Tag Archives: B2B marketing

What Your Doctor Can Teach You About Business Growth

For many decades, physicians have been taught the “3 A’s” of a sound medical practice. They are the 3 qualities that their patients will value most highly, in rank order of importance:

  1. Affability
  2. Accessibility
  3. Ability

Regardless of whether your professional field is medicine, law, technology or finance, that same ranking applies to how you are valued by clients, particularly in B2B businesses.

For better or worse, your clients judge you (or your firm) primarily on a personal, visceral basis. First, they must like you (“Affability”), and be confident in your commitment to them (“Accessibility.”)  Your actual performance (“Ability”) will always be judged by clients on a relative basis, compared with their own knowledge of your craft, their past experience with other providers, the career risks involved in making a change, etc.

This ranking priority may seem illogical to a lawyer, fund manager or a physician whose view of the world is built on measurable evidence and tangible outcomes. But this apparent anomaly in client sentiment is supported by many real life examples. Insurance companies report that doctors who admit their mistakes and apologize to patients are rarely sued. Successful stock brokers report that they seldom lose clients for poor portfolio performance, if they are quick to explain why it happened and what’s being done about it.

Although client communication is at least as important as actual performance in most service businesses, companies seldom give that task the attention it deserves.

But for firms that understand the business impact of client communication, and have made a commitment to pay more than lip service to the discipline, the most significant challenges involve:

  • Finding the proper communication frequency, channels and content
  • Cutting through the vast amount of information that clients receive each day
  • Applying tactics that reinforce their firm’s value proposition and differentiation

Here are a four ways to improve your firm’s client communication strategy:

Stop Guessing About What Clients Think: One of the most obvious yet overlooked ways to maintain and strengthen communication with clients is to ask them for their opinion. Legendary New York City Mayor Ed Koch constantly asked his constituents, “How am I doing?” And it was more than a political gimmick, as Koch always listened to their responses, and applied what he learned to improve his performance and reputation.

You can measure client sentiment on an informal basis, similar to Ed Koch; but you’re more likely to yield meaningful results if you conduct a formal survey either online and / or by telephone. Online platforms like surveymonkey.com make it easy to design, conduct and evaluate a client opinion survey. You can conduct phone interviews yourself, or engage a 3rd party.

There’s a widely used survey methodology that yield “Net Promoter Scores,” designed to measure client loyalty; but for most small firms, you really only need to ask three questions: 1. Are we meeting your expectations? 2. If not, why not?  3. How else can we add value to our relationship?  The responses will likely provide some basis on which you can measure client sentiment and make beneficial changes. But the intrinsic marketing value of any opinion survey – regardless of the questions or response rates – is that it lets clients know you care about them.

Consistency and Speed of Communication Matter: The cornerstone of your client communication strategy should involve regularly scheduled contact; ideally on a quarterly basis, and provide content that’s of genuine interest to them.  This does not include your performance / activity reports; news that touts your firm’s “Best of [fill in the blank] Award;” its 4 recently hired employees; or the results of last month’s employee 5k mud run. It should include viewpoints and guidance that’s not self-serving, and helps your clients to succeed. For scheduled contact, consistency also matters. Using floor broker lingo, this is a “Fill or Kill” decision, so either commit to scheduled client outreach, or don’t start a program.

Your firm should also be prepared, on an opportunistic basis, to communicate with its clients when there is some (internal or external) material event that may cause them to be confused, concerned or excited. This is a critical part of what “accessibility” means: that you’re always thinking of your client’s welfare. Whether it’s a 500-point drop in the Dow Industrials, or a new scientific discovery related to their business, you need to reach out to your clients – by email, phone, text, snail mail – as soon as possible to deliver the (bad or good) news. Ideally, you’ll also be in a position to help them avoid, adjust to or benefit from the information you provide.

Personalize Your Client Communications: Small firms have a significant marketing advantage, because it doesn’t take very much effort or expense to add a personal touch to their communications with clients. For starters, your firm should know and track personal information of key individuals, including their birthday, spouse / partner’s name, children’s names and ages, hobbies, favorite sports teams, etc. No detail is unimportant. 

An old adage, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care,” rings true across all lines of business. The more information you have about the personal lives of your clients, the better prepared you’ll be to have conversations about what’s most important to them, and to find ways to reinforce your long-term relationships. Ask about their trip to Belize. Send them a handwritten note when their hockey team wins the Stanley Cup, or when their daughter gets accepted to law school. Send a box of cigars when they win their club’s golf tournament. Treat them to dinner at an upscale restaurant on their 10th wedding anniversary. As long as your efforts are genuine, clients will remember, appreciate and reciprocate in terms of loyalty.

Think Outside the Box during Holiday Season: In lemming-like fashion, around the holidays most companies will send out a greeting card purchased from an online catalogue, imprinted with the firm’s name. (Many companies don’t even bother to sign their card, or to add a personal message.) Holiday season conformity can provide a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd. For example, instead of sending out a holiday greeting in mid-December, consider sending a clever Happy Thanksgiving card, which won’t get lost in the pile of December’s cards, and will avoid offending anyone, based on their religious affiliation.

Another way to stand out is to forgo the traditional cocktail party or reception, where great expense and advance planning can all be for naught if bad weather or a competing event keeps your invited guests from attending. As an alternative, host a fancy catered luncheon for your client’s entire staff at their own office location during the holiday season, where you attend and hand out the egg nog or candy canes. Or avoid the holiday madness altogether, and around Memorial Day send your clients a beach chair, boogie board or cooler (all featuring your firm’s logo) to celebrate the beginning of the summer season.

The real secret sauce of client communication for any business is to manage the effort as an opportunity rather than a necessary evil. Or in the words of Dicky Fox, fictional mentor of Jerry Maguire, from the 1996 movie of the same name:

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

Make that your own mission statement, and watch your business grow.

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Bare Essentials: Marketing as a Necessary Evil

Business owners across all industries and professions start companies because they have a specific expertise or interest – whether it involves trading currency futures or replacing car mufflers – and eventually discover that selling their product or service is neither in their wheelhouse, nor something they enjoy doing.

To make matters worse, business owners often engage ad agencies, PR firms and outside (and internal) marketing “experts” who are always ready to prescribe a long list of tactical solutions (white papers, blogs, newsletters, publicity, social media, direct mail, conferences, advertising, etc.)…all of which may be more likely to generate distractions and invoices than new accounts or revenue growth.

As a result, business owners are often left confused, disappointed and angry over the lack of return on their marketing investment. Or they’ve heard all the horror stories and avoid marketing altogether, hoping their “connections” will drive new business.

Because marketing is viewed by many business owners as a necessary evil, a common question they ask is, “What are the bare essentials that I absolutely need to grow my business?”

Here’s a very short list marketing essentials for B2B and professional services firms:

 1. A Website that’s Worth Reading: Your website must provide visitors with a clear understanding of who you are, what you do, how you do it, why you are doing it, and who would benefit most from what you do. Your website should also:

  • Use plainspoken, simple language
  • Not ramble on, or seek to dazzle readers with your brilliance
  • Be written by a professional copywriter; not by you or by your attorney
  • Contain graphic elements that support your firm’s brand (avoid cheesy stock photos)
  • Feature a limited number of sections / pages, and be easy to navigate
  • Take advantage of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) tactics
  • Avoid being overly self-promotional
  • Present your professionals as individuals who are real and approachable
  • Use first-class, consistent photography for people’s portraits
  • Consider using a brief video (under 2 minutes) of your key people, and / or an animated video that explains your business
  • Include contact information; not a generic response form
  • Not require a user name and password to gain access to white papers or other content that showcases your firm’s intellectual capital

Even though your website will be “brochure ware” with little or no functionality, it’s important that it be properly wired into Google Analytics or clicky.com, so that you know who is visiting your site, where that traffic is coming from, what information they are looking at, and how long they are staying. If you don’t monitor website traffic on a regular basis, then you are missing opportunities to follow-up on potential interest, and to make ongoing improvements to your website and marketing strategy.

2. A Device that Helps People Remember You:  The key marketing goal for most service-related businesses is top-of-mind awareness, which means getting people to remember you, and to reach out to you when they’re ready to buy whatever you’re selling. Because you can never know when your target audiences (current and prospective clients, intermediaries, referral sources, etc.) will be ready to make decisions, your firm must create an internal discipline and content to remind them of:

  • Your existence
  • Your intellectual capital
  • Your credibility
  • Your potential to help them

To achieve top-of-mind awareness, you’ll need to establish and maintain scheduled, direct communication with your target audiences, either by email or snail mail. The two necessary component are an up-to-date database (or CRM system), and interesting, relevant content to send to them on a quarterly basis. For many firms, the database creation is relatively easy; but content development can be extremely difficult because it takes time and planning.

Here are some ways to make this process simpler and more effective:

  • Create a repeatable format, such as an interview series, a partner letter, or hypothetical (or real) case studies.
  • Your content should not be lengthy, and should accommodate surface readers through headlines, subheads, sidebars, an intro or summary.
  • Avoid canned newsletter formats and do not promote firm-specific news. No one really cares about your firm’s recent mud run or fundraiser.
  • Address topics and issues that demonstrate the firm’s thought leadership, but don’t present it in an overly academic, ponderous style. Make it readable, and skip the complex charts.
  • Add all the content you generate to a “Thought Leadership” section of your website, so that it gains broader exposure and longer shelf-life.

Remember that your marketing strategy here is consistent contact with decision-makers. So unless you commit to communicate on a regular basis, don’t start a market outreach program. If quarterly is too onerous, then semi-annually is better than nothing. Just keep in mind that there is usually an opportunity loss associated with infrequent contact. And if all this sounds like too much work, then skip to Item #3 below.

3. A LinkedIn Profile that Mirrors Your Website: LinkedIn has become an important market research and due diligence tool for all industries. To leverage this online exposure, and because LinkedIn can drive traffic to your website, your company’s LinkedIn profile should have the same look and feel as your website. This graphic and content consistency suggests to outside audiences that your firm has its act together, strategically and operationally. Here are some other ways to benefit from LinkedIn:

  • Make sure that the individual profiles of all your staff members are a reflection of your firm’s professionalism. Although this effort can be like herding cats, at the very least ensure that your firm is described accurately and consistently in all their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Ensure that all of your staff profiles include photographs. Better yet, bring in a professional photographer and provide all staff members with high quality photos for their LinkedIn profiles.
  • Post all of the Thought Leadership content (described in Step 2) onto your firm’s LinkedIn profile as it’s published, to gain additional exposure.
  • Work at building your LinkedIn connections, which should also be added to your database of target audiences that you reach out to on a regular basis.

If you’re looking to do only ONE “bare marketing essential” from this short list, focus on building a world- class website. Your website still serves as the mother ship of your brand, it’s the one place that all prospective clients will visit, and it can kill interest quickly if it’s not professional-looking and distinctive. And if that’s too much of a marketing burden, then you might consider another profession…perhaps as an astronaut or a rodeo clown.

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Connect-the-Dots Marketing: A Gift from Steve Jobs

In his 2005 commencement address at Stanford University, Apple CEO Steve Jobs offered a “connect the dots” perspective on the random events that shaped his life.

“You cannot connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards…

For B2B marketers, this “rear view mirror” approach to connecting the dots in your tactical tool kit makes great sense.

The underlying appeal of any connect-the-dots puzzle is based on seeing a recognizable image appear from an apparent hodge-podge of numbered dots, simply by following a prescribed path.  But for most marketers, if the dots represent possible tactical solutions, then your challenge is that:

  • There are usually too many dots to choose from, and
  • The dots have no assigned numbers to follow

And that’s why Steve Jobs’ advice should be followed by marketers: Start with a specific business outcome you’re seeking, and build your tactical strategy in reverse order. For example:

Step One: Create Your Picture     One reason why average CMO tenure is so brief is because marketers often focus on the dots, rather than on the picture that the connected dots should create. If you’re a B2B marketer, one picture you might want to create is making the “short list;” which means being contacted consistently by prospective (or existing) clients as a candidate for assignments. That’s a picture your CEO understands and appreciates, because it can lead directly to revenue. It also leads to continued employment for CMOs.

Step Two: Ignore Your Dots     With your picture defined, it can be difficult to resist the urge to open the tactical toolbox immediately. But prior to selecting and numbering the dots, you’ll need to sketch the path the dots will follow. Using the “short list” picture, for example, you’ll first need to gain internal consensus on:

  • What your clients and prospects need right now or in the future
  • Why your firm is entitled to be on the short list (your value proposition)
  • How you stack up against other firms seeking a place on the short list
  • What’s likely to exclude your firm from short list consideration
  • How to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of your short list strategy

Step Three: Select and Number Your Dots     With your picture and path well defined, the selection and sequencing of tactical dots in often a no-brainer. To complete the “short list” picture example: your dots will likely involve:

  1. Top-of-mind Awareness: You’ll need to establish an internal discipline designed to communicate directly and consistently (ideally on a quarterly basis) with clients, prospect and referral sources. The old adage “Out of Sight / Out of Mind” rings true in B2B communication, and don’t expect social media to address that requirement.
  2. Thought Leadership: This label for intellectual capital may be a bit shopworn, but your firm must provide its target audiences with content (owned media or earned media) that validates intellectual capital and potential to add value. And you’re more likely to make the short list by providing content that’s interesting and helpful to them, and not simply touting your own credentials.
  3. Distribution Capability: This need not be an expensive or complicated CRM system. You simply need to build and maintain a robust database of targeted individuals, and use a distribution / tracking platform (such as Constant Contact) that gets your content to them easily, and in a professional format.

Step Four: Add Dots Selectively     When there’s little (or slow) progress being made toward completion of a “picture,” the temptation for marketers is to simply add more tactical dots, rather than trying to understand why the existing dots are not properly connecting. In general, additional dots should be applied only if they add incremental value to a picture that’s already completed. For example, if your firm is regularly making the “short list,” but wants to eliminate competitors altogether, you might add a tactical dot involving pro-active outreach (in advance of any short list) to select prospects, to introduce a proprietary or solution tailored to their needs.

It’s unlikely that Steve Jobs had marketing in mind 10 years ago, as he connected the dots of his life experiences. But if you connect the dots in rear-view mirror fashion, we think it’s likely you’ll produce tangible business results that are based on more than just passive, wishful thinking…as the second line of Job’s advice to Stanford grads suggests:

…So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

– Steve Jobs

Unfortunately for marketers, words like “trust” and “somehow” just don’t past muster in the business world.

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Making the Short List: Get into the B2B Game or Go Home

Struggling to make ends meet as a young teacher, I pursued a part-time job as a waiter at a popular local restaurant, where I was told there were no positions available. I completed an employment application…just in case…and handed it to the restaurant manager, who thanked me, and placed my application on top of a very tall stack of papers on his desk.

As I left his office, I asked the manager about my chances of getting a waiter’s job there. “You see this big pile of applications?” he chuckled.

Not satisfied with his answer, I asked, “When a waiter position becomes available, how will you select which candidates to interview?”

The manager replied, “That’s easy. I just pick 3 applications from the top of my pile.”

So I made him an offer. “I really need this job. I’ll come back here every few days to complete a new application, so that mine stays at the top of your pile. Or you can hire me as a busboy right now, and I’ll clear tables and wash dishes for as long as it’s necessary, if you promise to give me the first waiter position that becomes available.”

I served as a busboy for two months before I earned a job as a waiter, which helped to pay my bills. More importantly, the experience provided some valuable insights about “making the short list” that continue to have direct application to our B2B marketing business.

“Making the short list” in B2B marketing means that your firm has been chosen by a prospective client as a candidate for an assignment. At least 3 candidates, and as many as 5 or 6, are typically included on a potential client’s short list.

For a B2B firm, making the short list is always a priority, and here’s what my restaurant experience taught me on the subject:

Provide Good Reasons to be on the Short List

The restaurant manager had a few good reasons to put me on his short list. He knew I was motivated, and different from those applicants who were willing to participate in his selection process.  More importantly, I positioned myself as a safe choice by giving him an opportunity to evaluate my potential as a waiter, based on my actual performance as a busboy.

Your B2B firm must find meaningful ways to differentiate itself and showcase tangible assets. Claiming your firm “has 80 years of combined professional experience,” for example, is not a strong value proposition. Having a blue chip client explain, in a short video, her selection criteria and experience with your firm, is far more likely to earn you a spot on a prospect’s short list. Third-party validation also addresses career risk: the prospect’s fear that hiring the wrong outside resource will affect their own reputation, bonus or employment status.

There are many ways to differentiate yourself in a competitive marketplace, but most often they require some original thought, clever packaging and elbow grease.

Put Your Firm into a Position to Make the Short List

Unlike my tenure as a busboy, you won’t be able to demonstrate value directly to a potential client in advance of an actual engagement. But for starters, your B2B firm must maintain a consistent presence on all the radar screens that your prospects monitor. “Fist-call capability” is how well your firm puts itself in a position to be noticed by target audiences, and it’s the key factor affecting your chances of making the short list.

What’s surprising in our current B2B world – where at least 70% of the short list selection process in made online, in advance of any direct contact – is that so many B2B firms have ineffective or outdated websites; provide no catalysts to drive traffic to their website; generate no content to validate their intellectual capital; and fail to properly leverage social media tools, such as LinkedIn, that prospective clients use to discover candidates for their short list.

Many B2B firms believe that simply doing great work for existing clients will drive all the referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations necessary to put them on short lists, or allow them to avoid having to compete at all.  Their lunch is often eaten by competitors who not only do great work for clients, but also don’t rely on others to put them on the short list.

Increase Your Odds of Making the Short List over the Long Haul

The most difficult aspect of marketing for B2B firms involves transparency: never knowing when your prospects are ready to buy. I was prepared to re-apply for the restaurant’s waiter position every week if necessary; but that level of persistence is more likely to eliminate a B2B firm from short list consideration. A more sophisticated, strategic, nuanced approach is required.

To drive consistent top-of-mind awareness with target audiences, you’ll need to do far more than simply show up all the right radar screens. Over the long haul, your B2B firm must communicate directly, consistently and effectively with its clients, prospects, referral sources and employees.  This is an easy concept to understand, but it’s the exception rather than the rule in B2B marketing. We are more likely to see B2B firms with great thought leadership that’s not appreciated by their target audiences, for lack of an effective CRM system; B2B firms that religiously push out canned newsletters and curated content that diminishes their brand stature; and B2B firms that fail to appreciate how their employees can serve as either brand ambassadors or terrorists.

There’s a profoundly simple, Yogi Berra-esque message here: you first need to get into the game, if you’re hoping to win it. In a business world increasingly driven by RFPs and RFIs, and where gaining and maintaining visibility with decision-makers is essential, B2B firms need to add “Short List Participation Rate” as a key performance indicator for their marketing investment.

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Checklist Marketing: Too Many Shoes in Your Suitcase?

Many companies view marketing simply as a checklist of items they believe to be essential: Website…check. White Paper…check. LinkedIn and Twitter Accounts…check / check. Client Newsletter…check. Trade Show…check. Blog…check. Publicity…check.

But marketing strategy is not akin to packing for a trip. “Shoes” may be on your checklist of items to put into your suitcase, but depending on your destination and itinerary, you may need dress oxfords, high heels, running shoes, slippers, golf shoes, sandals or hiking boots. Or perhaps you only need the shoes on your feet.

Marketers often throw far too many shoes into their suitcase, either because they see competitors wearing them, or they wish to avoid explaining why their company lacks the trendiest footwear.

Unfortunately, it’s this collection of shoes with no real reason to be in the company’s suitcase that causes the greatest problem for the marketing function, in terms of justification of related costs and contribution to enterprise goals.

To wean our B2B clients off their shoe fetish, we apply a “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool, consisting of 10 simple questions. Here are the first two questions it asks:

1. Does your firm have a written marketing plan?

Although it’s the most essential marketing task, most firms do not have a written plan. A marketing plan need not be lengthy, take months to prepare, or require the services of McKinsey & Co. Effective plans can be developed in a few whiteboard sessions, and be contained in a 2 – 3 page document that address these key questions:

  • What is our value proposition and competitive advantage?
  • What is our target market and who are the decision-makers?
  • What specific business goals / benchmarks are we seeking to accomplish?
  • What tactics will we use to engage with and nurture our target audience(s)?
  • What budgets, timeframes and responsibilities will we assign to those tactics?
  • How and how often will we measure results and make course corrections?

The two most important aspects of a marketing plan are, first, that it ensures organizational consensus regarding the firm’s strategic purpose, where it wants to go, and how it intends to get there.  Secondly, it provides accountability for results. In many cases, it’s that fear of accountability that discourages firms from creating a marketing plan.

2. Do all of your marketing tactics have measurable goals linked to business outcomes?

This diagnostic question involves the most difficult aspect of marketing: demonstrating tangible outcomes that justify the time and expense invested in marketing tactics. The classic complaints against marketing sound like this: “We’ve attended the XYZ conference for 3 years, and it hasn’t generated any new clients.” Or “We were mentioned in the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, and no one has contacted us based on that exposure.”

However, when you examine those marketing results-related complaints more closely, you’re likely to discover that (in the case of conferences) the firm failed to build an integrated strategy to communicate properly both in advance of and following the event, and did not leverage the conference-related content to reach a broader audience. And in the case of publicity, the firm likely generated the wrong type of media exposure (regardless of where it appeared), or simply hung the coverage on their website like a hunting trophy, instead of using it proactively to engage with their target audiences.

This second diagnostic question, regarding the practical benefit of marketing activity, is actually an integral part of the marketing plan development process. Every tactic that’s included in your marketing plan requires its own response to “How will we measure results?” Some tactics can be measured in terms of direct business outcomes, such as lead generation. But tactics that are unlikely to generate direct results, such as media exposure, will require a plan that combines related tactics. For example, to benefit from your published bylined article in a trade publication, your strategy might include sending a reprint of that piece (along with a non self-serving cover note) to targeted audiences, as a means to generate the awareness and conversations that precede transactions.

Both Do-It-Yourself marketers and professional marketers alike rationalize their activity on a tactical basis (number of white paper downloads, website traffic, “Likes” and “Re-Tweets,” etc.), and fail to either design or connect the marketing dots in a manner that’s likely to drive meaningful business results. This disconnect is the #1 reason why marketing is held in such low regard, compared with other professional disciplines.

If you’d like a complete copy of our 10 question “Marketing Diagnostic” planning tool for B2B firms, just shoot me an email through LinkedIn, or to gordon at andrewselikoff dot com. It includes a self-scoring system, allowing you to know exactly how you stack up, marketing-wise.

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Marketing Failure at Professional Services Firms: Who’s to Blame?

imagesKRCJCX00The Hinge Research Institute – a division of one of the nation’s smartest B2B marketing consultancies – recently published the results of its survey of 530 professional services firms representing accounting and finance; technology; marketing and communications; architecture; engineering and construction; legal; and management consulting disciplines.

In its report, 2015 Professional Services Marketing Priorities, Hinge examined current business challenges and approaches to implementing marketing initiatives at small and medium-sized firms, with annual revenues ranging from less than $5 million to more than $100 million. Owners, partners and principals represented 60% of survey respondents, marketing professionals represented 23%, and the balance were operational or senior level decision-makers at those firms.

Although this was not the intention of this study, or the expressed conclusions of Hinge, the research findings provide insight into why marketing fails to deliver a reasonable return at most professional services firms.

Failure to Connect the Dots

In the Hinge research, here’s how small and medium sized professional services firms ranked their current business challenges:

  • No surprises here. “Attracting and developing new business” (72.1%) is understandably the most significant challenge for any business;
  • However… “Strategy / Planning Issues” (26.8%) are either something professional services firms believe they have under control; are not greatly concerned about; or fail to associate with new business development.

Activity without Purpose or Accountability

The apparent disconnect between strategy / planning and actual marketplace results is reinforced in the marketing initiatives that professional services firms planned for 2015.

According to the Hinge survey, the focus of most professional services firms is on the tactical aspects of marketing, reflected in their plans to:

  • Increase the visibility of their brand (57.9%) and their experts (54.5%)
  • Upgrade their websites (54.9%)
  • Make clients more aware of services (53.5%)
  • Create content marketing programs (47.2%)

Conversely, the strategic aspects of marketing are all at the bottom of the 2015 to-do list for most professional services firms:

  • Develop marketing strategy / plan (45.5%)
  • Find stronger competitive advantage (40.8%)
  • Conduct research on target market (33.8%)
  • Conduct client satisfaction research (22.7%)

It might be argued that strategic marketing tasks did not make the list of 2015 planned initiatives because professional services firms already have those disciplines covered. But our own experience counseling professional services firms over the past 20 years suggests otherwise.

One of the first questions we ask a new or prospective client is this: “Do you have a written marketing plan?” Most often, and consistent with the Hinge study, the answer we receive from them is “No.”

Who’s to blame for unmet expectations in marketing professional services: The senior managers who focus on tactics without a strategic foundation? Or the marketing professionals who should know better?

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B2B Conferences: Essential Marketing Tactic…or Waste of Time and Money?

Regardless of industry, B2B conferences and seminars can be a significant waste of time, money and opportunity. But the conference sponsor is typically not at fault for the lack of return on this marketing investment. It’s often the result of poor planning, lack of creativity, laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues you should address, in advance of investing in a conference of any kind:

Do I understand the inherent marketing value of conferences? Before it became a “pay to play” world, there was some brand stature and inherent 3rd party endorsement associated with participation as a keynote speaker or panelist on a conference agenda. Nowadays, however, even if you’re invited to speak, attendees will likely assume that you’ve paid for the privilege, so the brand cachet is diminished.

The real marketing value of participation in any conference agenda is not based on what you say to the 100 attendees during your 15 minutes on the podium. Instead, it’s based on what you do, both before and after the conference, to reach, influence and engage the 1,000+ or 2,000+ decision-makers who were either too busy or too important to attend the event. In many respects, a conference simply provides a legitimate reason to communicate with those individuals who are most important you.

Do I have the internal discipline to make conferences a worthwhile investment? Because conferences are expensive, inefficient, haphazard and difficult to evaluate, you must establish an internal discipline and specific strategies to harness their marketing value. For starters, you need access to a robust, accurate database of your clients, prospects and referral sources. Possessing a list of conference attendees, either before or after the conference, is of lesser importance.

You also need to create a detailed communications strategy – tailored for each event – that addresses how you intend to:

  • Share intellectual capital associated with the event (either generated by you or someone else), and how to
  • Leverage that intellectual capital to drive engagement with your target audiences either before and / or after the conference.

For example, if you’ve given a conference presentation, you can send highlights of your remarks to your database shortly after the event, and offer to send them your complete remarks or PowerPoint slides. Or you can convert your presentation into a bylined article for publication in an appropriate business or trade journal, and then send target audiences the published piece along with a personalized cover note.

If you’re not on the podium, you’ll need to be more creative. For example, you might send your target audiences a “Sorry I missed you…” communication that provides your insights on the conference’s highlights, or expresses a contrarian viewpoint related to its underlying theme. Or you might even consider hi-jacking the conference agenda, by inviting high-value targets to a roundtable discussion / reception at a very exclusive venue near the event. (Conference sponsors do their best to prevent this type of guerilla marketing.)

In all cases, the strategic goal is to amortize the time and money you’ve invested in the conference, in order to reach a wider and sometimes more appropriate audience. By using the conference credibility (or its related topic / theme) to showcase your intellectual capital, drive top-of-mind awareness and foster direct engagement, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of yielding a connection between the event and tangible business metrics, including new client engagements and revenue growth.

Are my expectations for this conference realistic? Sometimes lightning actually does strike: you’ll make a connection at a conference that eventually leads to new business. But most of the time, putting your company’s logo on a lanyard, participating in a panel discussion, or sponsoring a mid-morning coffee break will lead to absolutely nothing. If there were a consistent direct connection between conference participation and business growth, there would be a very long waiting list for sponsorships.

If you understand that conferences will always be a low percentage marketing strategy, then you have a clear choice. You can either:

  1. Avoid conferences altogether, by hosting your own private events or programs.
  2. Leverage your participation to showcase intellectual capital with a wider audience.
  3. Simply enjoy the camaraderie, the golf / tennis / beach, and the nightlife…and hope for the best. In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

In short, conference participation is similar to all other marketing-related tactics. Smart, focused and strategic will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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Why Your B2B Marketing Isn’t Working

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

Inconsistency Kills Most B2B Marketing Strategies

There are two major reasons why marketing is ineffective at B2B firms, regardless of size or industry:

  1. Marketing is viewed as triage. The company applies a collection of tactics (often labeled as a “marketing campaign”) only in response to a problem; typically involving the loss of a key client, or decline in revenue. When business is good, little or no time is invested in marketing. When business (inevitably) takes a dip, marketing becomes a priority. This classic behavior is depicted in the “Sales / Service Volatility Curve” chart above.
  2. Marketing is expected to deliver immediate results. Either because the company views marketing on a cause & effect tactical basis, or because marketing triage must quickly revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given little time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that Chief Marketing Officers have the shortest tenure of any corporate function.

Individually or collectively, both of these circumstances drive the #1 reason why B2B marketing does not work:


The sad truth is that very few B2B firms either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and stick with a marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement on a consistent basis.

As an alternative to changing careers, and to establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the discipline to succeed, we offer marketers (and B2B business owners) the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you will not succeed. And unless it’s a written document, you do not have a Marketing Plan.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The corner office must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. The Plan must also be properly staffed and funded upfront.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well. Marketing’s success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Less is usually more.
  • Build and Nurture your Database. Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without this pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving white papers and client case studies have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, on topics that target audiences have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. Leverage your thought leadership content by sharing it directly with target audiences on at least a quarterly basis. More importantly, use content to initiate two-way conversations that build relationships in advance of sales.
  • Connect with the Sales Force. There’s no better way to find if and how well your marketing strategies are working, or to gain an understanding of the marketplace.

Most importantly – with apologies to Glengarry Glen Ross – B2B firms must:




…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to marketing will keep your B2B firm from ever reaching its full potential.

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Why and How to Market Your Firm’s Brand Integrity

As the limitations of a virtual marketplace continue to reduce most B2B firms to commodities, it’s become increasingly important to communicate not just what your company does, but to generate interest in what your enterprise stands for. This task of expressing your firm’s raison d’être involves far more than sticking a “Mission Statement” on its website.

Prospective clients not only want to know what makes your firm unique; before they put you on their short list for consideration, they also want assurance that your company is a “safe choice.” Decision-makers at every level are unwilling to risk their career on selection of an outside firm that may fail to meet expectations, or even harm their firm.

Regardless of whether your firm is the leader or an upstart in its marketplace, brand integrity matters. And it’s a corporate asset that needs to be marketed.

Unfortunately, telling target audiences and opinion leaders that your company is smart, honest, unique, innovative, creative, cutting-edge, trusted, etc. never succeeds. People require hard and soft evidence to support their own conclusions about your brand attributes, notably its integrity.

So how does a B2B firm market its brand integrity through online and offline channels? Here are 10 tangible and intangible factors that, on an individual and combined basis, can drive marketplace opinion on brand integrity:

  • Transparency: Is information regarding your firm’s philosophy, products / services, processes and people available and easily accessible? (Acid Test: How much digging is required to gain a basic understanding?)
  • Consistency: Is all information kept up-to-date, and relevant to current market conditions? Does bad news get communicated to your clients as quickly and openly as good news? (Acid Test: What’s the frequency of content generation, and the number of direct and indirect “touches” with target audiences?)
  • Enthusiasm: Does your firm appear genuine and enthusiastic about communicating with external audiences? Or does communication appear to be treated as a necessary evil? (Acid Test: How often are innovation and fun baked into those efforts?)
  • Values: Are your company’s core values expressed in a compelling manner? More importantly, are those values demonstrated through its actions? (Acid Test: Are they aspirational and inspirational? Is there tangible evidence that values really drive decision-making?)
  • Clarity: Are explanations clear, devoid of technical jargon or mystery, and easily understood by all outside audiences? (Acid Test: Would an 8th grader get it?)
  • Culture: Is there a visible common culture, beyond shared academic credentials or charitable activities? Are there tangible signs that employees are valued, have a unified vision and enjoy working together? (Acid Test: Other than the annual mud run photo, do employees appear to be engaged as a team?)
  • Associations: Who and what are the people, organizations, ideas and causes associated with your firm? Are those associations respected, credible and trustworthy? (Acid Test: Is the firm actively connected with the outside world?)
  • Validation: How is your firm’s value proposition validated by objective 3rd parties? Do reliable sources express open support or inherent endorsement? (Acid Test: Do credible media sources cover the company? Do clients identify themselves by name and company?)
  • Leadership: Are efforts made to share / promote your firm’s intellectual capital in a helpful manner that’s not directly self-serving? (Acid Test: Do other opinion leaders reference your firm’s ideas or contributions? Are white papers just poorly disguised sales collateral?)
  • Persona: Does your firm appear to be run by interesting human beings, or hide its personality behind an opaque, institutional veneer? (Acid Test: Does the overall impact of public-facing communication project warmth and sincerity, or distance and arrogance?)

Marketing tactics aside, companies looking for a guiding principle on brand integrity are well-served by heeding the advice of the late John Wooden, basketball coaching legend, who said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

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Re-Thinking the “Best B2B Advertisement of the 20th Century”

the-man-in-the-chair-mcgraw-hill-885x1024In 1958, Gilbert Morris – an account executive at the Fuller Smith & Ross ad agency – created the, “I don’t know who you are,” business-to-business advertisement for McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. that 41 years later, in 1999, was named the “Best Business-to-Business Ad of the 20th Century” by Advertising Age’s Business Marketing magazine. Quite an achievement.

The iconic print display ad featured an executive in a bow tie hunched forward in a swivel chair, scowling into the camera. (In fact, Gilbert Morris himself was depicted as the executive in the ad.) To promote the practical value of corporate advertising, the ad’s body copy read:

“I don’t know you.

I don’t know your company.

I don’t know your company’s product.

I don’t know what your company stands for.

I don’t know your company’s customers.

I don’t know your company’s record.

I don’t know your company’s reputation.

Now, what was it you wanted to sell me?”

The 56 year-old McGraw-Hill ad concluded with this:

“Moral: Sales start before your salesman calls – with business publication advertising.”

What may have been a revolutionary B2B marketing concept in 1958 is now well understood by B2B marketers. Market awareness, brand impressions and 3rd party endorsements all matter. Sales and marketing must be integrated. We’ve got all that.

But if Gilbert Morris were writing ad copy in 2014, his advertisement would likely reflect very different marketing obstacles for B2B companies. Perhaps something like this:

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