I recently described how the old fashioned business-to -business “marketing funnel” is now a chaotic and unpredictable marketing tornado. A recent Webinar featuring marketing automation (MA) success stories from Dell and Trend Micro showed how marketing automation can meet these challenges. But, these customers said, it is an ongoing process, not a one-time silver bullet.

The Webinar, sponsored by marketing agency Televerde, described how profoundly buyer behavior has changed with the advent of the Web as a channel for B2B buyers to research products and ask peers for advice and feedback. As Kathleen Schaub, VP of research for IDC’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) Advisory Practice, said today’s “buyers are never, ever, offline during the buying process” and often know more than the salespeople who are pitching them.

She called MA a fundamental requirement for 21st century marketing. But she said too many vendors “still do lead management like it was 1999,” spamming prospects rather than “express respect for buyers” with content and offers that provide value.

Moving from spanning to getting the most from MA takes time and hard work, agreed Vince Massey, director of enterprise security sales for Dell SonicWall and Maureen McCormick, director of U.S. regional marketing operations for Trend Micro. All three speakers also agreed that deploying and learning the MA software is only the first, and maybe the easiest, part of the process.

The real work – and the real benefits — comes in the ongoing work of training and staffing, change management and continual measuring and tweaking of the new MA-fueled sales cycle. Takeaways and key lessons in each area include:

  • Set aside money and time to train your sales and marketing staffs in how to not only use the software, but to use it to prospect for leads. Dell also learned it had to dedicate a staff to follow up on leads from the MA system, rather than leaving it up to staff that had “day jobs” in areas such as channel sales.
  • All three spoke of the need for collaboration not only between sales and marketing, but between these two groups and operations. This collaboration is crucial for everything from establishing appropriate SLAs for MA system performance to scoring leads.
  • Tracking is critical to understand what is working and what isn’t, and continually improving the MA program. This means assessing not only what content worked and what didn’t, but the quality of leads and the accuracy of your lead scoring.

The results include lower cost of sales, faster handoffs of opportunities to the sales staff, higher quality leads and improved close rates. For some companies, one of the greatest benefits is the ability, often for the first time, to accurately track marketing spending and its results. As Massey said, “instead of talking about whose data is better, we talk about results.”

 

I see customers demanding “industrialized” offerings in areas from remote infrastructure management to data backup. In an era of shrinking budgets and rapid change, they want services based on best practices whose results they can measure, and whose performance they can constantly and improve. Using MA to reach these empowered customers will require the same discipline, trackability and continuous improvement.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Yoda Says: Be Patient, Marketing Wanna-Be

There is no such thing as "try." You're either generating leads or you're not.

For those of you who’ve been following my “Lone Ranger Content Marketing” blogs you’ll note it’s been quiet for the last few months. Too quiet, as they say in the movies.

The “problem” has been a glut of paying work customers have wanted delivered quickly. This has kept me from doing the hard, patient work required to use marketing automation software to distribute content and identify prospects by tracking what they read. That background work includes building customer personas, creating content to reach each customer type, measuring the readership of that content and then following up with the highest quality leads.

A recent post on the “Marketing Automation Software Guide” site does a great job describing what it really takes to get ROI from marketing automation software. In it, Justin Gray, CEO and chief marketing evangelist of marketing services firm Leaded, tells customer that “If you have all of your content in place and a solid plan, you will start seeing different (better) leads around the six-month mark as nurturing starts to precipitate leads out of the funnel and into sales.

His four pieces of advice, while aimed at larger companies than mine, also speak to a one-person (or similarly understaffed) MA operation:

  1. Get executive buy-in for the purchase you’re about to make…MA can get complicated and take a while to show results. You need the executive suite to fully understand this or they will get impatient, fast. For the one-person shop the “buy-in” means making regular time in your schedule, no matter what, for the MA grunt work regardless of what short-term fires you need to fight
  2. Assemble and assess your content, re-using existing content and building it into your lead scoring by shaping it around the buyer personas you’ve created. For you lone rangers out there, this is part of the background work you need to be doing every day.
  3. Determine milestones. What results do you want, and by when? This is a trial and error process so the plan will probably change quite a bit in the beginning. For sole practitioners (even if they’re working within larger organizations) such external milestones can help restore your focus when several days of urgent work for clients have taken our eye off the MA ball. 
  4. Don’t hand off every single lead to sales, but wait until “they are so hot they’re ready to sign.”  The temptation to “pounce” on a seemingly interested lead is even greater for a sole practitioner grinding away in isolation for months. Again, patience is best so when you do contact a lead, they sign and give you the reinforcement and ROI you really need – new business. 

Justin’s bottom line is that good marketing is hard, and that marketing automation (like other forms of automation) is only as good as the processes it speeds along. For a marketer working for a very small organization, or in isolation within a larger group, it seems the key is to work as slowly and methodically as you need to – but not to stop.

May the force be with you, and may it direct you the post itself here.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Gated Content: Maybe Not So Bad?

During a recent Webinar on content marketing, a speaker blasted “teases” that force the reader to provide their personal information to get to the white paper or other collateral they want. If the prospect can’t immediately get what they want from your site, the speaker said, they’ll just “go to your competitor’s Web site and see if they can get it from there. The more you can give them the better.”

I, too, used to hate registration pages as a waste of time that just lead to clumsy “Hi, I was following up on your recent request for information…” phone calls. The presence of a form makes it much more likely readers will abandon your site or give false information to avoid a follow-up sales call, and less likely they’ll share your information with others.

But as time goes on, I find myself actually more likely than in the past to fill out these forms, if the content looks good enough and the form is reasonably short. As I try to show quick returns for clients looking for leads from Web sites, a registration page is actually a quick way to generate some names, even if those names haven’t been qualified or scored as leads. And a registration page is certainly easier than selling the client on even a low-end marketing automation system, much less implementing it.

So what is better: Free or gated? The folks over at the Inbound Marketing University Blog earlier this year concluded that forms are OK when (for example) you want leads more than sheer traffic, are filling your sales funnel, have already built a reputation and now want to develop relationships, have a complex sales cycle and are offering content for later stages of the buying cycle. If you just want to spread the word and make your reputation, or are selling a simple product or service, keep it free.

They’re on the right track but their neat distinctions don’t go far enough. A registration page won’t filter out the curious journalist or graduate student, or distinguish between the early-stage tire kicker and the late stage decision maker. (I’ve filled out registration pages for far too many products I don’t need or can’t afford.)

Ideally, I’d create content designed to attract prospects at different stages of the buying cycle. Using a marketing automation platform, I’d track their readership of free content early in the cycle and use a registration page only for those whose digital body language – their reading behavior — showed they were more ready to buy and thus more willing to be called.

What I need for my clients is a marketing automation platform that’s easy enough to use and low-cost enough to let me prove the concept without a huge time and money investment up front. Any ideas?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Hell, no, I say, and not just because I make my living writing white papers, newsletters, and the like for the IT market.

Here’s why. Yes, StatSheet of Durham, N.C. has developed software that writes (or, rather, assembles) stories based on statistics from college football and basketball, NASCAR and other sports. Algorithms pick out key facts (the top scorer, in which quarter did the winning team pull ahead, etc.) and stitches them together using a choice of pre-defined phrases.

If this sounds formulaic and bloodless, it is. Consider this story about a lopsided Ohio State win over North Carolina A&T: Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game. On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61. The game lacked a lot of drama, with Ohio State up 52-25 at halftime and never letting up.

There’s no mention of individual players (“Joe Jones powered Ohio State to a 102-61 drumming of North Carolina A&T.”) There are few adjectives (“Ohio State’s trademark physical style of play overwhelmed North Carolina’s more complex playbook.”) And there’s no mention of how a player’s off-the-court life affects their performance, as in “Shrugging off his DUI conviction last week, center Larry Lamar drove down court to…”

According to the New York Times, StatSheet Founder Robbie Allen “believes that what some readers regard as `stilted’ will be appreciated by others who say ‘I don’t like personality — I just want the straight facts.’”  He also says that his original goal was that 80 percent of readers wouldn’t know the stories weren’t written by a human. “Now that we’ve launched,” he says, “I think the percentage is higher.”

And top it all off, he thinks the software could write stories in other fields, such as financial news, that rely on large amounts of data. That’s getting pretty close to my home turf of business/tech writing.  

But am I worried? No. This software goes less than half-way-up the “value chain” of content creation I describe in my ebook “Content Marketing: Where to Place Your Quality Bets.” It captures facts, decides which to present, and polishes their presentation to a very limited extent. But it cannot check those facts for accuracy, put them in context, present them in an insightful or delightful way, or learn from them over time to deliver thought leadership.

I suspect that accuracy, context, delight and insight are qualifies you want and need in your marketing material. Or am I whistling past the graveyard and about to be automated by a really clever product positioning algorithm?  You can also check out my  ebook for details about when you should, and shouldn’t, take the “good enough” route (human or automated) to creating marketing content.  

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Some of the more forward-looking PR firms I work with are looking to supplement traditional PR offerings with demand generation services, using marketing automation software such as Marketo and HubSpot to track prospect’s actions to “nurture” them with additional content towards a sale.

I’ve long had a gut feeling that this is a good way to go, and my belief has been confirmed my recent survey results cited by the DemandGen Report. They show that the use of marketing automation software is indeed taking off, but not as quickly as some had hoped.

Why? Turns out that, just as with so many other IT initiatives, that having the right people and processes is as important as having the right software. These include not having the right or sufficient number of people (52% of those polled) and not having the right processes (43% of those polled.) Lack of good content was cited by 32%, but that’s such blatant self-promotion I shouldn’t mention it. Except I just did.

The types of services customers need are well suited to what PR can provide. PR firms already have deep relationships with clients, and understand – and in some cases helped create – their branding messages. They’re also skilled at creating content for different audiences, either using their own employees or outside help. As for having the right processes to put marketing automation to work, that’s something we’re all learning in real time – and those who get it right first will have a competitive edge.

With fewer and fewer pubs to pitch to – and less bang for the buck in pitching bloggers who may or may not have influence – it seems like showing they can generate valuable leads for a client is a good move for PR firms. Or is it too far outside their core compentency?

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

Selling Your Weaknesses in B2B Content Marketing

I’ve long argued that admitting your product or service isn’t the right hammer for every nail is an effective way to sell. The folks at marketing automation software vendor HubSpot seem to agree, judging from a recent blog post on “Seven Reasons Social Media is Bad for Marketing.”

 

Since social media (the use of content-sharing sites such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to promote a product or service) is one of the main uses for HubSpot’s software  you would expect HubSpot to be a leader in sharing lots of tips about how to use social media and why it’s good. Which they are. But in this post HubSpot admits “we have under-reported on the negative aspects” of social media and lists seven hidden downsides.

 

Did HubSpot shoot itself in the foot? No. Rather than trash the basic idea of social media (as the headline implies) the post actually focuses on what happens when you do social media wrong and describes how to do it right. That transforms what seems like an exercise in humility into an opportunity to educate and engage customers and prospects. For example:

 

Reason Two, that social media causes companies to “Focus on the Wrong Metrics.” The post goes on to suggest “Reach, leads and sales should be some of the tangible metrics that are measured as part of social media marketing strategies.”

 

Reason Four, that social media creates another isolated marketing silo that doesn’t work effectively with other parts of the organization. If integrated into customer service and product development, the post suggests, social media could instead “be an important factor for organizational improvement.”

 

Or Reason Seven, “Lack of Change,” which accuses content marketers of using social media to distribute “the same boring and legally reviewed sound bites that people have tuned-out on TV and in print.” The implied solution? Turn out better content and social media will work better.

 

All HubSpot is admitting is that social media is not a cure-all and that its product has to be used correctly to work. By raising the potential downfalls of its product itself HubSpot educates and engages current and prospective customers.  One day after posting, 26 people had commented, of whom only two piled on to say social media is worthless. The rest thanked HubSpot for raising these problems and/or asked for help in solving them. That’s two dozen current or potential customers who will think of HubSpot next time they have a marketing problem and the budget to solve it.

 

Which, after all, is the point. 

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.
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