Mar 072012
 
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social media failA few years ago I moderated a webinar for a San Francisco B2B media company called Tippit, now Ziff-Davis B2B Focus. The presenter was Tippit’s CEO Scott Albro. Scott said something on that webinar I’ve repeated (always with attribution!) many times since.

“In social media, the people are the media.”

To the casual observer, social media can look like a cluttered landscape of tweets and likes and follower counts and Klout scores. But behind all of that are people building relationships with other people, doing favors, earning trust, conversing, relating, connecting, etc….

Social media strategies that produce real-world results – e.g., product purchases, event attendance or sponsorships, favorable reviews or inbound links — require time and a real human touch.

Sure, you can buy an automated tool that employs lots of gimmicks to rapidly increase your follower count. But nobody who is influential in social media is going to help your business succeed if your Tweet-stream contains a bunch of pithy quotes or random links, and is completely devoid of conversations with other PEOPLE.

Think of it like a cocktail party or networking event. The guy getting in everyone’s face selling a multi-level-marketing product might, just by sheer force of will, get 1 out of 100 people to “join his downline” at the event. But the other 99 will write him off as tacky and self-serving.

Please, for the love of humanity: DON’T BE THAT GUY.

Instead, be the guy (or gal) who makes solid connections with the 10-15 connectors and mavens at the party, and then follows up to help them with THEIR goals so you can ultimately achieve YOUR goals.

Check out the #2daysinseattle Twitter conversation. The Seattle visitors and convention bureau hired an agency to line up 30 influential tweeps to curate content, converse with people online, and build awareness of Seattle tourism options. Here’s the list of curators.

My point in sharing this example is not that you must hire an agency to line up 30 tweeps. [Depending on your resources and level of urgency, that may be either be a master stroke or a catastrophic fail.]

But it does help to illustrate how the game works. It requires humans who can use machines to talk to other humans. And eventually, when trust and influence are in place, some of those humans will be inspired to take actions that create commercial value for other humans.

Building that influence and trust requires time and people. And yes, it also requires investment.

Tell me I’m wrong about all this in the space below.  Or tell me that I’m partly right but missed a key point or two. Or tell me that I need to call my mother.

Aug 052010
 
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A slight detour for today’s post.  Let’s pay a brief visit to the land of B2C retail fitness, to see if any insights apply to B2B sales and marketing.

One regular “client” of my consulting practice is the Pilates and personal training business my wife Heather and I have owned for the past 3.5 years. I have no formal training in Pilates or personal training, and to be honest, until this year, my physique more closely resembled the guy in the classic “BEFORE” photo than the slimmer “AFTER” version.  For this reason and others, I’ve typically worked more behind the scenes in that business, handling finance, operations, and marketing, supporting our staff and Heather as they support their clients.

Heather wears several hats too, including the very important Head of Sales hat. This is a challenging and rewarding job for her. She helps people make and manage investments in their health. According to HealthyPeople.gov, a service of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, only about 23 percent of adults in the United States report regular physical activity for 20 minutes or longer 3 or more days per week. Heather’s trying to engage the subset of that population who:

  • live close enough to our studio in Seattle to make regular ongoing visits with their trainer
  • are able to invest in private instruction (we don’t offer group classes)
  • are willing to pay for an elective health service not covered or subsidized by insurance
  • are physically able to exercise
  • have the time, or are able to make the time, to attend training sessions
  • aren’t already working with a trainer at another facility
  • value our services, people, facilities, and the way we do business

So yes, Heather has a challenging and rewarding job.  Her business is highly relationship-driven. I know,  I  know, everyone’s business is relationship-driven, but hers really is. She’s learned, and taught me, a ton about how these relationships get started and grow. And as good as she has become at listening to prospects, educating them, and building their trust, the old adage is as true for her as it is for any sales person: you can’t win ‘em all. For any number of reasons, some within and some beyond her control, not everyone she meets will become a client.  But every potential client, whether she meets them or not, will ultimately make some kind of decision, conscious or otherwise.  That decision may be about whether to become a client, or it may be about whether to visit the website, pick up the phone, or ask a current or past client about their experience.  And this brings us back to the theme of this post: every lead converts.

To explore what I mean by this, let’s apply the sentence in the broadest sense possible.

For simplicity, let’s define “every lead” as every person that engages Heather’s business. Not just the people who call her to ask about studio services or rates, or come in for an introductory session, or consider a membership package, but everyone.  Any person who ever:

  • walks by the studio and takes a flyer from the box outside
  • drives by and notices nothing more than the window graphics or other branding elements
  • visits the studio’s web site
  • visits a third party review site (e.g. Yelp)
  • observes or engages in a social media conversation about the business
  • meets a current or previous client at a business function, or a kids’ soccer game
  • meets a current or previous prospect at a [insert business or social event here]

Simplified Conversion Model

And now let’s define “convert” just as broadly. Not just the conversion of qualified prospects into clients, or of leads into qualified prospects, or even of traffic (foot, phone, or web) into leads. Let’s define conversion as any change in a person’s opinion of her business — no matter how strong or subtle, how temporary or permanent, or how grounded in fact or fiction — based on currently available information available.

And now, let’s go one step further and give a B2B-sounding name to this entire cycle of people gathering information and developing their opinions. Let’s call it: the considered purchase process.

Back here in the B2B world, we are trained to be efficient, mechanical, and sometimes even a bit mercenary about demand generation. And the military-industrial language we use to describe our trade – e.g., driving conversion, filling the pipeline, growing revenue (exponentially), launching multi-channel integrated campaigns, etc. – reflects the intense expectations of management that we take the beach deliver results.

But as we focus our energy on the relative few who ultimately decide to buy, it’s helpful to remember that every person’s opinion of our company changes as they interact with us. We may be leaving money or value on the table when we ignore those who don’t take our prescribed next step.  Or worse, we may be creating headwinds for future sales efforts by handling these people in a careless way. Every lead converts, in either a good way or a not-good way. And unless you’re selling to a market of infinite size where no one ever bothers to share their impressions of your business, each one of those conversions matters.

Doing the things that get more leads to favorably convert, more of the time, helps us build healthier pipelines and more predictable revenue growth.

Jul 152010
 
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Regular readers of this blog, and people who have worked with me, know that I’m a proponent of a process-oriented, metrics-based, and technology-enabled approach to demand generation. And I typically encourage B2B vendors to take the long view in developing their demand generation funnel, treating it like a high-value business operating inside their business. I believe that a well-designed demand generation system shamelessly imitates the features of other “mission critical” processes at work in our daily lives, such as air travel, energy production, or the food supply chain. All of these processes generally work as advertised, and generally without interruption. And these processes deliver incredible value to all their stakeholders. It’s hard to imagine modern life without flight, fuel, and food.

It took time to build these modern marvels and it takes time — though thankfully not nearly as much — to build a predictable revenue engine. But time is not a luxury that every company has, or believes it has.

Some companies just want leads.

And they want the leads now and they want them to be qualified to speak to a salesperson. And they would only like to pay for those leads that are qualified.

Having worked on both the client- and agency-sides of the demand gen industry, I can appreciate both why this request is made, and why it’s rarely, if ever, fulfilled exactly according to the client’s wishes.  Someday I may bang out a post explaining this disconnect in greater detail, and what might be done to address it.  But for now, I offer you instead:

TLOTL’s Quick-n-Dirty Resource Guide for B2B Firms That Just Want Leads (version 1.0)

The following is a starter list of resources that B2B firms can engage if they want to partially or fully outsource lead generation.

1)      Appointment Setting Firms  – These companies typically have their own databases, telemarketing staff, automation tools, and methodologies for delivering clients the specific outcome of an appointment for their sales person. Usually they will guarantee the result of “a person who matches your target buyer profile, who works at a firm that is in your target list / segment, and who is willing to take a call and/or have a visit from your sales person (usually it’s a phone call).”

  • Pros: Huge convenience factor for the vendor in avoiding all of the complexity and risk involved in delivering that critical outcome of the initial sales appointment. And the ramp-up time for a vendor like this should be lower due to the quality of the talent setting the appointments (typically seasoned, successful sales reps).
  • Cons: This can be fairly expensive on a per-appointment basis (though at a certain close rate, who cares?), and the expectations of the sales team still need to be managed somewhat.  And it may simply not be possible to “qualify” the lead further than the prospect’s willingness to take the initial call/meeting with your sales rep.
  • Cost per lead range: the “high hundreds” of dollars per guaranteed appointment. I could be more precise but I have friends in several of these firms and I prefer to let them quote their prices.

2)      Traditional Telemarketing Firms – most of us have gone this route at least once in our careers. Many telemarketing firms will also offer appointments as an outcome, but there is usually a greater investment on the part of the vendor to train the telemarketing firm’s reps on how to effectively position the offering.

  • Pros: The vendor is able to manage the prospecting message fairly tightly because they train the reps making the calls. Most vendors can also provide interesting metrics on their calling programs, which are useful to a marketer even if the program itself isn’t successful.
  • Cons: Higher risk in terms of the time and effort involved in ramping up the telemarketing agency. Heavy reliance on the firm’s ability to attract and retain talent for a job that is often a stepping stone or a dead end. If you give them your list to call against, and they struggle to achieve results, they will often blame the outcome on your list.
  • Cost per lead range: Very few of these firms will sell to you on a per-lead basis. But however the pricing is packaged, you’re ultimately paying for the number of people making calls for you, plus whatever markup the telemarketing firm can negotiate to cover the overhead and generate a profit. There is a lot of competition in this space, so those firms that can keep their costs low can compete more aggressively on price. You’ll generally find that the most competitively priced telemarketing firms have call centers based in secondary or tertiary markets (lower cost of living and commercial square footage) versus major metro areas.

3)      Business Media Firms – these companies typically own targeted web properties that contain content (e.g., whitepapers, webinars, analyst briefs, user-generated articles, etc) related to specific business topic areas such as CRM, Financial Services, Telecom or other markets. The content attracts potential buyers/influencers and entices them to register (e.g., complete a web form) for access to that content. The media firm then sells these leads to several B2B vendors, typically on a per-lead basis.

  • Pros: Some of these companies have the ability to phone-verify and lightly qualify the registrations they collect on their web sites, resulting in a higher quality lead than a stand-alone web form registration. A few of these vendors offer ongoing lead nurturing and scoring as a value-added service, helping the purchasers of those leads segment and prioritize the leads for sales or marketing follow-up.
  • Cons: Some of these companies lack sufficient quality controls on the leads they pass to clients. Others provide decent leads, but they sell them to too many vendors (10 or more in some cases). The resulting feeding frenzy of sales calls turns off the buyers/influencers who originally registered for the content, making it hard for any vendor – even those with the most aggressive salespeople – to convert the leads.
  • Cost per lead range: From $10-$15 per lead, for horizontal, transactional business products like certain office equipment, to several hundreds of dollars per lead, for highly considered B2B purchases in hyper-targeted markets, e.g. ERP system buyers in Fortune 1000 companies.

4)      Targeted List Providers – When compared to buying a compiled list from a name-brand business data firm or a direct marketing list broker, working with targeted list providers is generally better value for money. These firms use sophisticated software and database tools to build rich lists of business buyers and influencers, going several layers deeper than the C-suite and line-of-business heads.  Then they layer on additional services that confirm if a particular person on a particular list is (a) still employed by the company in the list record, or (b) is responsible for a certain business process or purchasing function.

  • Pros: Some lists these companies provide can be very accurate and work well if you are planning an aggressive campaign to contact them.
  • Cons: While the contacts on these lists may be the “right person in the right role,” there’s no guarantee that they will give the person who calls them the time of day, or that their firm even has an active purchase process underway.
  • Cost per lead range: there is a wide range of prices for these lists and a lot depends on where in the supply chain your order is placed.

5)      Boutique Demand Gen Agencies – These are often “virtual” agencies where seasoned marketers with client-side experience manage the delivery of demand gen firms such as those described above. This happens to be one of the ways I work with my clients; essentially serving in dual roles as purchaser of lists and/or leads, and pre-sales process manager, ensuring that lead conversion and pipeline growth targets are achieved. An example would be where I work with a business media firm or a targeted list provider to generate a high-quality list of “hand-raisers” or verified contacts and feed them into a telemarketing or appointment-setting firm. I add value by managing the quality of the list generated on the front end, and by holding the lead qualification firms accountable for a given quantity of qualified leads, as per my client’s specifications. Note: Some of these agencies also serve in a marketing/sales operations role generating incremental leads through tighter integration of the the vendor’s web marketing (SEO, SEM, social media) and CRM functions.

  • Pros: Me, and a few others I would trust to do this work the right way. And yes, that is a self-promoting commercial plug. I never said I don’t sell anything on this blog. :)
  • Cons: Everyone else. Ok, not EVERYONE else. But a surprising percentage of people. Truthfully, it’s not easy to deliver high-quality results in B2B lead generation. If it were, you might not be reading this article right now. There are a lot of people with good intentions but still struggle to deliver solid results. And then, to be honest, there are also some snake-oil salesmen and wooden nickel-peddlers. And in that respect, the demand generation business is no different than any other industry or institution that has ever let us down (e.g., all of them at one point or another).
  • Cost guidance (I’m not aware of anyone offering this service on a per lead basis): Most of the people who run boutique demand gen agencies have operated integrated, multi-channel B2B programs at the Director, VP, or CMO level. But unless the scope of your project prevents them from working with other clients — in which case you should probably consider hiring a W-2 employee — you probably can obtain this expertise at some fraction of the full market value.

 

Two notable omissions from the list of resources above:

1)      Traditional advertising agencies – In the context of considered purchases in B2B markets, I’m not aware of a traditional ad agency that wouldn’t ultimately leverage one or more of the above resources to generate qualified leads. To be sure, these firms add a lot of value in the areas of marketing strategy, branding, and positioning. I’m not against the Mad Men set – they are brilliant masters of their craft. But if you’re trying to get sales-ready leads to your sales team, and you buy through an ad agency, you’ll likely be paying a significant markup without commensurate added value.

2)      Internal lead qualification team – For some companies, it makes sense to have internal pre-sales resources putting the final “qualified” stamp on a lead, even with all of the value that these external firms can add to the process. Soon I will be publishing a write up on when internal lead qualification team does and doesn’t makes sense. Stay tuned!

Mar 232010
 
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There’s a good conversation going on over at Focus.com about whether the sales concept of BANT — Budget Authority Need Timeframe — is no longer valid in light of how the modern B2B buying process works. The question has been asked: “Is BANT dead?”

I commented on the post, and as part of my continuous effort to drive my own personal “return on contribution” I’ve re-published my answer to the question in this space. But there are lots of great expert opinions from B2B marketing thought leaders in the original post, so hop on over and have a look!

— begin answer —

“BANT is not dead but it is definitely under the weather and needs better care from its primary care physicians (sales and marketing executives).

As a salesperson’s tool for measuring a prospect’s relative readiness to buy, BANT remains valid and useful to the sales process.

However, there are times (too many times, by my observation) that BANT is used as a rigidly applied internal service level agreement between sales and marketing (or between sales and pre-sales lead development). In some environments, BANT is set up such that the sales team literally can’t talk to buyers unless BANT is fully achieved, or until a certain score threshold has been satisfied. This is a good idea when every sales person’s time is fully utilized talking to BANT-qualified prospects. However, most of the time this is not the case. There is always some “excess capacity” in the revenue factory, which can actually be good thing. So to the extent that BANT is ever used to keep a less-than-maxed-out sales person from talking to a buyer who is less-than-fully-BANT-qualified, it’s not a useful metric.

I think BANT is most useful when applied at the level of the individual salesperson, who must prioritize his/her time as if it were money to spent (time is the salesperson’s most valuable currency). As an operational metric, BANT is not flexible enough for practical application, in my opinion.

BTW, marketers have their own version of BANT. It’s called Cost per Lead (CPL). It’s another metric that is useful in a narrow context, but can needlessly limit outcomes if applied too rigidly. For more on the perils of excessive adherence to CPL (and 3 metrics that are better to use), see this post:

http://www.focus.com/ugr/research/marketing/asdf/

— end answer —

Mar 162010
 
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Kathleen Malaspina, founder of Malaspina Marketing, is a trusted advisor and strategic resource to leading vendors, purchasers, investors, and analysts in the global medical device industry. I know her through a consultants’ roundtable group we both attend.

Kathleen and I recently partnered on a small project in the medical device marketing (MDM) segment. Even though Kathleen knows the MDM business inside and out, she brought me in specifically to advise her client on B2B demand generation best practices. It was a fun project for me and I thoroughly enjoyed working with Kathleen. She brings that rare combination of expansive knowledge of her subject matter AND get-it-done pragmatism.

Afterwards, we decided to package some of our thinking into a white paper that offered a more general set of recommendations for MDMs. And while most of my readers may not work in the medical device field, there are some nuggets in the piece that can be applied “horizontally.”

So without further ado, and with my humble appreciation for your forwards, shares, or re-tweets, here is a link to our white paper, “How to increase demand for medical devices in today’s changing and challenging market.

Jan 202010
 
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Craig Rosenberg, aka the Funnelholic, has compiled — with a few additional contributions from myself, Michael Schmeir, and Chris Jablonski — a great list of 210 B2B marketing tips. The Funnelholic routinely publishes blunt, sometimes irreverent stories from the “trenches” of B2B demand generation. His posts always offer a healthy balance of cheeky/punchy copy and practical insights/wisdom.

Take a look at the tip list here.

BTW, we’re working on another list of 50 “marketing hipster” terms and concepts for imminent publication. Should also be an informative and entertaining read. Stay tuned!

Jan 202010
 
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The folks over at ClickDocuments have released a great eBook containing predictions and marketing tips from marketers in the content, B2B, email, and social media categories. Ambal Balakrishnan has put together this crowd-sourced eBook with contributions from thought leaders such as Doug Kessler, Jon Miller, Craig Rosenberg, Steven Woods, Ardath Albee, and 34 others.

Aside from being a valuable collection of marketing prognostications, tips, and resources, the eBook is itself an innovative content delivery vehicle. Take note of the retweet feature on each page which helps contributors maximize their “return on contribution.” Also, all of the links in the eBook open the target page with a StumbleUpon-style toolbar which gives readers the opportunity to learn more about the eBook sponsor, Marketo. I’m impressed with how the eBook was packaged and executed; balancing the needs of the audience, the contributors, and the sponsor.

Have a look at the eBook and please make ample use of that retweet feature!

Get the ClickPredictions eBook!

Dec 222009
 
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Hey TLOTL readers: I just posted a discussion question on Focus.com that needs your expert opinion. Bring your A game – A stands for Answer or Advice – and see what leading B2B marketers have to say.

Here’s the question and background (the link to the question on Focus is below):

Question: What are the main barriers to a successful deployment of a marketing automation solution?

Background: By most accounts, 2009 has been a breakout year for the marketing automation space. And while the category itself is not new, we now have a robust and growing ecosystem of vendor solutions, resellers, agencies, consultants, integrators, and marketers with deployment experience. However, as we discovered over the 10-year evolution of the Hosted CRM market, there are always hard knocks and lessons learned on the way to excellence. So as we head into 2010, let’s hear from those who’ve been there and done marketing automation: what are the key issues for marketers to prepare for (and overcome) when implementing a solution?

http://www.focus.com/questions/marketing/what-are-main-barriers-successful-deployment-marketing/

Note to readers: I recommend you answer this question on Focus. (While I’d be honored to see your reply posted in my blog comments, there’s frankly a much bigger audience and more robust conversation over on Focus.) Oh, and full disclosure for our friends at the Federal Trade Commission: I do some work with Tippit, the owner of Focus.com, as Head of their Tippit Consulting group. But promoting/endorsing the Focus.com web property is not part of the scope of my relationship with Tippit.

Jul 282009
 
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This is the christening entry of a blog dedicated to the category of Business to Business Demand Management. B2B Demand Management encompasses or relates to a number of functional marketing and sales disciplines. Among these are Customer Relationship Management, Business Media, Social Media, Lead Generation, Direct Marketing, Web Marketing, Lead Management, Lead Nurturing, Cost of Acquisition, Marketing Automation, Funnel Optimization, Marketing Portfolio Management, the 4 (or 5) P’s framework, and Revenue Forecasting.

The author of this blog is me: Tom Scearce.  I was originally assigned the moniker “The Lord of The Leads” when I served as Vice President of Market Development at a business communications company called Speakeasy, which is owned by Best Buy. I never asked why I was given the “LOTL” handle. It would be nice to think that the title (“The Lord”) implies a certain level of mastery over my subject matter (“the Leads”). It would be just as correct, however, to apply a more humbling definition instead. For like the various ring-bearers in the epic Tolkein trilogy of a similar name, I became (and remain) subject to a certain unhealthy obsession with the Precious… …er, with the topic of B2B demand management.

Why the obsession? The reasons are many but I’ll choose just one for purposes of illustration. It has something to do with the chance to solve a business problem that was articulated so well by John Wanamaker, nearly a century and a half ago. Here is his oft-quoted pearl of wisdom, which every modern marketer knows by heart.

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

We have finally reached an age where the convergence of technology, capital investment, and skills available in the labor pool have combined to make the previously unknowable (e.g., what is really working in my marketing mix and what is not?) knowable.

Knowable enough, anyway. Knowable enough to drag the mysterious black box in a dark corner that has heretofore been called “the marketing department” out into the daylight where it can be opened, examined, and improved.

(By the way, I refer to the marketing department as a mysterious black box not because I have a disdain for marketing, but because a lack of transparency has been an unfortunate side-effect of Wanamaker’s quandary. Most marketers, this one included, would actually like not to live and work in a mysterious black box. It’s cold and uncomortable in there. And it’s hard to see what you’re doing.)

Every other function in the modern enterprise has, for decades, been subject to time-honored and refined measurement practices and optimization regimes. Finance, Operations, Human Resources, and Sales can all be measured and managed ten ways to Friday. Marketing, however, has largely seen evaluations of its performance simply rise and fall with the success of the Sales team.

Is it a bad thing that Marketing and Sales be evaluated as a unit? Not necessarily. To be sure, if Marketing is not adding value to the Sales function, and Sales is not meeting its objectives, then changes are probably due in at least one of those departments. But change without deeper inquiry into root causes still leaves John Wanamaker’s problem unsolved. And since most companies spend between 3% and 10% of revenues on marketing, ignorance is expensive. Said differently, the business case for demand management competency can be compelling.

Sam Shepard once said, “Right in the middle of a contradiction, that’s the place to be.”

So, here is the great contradiction that (partially) explains my obsession with the demand management category.

  1. Through a convergence of technology, venture capital, and human capital, we now have within our reach the solution to a generations-old business problem: marketing effectiveness.
  2. The stakes in this game are high – $161.4B will be spent on advertising in the U.S. this year. That means a lot of CFOs, COOs, and CEOs will be asking, especially this year, what that $161.4B paid for.
  3. Most companies have not yet invested in demand management competency.

Now your turn: Why does this contradiction exist? What explains it? And what will it take to change the status quo?