this is the most important point of Sirius Decisions’ blog post entitled Use Marketing Automation to Communicate More Effectively With Sales (SiriusDecisions Blog http://shar.es/vp4cW).  In the post they advocate using the same Marketecture that we direct at our external customers to our internal customer as well. Here is the key excerpt from their post:

” … most marketers lament their lack of mindshare with their quota-carrying counterparts. But is this any surprise? We run tested and optimized multi-touch, multi-channel programs to reach our target prospect audience; however, we never put the same level of effort into the communications we direct to our internal audience. Salespeople are every bit as busy as the prospects we try to reach. Why should we expect their behavior to be different?

So, some words of advice for marketers:

    • Rather than lament the gulf between you and your sales colleagues, write copy that starts with answering the “What’s in it for me?” question you should expect from every sales rep.
    • Stop sending one-offs, and start using your marketing automation tools to support your sales communications programs.
    • Set measurable goals for your internal communications. Test the messages you send. Analyze the results, and optimize the programs.

So that said, how are you doing at developing integrated marketing campaigns that nurture the sales organization to a desired end state where they are fully engaged in your programs and adopt goals that are aligned with your own?

Content Marketing, Thought Leadership

How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps: Step 1 – Blog About It

I would like to revisit a previous discussion about TOFU. No not the food that we all love to hate, but rather top of funnel tactics and content and how marketers leverage them to drive awareness and engagement among your target audience. Of course one of the hardest parts about embarking on TOFU activities is creating that content that is compelling to your prospective reader but not self serving. As I’m sure you know by now, TOFU content usually tends to NOT be about your company or your company’s products or services. This content has to be about something of interest to your audience. So what is a marketer to do to attract subscribers to your content when your expertise lies in your intimate knowledge about your products?

A tactic that many B2B marketers have used to tackle this very issue is to first establish thought leadership in an area of interest to your audience. Once your audience begins to view you as an authority in the space, they are more likely to engage with you further through the process of “subscribing”. This is the thought process behind most B2B blogging. Find a subject of interest to the audience, research the topic extensively, create informative content paired with insightful commentary and then post these on a blog that your audience will read and then eventually subscribe to. Kind of like this blog you are reading now.

The nice thing abot blogs is that users are trained by past experiences to know that eventually, you will want to communicate to them about a product or service you provide. Once you have established the relationship, they are fine with that and actually welcome it. The other nice thing about blogs is that they increase your rank on search engines organically, provide easy connections back to your other online properties, and they are trackable.

But don’t just take my word for it. Blogging also falls into Step 1 of the HBR blog post entitled How to Become a Thought Leader in Six Steps (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2010/11/how_to_become_a_thought_leader.html):

    1. Create a Robust Online Presence.Not everyone can immediately jump to international prominence (CNN probably won’t book you as a talking head if you’ve never been on local TV). But everyone can start here, with an online beachhead. Blogs are particularly good because they showcase your knowledge — and search engines prize the frequent stream of fresh content. Most blogs are unloved and unread — but yours can be different with a little time and elbow grease. Good content is key, of course, but so is making friends (online and off) with other bloggers to create a virtuous, networked circle.

New to blogging and still unclear as to how it can benefit a B2B marketer? Download the attached eBook on B2B Blogging from HubSpot here: An Introduction To Business Blogging – HubSpot.

Marketing Budget

The Joys of Budget Season

Every year, usually sometime in the summer, marketing organizations around the world hunker down to develop their business plans for the coming year. Some organizations have a formalized process resulting in plans that are built from rigorous learning plans, voice-of-customer & voice-of-sales incorporated to ensure alignment with the marketplace, supported but a refreshed corporate strategic plan and extensive cross-functional collaboration. Others are a carbon copy of last year’s plan with the dates changed.  I would argue that most plans lie somewhere in between.

Regardless of the rigor behind the plans, where the rubber meets the road is when it comes time to argue for spend to execute the marketing budget. As SiriusDecisions notes in their blog post, Get Out the Green Eyeshades: Budget Season Looms (SiriusDecisions Blog http://shar.es/t4Gsq) the typical first response of marketers to this critical step is defensiveness.   My project is critically important and my business will not survie without it. My project is better that yours (I mean really what business does your tactic drive anyway).  And so on, and so forth.  So how should a the business plan and the resulting spend be evaluated to make it less subjective? Sirius posits you take the heat out of the room using this framework:

  • Strategy first, then budget. Identify the goals that will impact marketing’s actions for the next year.
  • Determine your marketing priorities. Use the goals to drive your plan.
  • Communicate your choices. Gain agreement from sales and the business units that will be impacted by the choices that marketing makes.
  • Choose a budget model. If you are using a campaign model, then you can build your budget around the principles of campaign design, prioritization and allocation.
  • Put on those green eyeshades. Build a top-down budget allocation model based on proportional distribution of your budget to the different areas of priority.
  • Take a pass at a bottom-up approach. Even though you won’t be able to define all the activities, you can identify a big proportion of your required spend.
  • Question tradition. Look at your activities from the current year and ask yourself if you would fund them at the same rate.
  • Focus budget measurement on outcomes, not activities. While it’s easier to assign budget measurement to activities, this doesn’t help you focus on your all-important business priorities.

The goal of course, is to approve the plan and tactics that drive pipeline and revenue in the areas agreed to in the corporate strategic plan.  Sounds logical, but we aren’t always logical — how likely is this approach to be successful within your organization?

Brand Management

In Marketing It’s Important to Tell Your Story (Even B2B)

Vanessa Merit Nornberg’s article in Inc. Magazine (Your Story Is Your Marketing Strategy | Inc.com May 25, 2012) discusses the importance of telling your story to align with your customers. I though it was an interesting article when you think of the applications in the B2B world.

Think of brands that you buy from frequently. Are there examples of companies you buy from mainly because their story aligns with your world view? Think of REI that focuses on the importance of the outdoor lifestyle, Whole Foods that believes in the importance of high quality natural organic goods, or even that local bakery in your town (you know the one where the owner always baked as a hobby but knew it was their ultimate dream to own an artisinal bakery that makes everything from scratch). Interesting thing about most of them — you are willing to pay more to do business with them because you believe in what they stand for.

I, and many others, believe this applies to the B2B world as well; yes even in highly regulated industries like medical devices (we are after all in the business of taking care of people facing some of the most challenging times of their lives). It of course begs the question — what is your company’s story and how do you articulate it to your customers so they connect with your brand on a similar level?

Marketing Competencies

The Future of Marketing …

Catchy title right?  So marketing is once again going through a REVOLUTION (seems to happen every couple of years and with the advances in digital that is only accellerating). But all noise and pontificating aside, the practice of Marketing is changing. In her post on May 20, 2012 entitled The Future of Marketing | Social Media Today, Wendy Bryant-Neswick writes about how marketing is changing and the new skills today’s marketers will need.  Her article reminded me of a talk from last year’s Salesforce.com Dreamforce conference given by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan (HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company — more on that another time). In his talk he said marketers have to be DARC …

Brian Halligan’s Take On A Good Marketing Hire | Matt Middlesworth:

Digital – have an expertise in digital channels and technologies
Analytical – have the ability to measure and quantify the results of campaigns and activities (conversion rates, funnel velocity, effort ratios, etc.)
Reach – be able to leverage digital channels (web, inbound, email, digital, social media) to reach current and prospective customers
Content – be content machines; creating assets that help to move customers further along in the sales process (or funnel)

These are new skillsets for many of us but as marketers we need to adapt.  And if you think this only applies to B2C or not to highly regulated industrries (e.g., medical devices), I suggest you take a look at the following examples:

How Johnson & Johnson Uses YouTube to Drive Awareness
B2B Marketing: Reasons to Adopt Social Media Marketing
The Marketing Skills Gap (Eloqua)

Inbound Marketing, Thought Leadership

Peer To Peer Marketing – Applicable to Healthcare? (More on MOFU)

What is MOFU you ask? It’s a term I borrowed from HubSpot’s CEO Brian Halligan and it stands for Middle Of Funnel (where the funnel is defined as: Awareness > Consideration > Trial > Purchase > Loyalty). MOFU activities are all about driving prospects to trial and ultimately purchase.

Consider how you make purchase decisions in your day-to-day life; you typically research your options (usually online), narrow them down to a core set of products/services and then you research customer reviews on that product. The web makes this process fast and 24/7. We certainly see this trend accelerating in healthcare from a patient perspective (selecting a doctor or treatment) but what of this can be applied to the decision making process of HCPs (health care providers) and economic buyers?

I would argue that this is already happening. The Harvard Business Review article entitled Customer Reference Programs at The Tipping Point” the author posts these key questions to consider, the answers to which should help identify the state of peer-to-peer marketing programs:

  • Which of our customers would key buyers most like to learn from? How many are references and advocates for us? Do we have enough to make the launch a success?
  • Have we engaged our references and advocates in long-term relationships? Or do we just contact them when we need something — like a sales reference, blog post, testimonial, or media interview?
  • How long does it take our social media, PR or marketing people to find our customer advocates when they’re needed to rebut a critique or attack, or talk to a media interviewer?
  • How long does it take our sales people to find customer references when they’re needed to close deals? How often do they fail to find a suitable reference at all?
  • Are we taking advantage of new advocacy technologies that can do things like automate organization and packaging of customer testimonials and other customer content?

Read the full article here: Customer Reference Programs at The Tipping Point (MOFU) http://t.co/55GTB1cf