All posts in B2B Best Practices

Robot Sales Teams (And Why They Won’t Work)

"Mini" Vending Machine

Technology has enabled so much innovation and growth for Marketing and Sales so quickly that it’s easy to lose sight of the people behind the technology. These technologies are often discussed in a way that conjures up images of robot salespeople and giant vending machines that work independently of human interaction. Much of the technology is focused on creating a more individual experience for each person; various tools track and measure how people interact with brands; and people build and use and improve that technology. The human role in the technology suite is obvious but still often goes overlooked.

Technology designed to align Marketing and Sales does not automatically result in better alignment. A new campaign management tool does not immediately result in more successful campaigns. Having the best CRM and lead management suite will not guarantee better customer satisfaction. There must be people at the helms of these tools who are equipped to get the most out of them. The human element is a foundation for successful technology use because it is people who use the technology and they use it to interact with other people. At a fundamental level, the success of technology is still based on people.

Marketing and Sales can see better alignment by integrating lead management technologies; campaigns are much more successful when every element is controlled and optimized; and customers benefit from better data management and communication between departments. Technology can make everyone (at least somewhat) more successful and productive, but the tools are only valuable if people know how to use them. And this doesn’t mean the bare minimum; people should really be experts in every tool they use.

Every single person who is or will be using any piece of technology should understand what it does, why it’s being used, how it will help, and who to go to for help or further training. Training should take place in a low-risk environment where people can find out for themselves what a piece of technology can and can’t do, and they should be rewarded for their discoveries. They should be given opportunities to push the limits of the tools. If a new tool is introduced, users should be given time to get comfortable with the tool and encouraged to explore the full reaches of its capabilities. That’s when technology improves: the field testing. And many times, that’s where the real insights are uncovered.

If people are using a tool every day, they will have ideas on how it might improve. If they have the skills and the knowledge to experiment with the tool, there is a chance to capitalize on that improvement. If people only understand the bare minimum, that chance is never realized. When everyone is well trained and empowered to experiment, technology can drastically improve performance and productivity, but the key element is the people! We’re not at the stage of intelligent, responsive networks of robot vending machines…yet.

Why You Need a Personal Brand

Your “brand” is the meaning behind your name – the thing that is recognizably “you”. A sort of mental and emotional short-hand, your brand is the collection of thoughts and feelings and experiences that people connect with “you” inside their heads. If there is consistency in these experiences, people begin to associate them with your brand, giving it its own identity.

The real benefit of a brand identity is that it can connect tangible products and services with somewhat intangible ideas like innovation or customer experience. Now when I think of your brand I don’t just think about widgets, I think about trustworthiness and quality of work and accountability; I connect with your brand on an emotional level.

By giving people a way to identify with you on an emotional level, beyond the product or service you offer, that connection runs deeper and is much stronger. When people are able to make that emotional connection, they naturally become more loyal and even become brand advocates.

But there is also incredible value in having a brand on an interpersonal level. By creating a consistent set of expectations about yourself and your work, and meeting those expectations, you see similar rewards. You appear as a more authentic team-mate and leader and you can motivate people to follow you based on their previous experiences with you.

If you can make the work you do synonymous with who you are as a person, you don’t have to convince people to buy into your ideas or products; they will trust the dependable brand they are familiar with and will see value in what you provide just because you’re the one providing it. Wouldn’t it be great for your customers, employees, or teammates to see you as the perfect company, leader, or teammate to help them meet their needs?

So create that brand and use it to guide your personal and professional life. Create that identity that can connect who you are with what you do. Brand your work and your ideas and make them identifiable and familiar for people, and then use the emotional connection they have with you to sell them your ideas.

B2B Marketing Tips from the Funnelmentals Panel Discussion

Bizo’s B2B Funnelmentals event in San Francisco made for an exciting day; we loved all the insightful presentations and conversations. As co-sponsors of the event, we were invited to participate in a panel discussion on Modern Marketing, and the conversation uncovered lot of great insights; insights we want to share with you.

Bizo has done a fantastic job of summarizing the most valuable learnings from the full event, but we also wanted to answer some of the questions we didn’t get to during the panel. Our own Ryan Abreo has summarized the main insights from the discussion and even included a few bonus questions that weren’t answered Thursday. We hope you find it helpful.

Q: Where is content marketing headed? We’re all swimming in white papers, webinars, blog posts, videos, and Tweets; where should we be focusing our content development energy? What’s next?

With Content Marketing we’re trying to drive engagement, showcase thought leadership, increase brand awareness, support/accelerate the ‘Buyer’s Journey’ and so on; there are lots of objectives.

The biggest challenge we’re trying to overcome is content saturation and therefore prospect atrophy. The important thing then is to provide the right balance of quality and quantity: not too much content or too little, but always relevant. To nail down an efficient content marketing strategy, try to do the following:

  1. Make an impression – Ask yourself: how am I being unique? Ask yourself: is this content I would share with a relevant audience in my social network? Ask: what is my Content Reputation? Ask: is this content high quality and interesting, or mediocre and boring?
  2. Simplify Content Discovery/Curation – people have short attention spans, you have to be thoughtful about getting the right message, to the right person, at the right time, (and increasingly now) through the right channel. You have to combat content saturation with high-value, but “digestible” content.
  3. Mine Internal SME’s – content creation is expensive but there is definitely an “internal expert” within your organization; someone with great ideas but no bandwidth or competency for developing content. Facilitate content creation by making it easy on them.

Q: How has your own “marketing stack” (your CRM, marketing automation, analytics, DMP, and other tools and software) evolved over the past 24 months?

There has been a lot more off-platform, value-add development. The gaps between the services many marketing technologies offer reveal huge integration opportunities. Tools for consolidating the view of the customer and managing leads throughout the cycle will be the next big drivers of growth.

An interesting way to broaden that consideration is to look at the evolution of the entire ‘Sales and Marketing Stack’. The past 12 months have seen a climate of aggressive acquisition: Oracle [Eloqua]; SFDC [ExactTarget]; Adobe [Neolane]; Microsoft extending Dynamics via 2012 acquisitions of MarketingPilot and Social.

For the short term there are, and will continue to be, Apps or Services that extend or improve functionality as we evolve towards a “one platform” system; for now they are still fundamentally different products and services. In the long term, disparate marketing arms like social marketing, automation, CRM, and revenue performance management will be consolidated under one central program, with a slew of integrative benefits:

  • Data Management (one ‘master’ contact and account DB)
  • Closed Loop Reporting
  • Integration Simplification
  • Better Automation, Segmentation

Q: With the rising importance of technology in marketing, how have you changed your marketing organization? It seems that every company’s marketing organization is different. Is there an optimal way to structure our marketing team? Will a best practice organizational template evolve over time?

Modern Marketing exists because there is a Modern Customer. There’s been a rise in technology to support engagement with the Modern Customer, but it’s still valuable to keep a “customer-centred vs. technology-centred” view when considering operational changes to your Marketing Organization.

Yes, you will need technologists to run your technology, but you will also need customer service experts to connect with customers on a deeper level. Best practices are always first practices; this balance of technology- and customer-centrism will help you continue to evolve over time. Two important changes that support this balance are:

  1. Adopting a more Agile Campaign Methodology– really get focused on right message, right customer, at the right time, through the right channel.
    • OREO – “You can still Dunk in the Dark”
      • 15ppl in War Room – Decision Makers, Social Media Team, Web Design Team
      • 15K Retweets, 20K Likes on FB, trending for hours after the game
      • Actionable Insight: Knowing 36% of people “second screen”
  2. Being Clinical about Testing – build your “marketing strategy” from the bottom up with a firm basis in testing. This means WAY more than A/B testing a subject line, evolving away from HiPPO or even conforming to ‘best practices’; it means finding out what works for you based on a rigorous process of hypothesis and testing.
    • Obama’s Digital Team – Crowd-sourced Fundraising for Re-Election Campaign ($500M in Donations). Key Insights:
      • Test – Do not Trust your Instincts
      • Create a Culture of Continuous Testing

Q: What are your biggest challenges right now?

There are several big challenges in Modern Marketing which are really manifestations of the same problems marketing has always faced.

  • Proving Value/ROI – “not getting the most out of our technology investments”
  • Poor relationship with sales/combatting low credibility with Sales
  • Difficulty getting past execution to developing an actual Marketing Strategy
  • Data Acquisition: collecting it, analyzing it, acting on it

A Best Practice is a First Practice

Best Practice Pinboard

In marketing, a best practice is an excellent stepping stone towards innovation, but it is not an effective steady state; the value of a message and its means of delivery both degrade with exposure.

Today, many corporations are leveraging technology as a vehicle to communicate with their customers. However, many marketing departments simply employ ‘best practice’ configurations of that technology. They see the industry standard as a utopia of efficiency; a way to guarantee effective technology spend. This is simply not the case.

In many cases, a best practice is a process whose effectiveness is not negatively impacted by its use. In other words, in these cases, continued implementation of the same best practice does not make it any less effective. But there are also cases where effectiveness has a sort of half-life. Consider two common medical best practice scenarios:

1)      Apply direct pressure to a wound to slow bleeding
2)      Administer antibiotics to assist fighting a bacterial infection

Consistent application of the former technique will typically never hinder its effectiveness, as millions of repetitions of this practice, even on the same patient, will generally yield the associated outcome. This is a static best practice. It largely holds true until a better practice is developed to replace it. In the latter scenario, this is not the case. Some bacteria can become resistant to certain antibiotics – largely believed to be attributed to repeat exposure []. As with marketing messages and techniques, this type of best practice is a dynamic best practice – it can degrade with use.

Marketing and Antibiotics
Similar to the antibiotics scenario, the effectiveness of a Marketing Best Practice is directly proportional to the frequency of its usage. Consider this sequence:

  • Marketing technology is rampant[].
  • Innovative marketing departments create processes (message / media combinations) which prove to be effective.
  • Software companies aggregate these processes, defining and sharing ‘best practices’ to increase adoption of their software.
  • Marketing departments are exposed to best practices and begin to mimic them.
  • End customers are continually exposed to the same best practices (the same message/media combination) from multiple brands across multiple channels.
  • The effectiveness of the marketing dwindles with each exposure.

In an attempt to force better results out of the process, marketing departments begin to put undue pressure on content of the message, when the underlying problem is that they are simply mimicking a stale best practice. The audience has received the same message through the same media that has been used so many times before. Any novelty has simply worn off. No content, regardless of quality, can be expected survive this scenario.

A best practice approach is still a dependable methodology, when implementing technologies for the first time. These foundational practices are a great way to ensure you start on the right path. That said; do not expect consistently heroic results from these configurations and practices – especially if your competitors have already exposed your shared audiences to the exact same techniques.

The Marketing Medicine
To tackle this problem, it is critical for a marketing department to foster an environment where processes can be explored and tested against other ideas. This is especially critical for a brand who wants to stay ahead of their competition.

There are some simple first steps to transforming your marketing processes to encourage and drive innovation. They can be done in parallel:

1)      Build a best practice configuration of your marketing technologies
2)      Construct a data-driven, cyclical approach to your campaign planning[]

Building a data-driven, scientific approach to your marketing planning will foster an environment where information can be leveraged to make innovative decisions. A campaign planning structure which includes hypotheses and true experimentation allows organizations to break out from the paralysis that can be caused by relying too heavily on a ‘best practice’ approach.

This cyclical approach draws attention to competitive analysis and an audience-focused message. It complements the KPIs that already exist for marketing effectiveness, but also creates a framework for continued marketing success. Corporate in the infancy of leveraging technology for their marketing efforts actually have an advantage: they have the ability to leap-frog competition who have settled into a best (over-used) practice scenario.

The brands of tomorrow will be shaped by their ability to evolve best practices to better meet their customers’ needs. Those that hope to be lucky enough to continually stumble upon the best content and campaigns will inevitably become obsolete. It is only those brands and marketers that empower themselves to innovate consistently who will succeed.

A New Cycle of Marketing

Only data-driven marketing teams who work collaboratively can consistently create the ever-changing combination of message and media necessary to attract and nurture modern customers.

Historically, even in the most advanced organizations, the division of marketing responsible for lead generation efforts has had a rather fragmented process. Leads are generated from marketing activities such as events, pay-per-click and other targeted audience sources, but delays exist in getting these leads over to the team responsible for outbound, follow-up messaging. At some point, these leads need to be handed to a sales function after being matured and qualified through nurturing efforts. This sales function can be a person (as in many B2B cycles), or an ecommerce portal, often seen in direct B2C products sales. Pressure to follow-up in a timely and personalized manner has driven the requirement for automation technology to assist.

The underlying concern with the current methodology is the disjointed environment in which it is expected to thrive. Nurture campaigns and other similar initiatives are under pressure to constantly innovate and resonate, but little support exists to enable a ‘quest’ for this utopia. In order to succeed, it is critical to create an environment where large teams can work collaboratively to achieve the ever-changing, required message and media combination to truly attract and nurture customers.

A major contributor to this problem is how technology has been introduced to assist the process. The abundance of marketing technologies has created a need for job roles within the organization focused specifically on system implementation work. These system deployments, integrations and general configuration changes within those systems are generally driven by a separate group of people from those who have a focus on the message and medium. Further, strategically, these activities are largely driven by suggested configurations (‘best practices’) developed by software vendors holistically for a broad set of users across many companies and industries.

Secondly, the results data which is produced by campaign initiatives is generally stored, but rarely used. Again, the disparate roles and skills required to manage and analyze this data vary widely from those who develop messaging and content. The most successful organizations are often mid-market and have found a small group of ‘growth hackers’ and ‘full-stack marketers’ who can embrace all of these skills. The truth is that these people are very rare and larger enterprises are not able to retain and scale their efforts around these unicorns. Even as the skills of the traditional marketer evolve, the need for focus and scale is critical for large enterprises, rather than evolving, scalable strategies based on specific marketing goals.

new-marketing-cycle

In this situation, it is unrealistic to expect that truly personalized, relevant messages can be delivered to an audience on a regular, ongoing basis – but the customer demands (and deserves) this level of interaction. Individual attempts can be successful, due to extraordinary people and teamwork, but even those groups cannot be expected to repeat their feats time and time again. As soon as a competitor’s message can resonate more than another’s, market share will begin to shift.

A simple shift towards cohesion of marketing efforts can have a significant impact. Marketing leadership must change the environment to support the ongoing efforts made by marketing teams:

  1. System implementation efforts must be driven initially by best practices, but then evolve to be influenced and driven by the need to scale successful campaign efforts across product lines, channels and geographies.
  2. Campaign planning must include hypotheses that are proven (true or false) and these results must be shared and accessible globally. This data along with traditional KPI’s must be leveraged in future campaign planning to avoid duplication of efforts.
  3. Marketers need to be empowered to experiment and innovate in controlled environments in order to ‘bubble’ up the most successful attempts.

Ironically, these changes often present themselves as a cost savings to an organization. For many, it immediately becomes a value add. Consider the enterprise with marketing efforts occurring across multiple product lines and customer geographies. These customer audiences are usually very similar and can be influenced by the same ideas. Yet, since no mechanism exists to support collaboration across the marketing groups, successes are not shared and assets, efforts and failures are reproduced. Further, without an understanding of what is working for everyone, systems are not regularly ‘tuned’ to support them. The system changes are instead driven by standardized best practices that no longer resonate with the buyer and are already being improved upon by a competitor.

Building a cyclical process and allowing these three functions to continually feed each other is the hallmark of an innovative marketing group. With every effort, regardless of outcome, the organization learns and enables itself. This combined learning then serves as a foundation on which to experiment. Even in the case of successive failed attempts, a marketing group would be more empowered than ever to plan the next campaign towards success. The company would be truly ‘listening’ to their audience. In turn, their systems evolve to enable the data, workflows and assets of a campaign to be widely reused, and brands would move one step closer to being truly customer driven.