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Cutting Through the Crap – The Grand Content Experiment

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A week doesn’t go by that I don’t hear clients express concern about their ability to produce a consistent flow of quality content, yet every day my inbox is full of emails offering white papers, research, webcasts and blog posts.

So we set out to solve this “paradox of content marketing.”  How is it that clients are not able to produce quality content for their purposes, but I get an average of 35 emails a day offering me content?

Our Approach

With the help of our summer intern, Sergio Pianko from Georgetown, I archived a weeks worth of content related emails sent to my primary work email.  For this experiment, I did not include any other personal email accounts, social media or offline publications.

The Findings

Content Volume

For the week, I received 217 unique emails containing access to 1,131 pieces of content.  Thursday was the peak day of the week, which surprised me, with 9 am being the peak time of day, which didn’t.   I received an email offering me content, on average, almost every 15 minutes.

Slide1

Content Type

A new report by the CMO Council entitled Better Lead Yield in the Content Marketing Field found that 87% of the respondents said that online content plays a major or moderate role in influencing vendor selection.  The content they trust and value most?  Professional association research and whitepapers 67%, industry research reports and whitepapers and customer case studies. The least valuable was vendor content, with 67% saying they don’t trust it.

What’s in my inbox?  Well, I’m partial to content aggregators.  My two favorites providers are MediaPost because of their ability to narrow the scope on relevant topics, and their expansive content producers (including this author).  I also like SmartBrief publications, they provide e-newsletters on behalf of others, like the BMA. I find the layout to be quick and easy to peruse, and they usually feature a research offer.

Slide2

It was interesting to see that even though White Papers were mentioned to be the most valuable content piece according to B2B buyers, it represented less than 2% of the content I received.

Key Insights

Stop Calling Me

Downloading content that you offer for free does not make me a prospect.  Save the $25 dollars you’re spending on the outbound telemarketing call and use it to track my behavior until I am qualified.  Still not enough for you, we get that “free” comes with a price so consider this payment.  According to the CMO Council report 87% of B2B buyers share your content with 5 or more people.  Remarkably, 28% mentioned that they share it with more than 100 folks.

Overweight Content related to the Business Case

The first phase of the buyer journey is research. A prospect can cycle in this phase for weeks, even months, never reaching the next step, which is the business case.  If you want to qualify real prospect, focus on providing them content that is related to making a business case for buying your product or service.  For lead nurturing, overweight the scoring for pages or content that relate to this as well.

Content is not King, nor is Relevancy, Actionable is the Opportunity

Sergio sorted the content using four filters; Relevancy, Usefulness, Credibility, and Actionable, based on the definition in the chart (below).  For the most part, I had selected information sources that produce relevant content, and because of my use of aggregators it kept me informed about industry develops or issues relating to my clients.  We then check into the backgrounds of the content authors and found that for the most part, they were credible using our definition (below).  But along the way Sergio did discover a couple of frauds, not surprisingly in the social media space.

Slide3

The most interesting findings was that very little (less than 10%) of the content was “actionable” in that it provided recommendation/s or solutions to the problem or issue discussed.  And most of the actionable content came in the form of Webcasts.  As a content marketer this is the opportunity and, given its value, think strategically about how you deliver it.  Because of the scarcity of this type of information, you can request an exchange of value with the audience, be it contact information, attendance at a webcast, etc.

Opportunity #2 – Video

Numerous studies have pointed to the growing influence and use of video content. Yet it represented only 1% of the content I was offered.  Yes, it is more complex, time consuming and expensive but it will also drive better results.  It’s worth exploring, from past experience early innovators reap the greatest rewards.

Develop Buyer Personas

To understand some of the findings it may be helpful to know my email and content profile.  I am an active content seeker and email deleter.  Unlike some colleagues and friends, I like to keep a neat and tidy inbox.   I delete emails early in the morning, and late afternoons.  During the day I may delete emails as previews flash on the screen.  Also, because of my consulting background, I am drawn to market research and data oriented content.   I download and archive many items that I later review…typically on planes.

That’s my content “persona.”  Agencies have been creating audience personas for years and now, if you’re a client side marketers, it’s your turn.  According to the Demand Gen Blueprint survey only 25% of marketers have developed buyer personas, and of those who have, only 35% have mapped content to buyer stages.

Who Does it Best?

To win, you have to make it in the inbox, get the email open and the content viewed.  The organization that does that best, in this man’s opinion, is IBM.  For their insight into the C-Suite, quality of research, and frequency of contact…which is only when they have something of value.  They are the only “vendor” I let in my inbox.

Runner up is McKinsey, for their “big picture” thinking and ability to take complex problems and explain them in very simple terms (especially in 2 min videos).  Best New “Up and Comer” is the Aberdeen Group, a recent change in their business model allows free access to quality research, which this “freegan” appreciates.

Content marketing will only grow in importance for business marketers over the next few years.  There are opportunities to get your information viewed, and shared, but to accomplish that you have to understand your audience’s content consumption behavior, provide them something of value, and deliver it in the channel and/or through the content provider they prefer.

There is a lot of work to be done, so have at it.  Looking for a starting point, do a similar experiment with your customers.  Ask them to send you a weeks worth of content related emails, you’ll be surprised by what you find.

5 Ways CMO’s Lose Credibility with the C-Suite

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This post was originally posted on July 8, 2011.  It also appeared on Forbes.com 

Here’s a hypothesis: Given the greater focus on ROI, marketing automation tools, and enhanced tracking of results, marketing is more of a science than ever. Therefore, marketers’ ability to defend and validate their value among peers should be easier than ever before.

So why does a recent study by Fournaise show that CMOs still lack credibility with CEOs?

The study points to several deficiencies with an emphasis on communication – are you sensing the irony?  Further, marketers tend to sabotage themselves in everyday interactions with the larger executive team, and in many cases, have no idea they are doing it.

Here are five common mistakes among marketers:

  1. Stumble explaining the value of marketing. Asked almost daily, and rarely answered properly. The key is to understand how the inquirer perceives the role of marketing. The question behind the question is “what is the value of marketing … to me?” According to the study, it most often relates to “revenue, sales, EBITA or even market valuation.”
  2. Limited product, service, and customer knowledge. Even the savviest marketer will arrive DOA in the credibility department if they fall short on this one.  And it is not about feature or functionality, but rather customer use and application that matter most and those factors vary by industry and size. Leave “speeds and feeds” to the product organization. Marketing’s job is to differentiate and develop compelling value propositions that sell. If products are built “inside-out,” then bring the “outside-in” perspective.
  3. Can’t Dance. Marketing comes with highly visible risk and things are going to go wrong. When they do, marketing needs to learn how to dance. Handling these situations will define how marketing is viewed. Keep best and worse case scenarios in mind when briefing the executive team. Truth is, if marketing isn’t making a few strategic and tactical mistakes, it’s not moving fast enough. As a former IBM client told me, “If you fail, and you will, fail fast.”
  4. Isolation. A favorite question from sales: What have you done for me lately? And the product team can be equally demanding. However, marketing has to build, nurture, and maintain strong relationships with these groups. For Sales, it is helpful to establish an integrated sales pipeline and hold weekly pipeline meetings; this will build rapport and create a common sense of purpose. It’s also an opportunity to put marketing metrics in a sales context. The key to a successful relationship with sales is about communication and performance. For the product group, marketing needs to clearly define points of integration for research, content, and value proposition development. The key to a successful relationship with the product team is about process and integration.
  5. Where to invest – or cut – an incremental dollar. This question is posed by the CFO at the end of the quarter when numbers are off, and by the CEO who wants to redirect budget.  It’s also used as a test. As a holder of discretionary dollars, marketing has to be prepared to answer “where” and “why” along with stating the business impact.  In talking about CMOs, 72% of CEOs say, “[marketers] are always asking for more money, but can rarely explain how much incremental business this money will generate.”

To call out the sense of irony, most of these issues are communication related. The same rigor brought to external communication needs to be applied internally:

  • Know the audience
  • Understand their needs
  • Communicate to them in their language.

While the Fournaise study states that executives think in terms of “revenue, sales, and EBITA,” most make judgments based on their emotions. Marketers are advised to use their creativity in delivering the message.

Friedrich Nietzsche said it: “All credibility, all good conscience, all evidence of truth come only from the senses.”

Why Sales Channels and Marketing Campaigns Fail

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Original post date March 24, 2009

In August 1999, Selling Power magazine ran an article featuring our firm and the work we’ve done helping clients, like IBM, build new sales channels and increase sales productivity. A few months later, we received a call from the head of a division within NCR asking us to meet with them to see if we could help them with something similar.

The senior executive with whom we met said if we could help IBM we should be able to do this project for them. Excited about the prospect of helping them build a new channel, we agreed and they laid out the challenge:

  1. A well-known consulting firm had been previously engaged but had failed
  2. …which left only 41 working days to get the new sales channel up and running
  3. An internal NCR tele organization was competing for this…which, we would later learn, tried to sabotage the effort…and us
  4. And finally, we were entering the holiday season…good luck

After collecting the previous project work we quickly went to work on assessing what had gone wrong. It took us a while, but we finally discovered “IT”. Once found, this insight became the key to unlocking success.

Almost ten years later I’ve seen this scenario play out over and over in B2B companies. This is what we discovered.

The secret recipe for failure

This simple equation is just as true today as it was a decade ago when we discovered it. Oh, you may find one or two exceptions but the majority of the time when we do post mordem on failed programs you find this equation is at the heart of the problem. When combined with a few related pieces, like a lack of time in the market and/or funding, the initiative is doomed. The degree of “newness” in these three areas will directly impact the likelihood of success or failure.

Sales Channels

  • Why they fail – new sales channels fail because companies aim new channels at the wrong targets — new customers/markets. An investment in a new sales channel means that it is competing with existing channels for funding. If it does not hit expectations/goals quickly, it will be robbed of the necessary funding and/or resources needed to make it successful.
  • How to improve the chances for success – The most successful way to build a new sale channel is to do exactly the opposite of what is described above. Shift coverage of existing customers or products to the new channel and use your existing channels to go after the “new.” Shift dormant or flat growth customers to the new channel to give it revenue immediately and free up your existing most knowledgeable, best trained sales folks to go after new opportunity.

Marketing Campaigns

  • Why they fail – new marketing campaigns promoting new products aimed at new customers typically fail because of reasons listed above…they take too long to produce and/or aren’t given the time. Here’s another common problem, agencies will tell you the problem is the “creative” or “value prop”…maybe, but they also could telling you this because they make money on creative and production. “New” works with their business model.
  • How to improve the chances for success – build less individual campaigns and invest more in one or two long term programs with many integrated tactics. Keep the programs in the market longer, closely monitor them and modify tactics based on performance. You don’t need a new campaign every month, you need a program that produces…and with tight budgets this will help you be cost effective/efficient.  Years ago we did an assessment of campaign performance at IBM. We found that the highest performing campaigns had at least 7 integrated tactics and stayed in the market for at least 6 months. Use this as a starting point to design your campaigns and programs.
  • New to New thru New - level set expectations and invest for the long haul. You will need time and commitment to make it successful. Companies have short-term horizons that are getting shorter every day. If you’re going to lead this effort get everyone to agree on what defines success and stick with your timeline.
  • New Product/Service/Solution – try to leverage existing channels, customers or both to start…then migrate to new. This way you can learn if you have the right value prop, messaging, pricing, etc. We like to take existing reps, for example, and use them to help launch a new sales channel, like Tele. We like to use existing customers to test new products, etc.

We got the NCR teleaccount program up and running in 41 days. We transitioned existing field account managers to TeleAccount managers and built their territories around their customers. We then began to backfill them with new lower cost resources over time. You’ll be happy to now that the manager of the group that tried to sabotage the effort got fired.

The program hit our first year sales targets, reduced the expense to revenue ratio from 13% to 6% and grew sales productivity from $1.7M to $3.1M per rep. As a result, NCR then built a full-scale tele channel with close to 80 reps.

Then they killed it.  It’s a long story but the bottom line was the company has a strong field sales tradition and culture.  Mark Hurd, now CEO of HP, became the CEO of NCR, and decided to shut the channel down, redirecting the resources to the field.

Remember my comment about competing for resources. Mark’s an operations guy and a fan of face to face selling.
Culture runs deep, and can also kill channels and programs. Maybe I should update the “recipe” to include the forth “New”…new leadership.

The Secret To Quick Execution

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Original post date December 14, 2006

Over the years I’ve marveled at the speed at which some organzations are able to go from concept to in-market execution…and those who can’t seem to get out of there own way.

Dell, for example can “turn the ship on a dime”…changing promotions, campaigns, and the sales compensation plan for telesales reps within a day or two in order drive greater revenue or profitability based on quarterly performance projections. Other companies struggle for years to get a campaign or product out the door.

So why does this happen and what are the keys to quick execution? Beyond corporate culture, which is a major contributor to the ability to execute, there seems to be four essential elements that I like to refer to as the CRAP Process:

  • Create - one of the things that I’ve noticed over the years is how efforts can stall or be delayed at the starting point. Getting past the starting gate is typically the hardest and most difficult point in the process. Anxiety builds, expectations are high, everyone is looking for the “big idea”…it all adds up to a huge speed bump slowing the creative process. Lower expectations by getting something-anything into a first draft, no matter how ugly right after the initial discussion or at some point on the first day.
  • Refine - after you have the draft, send it around for comment, refining the concept as it goes from person to person. The chain is email and the document is in word; it’s important to use the edit feature. It’s like a game of “hot potato” – you only get so much time to hold onto the email and then you need to through it to someone else.
  • Act - the most important point in the process is getting it 70% completed and then get it into the market and/or to a customer and let the market/customer complete the other 30%. Define the “70%” mark early in the process so you know how far to go. Give the team an expectation on the timing (within 3 weeks, etc.) to be in market.
  • Perfect - yes, perfect the product or campaign after it is in market. Sounds counter intutive, right, but companies do it all the time…Microsoft comes to mind immediately. The key is setting the expectation on peformance before you launch. Define performance at each stage of the process so that you know what to go back and refine/fix. Too many companies get caught up in trying to create something “perfect” internally without customers or market input. The age of what I like to call the “Incremental Perfectionist” is upon us.

You’ll also need to build your teams around this concept. You need to identify the skills sets and personailities of your team and designate a couple of “starters” (the creative types), the “refiners”(usually specialists – product, industry, etc.), and the “perfectors” (anal types who love the detail). You may find that this approach trumps any typically”Org Chart” approach in creating a high performance team.

The other important thing to remember is if you are afraid that someone is going to scream about a mistake or poor performance then you don’t have enough going on inside your organization. The key is to have lots of activities at various stages of execution, if some fail, folks may not notice because high performing (Perfected Stage) programs will give you air cover to refine the underperformers.

As someone at IBM once said; “if you are going to fail…fail fast”. The real key is go fast at every stage, the best companies learn more from failure than success…they also know how to get CRAP done.