Every organization, at some point, outsources part of their B2B sales or marketing activities. Sometimes it's just for a specific deliverable. Other times, it's for a more sustained engagement such as lead generation,web design, inbound marketing, etc. For those of us who have been there, the selection of the vendor can rest on many variables. Are they the cheapest? Are they local? Were they referred by a peer whom I trust? Do they have the skills? Do I trust them? Can I work with them?
In my experience, it's the last two questions that are the most relevant: do I trust them, and can I work with them.
Let's be honest with one another. We're always going to want, and negotiate for, the best price and the fastest delivery. Most of us don't mind paying a small premium for good service. After all, we're all business people and we understand nothing is free. The best phrase a vendor ever shared with me was " Your options are you can have it good, fast, or cheap. Pick two!" I think that sums up nicely the tradeoffs that always come with working with vendors. That being said, most marketers are constantly having their budget, and their effectiveness, scrutinized. As a result, you want to make the right vendor selection.
With that said, let's assume you'll negotiate for a reasonable price with a reasonable delivery. If the vendor can't do that then they clearly don't want your business.
So what does that leave to influence your vendor selection? Ah yes - the peer referral or the vendor location. Let's start with peer referrals. I love referrals. Most of my friends, professional and personal, understand my idiosyncracies. They appreciate that I have high expectations and that I don't always have patience. They value my single-minded focus on lead generation and measurable results. As such, when they refer me to someone, I can usually assume they believe the vendor's approach and personality will match my own. In turn, I can assume they've done work together and my peer truly has experienced great things from this vendor. My peer's very integrity rests on the results this vendor will deliver to me. I may be somewhat overstating it, but not by much. This is why word-of-mouth remains the most powerful lead generation tactic today; because we trust our peers.
But should a referral be your number one influencer in your decision making process?
Finally, the last thing to consider is location. Is the vendor local? Are they on the same time zone? Do they speak the same language? In the age we live in, telecommuting is the norm and long-distance project teams are typical. With that said, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting between client and vendor. It's one thing for me to say something to my vendor, but it's another thing for them to see my body language. It takes the relationship to the next level. It creates alignment.
So is location a prominent influencer on your vendor selection?
Alright - let me cut to the chase. I'll tell you what I've learned to be true. I've learned price is critical. I've learned integrity is paramount. I've learned referrals are a good way to short-list vendors. And I've learned to never sacrifice success to save a few bucks on my vendor.
But most of all, I've learned that my vendor selection comes down to trust and relationships. Do I trust this vendor? Can I work with this vendor? Does my gut tell me that I'll be successful with this vendor? Do I believe this vendor is earnest and engaged? Do they understand me and my requirements? Can I be brutally honest with them? And will I be okay if they are brutally honest with me?
The truth is that every sale starts and ends with trust and relationship. Look at your own sales cycles and you'll see these issues often play the largest role in why your customers choose you or your products or services. Everything else is important, but secondary.
So. Do you agree? Go ahead. Be brutally honest with me.
Not sure you realize this, but Valentine's Day will soon be upon us. Being a total non-romantic (at least in this post), the day is significant solely as it represents a milestone date that you, as a B2B Sales and Marketing expert, should be leveraging. In other words, whether it's Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, or any other significant event in the eyes of your audience, you should be planning well in advance to launch a campaign around it.
We've all been there. Trust me when I say, based on my past track record, I should probably be the last person to write this post.
So what's your plan? Have you already created a lead generation campaign that will leverage this milestone event? If so, congrats; you're now excused and no longer need to read this post.
Still here? Welcome to the club. Alright, let's make sure this doesn't happen again.
Folks, it starts with a Marketing Calendar. I know we talk about it. We mean to do it. We may even have an Excel spreadsheet of the major events we're doing (i.e tradeshows). However, used properly, a Marketing Calendar becomes a critical tool in your strategic planning. Before you do anything in your annual marketing plan, look at the calendar, pick the dates out that are opportunities to leverage (i.e. Valentine's Day, or Thanksgiving), and then enter a Campaign launch date that is days, or weeks, prior to that date. Once that major milestone is in place, you can reverse-schedule your supporting tasks to ensure you actually launch on time.
Of course, when that's done, you should enter your events next. Those dates are often fixed and not controlled by you. Following that, you can add in your news releases, your blog posts, and your newsletters. What we're doing here, if you haven't picked up on this, is staggering the marketing milestones so that they don't overlap. We want to optimize our campaigns with our financial and people resources. When you have multiple campaigns happening concurrently, it's a recipe for team discord. Avoid this at all costs!
Now that your schedule is layed out, you can start adding additional marketing campaigns to supplement your activities. For example, a tradeshow may be an opportunity for promotional emails and incentives to drive event attendance.
Sounds easy enough, eh? Almost common sense. So...how many of you can not only show me your marketing calendar, but also claim to invite others in your extended organization to participate and contribute to direction, content, and measurability? How well do you actually meet your deadlines?
It's not easy. It's hard. I understand. But a marketing calendar that's shared by, and visibile to, the entire organization is a Marketer's best friend. You eliminate the question of "What does Marketing do?". You actually create morale because staff feel like Marketing is making noise and generating revenue. The conversation moves from "We need new leads." to "We need to close the leads we have."
So how do you make this mythical marketing calendar? For years I used MS Project or MS Excel and simply posted it outside my office. I updated it weekly with my team and shared it via email to my executive peers. When people asked me what we were doing I'd simply walk them over to the posted calendar (they soon stopped asking!).
These days, I prefer technology to create and manage my calendars.
For years I used BasecampHQ. It's a great product for simple project planning. That's all we really need. It is great for transparency because team members can be both internal or external. The subscription fee is relatively low. It's a good investment.
Currently we're using ManyMoon. We love it. We made the move because our email and team collaboration backbone is all built upon Google Apps (GA). Unfortunately, BasecampHQ didn't have great integration with GA but ManyMoon does. Being able to update projects and milestones and tasks seamlessly between your email, contacts, and projects is very efficient. The reaction from our clients is overwhelming. In fact, while we may be engaged to deliver a subset of their marketing activities, we encourage our customers to use our ManyMoon instance and update the shared calendar we have with them to include all of their marketing activities. It works well for both of us. We can see what they have coming up on the calendar - even if it doesn't involve us - and we can plan our campaign dates such that they don't create conflict for our clients. Conversely, our clients now have a single place to go to see their entire marketing calendar.
So what's your plan? Do you have one? Are you planning for success, or failing to plan?
Recently, I stumbled across a fantastic discussion on LinkedIn, in the group “Inbound Marketers – For Marketing Professionals” that asked this very simple question “What is the number one rule of content marketing?”. The discussion was started by Rey Tamayoof www.awiserstart.com, and it has over 200 posts at the time of this blog writing. That tells you that Rey has hit a nerve with this question. That also prompts me to ask “Why?”
For context, let me summarize the most prominent answers that appeared in the posts:
- It must be compelling
- Remarkable content
- Address the needs of the reader; it's not about you
- Utilize keywords and key phrases
- Fresh content
- Use understandable language; shoot for high school readability
- Solve a problem
Perhaps this answers my earlier question of "Why". The implication is that too many people must feel that too much content in existence today is simply not relevant. Would you agree?
I fully agree the relevancy is critical, however I do not believe it is the number one rule of content creation. In fact, I think it’s merely an attribute. It’s something you strive for when you generate your content, as are the other attributes like being compelling or authentic or fresh. While all of these attributes may help your content to be consumed, they do not necessarily help you achieve your goals, which is why you’re creating content in the first place.
Think about it. What are your goals? Are they to...
- Generate awareness?
- Establish thought leadership?
- Increase your search rankings?
- Feed your social media engine?
- Contribute to your lead nurturing programs?
- Engage your target audience?
Therefore, I submit that the number one rule of content marketing is to generate content that will help you fill your pipeline and close more deals. That’s it. Easy. Simple. End of story.
How would you do that? Well – I posted about that on the discussion group and summarized it accordingly:
“Content needs to start with your Sales Funnel. Analyze your sales funnel. What is the leakage and the lag from sales stage to stage? What are the common objections you get at each separate stage? What are the frequently asked questions your sales teams get asked? Once that's done, you can map your current content inventory against how each piece supports the sales funnel stages. Do they address the sales objections? Do they address the FAQs? Will they help you reduce the leakage or the lag? Is the content serving the top of the funnel or the middle of the funnel? How can your content help your Sales team be more successful? How can your content increase your conversion rates? To answer your question directly, the number one rule of content marketing is to help Sales close more deals. Everything else - relevance, thinking like the content consumer, personality, etc. - are aspects to what content should be produced and how it should be created. If you don't know the content you need, if it doesn't help achieve your end-goal of sales (I'm assuming it's sales but you may have another end goal), then your content will not be effective. Hence, always start with your sales funnel and figure out what you need to make, how your audience wants to consume it (which channels - video, podcasts, white papers, etc.) and how it addresses the challenges of the sales cycle.”
Those who read my blog posts know I often have pretty strong opinions, but perhaps my opinion is wrong on this. What do you think? Better yet – what would your sales team think?
If you're reading this blog, there is a good chance that you have a vested interest in generating more sales leads for your business. Perhaps you're tasked with it, or measured by the leads you create, or are being constantly pressured to fill the pipe to overcome the challenges of an ineffective sales team. There are many reasons why we need sales leads, beyond keeping the lights on, but typically we're challenged by resources and budgets in our execution. Therefore, the promise of automated lead generation facilitated by marketing automation is very attractive. Could it be as simple as "set it and forget it" as I watch the leads come in? Certainly that is what is promised by many vendors. I can assure you it's more involved than that. The reality is that many businesses not only lack resources, but they also lack budget. Without budget, marketing automation can never be implemented simply because you can't afford it. With budget, you may still not be able to implement it because you lack resources to maintain and develop it. It's a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Give me more people and more money and I'll make you more leads. Unfortunatley, management often responds by saying you'll get more money and more resources when you bring in more leads to pay for them. What's a marketer to do?
The answer is simple - take it one step at a time. Then, repeat if necessary. Let me explain.
Auto Responders and Email Marketing
For many of our clients in this situation, we simply suggest you start with tools like Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact. These tools rock for their ability to create online forms which can be embedded in your web site. Once a form is completed (because you had a kick-butt Call To Action), a series of emails can be sent to the opt-in subscriber on a periodic basis. It's the simplest form of lead nurturing. There truly is minimal, to no, intelligence such as lead scoring, or complex branching logic, or persona segmentations to dynamically adjust and nurture the new prospect. That said, it does do a great job of engaging them softly over a period of days or weeks or months such that you can ultimately follow up with a phone call and anticipate a somewhat warm reception. As a Marketer, you can control the messaging and monitor the reports to see how they're engaging with you. It's a nice start, and it's very cheap to implement.
Once you've gotten some ROI from the auto-responders, you can move onto Inbound Marketing. Vendors like HubSpot have pioneered this space. It's definitely more expensive than the auto-responders, and it's essentially on-par, cost-wise, with some of the very low-end marketing automation providers, however it gives you so much. The essence of Inbound Marketing is that it does what the auto-responders do, plus gives you some basic lead scoring, plus gives you incredible insight into the leads that complete your forms. Beyond that, the secret sauce behind Inbound Marketing is that it will help you get found by your target audience using tools such as social media, search engine optimization, landing pages, etc. It's a great tool for non-technical marketers who need to quickly and efficiently drive traffic to their site without the expense of telemarketing, or direct marketing, and in a way that is credible and develops a firm's thought leadership. We have a quick little video you can watch at this page to learn more.
Finally you've had success with the above two tactics, and you now have the budget to really invest in a deluxe implementation of marketing automation. Congratulations. Of course, now your decision is whether to go low-end, middle of the road, or high-end with your vendor selection. Tools from Act-On, to LeadLife, to Pardot, to Genius, to Marketo, to Eloquawill span the spectrum of both budget and capabilties. The only immediate advice I'd offer here is to balance your wants with your needs with your budget. Always remember - it's not a linear equation. When you double your monthly spend on a marketing automation vendor, you're not doubling your feature list or your ROI. Also recall that the more complex a tool is, the more maintenance and oversight is required on your end. Accordingly, the costs are not contained just to the service subscription but also to the associated staffing to maintain and leverage your investment.
Aim for the moon, start with a single orbit
Okay, it may be a corny analogy but the space race was not won with the first project. They built on their successes and ultimately achieved their goal, using the lessons learned from each incremental step and effort. This is a great strategy and one you should seriously consider.
One of the most common questions we get asked is “Why should we do webinars?!” The premise behind the question is that they’re already doing other activities and they do not necessarily have time, or resources, to add more to their sales and marketing mix. It’s a fair question. If you’ve attended any webinars, you’ll know, and appreciate, that many companies do webinars really, really bad. Let’s be honest – have you ever left a webinar minutes into it because you were falling asleep, or it just wasn’t giving you any value-add? We understand. These types of experiences can leave you not wanting to produce something if you can’t do it well. Doing something well takes time, and that’s often the one thing we’re all in short supply of.
How about we let the facts speak for themselves when it comes to why you should be doing webinars? In a recent study conducted by MarketingProfs, the following facts were uncovered, based on the 46% of companies that were actively doing webinars:
Why does your company conduct webinars?
- 69% Generate Leads
- 69% Increase brand awareness
- 57% Build loyalty
- 40% Drive website visits
- 37% Build in-house database
- 28% Drive offline business
- 50% Generating cost effective leads
- 47% Generating quality leads
- 38% Producing large volumes of inquiries
What’s really interesting about this research is that it doesn’t even address how webinars can be repurposed for numerous additional pieces of content. This is critical! Understand that a webinar is typically a live event. Once its broadcast, everything said on that broadcast is now part of the public domain. That means you can use this content to quickly and easily produce additional content without seeking any additional approvals. Let me repeat this – you can use this content without seeking any additional permissions. Examples of this additional content would include:
- Case Studies
- Press Releases
- Blog Posts
Why do you want to create additional content? Because now you can use this content in your lead nurturing programs, in your social media outreach, in your sales objection handling, and in your website Call To Action banners. All of this content, and utilization, starts with a simple webinar.
Let’s look at it from a different perspective. Let’s be really pragmatic about this. You’re busy. You don’t have time to call all of your target prospects, let alone your existing clients. You’re busy delivering on client commitments. Yet, despite all of this, you understand you need to be regularly communicating with your target audience if you want to keep feeding the sales pipeline. Even more frustrating is the fact that you often spend cycles with email, social media, or on the phone explaining the same concepts over and over again to your clients and prospects. You’re not working efficiently or effectively. When we talk to our clients, they readily admit this truth. They also acknowledge they’re frustrated.
With a webinar, you can reach your entire audience – customers and prospects and partners – for an investment of approximately one hour of your time. Best of all, the content is archived and then becomes available on-demand, suddenly freeing you up from explaining concepts over and over again in the future. Now you simply send them a link to the content and then follow up to see if they have any questions.
Webinars are not a cost. They are an investment that generates substantial ROI. You can measure it in increased sales and marketing productivity, or increased lead flow, or increase sales volume, or increased revenue.
It’s time to letter your on-air personality out. See you on the airwaves.