Musing about Social Media and its lead generation effectiveness


Social Media is a major part of any B2B sales or marketing strategy that we endorse for our clients at My Lead Agency.  It doesn't mean we always enjoy or embrace social media.  Despite the typical verbosity of my blog posts, I don't always have a lot to say.  I'm good with 2-4 character posts ("Yup", "Nope", "OK") rather than 140 characters, and blogging can sometimes be downright painful.  I've got so much to do during the day that social media can sometimes be an afterthought. With that all said, is it effective for lead generation? Well, as it relates to inbound marketing, it's critical however we need to keep perspective; it's still only one tool in our bag of business development weapons. In other words, stay focused on developing a comprehensive and holistic approach to your lead generation efforts; do not get tunnel-vision and believe social media is the answer to all of your sales pipeline woes. Trust me when I say that many companies we work with have been barraged with sage advice preaching that social media will fill their coffers. With that as the inspiration for today's post, I decided to go have another look at the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report and see what the numbers say about this topic.
When asked to indicate the effectiveness of social media for their organization, the answers were as follows:
  • 16% - Very effective
  • 59% - Somewhat effective
  • 25% - Not effective
What's interesting about these numbers is how MarketingSherpa chose to interpret them: "the majority of B2B organizations perceive this as either a very effective or a somewhat effective tactic.". Personally, I see the glass half-empty on this one.  That is, that the majority of B2B organizations perceive this as somewhat effective or not effective at all. And, it should be noted, my "majority" is bigger than MarketingSherpa's "majority" when you add up the numbers. So, that tells you that the experience of most marketers is somewhat still out on the impact of social media.  Of course, many pro-social-media pundits will simply claim that these organizations aren't effectively using social media, nor do they have the expertise or resources to implement it properly; and they would be right in most cases. That said, it's just another affirmation that social media, like any marketing tactic, must be implemented intelligently.
If I drill down further on this topic, MarketingSherpa asks the question "Which of the following social media tactics does your organization currently use? Check all that apply". The answers are intriguing:
  • 87% - Participating on company branded or managed social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 64% - Microblogging on company branded or managed microblogs (Twitter, Jaiku, etc.)
  • 64% - Blogging on company branded or managed blogs
  • 62% - Sharing content on multimedia sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, etc.)
  • 59% - Using social media to improve search engine rankings (SEO)
  • 41% - Social media news releases
  • 33% - Blogger or online influencer relations
  • 30% - Sharing email content with social media sites
  • 21% - Advertising on blogs, social networks or other social media sites
So my takeaway here is that companies engage what requires the least amount of effort, such as Facebook and Twitter.  Everyone can do a small little update here and there.  That's not too time consuming.  However, blogging does take more time and effort, as does content creation and SEO. Influencer relations can take an especially long time, as you need to develop a relationship over time; that will only happen if you have something valuable to say or great content to contribute. MarketingSherpa actually has another chart that details the perceived level of effort required for each of these initiatives, which fundamentally documents our noted assumptions.
Alright, let's bring this blog post home and reference the chart that really means something to those within the organization responsible for revenue: Please rate the following tactics for their level of effectiveness in achieving social media objectives (1 star is the lowest level of effectiveness, 5 stars is the highest level). For brevity, I'm going to add up the percentages for those who answered 4-stars, or 5-stars, into a single percentage, as that percentage reflects a strong perception of the tactic's effectiveness in achieving the organizations's goals for social media.  For our clients, that goal is almost always lead generation.
  • 44% - Blogging on company branded or managed blogs
  • 40% - Using social media to improve search engine ranking (SEO)
  • 34% - Blogger and online influencer relations
  • 30% - Sharing content on multimedia sites (YouTube, Flickr, SlideShare, etc.)
  • 30% - Participating on company branded or managed social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • 24% - Microblogging on company branded or managed microblogs (Twitter, Jaiku, etc.)
  • 20% - Social media news releases
  • 24% - Sharing email content with social media sites
  • 17% - Advertising on blogs, social networks or other social media sites
So what's my takeaway from this? Organizations are not optimally using social media.  While Twitter and Facebook are good, and often fun, they are not ranking well enough on achieving corporate objectives relative to the investment required.  On the other hand, blogging, SEO, influencer relations, and content creation is more successful at achieving those goals.
In the end, deals occur because of relationships. One party trusts another to help them resolve a pain they have. Trust is built slowly, often after repeated demonstrations that a vendor has skill, and a track record of success, such that a Buyer's objections, and fear of risk, are mitigated. The vendor becomes credible. As is often the case behind earned trust, word-of-mouth implies credibility. When a trusted advisor refers a vendor to a friend (virtual word-of-mouth), the vendor is perceived as credible and trustworthy.  That's what content does for you.  It puts your knowledge in a consumable format. That content is then shared among friends. If it's deemed valuable, trusted Influencers reference and endorse you. Blogs also convey personality and are a more personal way of referencing and delivering content. Content builds SEO. Content becomes a sales and a marketing tool; it's embedded in your processes with things like lead nurturing or objection handling. And all of these factors generate inbound leads which then results in measurable lead generation success.
So there you have it.  My musing for the day.  Sorry I went a bit long. I did admit initially to being verbose with my blogs. I'd love to hear your feedback.

Is your lead generation aligned with your customer's expectations?


Recently I attended a webinar put on by HubSpot for their value-added resellers.  The intent of the event was to help resellers retain, or grow, their client engagements by using the HubSpot reporting features.  In short, the lesson was to review the continually improving progress reported by HubSpot with your client.  If you do this, the client will see the value the reseller provides and will continue to engage them or broaden their scope. It's excellent advice and something that most of us forget to do.  Let me explain.
A customer can be someone who pays you for your services, or a customer can be an internal person or team. Whenever I was hired as CMO, or as VP of Marketing, the first thing I would do is go to the VP of Sales, and the VP of Professional Services, and the CEO, and individually say to them "You're my customer. My job is to get you what you need to be successful. What do you need?". I made sure to instruct my teams to treat the internal departments the same way.  When we did that, we immediately changed the conversation from being adversarial, or competitive, to one of co-operation.  That lead to establishing alignment.  If the VP of Sales wanted more leads then I would ask them to define a lead.  If I didn't do this, I might think my team was delivering leads but Sales might think we're delivering unqualified suspects. That's a disconnect.  Hence, the customer approach lead to a defining of what the customer wants which lead to a discussion of how the deliverable is defined which ultimately leads to how it is measured.  Once you have alignment on that, you're effectively left to run your own show and focus on delivering results.  After all, that's all a customer wants is results.  Often they only care about how you achieve them if you are not delivering them.  Since I want my team to focus on executing, and not on playing customer politics, it's in my best interest to ensure alignment and successful execution of our mandate.
Why is this so critical? The
2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpa asked the question "Which of the following marketing challenges are currently most pertinent to your organization?". The number one response, almost double the second highest ranked result, was "Generating high quality leads". It scored a value of 78%, which was 9% higher than the previous year. Understand, however, that this report neither defines "high quality" or "lead".  Talk about a huge opportunity for a disconnect between Marketing and their customers.
So here are some questions as it relates to your lead generation activities activities:
  • Do you know who your customer is?
  • Do you know what they expect you to deliver?
  • Do you have documented agreement and definition on that deliverable?
  • Can that deliverable be measured?
  • Does your customer agree with the method of measurement?
  • Do you routinely report to your customer your progress against achieving that deliverable?
  • Do you have regularly scheduled discussions to review, refine, and improve the progress?
  • Does your customer understand your challenges and constraints?  Do you understand theirs?
  • Are you making an effort to over deliver, such that they see you are commited to mutual success?
Lead generation is not about the programs you run.  We here at My Lead Agency do not think of ourselves as a telemarketing firm, or a website shop, or an SEO specialist, or an email house, or a strategy and branding agency; rather, we think of ourselves as specialists in delivering B2B sales - AKA lead generation - to our clients regardless of how we do it or what tactics we employ. Why does this matter? Because, in the end, your client doesn't want you to advocate a specific tactic all of the time. The cliche goes that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  That's a recipe for failure.  Your customer wants you to help them succeed using every tool in your tool belt. Your customer wants you to be "in the trenches" with them.
Stay focused on what your customer wants and success will follow. Get alignment. Measure the results. Collaborate with your customer on how to adjust and adapt.

How do you select your outsourced marketing vendor?


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.

What is the number one rule of content marketing?


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, 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:
  • Relevancy
  • 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
  • Visuals
  • Solve a problem
  • Authenticity
Now these are just a summary of the more common responses, however the largest response expressed, over and over again, was “Relevancy”. I love it. Of course, you know they’re right. Need a simple example? How many times are you reading a social media discussion, only to see somebody post something that is completely off topic and self-promoting? It happens a lot. If you’re like me, you probably completely ignore such posts? Why? They’re not relevant to the discussion. They don’t add value. Further, whoever made the post has lost any credibility with you in terms of future conversations.

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?
Upon reflection, I think you will all agree that these goals are, in fact, designed to ultimately generate more leads for your sales teams, or to help in the conversion of leads into paying customers, such that you hit your revenue targets. In other words, it's all about demand generation.
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?