Greetings! This is week three in my journey as a Forrester analyst serving you, B2B marketing professionals, after nearly as many decades as a practitioner like you. I'd like to start our conversation by sharing an idea I had the opportunity to explore during the interview process for this position.
It was a process I enjoyed tremendously by the way, because it allowed me to connect the dots between several trends I had observed in my most recent role, where I led marketing for a digital engagement platform vendor, and some recent research from Forrester, most notably the Death Of A (B2B) Salesman report that struck such a nerve in the Forrester client base and beyond.
One of the conclusions of that and other Forrester reports that resonated most with me is that B2B buyers now prefer do-it-yourself options for researching products and services prior to purchase. And it’s not even a close call! The survey conducted for the Death of a Salesman report showed that by a factor of three to one, B2B buyers want to self-educate rather than talk to sales representatives to learn about products and services.
Ironically, we B2B marketers have only ourselves to blame for this dramatic shift. By creating, publishing, and promoting a wealth of content to maximize the results from our SEO, PPC, and marketing automation campaigns, we’ve also made it possible (but not yet easy) for prospects to learn much of what they need to know prior to purchase. This has enabled more than half of all B2B buyers to now develop a set of selection criteria or finalize a list of potential vendors — based on digital content alone — without ever speaking to anyone at those organizations.
The first quarter of the year is that magical time for sales kickoffs. For this analyst, 2016 is the first in over 20 years when I haven’t been involved in one. My sigh of relief far outweighs any twinges of nostalgia. After all that time, some things about kickoffs are clear:
The more about products, the less sellers remember: This is a sales, not a marketing, event – the focus should be on how to sell to, engage with, and be obsessed by buyers.
One good customer story is worth more than most motivational speakers: Inspiring stories of overcoming obstacles are all well and good. One good customer presentation on why they bought and how the solution has helped them succeed is better and teaches something that all your sellers can use.
Learning to do something is always better than learning about something: Practicing a presentation, learning a whiteboard – anything that involves doing something and receiving feedback about it will have a much longer-lasting effect than passively listening to one more speaker.
When Sir Francis Bacon, coined the aphorism "Knowledge is power", he didn’t foresee a 21st century where technology and data science would more automatically and immediately turn knowledge into insight. Today, the phrase “Prediction is Power” may be more appropriate.
Well, the 2016 US presidential race has begun in earnest. Every day a new candidate enters the race on the quest to headline the Republican or Democratic ticket. I am a bit of a political junkie: not because I am a policy wonk, but because I am a marketing wonk. I love (ok, sometimes hate) to watch the unfolding strategies to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the electorate. What interests me most is the struggle to stay ‘on message’. The candidate wants the dialogue to be about the ‘brand message’: “Don’t Swap Horses When Crossing Streams”, Lincoln, 1864; “Return to Normalcy”, Harding, 1920; “Are you better off than you were 4 years ago”, Reagan, 1980; and, of course, “Yes, We Can” Obama, 2008. But, it’s tough. Political discourse requires a political platform of messages on issues and topics that are targeted to micro-constituencies. Political operatives, surrogates and donors can get it all terribly muddled. And when they inevitably do, the damage control often rises to an art form.
It’s something any B2B marketing exec can relate to. Keeping everybody on message is never an easy task. Despite the hours spent in claustrophobic conference rooms discussing mission and vision and value propositions, key stakeholders just seem to go rogue when communicating in practice: the CEO wings it in press interviews; the SVP of engineering explores the nuances of fascinating, but irrelevant features with a prospective buyer; marketing managers write content that misaligns benefits and customer problems; agencies propose promotional taglines that are slick but won't stick; and sales reps create their own special spiel (and use it faithfully regardless of client context).
After almost every loyalty-related speech I give, I get some variation of the following question: "How does this apply to B2B?" Sure, customer loyalty programs are most frequently associated with consumer-facing rewards schemes, but earning customer loyalty is very important for B2B companies too. After all, loyal and satisfied B2B customers provide testimonials, case studies, and referrals that result in a fuller and more qualified pipeline of new business. It can be easy for B2B marketers to dismiss consumer loyalty models as inapplicable to their complex business relationships, but there's a lot more to consumer loyalty than points and discounts.
In my latest report, "B2B Loyalty, The B2C Way," I explore how B2B companies can use consumer loyalty principles to deepen their business relationships. Looking past rewards, they specifically stand to benefit from three core tenets of loyalty embraced by successful B2C loyalty marketers:
A deep understanding of customer needs and motivations. B2B companies are not immune to the age of the customer, and in order to increase their customer obsession, they must continue to grow their knowledge about the customer. Building this knowledge-base from sources like satisfaction surveys, digital interactions, and customer success management systems is especially important given the complexity of B2B purchase decisions.
Consistent customer interactions across organizational silos. Business customers interact with many parts of the organization including marketing, sales, service, and support. Reaching across the aisle to teams that interface most frequently with customers, resellers, and end users leads to more productive customer outcomes.
It's the Thanksgiving holiday here in the US tomorrow. Soon we will gather around the table with family and friends to feast and give thanks for our many blessings and the things we most appreciate in life. If your home is anything like mine, it's also a time when we get together to share stories, both past and present.
What is it about stories that makes them so compelling?
When it comes to content marketing, the majority of business-to-business (B2B) marketers we surveyed last month are not as mature as they think.
Roughly half of respondents (52%) are in the early stages of assembling a content strategy and executing against it. We call this early majority "aspiring editors," and while their practices are often inconsistent or not fully embraced across the organization, these marketers are busy laying the foundation upon which to build an editorial point of view that gives their buyers something useful and valuable to read, watch, or interact with.
In a new report, published today (subscription required), we took a closer look at the maturity of content marketing practices among 113 B2B marketing professionals. Half of our respondents hail from companies with 1,000 employees or more, and 41% occupy senior marketing positions including the title of CMO or senior vice president. When compared to peers, most (51%) believe their practices are very mature.
No kidding. Isn't that marketing's job? To produce content? From advertising, to email, whitepapers, videos, blog posts, case studies, brochures . . . it's what marketing does, right? I'm surprised the result wasn't 100%. (I wonder what those 9% were doing instead?)
Hmm . . . sounds like a bad joke I used to tell about enterprise portals . . . except now it goes something like, "How is content marketing like teenage sex . . . ?" (You can look it up . . . )
If you think Big Data is something only B2C marketers need worry about, you’d be wrong.
As business buyers turn to the digital world to help them explore and solve pressing business problems, marketers will find that the data needed to propel their firms into the digital future is increasingly big.
The challenges we face in closing the gap between the amount of data available and our ability to get value from it are equally big. Nevertheless, to become customer obsessed requires understanding your buyers much better and data is the key to that understanding. During Forrester’s Forum for Marketing Leaders last week, I told B2B marketers that it’s time to make a date with their big data destiny. (The prior link is to our forum coming up in London -- you can also listen to my April 30 webinar to learn more on this topic.)
My colleague Brian Hopkins believes that - to exploit the business opportunity hiding in big piles of data - marketers must understand that data is increasingly: