Ten Rules (with a Prayer) for the B2B Marketer
Unless you’re among the lucky few, another difficult year is drawing to a close. While 2011 has seen more than its fair share of economic and business turmoil, there is significant worry that 2012 will not necessarily see the strong revival everyone so badly needs (sorry to be a downer, folks!). Political and macroeconomic uncertainty will likely persist, and critical economic benchmarks such as employment, inflation and business spending will remain under pressure. Business abhors volatility – and we will probably continue to see reticent markets and customers at least though the earlier part of 2012. On the positive side, global negative macroeconomic factors seem to be improving, and the economic screw has been tightened far too much. This gives us good reason to believe that business spending, corporate employment, and pricing are ready to “pop” on the upside as confidence grows.
Given these conditions, us marketers must once again grapple with how to move the business needle forward. We need to understand what needs to change, what’s not working, and identify the critical marketing-related drivers as we move into a potentially tough new year.
Based on market trends, needs and forces, here are 10 rules I’d suggest as imperatives to consider as we strategize for 2012. Many, if not all, of these rules have been evolving during the past few years – and some are more permanent than others. However, because of the business climate headwinds we now face, they become essential components of a plan for success in 2012.
Rule 1 > Prioritizing Revenue Streams
The gap between Sales and Marketing is well known – and a painful experience for many of us. If there is one area where Sales and Marketing must come together, it is a common understanding and agreement on the revenue plan. Most sales revenue plans tend to focus on numbers and dollar figures. As a marketing lead, you need to work with your sales leadership to better understand revenue streams, product SKU prioritization, and how the components of the product/service suite contribute to the overall revenue plan.
Once that picture is clear, Marketing can perform an analysis on how to allocate its resources and budget to ensure that the marketing plan aligns and serves the all-important revenue plan. More than any other factor, that alignment, and good execution, will ensure a significantly better partnership and positive interaction between Sales and Marketing.
Rule 2 > Audience Micro-Segmentation and Profiling
Nothing is more off-putting to your audience than the perception that your message does not affect or relate to them at all. The only way to ensure (to the greatest extent possible) that your message resonates with the reader is to understand the audience. Your market is very diverse, no matter how defined your product/service might me. Three letters – KYC – Know Your Customer! Micro-segmentation of your audience, and profiling (which, in marketing, is a wonderful thing!) of that segment is a must!
Data lies at the core of this goal – and the year-end is an excellent time to visit your data plan. Are you positioned for success with regards to your data quality and adequacy for 2012? How granular and detailed is your data? Does your organization have an Enterprise Data Management solution in place? These are essential requirements that impact the overall demand generation program plan.
Rule 3 > Customer Social Networks
Social media is an overused term, and frankly, a fashionable talking point nowadays. As marketers, we must concern ourselves with one specific instance of social media in the enterprise context – Customer Social Networks (CSN). These are social networks developed by your team to connect, communicate and collaborate with your audience. The audience typically comprises current customers, prospects, broad market, media, analysts, and partners. The goal of the network is to add value to your audience – not to sell to them. There are several very important considerations when developing a truly effective CSN.
Rule 4 > “What’s in it for me?”
The more we are bombarded with unsolicited messages, the harder we try to shut them out. As a marketer whose aim is to have your message read by your audience, breaking through is not easy. While there are several contributing factors to the effectiveness of a message, one easy and often overlooked factor that directly impacts open-rates is the “offer”. Create an incentive for your audience to look at your message. Whether the incentive is a valuable trends analysis report, or a free Starbucks card, the offer must be of perceived value to the reader.
Rule 5 > Optimizing Content Value
Like other organizations, you probably have a treasure-trove of white papers, solution brochures, data sheets, sales presentations, demos, product brochures, etc. Take inventory of all your content assets and revise them by keeping three considerations in mind:
- Make them business-centric and offer a clearly articulated solution to a business problem. Technical documents don’t belong in marketing.
- Simple and short – concise and to the point means more effective.
- Talk numbers. Narrative is more impactful with real numbers that demonstrate the performance of your product/service. Try to make your content media-rich with videos, interactive demos and podcasts. The order of effectiveness is media, pictures, and words.
Rule 6 > Cross-Channel Communications
Marketing happens across multiple channels – email, website, events, sales interaction, customer service calls, social media, advertising, promotions, corporate communications, etc. One of the most frustrating experiences for customers is when there is a lack of synchronization among these channels. If I am a customer and have registered on your website, I expect that the customer service rep who calls me knows who I am, and knows what product and version I own. Similarly, I would be delighted if my information or relevancy was pre-populated in your social media platform, or on the badge at your customer conference.
The good news is that few larger organizations do this well; to the extent you can, it leaves a very pleasant and favorable impression on your audience.
Rule 7 > Going Offline and Wireless
We talked earlier about the growing digital cacophony. One of the easiest ways to circumvent that noise is to go “old-school” – with direct marketing (using paper and snail-mail), 3D marketing (meaning packages with exciting swag items, gifts, etc). Letters and packages get opened a lot more than unsolicited email does. That can be used to your advantage.
Another area gaining a lot of traction is mobile marketing, i.e. marketing optimized for mobile PDAs and smartphones. Some of this depends on your particular suite of products/services, and its applicability to being rendered effectively on mobile platforms. At the very least, your website and marketing portals must be mobile compliant. Similarly, focus on your marketing programs being simultaneously developed to meet mobile platform best-practices, thereby ensuring that your audience is able to view your messages on their tablets or smartphones.
Rule 8 > “Trapping Eyeballs” – Focused Advertising
Marketers generally come in two flavors – those that are revenue and demand-generation focused, and those that are more media and advertising focused. For those of us who tend to think along demand generation goals, and are acutely focused on revenue, advertising is an area we sometimes overlook. Let’s be careful – we are not talking about mass advertising such as on billboards or TV. That’s very expensive, and except in a certain category of situations, not an efficient use of precious marketing budget.
Think more along the lines of digital advertising. Your audience is spending greater amounts of time in their trade communities, blogs, association websites, professional communities, etc. Most of these communities or websites sell advertising and promotional space and sponsorship opportunities. These forums tend to be naturally more targeted, with higher persistence of viewers and audience.
Rule 9 > Detailed, Real-Time Performance Analytics
One of the most pervasive and rapid shifts in the world of B2B enterprise marketing is the shift toward making the entire discipline much more measurable, scientific, and calibrated. There is acute focus on return-on-budget, marketing-contribution-to-revenue (MCR), as well as detailed metrics, analytics, and reporting across the entire revenue pipeline – which includes both the Marketing Funnel, as well as the Sales Pipeline.
Developing detailed, real-time performance analytics accomplishes at least two very valuable objectives:
- The ability to measure and improve the performance of programs and marketing spend
- The ability to demonstrate factually to executive management the positive impact of your team’s marketing activity on the overall company top-line revenue
Rule 10 > Stakeholder Buy-in
Marketing tends to be an inherently thankless job – when done well, credit is often shared across multiple groups and not marketing alone, and when done less than perfectly, there is a lot of focus on what wasn’t well done. Additionally, marketing tends to get pulled in multiple directions from various teams in the organization. This situation tends to get a lot more difficult in tougher economic times when demands and expectations of marketing start to get unrealistic.
One important first step for any annual marketing plan, and certainly for 2012, would be to identify ALL stakeholders that have direct or indirect involvement/influence over your team’s activities and success. It is important to understand each of their goals, concerns and priorities, accommodate them to the extent possible, and develop a plan that meets the matrix of needs. Finally, and most importantly, it is critical that you or your marketing lead present the annual plan to all these stakeholders in one single meeting, and require that all of them buy into and sign-off on the annual plan. Such a deliberate process mitigates the risk of a mid-stream course change, missed expectations and the lack of support from other teams while executing the plan.
And while these 10 steps are imperative to success next year, it may be worthwhile to throw in a few prayers that the market situation cooperates and the business trajectory starts turning north. Good luck!