B2B Marketers Have A Blind Spot: The Buyer Journey

Last month, I was immersed in face-to-face dialogue with senior B2B marketing leaders from well-known companies who were attending Forrester Forums and FLB events, and one thing was blatantly clear. These leaders are so focused on their initiatives, campaigns, and programs that they have lost sight of the thing that matters most: the customer.

In one setting, I led a discussion group about big data. Rather than debate what big data really means and how it can be captured, I focused on how it could be used. I asked the members to think about the different touchpoints their firm has with customers at each stage of the customer life cycle and how the experience delivered at each of those touchpoints could be better informed by the new types of data that are available today. Most struggled with it, because they are not used to thinking about interactions from the customers’ perspective. Instead, they think of it as actions by their marketing and sales teams.

Next, I had the opportunity to sit down for two days of one-on-one meetings with senior marketing leaders who were attending Forrester’s Customer Experience Forum. Naturally, they were asking about the B2B customer experience, so I asked each one how their company goes about capturing information about how their customers buy. The answer was the same: We don’t have much of that information today.

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Five Predictions For ICANN's Reveal Day

Almost a year from the day that ICANN announced the approval of the new gTLD program, it will be posting all the TLD character strings that have been applied for and who applied for them. Wednesday, June 13th, is the long-awaited "reveal day." They have already told us that there are a little more than 2,000 applications from about 1,000 entities.

Based on my conversations with people at more than 100 companies that evaluated applying for dot-brand TLDs, ICANN executives, and leading players in the domain industry, here are my predictions for what we'll learn when ICANN opens the kimono and in the days that follow:

  1. A few CMOs will lose their jobs. Hard to believe, but not all companies took my advice and went through the due diligence of evaluating the gTLD opportunity and arriving at a consensus decision about whether their organization should apply for a dot-brand or dot-category TLD. When the reveal happens, we'll see the names of all organizations that have applied, the string they applied for, the intended use of the registry, and how it will benefit users of the Internet. There will be a few "ooohs" and "ahhhs" about what some big corporations are planning, and I predict that a few CMOs will be on the hot seat because they ignored the opportunity, while one or more of their fiercest competitors has jumped on it.
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HubSpot Attacks Middle Of The Funnel On Its Quest To Dominate The Marketing Software Industry

HubSpot has been on a tear, claiming close to 7,000 clients using its Inbound Marketing software to generate leads at the top of the funnel. Most of these clients are self-employed business owners who do their own marketing and small businesses that have a couple marketers on staff.

At its Analyst Day yesterday, HubSpot’s Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah shared some new capabilities of what HubSpot now calls All-in-One Marketing Software. The news should surprise no one, as Brian was clear when he acquired Performable last June that the company wanted to expand from top of the funnel to middle of the funnel and move further up-market to the medium-size enterprise space.

 Here are a couple of my takeaways from the day:

  •  Expanding into middle of the funnel makes perfect sense, as the B2B marketing leaders I work with who are trying to transform marketing from providers of "air cover" to drivers of demand have to drastically increase the flow of new leads into the funnel to make it worthwhile to automate the engagement of those people as they move through the funnel. When HubSpot’s SMB customers improve top-of-funnel performance, they move the demand-gen problem further down and are using tools like Eloqua and Marketo. Now these folks can have a single platform for managing the top and the middle.
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ICANN Extends gTLD Application Window By A Week — Time For All Brands To Pay Attention

Bummer, we have to wait another week. Apparently ICANN is concerned about possible tampering with the TLD Application System (TAS), as they rightly should be, so they have closed it down for a few days, resulting in the application window for new gTLDs being extended from today to next Friday, April 20th. As it states on its site, "Recently, we received a report of unusual behavior with the operation of the TAS system. We then identified a technical issue with the TAS system software."

Not that this shouldn't make a difference to you, because if you haven't taken a stand on gTLDs for your company and don't have your application all ready to go by today, you're most likely gonna miss the boat anyway. But as a marketing leader, you need to make sure you have someone paying close attention to the program over the next few weeks.

We've been expecting that ICANN will post the public portions of all the applications on its site by April 30th (don't be surprised if this slips a week as well). By reviewing this posting, you'll see who is applying and what strings they are applying for. Whether or not you have applied for your own gTLD, make sure you go through the list to see if someone has applied for a string that may violate a trademark right for your company or one of your brands. It will be up to you to file a legal rights objection if this happens. It is most likely to happen if you've got a company or product name that is a commonly used word, like United.

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Time To Shift B2B Social Media Marketing Focus From The "Media" To The "Social"

As marketers, we think of ourselves as social. So why is it that almost 50% of B2B marketers surveyed say that they primarily use social media as just another channel to push messages to their target market?

And those are the ones who are attempting to use social media for demand generation. There are still many who are not. One marketer I talked with recently believes that social media is only useful for marketing to consumers and the gimmicks that B2C marketers use would never work for B2B. To some extent that's true, but B2B and B2C marketing are both about people-to-people communications and eliciting emotional responses, which social is perfect for doing.

I was giving a presentation to a marketing team a few weeks ago, and one of the senior folks in the room said that his buyers are too old, too senior, and too busy to be on Facebook. But we were able to show him that his demographic of buyers does use social media when learning about solutions the company sells. Forrester's B2B Social Technographics data shows that business decision-makers use social media for business purposes, and when it comes to creating content and sharing opinions, they do it more for business than personal reasons.

Social media can be harnessed for generating demand, but you have to recognize how it's different from your other channels and use it differently. 

  • Social media is about relationships, so it requires you to engage in two-way conversations and participate consistently.
  • Social media is real time, so you need to be monitoring the conversations and taking action on them in real time.
  • Social media enhances and amplifies other channels, so it cannot be used in a silo.
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What If We Merged The Marketing And Sales Funnel With The Customer Life Cycle?

Carlos Hidalgo from The Annuitas Group reminded me in his blog post yesterday that at last year's DemandCon, I decided to be a little provocative in my keynote by claiming that "the marketing funnel is dead." I couldn't resist, especially given that the conference logo is a funnel. I didn't get the oohs and aahhs I expected, and no one threw tomatoes.

I went on to explain that the funnel still serves a purpose, but it no longer reflects today's buyer journey, as my colleague Steven Noble articulated in his report "It's Time To Bury The Marketing Funnel." In a nutshell, buyer behavior is less funnel-like than ever before: Buyers don't move in a linear fashion, they don't necessarily narrow their consideration set as they move through their problem-solving process, and, if you deliver a great experience, they buy from you again.

What does a buyer's problem-solving process look like? It's a customer life cycle (see the picture on the right), where business-to-business (B2B) buyers 1) discover they have a problem or an opportunity and get to a point where they realize they need to change the status quo; 2) explore their requirements and the options for solving the problem; 3) select the best solution and acquire it; 4) and engage with the solution provider and with their peers as they implement the solution . . . and so on and so on.

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B2B Demand Management Still Suffers From The Great Divide, But That Will Change

I have to admit it; last year, I predicted that 2011 would be the year B2B marketing leaders get the cooperation from their sales leadership counterparts to align marketing and sales around the new buyer journey and finally create a single, integrated, end-to-end, brilliantly shining, awe-inspiring, world-hunger-solving, lead-to-revenue process. 

I likened the chasm that exists between marketing and sales to the similar dysfunction that plagues Washington D.C. — Democrats and Republicans with deeply-rooted differences, who stand their ground, point fingers across the aisle, and blame the other side for everything that's wrong with our country. (Notice that I give both parties equal blame for the dysfunction.)

Well, now that we're in an election year, nothing seems to have improved, and the polarization seems to have intensified. The ability of B2B marketing and sales teams to work together to create demand is still, well . . . politically challenged.

There are lots of reasons for this. In fact, my friend and fellow demand-generation expert Adam Needles (@abneedles) just blogged this morning about our inability to manage demand as an operational process. He said:

"Clearly modern B2B demand generation is failing. And all of the great messaging and creative, smart tradeshow sponsorships, and new technology investments that we throw at the problem cannot help if we are unable make a critical leap. We must be able to manage demand as an operational process."

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Where Are You On The Centralization/Decentralization Pendulum?

It's a constant tradeoff for B2B CMOs, who want their marketing people to be totally in tune with the customers and markets they serve: "How much should I decentralize by aligning people closely with business units, industries, or regions" versus "How much do I centralize to maximize quality and minimize redundancy?"

I know as a marketing leader that I was constantly trying to figure out the right balance, and it seems like a pendulum. I would hire or assign a few marketing specialists to work with dotted-line reporting to line-of-business heads and then realize that each of them were using their own tools and struggling with the same issues, so I would look for work functions that I could bring back into a centralized role.

To help marketers manage the pendulum, I recently interviewed a dozen CMOs and organizational consultants to gain insights on this. There's no single best org structure that works for all companies, so don't ask me for one, but there are a set of drivers that can help you figure out where on the centralization/decentralization spectrum you should be for the different work streams or functions you need to perform. There are market factors, functional factors, and business factors.

For example, here are some market factors:

  • Breadth and diversity of product lines. Companies with narrow or closely-related product lines can centralize more functions, whereas companies with diversified product lines will find it necessary to move people closer to each product line.
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Have You Taken A Stand On gTLDs?

The window to apply for a dot-brand or dot-category generic top-level domain (gTLD) opens on Thursday, January 12th. Have you driven your company to a decision on what to do? 

Many of the 50-plus marketing leaders I've talked with about this program in the past six months still haven't figured out what they would do with a domain registry but are concerned about another applicant getting their string. This is a very real concern, and I have addressed this and several of the other most frequent questions I've been getting on this topic in my recent report, "It's Decision Time For gTLDs."

So if you don't have your gTLD application ready to submit, what should you do now? First off, don't get so stuck in the hype about the risk of cybersquatters or of someone else getting your dot-brand. Stick to the advice we gave back in June to evaluate this opportunity strategically, looking at what new business initiatives or models you could deploy with the ability to own and operate a registry.

It is not for everyone. In fact, of the 50 companies I've talked with, fewer than 15 have a strategic initiative in mind for gTLDs. It seems like a no-brainer for a pure web-based business, but what about the brick and mortars? Is the Internet core to how you do business? How you attract, sell to, and service customers? How do you distribute your products and services? What about your supply chain? If these questions are relevant, then you need to be taking a closer look.

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Where's The Meat In ANA's Claims Against ICANN's gTLD Program?

My colleague Chris Stutzman reports from the 2011 ANA Masters of Marketing conference that Association of National Advertisers (ANA) CEO Bob Liodice used his keynote presentation to continue to hammer ICANN's generic top-level domain (gTLD) initiative. Maybe he should listen to Dana Anderson, SVP at Kraft Foods, who spoke about how "lasting change happens in leaps and bounds, not through incremental shifts."

I've been advising companies since ICANN's announcement in June on how to evaluate the .brand or .category opportunity, and most of those companies haven't found a bona fide new business opportunity that justifies the investment in a gTLD. But with few exceptions, they're looking at ICANN's plans as one of the biggest opportunities since the dawn of the Internet to take more control of their brand online, which is why the ANA argument troubles me.

The heart of the ANA’s arguments come down to claims that it will cost brands billions of dollars in defensive registrations to protect their trademarks from cybersquatters and other web perpetrators of all sorts. But let's dig into that a little deeper:

  • Will it be billions of dollars? I have yet to see ANA produce any data to support its claims that the costs will be staggering.
  • Will there be squatters on your .brand gTLD? If you are a brand owner with any IP rights to your brand, there’s no way a perpetrator will win an application for your .brand TLD. Even if one could, no squatter will spend $185,000 on it.
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