Can Regulated Industries Thrive In The Age Of The Customer?

In 2010, we entered a new 20-year business cycle where successful companies will be those that better understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. But what happens when government authorities with very specific rules about how companies communicate with customers regulate these interactions?  

House Financial Services CommitteeWealth management, insurance, and pharmaceuticals come to mind as example industries where marketers and relationship managers feel this oversight most acutely. How do you thrive in the age of the customer when how you interact — and the data you maintain — is controlled by law? 

These are questions that I plan to explore next week with marketing and client experience executives from the financial services industry at "The Forward Thinker" sponsored by EarthIntegrate. Thinking through the issues around how to be more customer-obsessed in an industry where every communication could be monitored or audited, I believe that the main challenge is not to stray outside the regulatory guidelines while meeting growing client expectations for responsive, online, anytime, anywhere engagement — all while maintaining the intimacy that high-net-worth investors, for example, expect of their advisor relationships or that insurance members expect of brokers. 

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How Top Marketers Use Customer-Centered Content To Make Their Message More Valuable

Quiz time folks: What is "90%"?

(No, it's not the percentage of professional football fans who could care less that the Seahawks trounced the Broncos at the Super Bowl ... although I would be counted in that number.)

It is the amount of marketing-produced content that sales DOESN'T use in selling, according to the AMA (and other sources)

This certainly doesn't mean most marketing is useless, but it's a telling statistic about the divide that separates marketing messages that operate at 30,000 feet from sales conversations that happen at 3 feet — the average distance between a salesperson and a prospect during a sit-down meeting.   

In this digital age, it's increasingly important for marketing to play a bigger role in helping sales not just get "your" message in front of a customer, but to make it "their" message — something that the buyer cares enough about to talk to your rep and to do something that upsets the status quo as a result. It's about creating content that can play dual roles: attracting and educating buyers while giving sales a deeper understanding about what's attracting that attention in the first place. To achieve both, marketers have to understand their buyers. Better. Deeply. Obsessively.

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B2B Marketers Expect Bigger 2014 Budgets: How Will You Spend It Wisely?

Sound the fanfare! Business-to-business (B2B) marketing budgets are on the rise!

Today, Forrester published results from a joint study with the Business Marketing Association (BMA) that looks at CMO-level expectations for overall program budgets, the composition of the 2014 marketing mix, and spending related to technology and innovation. BMA members may download a complimentary copy here.   

In this research (subscription required), we found that, on average, B2B marketers expect to see budgets increase by 6%, compared with last year.  This outlook is cautiously optimistic since 45% of respondents hope to hold budgets flat with 2013 and another 22% expect to see still more decreases. Pressure to hold the line on spending continues as 73% of respondents say they still feel budget pressure. (You can also see AdAge coverage of this survey here.  And from CRM.com here.)

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Customer Marketing: The Flip Side Of The L2RM Coin

Let's face it. We probably should have called it "lead-to-loyalty" instead of "lead-to-revenue." (Lead-to-revenue still sounds better . . . at least we're not talking about the funnel . . .)

What I am talking about is automating marketing — what Forrester calls the integrated set of goals, processes, and metrics that shape marketing practices from lead-generation-to-revenue events.

We see business-to-business (B2B) CMOs from companies large and small ramping up technology, processes, and new marketing skills to get their teams to better focus marketing activity on customer engagement and to measure their departments against revenue performance.

But here's the kicker; managing leads to revenue shouldn't end with a signed contract but should continue across the entire customer life cyle. It's about turning leads into long-term loyal customers. After all, a revenue event is a revenue event; it doesn't matter if it happens from engaging with a prospect or with an existing customer.

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From Revenue To Life-Cycle Management: 2014 Investment Imperatives For B2B CMOs

As B2B CMOs tally up 2013 budget returns in these final days of December, the need to invest in technology, people, and processes to better manage customer interactions at every buying stage from suspect to advocate will become essential. For those yet to venture into marketing automation in a significant enterprisewide manner, 2014 will be the year to get started.Source: cloudtimes.org

Why do I feel so strongly? Because the business case for lead-to-revenue management delivers credible improvements in marketing program and sales productivity and can no longer be sidelined or ignored. 

In research published earlier this month (subscription required), I talked to marketers, technology vendors, and marketing service providers deep into transitioning from competent campaigners to owners of the new customer relationship. Those involved in marketing automation today recognize that these systems not only affect revenue generation efficiency but also deepen the bonds between buyers and the firms that serve them. 

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Four Habits To Adopt In The Age Of The Customer

If companies are to thrive in this digital age — where buyers, empowered by technology, are in control — what should B2B marketing leadership do to evolve and survive the current pace of change?

Evolution is one of those great marketing clichés. The progression of man from ape to Homo sapien in five simple steps is one of those popular images most of us are guilty of using at one point to illustrate progressive change. But cliché also implies recognizable. Ask anyone to describe Charles Darwin's theory in one short sentence, and you will hear, "Well, it's about the survival of the fittest."

It's interesting to note, on the 154th anniversary month of the first publication of On the Origin of Species, that this description doesn't quite go far enough. What Darwin said was, "It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." (Image source: Wikipedia shows the only image in the original publication of On the Origin of Species — Darwin's handwritten diagram showing how characteristics diverge over time.)

Listen up, B2B marketing leadership, this means you.

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Thought Leadership: Hot Topic At CS Forum Helsinki 2013?

CS Forum Helsinki 2013 is officially underway in lovely Finland. While I would have loved to be there (and the organizers did their best to try to lure me), the journey from California to Scandinavia is a bit daunting without a broader agenda in Europe. Lucky for me, Stacey Gordon, founder and president of Suite Seven, will be there presenting the Content Strategy of Thought Leadership. Not surprisingly, strategy, thought leadership, and storytelling feature highly in the "content as business value" section of the event.

Stacey and I caught up last week, and she peppered me with some interesting questions about the business value of thought leadership, how to organize/staff around thought leadership, and what are the leadership/governance models that work. We thought it would be fun to write up our chat in the form of a (rather lengthy) Q&A, shared with you below.

Reading through it, I think it's important to approach thought leadership as an organization, and not just a marketing activity or program. True thought leadership happens when the market talks back, and you get to exchange valuable insight with other leading thinkers on the topic. Kinda like Stacey and I do here.  

If you happen to be in Helsinki at CS Forum, you can catch Stacey's presentation on Friday, September 13, right after the coffee break at 11:20 a.m. Best of luck to Stacey and the other speakers at CS Forum!

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B2B Marketing Measurement Needs To Sharpen Its Business Acumen

"Marketing measures its performance to prove its value, not to improve it."
 
Let's face it -- marketing is often accused of poorly demonstrating it impact on the business in terms that business executives understand and appreciate. Even though advances in marketing automation and digital channels make it easier to track activity and results, this reputation persists and keeps many B2B CMOs from commanding a strategic seat at the leadership table.
 
Yet B2B CMOs can't continue to rely on measures like brand awareness, trade show scans, or website traffic to demonstrate the benefit their departments deliver. Those who do will be shown to the door as CEOs and CFOs raise the bar on accountability -- and getting the right attention here is a substantial challenge when so few execs rely on marketing data in their decision making (see figure to the right.)
 
In May, Forrester teamed up with the IT Services Marketing Association (ITSMA) and VisionEdge Marketing (VEM) to survey marketing leaders about how they demonstrate marketing's impact on the business.  About a week ago I (finally) published Forrester's take on this important survey (subscription required).
 
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B2B CMOs: Is It Time for you to Evolve or Move On?

Digital channels, online social activity, and mobile technology give business buyers unprecedented purchasing power. Just look around your next sales or customer meeting, count the number of smartphones and tablets, and see if you disagree. 

To capture the attention of the perpetually-connected business buyer, we see B2B CMOs taking on significantly broader, and often unfamiliar, responsibilities. To learn exactly how top marketers respond to these new world challenges, Forrester teamed with the BMA to conduct a joint study about the pace of change, skills required, and degree of collaboration needed to deliver the always-on experiences business buyers now expect. 

Kathy Button Bell, 2013-14 BMA Chair, and I presented the findings from this study of 117 marketing leaders during the BLAZE conference last May.  I'm now following this presentation with a new report that takes a closer look at the evolving role of the B2B CMO -- a report that we would like to share with our friends at the BMA and with you.  To get a complimentary copy, please visit this site to register for and download the report.

What did we find in the survey responses?  That it’s never been a better time to be a B2B marketer!

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How To Become Customer-Obsessed In B2B

In June 2011, Josh Bernoff revisited Michael Porter's competitive strategy work to show business has entered a new era where competitive advantage will come from obsessing over your best customers. In this seminal report (subscription required), Josh argued that the only way companies will stand apart from competition is by combining information, technology, and strategy to deeply understand customers and demonstrate that understanding through product, marketing, and service interactions.

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