Friday, July 29, 2011

Think Customer Back: Part 1, Got a Buyer Persona?

... demographics, schmemographics.  It's your Buyer Persona that will make or break your results.

PROLOGUE:  Know what I think about when I feel like I'm banging my head against a wall in Marketing?  I fantasize about running a beer and bait shop out on Molokai.  I tell you this because there were moments -- okay, make that days -- during the fact-finding for this posting that I spent a lot of time daydreaming about Molokai.  Yeah, it was demoralizing.

I thought I was going to be able to tell you about some best practices out there.  But --glass half-full -- it was also eye-opening.  Instead of best practices,  I became aware of a need -- an Information Gap, shall we say.  So, this posting will not be an anthology of best practices.  Rather, it is a "How-to."  And, in the end, maybe it will inspire a few folks to take action as a means to gain a leg-up in highly competitive market sectors.  Seize the opportunity!  And keep me posted on your progress.

Once upon a time, available B2C market data only included things like prospect age, gender, address, occupation and maybe credit ratings.  Today, market data can tell marketers the number and ages of your children, income level, reading preferences, health problems, college GPA, political party, and what you eat for breakfast. No, really -- what you actually eat for breakfast.

An ever-increasing number of B2C marketers rely on this detailed information to help them effectively target prospects, develop relevant messages and imagery, select optimal communications channels, and fine tune their timing.  And, they don't stop there.  Sophisticated practitioners take it a step or two further by then researching, extrapolating and analyzing behavioral profiles and characteristics of their prospects and customers.  The profile they end up with is called a "Buyer Persona."

So, what about B2B Buyer Personas?  Good question.  

Nine out of ten B2B marketing programs still develop their buyer "profiles" based on the limited company data from sources like D&B and Hoovers -- if they're developed at all.  This didn't make a lot of sense to me.  I mean, competition for every dollar is pretty fierce out there.  Why wouldn't B2B marketers seek out every advantage they can get?  So, I started asking around.  

I spoke with sales and marketing decision makers (i.e., VP-level and above), across several b2b market sectors (enterprise software, envirotech, IT consulting, and management consulting).  Each of these folks could accurately be described as well-educated, seasoned, successful, articulate and conscientious professionals.

Early-on, I began to see an distinct pattern in our conversations. In fact, every sales and/or marketing executive I spoke with said:
1.  What's a Buyer Persona?
2.  I don't see the added value -- we have focused our efforts and know our market very well.
3.  Of course, our lead gen results could always be better ...
4.  Everybody's conversion rates are way down -- we're not special in that regard.  (Okay, is that irony or coincidence?  I can never keep them straight).

Molokai was looking really good.  This was when I decided to talk about "How-to" vs. "Best Practices."

Why bother developing Buyer Personas?
1.  Relevance.  We all know about relevance.  The more relevant your messaging and content, the more your likely you will be identified with the solution to the problems/desires of your target market.  That said, if all you know is how large your target customer is, you can't address what keeps their decision makers up at night, let alone use tone and style that will create affinity.  In fact, you may not even being communicating with them through a means or media that they monitor.

EXAMPLE:  (I swear to you, this really happened).  Company X decided it needed to hold a sales event in the Bay area to beef up their west coast presence.  They got a big name keynote speaker, booked the ballroom of a prominent venue, flew in sales and marketing staff from all over the country, created and mailed both hard copy and e-invites, and rented lists from every tech publication that said it was read by IT executives.  In the end, Company X successfully attracted 300 attendees to its event.  In order to get their 300, they sent out over 60,000 invitations.  Why?  They never looked beyond the classification "IT Executive" -- were they corporate IT execs or developers from competitive providers?  Were they decision makers?  Were IT execs even really the customer?

2.  Budget.  We also all know about budget. If you're not targeting specifically enough, your paying for a lot of impressions that you'll never benefit from.

EXAMPLE 1:  If you send 60,000 invitations for an event that only resulted in 300 attendees, you paid for 59,700 names, invitations, and postage; as well as the man-hours required to invite and follow-up.  The cost of the event above was over $100,000 -- most of it spent on list rental.

3. Conversion Rates.  Leads generated by programs that are poorly targeted are unlikely to be qualified, let alone "hot."  Sales will burn more time and budget trying to sell to cool/lukewarm prospects with only marginal probability of success.  The whole process more closely resembles the Lottery than targeted sales and marketing.

EXAMPLE:  Company X sent 60,000 invitations, attracted 300 attendees, of which a grand total of 4 were new viable leads. Exactly 0 of the new leads were converted.

True story.  I mean, seriously, who could make this stuff up?!

So, what about your Buyer Persona?  Start by taking a look at your actual customers and start listing their characteristics individually.  From here, you can begin looking for patterns; i.e., commonalities between them.  This is your baseline.  From here it gets interesting.

Your target market is probably composed of several different Personas.  They may share common demographics, but once you start to really work on accurately identifying your Buyer Personas, you'll find some differences.  

Here are a few behavioral variables for you to consider, that comprise Buyer Personas:
  • Familiarity with products/services in your space
  • Level of business case needed to justify purchase
  • Interests
  • Motivation
  • Expectations
  • Decision making role
  • Urgency
  • Objectives
  • Pain points
Makes sense, don't you think?  That said, I urge you to do more than sketch out your Buyer Persona single handedly, based on your own perceptions.  It takes some legwork, but the additional insight is worth it.

Next post:  Think Customer Back: Part 2, Doing the Legwork

Monday, July 25, 2011

What can "a Better Mousetrap" do for your brand? That depends ...

Just read an interesting article -- well written and very convincing.  All in all an excellent point, well made, re: the impact of quality product.  But, in the end, it was simply convincing enough to be ...  I don't know ... dangerous?

For that reason I felt compelled to respond, and did.  (You should feel free to do the same here!)

The original post I refer to can be found here:

And my response appears below, but the mega-moral of the story is simply this:  Don't take everything you read under iconic mastheads (like that of the Harvard Business Review, et al), as gospel.  

"An excellent point, well made, re: the impact of quality product.  I would, however, caution your readers against taking your premise too literally.  Beginning  with the fact that the road to success is littered with the carcasses of failed innovators whose self-destructively naive premise that "a good product will sell itself" cost them everything.  

Building a better mousetrap will only insure that, at the end of the day, all you have is a better a mousetrap

There are several additional strategic and tactical considerations behind the outcomes you've described.

In addition, your theory is not generalizable across all marketplaces. For example, each organization cited and its products/services have a more-than-significant market base in the consumer sector (vs. pure b2b play) -- I have no hard and fast data on this, but [experientially] guess that the results would not be nearly as dramatic if their sales targets were strictly enterprise/b2b.

Another affecting common denominator is that each company cited advanced the perception of its product/service through early-on investment in PR (vs. advertising).  The age old wisdom that creating one's brand in the media, then later supporting it via other marketing channels (including advertising) is the most productive and durable approach.

Last but not least, I think it's important to clarify that Marketing does not equal Advertising.  PR is not advertising, thought leadership development (sometimes confused with "Content Marketing") is not advertising, direct is not advertising, events are not advertising ... the only things that are advertising are advertisements.  And any Marketing that consists purely of advertising is not only incredibly costly, but is also extremely risky in its potential impact."

The conclusion?  Building a better mousetrap will only insure that, at the end of the day, all you have is a better a mousetrap.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Outsourcing Social Media: "Go forth not blindly ..."

Business is serious about social media. So, we've naturally seen an uptick in mishandled social media situations.  How can you avoid being another poster child for Facebook faux pas or Twitter slips?  

Put the work in on the front end.  No excuses.  Learn about the media, create a strategy that integrates with your other programs (PR, direct, events, etc.), develop an operational plan, and work to help develop strong but reasonable policies and procedures for the organization at large.  Then and only the, you should consider outsourcing to a seasoned marketer who also happens to be knee deep in social media -- all social media.

If you don't know enough about the media to use it yourself, you shouldn't be messing with it for your business or client.  You also shouldn't expect that you'll be able to manage someone else who's messing with it.

Outsourcing in the name of focus on core competencies is Lean Business 101, Social Media in the name of reaching your actual market with relevant content, offers, and messages is both Green Marketing 101 and Marketing Communications 101.  But, when the two are combined and handed off to a third party with more expertise in Facebook than in business, well . . . all you get is this cartoon.  And, of course, a waste of budget and resources.

This gets to the question:  Which came first, the Strategy or the Tweet?  Social media presence with no integrated marketing strategy is just silly.

(BTW --I wish I was as clever as Tom Fishburne ... "Marketoons?" ... Brilliant!)

Enjoy Tom's talent, and have a great weekend!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

"Spell check urself b4 u wreck urself" (or "How to Shoot Yourself in the Foot Using Social Media Without Really Trying")

WARNING: Most examples used in link below use language that is not suitable for children.

Ah, social media. A marketer's dream come true, an English teacher's worst nightmare.

As a dyed in the wool content strategist and writer/editor, I am occasionally horrified by what passes for content in some media. And any certified human has to shudder a little at these "bloopers" below. That said, the irreverent Student-of-Human-Behavior side of me also delights in the absurdity.

The lesson here for marketers is simple: 
1.  Diligent proofreading is de rigueur for all media. 
2.  And good ol’ fashioned presence of mind is mandatory especially when the media is of the social persuasion.

Why?  Because more people are likely to see your firm's Facebook and Twitter postings than your data sheets, so making the mistake of dashing off a Tweet on the fly can potentially cost you more than reprinting brochures.

(Will any of us ever forget the legendary Tweet by the Chrysler employee re: Detroit drivers?  I rest my case).

Treat your posts with the same care you do your sales presentations. After all, you don't want to end up featured in a rogues' gallery like the one below, being shared by know-it-all like me, right?  Right.

So, I share these with you to laugh, cry, scream in terror, or just shake your head in wide-eyed amazement.

Bonding with Sales: A win-win all around

If I read one more story about “How Marketing Should Work with Sales” I may be sick -- but that won’t stop me from writing one!  This one, however, is from the Marketing perspective.

Let’s face it.  Wall Street aside, there are few things in business as wasteful as the disconnect between Sales and Marketing. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that no other organizational dysfunction takes such a toll on Time, Budget and Materials.

So, whatcha gonna do?
When it comes to operational-izing this disconnect, corporate leadership has to take responsibility. When it comes to policies and procedures around this performance issue, there usually are none.  Instead, setting the climate usually comes down to the past life experiences of the C-suite, which usually fall into one of three different categories:
  • The Fatalists,
  • The Recovering Marketeers, and
  • The Sales Driver.
The Fatalists come from backgrounds where “hands off” was a way of life.  Their mantra is "It's the way of the world -- like cats and dogs -- we make the best of it through our meetings and processes."

The Recovering Marketeers come from equally contentious situations, but probably spent time on the marketing team and have an axe to grind.  Their mandate is, "... in my business, everything reports to Marketing -- from lead gen to CRM – it’s all under one roof for continuity."

And the Sales Driver says, "... we structured both functions under my Sales VP -- now he has no excuses and the company actually saves headcount and salaries ..."

Any of these sound familiar?  Which sounds like the best strategy to you?

The truth is they all stink out loud. There is no meeting, process, policy, org structure, or force of nature that will counteract an existing disconnect.  And, if allowed to stay dysfunctional, it will quickly evolve itself from a minor speed bump to full blown productivity killer.

So, what’s the answer?  It all comes down to the heads of Sales and Marketing and their willingness to collaborate.  If no one else is willing to address the problem, it’s an opportunity for both execs to set aside agendas and make each other successful.  And the key is nothing less than COMMUNICATION.

Easier said than done
For two organizations whose goals are so similar and interconnected, one would assume communication is second nature.  Not so much.  But here are some tips:

1.  Identify and deploy technology that consolidates, communicates across sales and marketing.  One system for sales and another for marketing leaves too many gaps, so much so that hand-offs are fumbled and the two teams are further disconnected.  Sales force automation, marketing automation and CRM should be integrated one seamless story-telling solution.  The result will be more and better touch points, resulting in more and better sales -- both new money and up sell/cross sell.

2.  Know the customers.  Not just the data – know their names, stories, experiences, things they’ve said, and how they think.  This information has closing power for your Sales team and will make your marketing that much more relevant.

3. Look for high-visibility ways to work together.  For example, give joint presentations at conferences.  Working side by side to prep and deliver a presentation not only provides solid in-the-trenches bonding time, but also makes a very public statement about your united front.  When your teams see this happening, it serves to set the tone and provide a good example.
4.  Revenue talk is a great ice breaker.  Revenue is Sales’ raison d’ĂȘtre. When Marketing is able to talk revenue, they gain credibility and are seen to be working toward the same goal.  By the same token, the more Marketing can connect its metrics with revenue objectives, the easier it will be to tweak programs and justify budgets with confidence.
5.  Celebrate each other’s success.  A Sales win really is a Marketing win too.  In fact, in most organizations, there are several departments involved in closing sales – from Legal to Finance to R&D to Sales and Marketing.  Whether it’s an e-mail blast, a web video broadcast, or an old fashioned bell ringing, some form of celebration is in order whenever a sale is made – it’s the lifeblood of the company, after all.

[Personal anecdote from the Marketing side: Once upon a time, I was presented with an award from our Sales team for being the company’s “Marketer of the Year.”  An honest-to-goodness, heavy-as-an-elephant, crystal trophy.  I’ve accumulated smaller, less “conspicuous” recognition over the years, but this one is the only award that I display prominently in my office and look at every day.  For good reason, we grew revenue from $40 million to $120 million in six months that year and it was a bona fide Team Effort.]

I hope you all have an experience like that -- and when you do, I hope you’ll let me know about it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Annuitizing Returns on Marketing Investment

ALTERNATE TITLE:   "Let's Wipe Out Marketing ADD in Our Lifetime!"

A recent cartoon by Tom Fishburne, "Still on Facebook," bemoans the all-too-frequent assumption by some execs that social media programs have short-term durations. The gray-haired senior exec in this cartoon is shown asking,"Why are we still on Facebook? I thought that Social Media was last month's campaign." 

Great capture of another iconic moment in marketing.

But, then Tom contrasts social media with advertising in the accompanying blog posting. Hold on there cowboy! Here's where we diverge experientially.

The fact is, the same thing is true of any marketing program — even advertising. PR, direct, event marketing, and advertising all require ubiquitous and consistent implementation over time. 

Think of it simply as "Out of sight -- out of mind." Markets have short memories, so hit and run campaigns will yield equally fleeting results. 

On the other hand -- and this is important -- a sustained strategy that keeps your name and value prop in front of your market via well-targeted tactics/programs will begin to earn annuitizing returns before long. When this happens, each ensuing touch point carries greater and greater impact. Because your market has been sensitized to recognize your brand and register its characteristics by all the previous touch points.

We're not talking immediate gratification. We are talking about durable, powerful brand development for the long haul. The kind that significantly increase your valuation multipliers.

Tom suggests we stop thinking in terms of "campaigns" and start thinking of "commitments." This is good, but I like to take it one step further. Instead of talking about of Marketing budgets as "Expense," it is more accurate to refer to it as Investment. 

Then, don't be surprised when you see your Investment earning Returns. That's the key indicator that you and your team have your heads around effective marketing, and are executing well.

Check out Tom's blog and cartoons here, and have a great day:  still on facebook | Tom Fishburne: Marketoonist

Monday, July 11, 2011

Junk Mail/Spam -- The Song Remains the Same

Was just reading some updates on direct e-mail response data.  For example:

  1. An estimated 85% of e-mail is spam (explains a lot about my e-mailbox ...)
  2. Response rates are similar to your odds playing the lottery (between 94% and 99% of recipients will either not open, not answer or eventually delete direct pitches).
  3. Direct marketers tend to address these trends by simply upping their mail numbers.  Playing the laws of probability alone (vs. targeting and segmenting), the more they mail, the more leads they'll uncovered simply by chance.

My questions are these:  Who the hell has budget for that nonsense? And where the hell did they learn how to design marketing strategy?

Seriously?  No wonder Marketing takes such a bad rap -- some folks are out there working hard to earn it.

An interesting side bar to this discussion is that the pendulum began swinging back to USPS direct mail a few years ago.  In 1999, e-mail was a "novel" delivery system.  More opens, more views, more response, etc. than paper-based "junk mail."

As a result of that and the lower costs, so many marketers went digital, that about 2 years back, snail-mail began regaining ground against e-mail's numbers. That said, there are still common denominators:

1- "Garbage in/garbage out," if your list is untargeted and poorly maintained -- regardless of delivery system -- you're return is going to suffer.

2- If you don't support your direct marketing tactics with additional channels you are decreasing your open rates (call it the "Montessori Marketing Method," if you will ... okay, it's just integrated marketing tactics, but I like the analogy).

3- No one opens mail from a source that lacks credibility.  So, if you're not leveraging some form of strategic, high-quality Content Marketing (i.e., intelligent development and dissemination of articles, blogging, whitepapers, e-books, etc.) in conjunction with channels that are widely regarded as pure, unfounded, self-promotion, you are costing yourself opportunities and $$.

I guess the moral of the story is that it still all comes down to the fundamentals.  Again.

To read more on this topic, check out these excellent resources: