CEB Challenger Marketing Webcast – March 8th

Last September, Pat Spenner, co-author of The Challenger Customer and I presented a webcast entitled Lessons from the Challenger Marketing Trenches. During the webcast Pat and I shared our key learnings on executing Challenger across a multitude of marketing activities: customer understanding, marketing messaging, content strategy development, content and sales tool production, and lead generation.

On March 8th at 11 am (EST) Jessica Cash and I will be presenting Using B2B Content to Drive Alignment & Accountability, details on the event and registration below.

Overview: With increased budgets comes increased calls for accountability. Today’s top marketers are using Commercial Insight, personal value, and help from peers to craft content strategies that result in more than just customer engagement. Learn best practices and ways to avoid common pitfalls that often leave marketers struggling to improve lead quality.

Join Jessica Cash, Head of Sales and Marketing Solutions Product Development at CEB, and Scott Gillum, President of gyro in Washington, D.C. as they answer questions, such as:

  • How can marketers avoid always defining their business solely from the legacy perspective?
  • How does redefining themselves allow for better alignment with customers?
  • How can value drive customer action?

Jessica and Scott will be holding up the mirror in order to show how CEB is applying these best practices and principles in their own marketing efforts, so come ready with questions!

When: Wednesday, March 8 at 11 am (EST)

Click here to register

Why B2B Marketers Struggle Selling Brand Building Investments

follow-1210793_640Having a hard time convincing “the powers that be” to invest in the brand? Ever wonder why it’s so hard, why all they want from marketing is leads? Let me explain.

In organically grown companies, an organization develops a product or service and goes to market through a sale channel, either owned or via a partner. At this point, the organization is focused on acquiring customers and generating revenue. With low market awareness the organization typically has more sales capacity than demand for its products or services.

If marketing exists, it’s in its infancy, and plays a tactical role developing sales material, supporting business development activities, and it may have a small social media presence.

To fuel the company’s growth, the management team begins to realize in order to make sales and revenue objectives it has to be able to create demand beyond what the sales channels can generate on its own. As a result, marketing expands beyond its most basic sales enablement role into being responsible for generating leads.

When growth slows and/or begins to plateau, the executive management team will (or should) begin to explore the value of “strategic” marketing. Unfortunately, these strategic marketing activities and investments aimed at broadening awareness of the brand are often misunderstood and/or dismissed all together. Here’s why they shouldn’t be, and why they are critical to unlocking a company’s next phase of growth.

Why it’s so hard getting to “Yes”

The challenge in convincing the organization that marketing can be a strategic growth level is one of perception. Because marketing evolves “bottom up” as I just described, the common perception among executives is that marketing is a “tactical support” function.

The second issue is the messenger. The staffing needs of marketing in its infancy are simple, and usually satisfied by an entry-level hire or someone without a marketing background. Rarely, will this person rise to a senior management level. Achieving senior executive “gravitas” is critical for changing perception among the senior management team, especially if the company has a strong sales and/or product culture.

How to win the battle

To convince executives, you have to tie brand investments back to something “tangible.” Your argument has to show a direct connection to an organizations performance, be it sales, profit or the customer. And, if you can improve your message, you will also improve how your executives view the messenger. Here are three areas to explore.

  1. A strong/valued brand lifts price point. Are reps constantly complaining about being beaten up on regarding cost/price? A company that has a strong brand can command a price premium. Years ago, I did some work with competitor of Cisco and found that the Cisco brand had a price premium of 7% over the competitors. Why? B2B purchases are high risk, and as a result, are emotionally charged. Buyers that connect personally to brands are willing to pay more for their product if they believe it will reduce the risk of a bad decision. Need proof, click here.
  2. Improving top of the funnel performance improves the performance of the entire pipeline. Need to increase leads? You have two choices, expand the top of the funnel, or increase conversation rates. The best solution is to do both. By expanding the number of prospects aware of your product you increase the number who will also consider it, which increases the number of opportunities, leads and wins. If you only focus on increasing leads, you’re stuck with improving conversion rates, which may be much more difficult and/or costly.
  3. Brand building doesn’t mean you need a big budget. The fact is you’re doing it everyday, for better or worse. Every conversation a sales rep has with a prospect creates a brand impression, every unresolved service call to the contact center has the potential to damage the brand. You can make great strides by clearly and consistently communicating what the brand stands for both internally and externally. Once defined, put it into the language of your audience in the simplest terms possible. Complex, “consultant like” words and terms are meaningless. The really smart folks simplify the complex.

Now that you’ve made the argument, it’s time to close the deal. When an executive evaluates a proposal from your company against other competitors, do you know what tips the scale in your favor? No, it’s not price, or the “relationship,” it’s your reputation, your brand. It’s how they feel about your company…and that’s not in your proposal.

The Paradox of Personalization in B2B Marketing

Just when we’ve convinced the organization that the key to our marketing communication success is personalized content, new research from CEB highlights that we actually may be doing more harm than good.

The years spent improving our understanding of the buyers journey, the development of more insightful personas and content, may have resulted in marketers ability to be too good at personalizing solutions to buyers. How can that be?

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 4.08.13 PMThe issue, according to CEB’s research underpinning their new book The Challenger Customer, is that our improved ability to increase a buyer’s awareness of those areas of a solution most relevant to them, has inadvertently increased visibility into the overall risks associated with the purchase decision and/or change. As a result, buyers begin to unbundle and simplify solutions, driving down price points. The shocker of this insight is that marketers improved ability to personalize content may be coming at a cost to sales.

According to co-author, Pat Spenner, the real challenge lies in convincing buyers to first agree on making a change. “Focus your content marketing efforts on creating a consensus case for change among the decision making group,” which according to CEB’s research, now involves at least five people in the typical B2B purchase.

According to Spenner, “personalization can hurt the buyer’s ability to get that critical early consensus, because it can cement those individual stakeholders into their individual contexts, without doing anything to bring that more diverse group together around a common vision for change.”

So should we stop personalizing our communication? No, but it does highlight the need to also create that common rallying point, and to equip key buying group stakeholders with the tools to create consensus around it. Something the authors say helps clients elevate the conversation from “me to we,” an umbrella approach that ties your content efforts together regardless of the audience being targeted.

To motivate buyers to change you first have to disrupt their status quo by planting and nourishing seeds of doubt about “business as usual.” Show them not just the benefits of action, but the consequences of inaction. CEB recommends using fact-based content built off a Commercial Insight to break down buyers existing mental models.

Concurrent with breaking down the audience’s long held beliefs, you need to give them something to aspire to — a new future state that rallies the group to take action. This is where a compelling creative campaign does the heavy lifting. A “big play” campaign, like IBM’s “Smarter Planet” creates a compelling future vision but also provides a broad platform to disrupt IBM’s many different buyers and to cover IBM’s expansive solution/product portfolio.

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Personalization is still essential, and comes via messaging to specific audiences, but it is built on the commercial insight, and aligned to the common vision of the future state. It’s not that personalization doesn’t work, in fact, it can be very effective for breaking the status quo,” according to Spenner, “but you also need an unifying rallying point for buyers who may be too attuned to the risk associated with change.”

The key to leveraging the good work marketers have done to increase relevancy with buyers? Properly balance and/or convince the audiences that the rewards associated with making the change, both organizationally and personally, outweigh the risks you’re asking them to take on. If not, they will reduce the risk for you, and you may be hearing about it from sales.

The Power of Creating an Emotional Connection with Buyers

For business, this is turning out to be the “year of the human.” Andy Goldberg, global creative director at GE, said in an interview with Advertising Age about marketing trends in 2015: “We need B-to-B to be more human.” Karen Walkers, SVP of marketing at Cisco, went ever further by saying, “Devotion to brands begins and ends with an emotional connection. Buyers are people, people are humans and humans are emotional beings.”

Why this sudden awakening of humanity in tech marketing? The recognition that business decision makers are also people with emotional needs? Well, the answer might surprise you, and it’s based on a good bit of data and research.

The CEB (formerly Corporate Executive Board) first picked up on this trend in their research that found communicating business value (functional benefits of a product or service) was not differentiating because perceptions on that value hScreen Shot 2015-03-02 at 2.49.41 PMardly varied between brands.

For example, a recent brand health study for a tech client found that 90 percent of their brand health (defined by a willingness to recommend and consider) was driven by service quality. Service quality made up 90 percent of the attributes in the graphic.

The smart marketer would think that in order to improve our brand health, we should increase our focus and communication for the performance attributes related to service quality. And they would be right, except for the fact that those business value drivers also apply to all competitors in the category, which is apparent in the graphic below:

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Each color line represents how a competitor scored on performance attributes under capabilities, expertise and strategic advisors. It is almost impossible to distinguish between the five companies represented (except for the competitor in orange, which also happens to have a leading share of market, mind and voice).

What is clear from the research is that rational purchase drivers that communicate business value, although important, are nothing more than “table stakes.” So what creates separation?

The answer: An organization’s ability to build and communicate value based on the understanding of the risk/reward dynamic involved with a purchase decision. The reason: There is a direct correlation between the level of risk and the emotional involvement of the buyer. The higher the risk, the more emotions play a role. Technology purchases are a particularly high risk because they support critical functions within an organization from payroll to customer communications and more.

As a result, personas need to go deeper into understanding the emotional state of buyers as they go through the buying process. Marketers should map the mental state before, during and after the purchase decision, noting the emotions that buyers might be feeling at that time. Here are some key questions to consider as you go through this process:

  • What challenge(s) does this purchase decision present for the buyer? It will defer if the buyer is new versus existing. As a marketer, it’s crucial to know how it’s different.
  • What personal risks are at stake for this decision maker? Could they lose their job if they make the wrong decision? Invest in understanding their role and their challenges.
  • What are the personal rewards for the buyer? Consider how the decision will pay off for them personally. Most often this will be career oriented, but not always.

It’s also important to note that buyers will already have preconceived feelings towards your brand. This may be a benefit or another hurdle to overcome. Our research in partnership with the FORTUNE Knowledge Group found that nearly two thirds of C-level executives said they believe subjective factors that can’t be quantified (including company culture and corporate values) increasingly make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Only 16 percent disagree. Furthermore, 70 percent believe that a company’s reputation is the most influential factor when deciding what company to do business with.

Buyers trust their gut to make the right decision based on how they feel about a product and/or brand more than we think (and definitely more than we communicate). They make purchase decisions based on emotions, and then justify them with the business value drivers. It’s the emotional connection that triggers the decision and feature/functionality to support it, not the other way around.

What company does this best? It’s Cisco. Research has shown that they are the most emotionally connected customers. Not surprisingly, as Karen Walkers points out, Cisco recognizes that buyers are not just decision makers with budgets, but rather people who are emotional beings.

Stop Blaming Price – 3 Real Reasons Why Deals Are Lost

The team killed it. The presentation was flawless. The proposal was outstanding. You covered all of the bases, but you lost. Searching for answers, the only thing you can think of is that the other guy must of “bought the deal,” right? In the article entitled; Why B2B Sales Leads Don’t Convert (and Who Is to Blame) Marketing Profs.com highlights a recent survey of close to 200 marketers, sales professionals, and president/CEOs on their thoughts on why deals were “lost.” Not surprisingly, 60% said that “price” was the main reason, but what may surprise you is that percentage is wrong. Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 9.40.05 AM

To truly understand why deals are lost, you have to get feedback from buyers. Having conducted numerous post mortem analysis of lost deals, and buyer behavior research, here’s what I have learned. Roughly one third of all buyers consider price as one of, or the main driver of a purchase decision. Pure price buyers represent about 5-10% of all decision makers. The remaining portion (20-25%) are value buyers who may, but don’t always, buy the lowest priced product or service. Using those numbers, the research overstates “price” as the reason for a loss by a factor of 2X. What accounts for the remaining thirty percent? Here are three common reasons for losing a deal, that doesn’t involve price.

  1. Low investment in the relationship – deals are not solely rationally made purchase transactions, especially as price and product complexity increases. Selling bigger ticket items involves a degree of trust built between a vendor and a buyer. Recent research by Fortune and gyro found that 65% of executives believe subjective factors that can’t be quantified (like a company’s culture and values) make a difference when evaluating competing proposals. Even more executives (70%) said that a company’s reputation was a critical consideration in the decision making process. Investing in relationship building with buyers takes time but as the research shows, it’s worth it. If buyers say that the only time they hear from a rep is when he/she wants to sell them something…that investment is not being made.
  1. Focusing on the wrong message – focusing on only selling the business value (functional benefits, business outcomes) of a product limits sales ability to make the case for a higher price. Connecting the value the product delivers to the buyer, on a personal level, helps reps broaden the conversation. According to CEB research, not only are you twice as likely to win the deal by focusing on personal value drivers Screen Shot 2014-08-01 at 12.25.04 PM(professional and personal benefits, like a promotion, admiration from peers, etc.), but also, buyers are eight times more willing pay a premium.  To do this effectively sales people need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of decision mak ers. They need to understand their buyers’ situation, role, relationships, etc., and sell the value of the product or service to those unique needs. If reps only know how to sell “feature functionality” the conversation will all too often come back to price.
  1. Missing the real buyer – there is no guarantee that past buyers will be key decision makers in future purchase decisions, or on other types of products. Years ago, I did a post mortem analysis for a medical equipment company on an innovative new product. Sales said they were losing deals because it was priced too high. The analysis proved that they were both right, and wrong. The traditional buyer, did in fact, believe that the product was priced too high compared to others in the market. But a new set of users who had become the primary decision makers had emerged. This group was using the innovative technology as a revenue generating procedure. As a result, they valued the product differently and were willing to pay a premium. Deals were lost because the company didn’t understand how buyers intended to use the product, and as a result, they missed the key decision maker.

The simple answer is that deals are lost because the case for the value of the product or service has not been adequately expressed to meet the needs (professional, personal or both) of the key decision maker. Blaming “price” is a convenient crutch that shifts accountability to the product or pricing team, and away from sales and marketing. Finger pointing may make us feel better about our role, but it doesn’t fix the problem. If you are truly intent on increasing win rates dig deeper into understand why, I can guarantee you won’t find that it is “price” 6 out of 10 times.

Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B is Wrong Video

In December, I had the opportunity to be the Keynote speaker at the Bowery Capital CMO Summit in NYC.  The event featured a number of high profile CMO’s speaking with an audience of mostly early stage startups (under 20 employees).

My presentation was based on the recent Forbes blog post Everything We Thought We Knew about B-to-B Marketing in Wrong.  The audience also included some local media, a reporter from CMO.com wrote a summary of the speech.

 

Why Sales Might Have a Hard Time With The Buyer Journey

My initiation into the world of sales happened at the height of the “Glen Garry Glen Ross” days.  It was the time of “blue suits” and “fast talkers”, and not a piece of sales automation or tracking technology anywhere to be found.

We’d roam our territories searching for conversations hoping it would lead to something more.  At the end of the day, we’d return to the office and put our “numbers” up on the board; # of conversations, # of leads, and closed deals ($).  The white board was our “sales dashboard” highlighting performance against goals for the month, and year-to-date.  Our view, and control over our success, was determined day-to-day.

Over the last 25 years, sales has been enabled with a broad set of new technologies, from sales force automation to CRM to cloud based mobile sales tools. All aimed at helping the sales organization better track, measure, and achieve quota. And with each advancement in technology, sales has gained the feeling that it has more control over the process, and outcome.

The buyer’s journey is marketing’s “shiny new penny”.  Over the last couple of years, numerous consulting firms have produced research trying to map the journey with varying estimates on how late in the journey customers are now engaging sales.

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Before you go off preaching this newfound perspective on how buyers are now in control to a sales organization, who might just have a counter viewpoint, there are some things you need to know:

  1. This is not necessarily “new” news – educated buyers have been engaging late in the process for years, and in some cases, bypassing the sales reps all together ordering direct.  What’s different now is that we have better tools to track their behavior.
  2. It can be threatening – sales folks “cover” buyers, be it a prospect or an existing customers.  Their job is to start a conversation and to continue the discussions to, hopefully, a successful outcome.  They can’t be everywhere, or everything to everyone, but to suggest that they are not providing buyers with the right information at the right time, or that they may not be “covering” them will cause a defensive or hostel reaction.  Be tactful in the way you present the findings.
  3. Buyers channel surf – don’t assume that buyers are only online in the early stages of the buyers journey, and likewise, that they are only talking with sales in the late stages of the process.  Unlike the past, when we could estimate where customers were in the sales process by watching how they engaged with content and channels, buyers now use all channels, and all information sources, at all stages of the journey.
  4. Good sales people already get it – good sales people are very intuitive by nature.  They already have a feel for how buyers research and purchase products.  They also know how to use the best content and/or tools to help buyers advance their learning and to move the process.  As a result, they will want to know how you can help them.
  5. Have a Plan – especially for the sales people I just mentioned.  The question that you should expect to get after sharing the information is; “So what now?  Given this new insight how should we change our sales and marketing approach.” Make sure you have an answer.

My gut reaction was that the buyer’s journey would pose a significant change for sales, I now realize that it’s a much bigger challenge for marketing.  Given the amount of time spend online in the research phase, buyers already have a good feel for the “business value” of your product or service by the time they engage sales. It’s why they have put your organization in the “consideration set.”

The challenge, according to recent research, is that buyers are unable to differentiate your product or service from the 3-5 other companies they are also considering.  To create separation, you must be able to illustrate and communication “personal value”.

And that has not been a strength of marketing, but it’s a core competency of good sales people.  Use this opportunity to partner with sales to developed content that resonates with buyers on emotion level deeper into their journey.   Sales may be losing control over the buying process, but they know how to connect on a personal level with individual making the purchase decision, use that to your advantage.

Numero UNO: gyro B2B Agency of the Year

I joined gyro in 2010.  At that time we were called GyroHSR, and were a collection of 9 small to mid-size agencies from around the world that were part of a roll-up.  We didn’t share a common language, system or culture.  What held us together was a vision of being the world’s best B2B agency.

The first year was challenging.  I came into the ad business from the outside.  My experience had been consulting and marketing services.  I naively thought it would be an easy transition, that my world and this world weren’t that far apart.  I was wrong.  Everything seemed to have a learning curve, I spoke a different language and the other side of my brain, long neglected, needed to be developed.

AOY win-640x360 screen size

Over the next two years almost everything would change.  We dropped the “HSR” and became known solely as gyro.  Our investors brought in a new management team and our new CEO & Chief Creative Officer, Christoph Becker would completely remake our creative teams across the network.  But most importantly, Christoph would change our culture, our language and our focus.  And along the way, the right side of my brain began to develop.

During this time, we undertook two intiatives that I think have set us up for the success that we are enjoying today.  The first, was that we believed that “b2b marketing” as we knew it, was “dead”.  Targeting a business buyer by a title, at a business address, during business hours, was an antiquated concept.  We would later prove that to be the case with our @Work State of Mind research conducted with academic institutions and Forbes (click here for the research report).

The second was that ideas needed to be “humanly relevant”.  That behind every business decision maker was a person, and that person made decisions based on emotions.  Our research would show that the buyers journey was, in fact, a very rational process up until the point of the decision…and then emotions took over.

It became easy to differentiate ourselves from competitors, and clients/prospects believed in what we preaching.  As the wins starting coming, our culture started to align around what we call UNO.  One language, one process, one culture, we became unified across the network.  Client teams from across the world began working together to deliver the best ideas and outputs, regardless of the location.  Our work starting winning awards, and the world started to notice.

What’s different about BtoB magazine award today, isn’t necessarily that we’ve been recognized, gyro has won awards in the past.  But rather it’s an external validation point that we are on the right path, and the hard work is paying off.  We won in the “Large” agency category (our first year in that category), going up against the “best of the best,” like Ogilvy.  It’s a litmus test that our vision of being the best B2B agency in the world, and the reason why most of us joined gyro, is being realized, at least in the U.S…and at least for this year.

We not done yet, we still have work to do and clients to dazzle, but for now…we’re Numero UNO, and it feels good.