Tag Archives: B2B marketing

Industry Conferences and Seminars: How to Extract their Real Business Value

dog-and-ponyRegardless of industry, 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, outright laziness or unrealistic expectations by the companies that participate in them.

Here are three issues marketers 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 often 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 helpful, but 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 often times 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 behavior will always produce better outcomes than “one-size-fits-all” solutions.

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How to Sell to Companies that are Out of Your League

jim-carreyThe most enduring injustice in the world of B2B marketing is that, very often, a firm with strong brand perceptions will be selected over a more qualified, but lesser-known firm. The old adage, “No one was ever fired for hiring IBM,” still rings true in every industry. And firms that understand this market dynamic, and work to build a marketing strategy to address the underlying human issues, can gain market acceptance and compete effectively against larger and better-known competitors.

The central, unspoken issue embedded within the selection process for any type of B2B firm is easy to understand. All decision-makers require a certain level of comfort and confidence necessary for them: 1. To propose a relatively unknown candidate to their “boss” (however that’s defined), and more importantly, 2. To rationalize their selection of that unknown candidate; and worst case, to defend their decision should their selected provider fail. Avoiding responsibility for a bad decision is always the top priority.

By taking either of these two steps, decision-makers put skin in the game. Their personal welfare – notably, keeping their job – will always be far more important to them than selecting the most qualified firm. So regardless of your firm’s size or brand stature, this inherent “career risk” is the key obstacle that must always be overcome.

Here are three ways your firm can achieve that goal through marketing:

Don’t Exclude Your Firm from Consideration

Small firms can exclude themselves from consideration by large prospects in two ways. They either focus exclusively on quantitative characteristics of their firm (and refuse to acknowledge the human side of decision-making)…or they never attempt to solicit companies considered to be “out of their league” (either for lack of inertia, or for fear of failure.)

Although it would be reckless to devote all or most of your firm’s marketing efforts to “low probability” prospects, excluding them altogether represents an opportunity loss. Solely from the standpoint of marketing skills development, and regardless of the outcome, pitching your firm to tougher prospects will increase its effectiveness in those leagues where it is “entitled” to play. Most high handicap (struggling) golfers will attest that they perform on a much higher level when paired with better players. That same performance dynamic holds true in marketing your firm.

The opportunity loss in not hunting for larger game is that you can never know a prospect’s current situation, mindset or future plans. They may be unhappy with their current provider and are seeking a change, or their new strategy may involve hiring a smaller that can provide a more personalized level of service. It’s always better to lose (and to learn from your losses), than it is to not enter the game at all.

Think and Act Like a “Safe Choice”

If your small firm is prepared to acknowledge that market perceptions are at least as important as its credentials (an enormous hurdle for many firms), then it’s half-way toward the goal of competing effectively against better known brands. The other half of your quest to be considered a “safe choice” by prospects involves thinking and acting exactly like your most successful competitors, in terms of marketing communications.

Here are the five marketing assets applied by successful firms:

– A well-articulated value proposition: Until you have a clear understanding of why and how your company is of value to clients, and are able to express that in a clear, concise manner, don’t invest in any marketing tools or tactics.

– An effective website: As the mother ship of your brand, and the most important public-facing expression of your firm’s value proposition, your website needs to go beyond “what we do” and “who we are.” It must also provide insights into “what we believe,” “how we think,” “how we operate” and address “who validates our credibility.”

– Bona fide thought leadership: This self-generated content showcases your firm’s intellectual capital, which builds confidence in its potential to succeed. Bona fide thought leadership does not promote your firm, or attempt to sell its products or services.

– Inherent third-party endorsements: These credibility tools can take many forms, ranging from published articles in respected publications, to speaking engagements at industry conferences. The quality of these types of indirect endorsements are more important than frequency.

– Top-of-mind awareness: To maintain familiarity with your brand in the marketplace, your firm will need to pro-actively reach out to its current and prospective clients and referral sources, ideally on a quarterly basis. The information you send to those target audiences must be relevant and of interest to them.

Associate with Established / Trusted Brands

If your company has little or no brand stature, one of the quickest and most effective ways to change that dynamic is to directly associate your brand with specific firms or individuals who already possess the market credibility and respect that you’re seeking. There are a number of tactics you can apply to benefit from this brand-related “halo effect.”

For example, your quarterly outreach to target audiences (referenced above) might feature interviews with respected industry leaders, or with well-known subject matter experts. Or your firm might host a series of by-invitation-only webinars, or in-person roundtable discussions, featuring recognized authorities in a particular profession or industry.

Regardless of the specific halo effect tactic(s) you apply, the underlying strategy remains the same: to create an editorial product or host an event that enables your firm’s brand reputation to be positioned – in the minds of others – as being in the same league as the well-established third-party brand(s) that you are promoting.

Many firms possess some of the marketing assets outlined here, and fewer firms possess all of them. An extremely small number of companies are able to apply these tactics in a consistent manner, or view marketing as an ongoing business discipline, rather than a list of items to be checked off.

If your company understands the human dynamics of decision-making, and applies an appropriate marketing strategy to build its brand stature, it will be capable of competing at any level, and is unlikely to remain small or unknown for very long.

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Your Marketing Content: Is it Fake News?

fake-newsThe marketing profession has a reputation for sometimes using less than reliable market research to promote a point of view. And this marketer has been guilty of that sin.

Years ago, our insurance company client was introducing a new Directors & Officers liability insurance policy, and asked us to raise market awareness. With good intentions, but given no budget or time to perform proper market research, we interviewed a total of 6 corporate CEOs and board members to provide some validation to the underlying premise of our press release. The headline read: “Most Corporate Directors & Officers Believe They Are Not Adequately Protected from Legal Risk.”

With very little expectation that such shoddy market research would qualify for exposure in the financial press, and dreading inquiries from journalists asking about our research methodology, the press release went out. To our great surprise, we received no calls from reporters checking our facts, and the story was immediately picked up by two major wire services, and appeared as a news squib on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, followed by coverage in several business insurance trade publications.

Our client was overjoyed with the media exposure, but we felt less than honorable, and resolved that we would never use market research to promote a client’s product or service unless we believed the supporting methodology had sufficient rigor. And over the years we’ve lost client work as a result of that position.

Research integrity was an issue long before the internet became the platform for content marketing. Most often, your research-based news items would not be covered by respected media sources unless you successfully endured their credibility gauntlet. Editors demanded your research methods and data, and had to be convinced that your study was objective and legitimate. Our very thin D&O insurance liability research was a rare and risky exception…and perhaps a sign of things to come.

For well understood reasons, the “legitimate press” now has neither the manpower nor the time to dig deeply for validation of market research that supports content generated by organizations. The loss of this important filter, coupled with the explosion of online content, has created a marketing world in which sloppy, incomplete (and sometimes blatantly false) research generates news items that can go viral and become accepted wisdom. Pumping out content in volume has become far more important than creating high quality content that could ever withstand the scrutiny of a hard-nosed editor.

What this new world of content marketing means for individuals is simple: Assume that all “research-based” information requires close scrutiny. Believe nothing at face value, regardless of the source. If it’s important to your business strategy, or you intend to adopt the research to support your own point of view (or an upcoming PowerPoint presentation), then you’ll need to become that hard-nosed editor who scrutinizes the original source; who looks at the sample size, respondents, questions asked, etc.; and who determines whether the research results legitimately support the conclusions.

What this new world of content integrity means to companies is more complex: Assume that the “research-based” content that you produce is a reflection of your brand’s integrity. For the Marketing Department, this involves educating the corner office regarding the rigor, time and costs involved in market studies, surveys, research necessary to yield content worthy of customer-facing applications. For the corner office, this involves calculating whether the intended marketplace outcome is worth the necessary investment. It also involves avoiding shortcuts.

Without the 4th Estate as the content gatekeeper, there is now far greater opportunity for companies to benefit from content marketing. But by failing to adopt the market research integrity standards that journalists long upheld, there are far more ways for companies to damage their brand through application of the tactic.

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The Power of Unsolicited Pitch Letters

bigstockphoto_youth_pitcher_and_baseball_1941527-s600x600Over the past 20 years, most of my firm’s new business has been generated by unsolicited pitch letters sent to targeted prospects. These brief, tailored messages – sent either by email or snail mail – have not only enabled us to maintain a consistent pipeline of clients; but more importantly, we’ve built a practice consisting of high-value companies and people that we wanted to work for. And we’ve never resorted to advertising, sponsorships or other expensive, low-yielding tactics to promote our brand or services.

The simple truth is that properly researched, well-crafted pitch letters are probably the most effective way for any type of professional services firm to build its client base and grow revenue. Unsolicited pitch letters, when they succeed, can also be an extremely effective way for your firm to avoid the RFP process…by anticipating their needs, you enable the targeted company to skip the beauty contest altogether.

Here are 5 of the many lessons that we’ve learned about how to use this powerful marketing tactic properly:

The Secret Sauce is NOT the Pitch Letter. For every pitch letter we send out, my firm invests at least an hour or two researching the target company. We review all of the target’ s public facing information to understand its value proposition, competitive landscape, leadership, reputation, marketing & sales sophistication and apparent resources. Our research goal is to identify either a specific problem or an opportunity where think we can add value. Lacking this insight, you have no tangible basis for an effective pitch letter.

Your Pitch Letter Must be About Them, Not You. Your targeted decision-makers receive scores of pitch letters and phone solicitations from your competitors. Nearly all of those firms will mistakenly talk about themselves, and what they’ve done for their clients. But the only thing that’s of interest to prospects is what you can do for them. So you need to first let prospects know that you understand their problem / opportunity (because you’ve done proper research), and then offer to share your ideas on that topic. (Yes…you’ll need to have some ideas to offer.)

Grabbing Their Attention is Goal #1. Using email, your pitch letter will not be read unless you incent the target to open it. This is no easy task, given the volume of email most decision-makers receive every day. Your subject line should be serious, rather than cute or clever, and should generate some curiosity. Also try to mention the name of the target company in your subject line, so that it’s not discounted as a canned letter or mass mailing. You should also consider mailing a hard copy pitch letter, in addition to, or in lieu of an email pitch. These days, a hard copy letter is more likely to be noticed than an email.

Stop Selling and Start Listening. The only goal of your pitch letter is to start a conversation, ideally face-to-face. This is your opportunity to discuss the target’s issues and your ideas. Sometimes you’ll miss the mark, sometimes you will nail it, and sometimes they’ll have a need or problem that’s unrelated to the one you’ve identified. If you ask smart questions, take notes, and focus on understanding their business and personal circumstances (instead of seeking to walk out with a signed contract), you’ll establish the foundation for a relationship that might lead to revenue at some point.

View Selling as a Numbers Game. Timing is every in life, including business development. You can research a great target, identify their problem or opportunity, and be in a position to add value, but for 100 different reasons (unrelated to you or your pitch), the prospect is not willing, able or ready to engage you. So the only way you can address the random nature of sales is to increase the number of doors that you knock on. If you’re serious about leveraging the power of pitch letters, you’ll need to send them out on a consistent, disciplined basis. Think of your program simply as a long-term seed-sewing process, and shoot to send out 3-5 pitch letters every week. Over time, you’ll see tangible results.

There are many more tactical aspects involved in the art of pitch letters – what content to include and avoid, which individual to solicit, what attachments to include, how to monitor and follow-up, etc. – to cover in a single blog post. But simply getting started, and establishing a pitch letter routine are the two most critical steps.

What’s presented here, combined with overcoming a fear of failure, is all you’ll need to get started on the path to building your business through pitch letters. Happy hunting.

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3.5 Reasons to Skip Industry Awards

awardFor certain industries, such as financial services, that aggregate performance-related data – for example, in annual “league tables” ranking investment banks by the number or size of M&A transactions they’ve underwritten – there is some logic, as well as an objective basis, on which firms can claim to have outperformed their competitors.

But for most industries – lacking any quantitative basis or objective means on which to base relative performance of its individual companies – there are several reasons why participation in industry award competitions intended to recognize superiority or “excellence” can be a waste of resources, as well as a brand liability.

With the understanding that industry awards represent a substantial worldwide economic enterprise…here are 3.5 reasons why your ___________ (law, graphic design, accounting, management consulting, public relations, engineering, financial planning, advertising, technology, healthcare, beauty, payroll, etc.) firm should not participate in award competitions:

Reason #1: Your Awards Won’t Have Significant Influence on Prospective Clients

Fundamentally, awards are a form of extrinsic selling, and demonstrate your firm’s ability to do good work. But prospective clients are always more interested in what you can do for them, not in what you’ve done for others. Awards require prospects to make a leap a faith; to believe that your work for them will match or exceed your work for your other clients. And for some prospects, that’s a leap too large to take.

Most prospects also know that award competitions are not accurate barometers of the quality or consistency of the work you will provide. At best, awards may address the personal needs of some decision-makers who are more concerned with protecting their job (should your firm fail to deliver), rather than selecting the most qualified service provider.

Reason #2: Your Award Creates Another Content Beast that Must Be Fed

Because most award competitions are annual (and recurring sources of revenue for the sponsoring organizations), they have a very limited shelf life, in terms of your firm’s ability to promote the recognition. Most award winners proudly post the award icon on the home page of their website. But your “2016 Most Innovative IT Firm Award” begins to loose its luster around the month of July in 2017, as clients and prospects begin to wonder why your IT firm isn’t the winner of the 2017 award. If your firm has lost some of its magic, perhaps they should be looking at this year’s most innovative IT firm.

Like all other types of content designed to position your firm’s brand, industry awards are beasts that must be constantly fed. If your firm is unwilling or unable to make the commitment to pursue a particular award every year (and to risk losing, which is a strong possibility), then either pass on the competition altogether, or take down any award icons from your website that are more than a year old. Otherwise, your firm will be perceived as the 24 year-old who still wears his high school jacket with the varsity football patch. Living in the past.

Reason #3: Your Time is Better Spent Servicing Clients and Soliciting Prospects

Entering any industry award competition, if your firm is serious about winning, takes time and resources. For some firms with strong competitive instincts, this often becomes a lengthy, arduous process involving strategy sessions, dedicated teams, and even outside consultants who specialize in award submissions. (Yes, they do exist.) For large firms with deep pockets and low levels of marketing ROI accountability, award competitions can provide some level of validation for those executives looking to impress their CEO. But for small and medium-sized firms, where every marketing dollar is expected to yield tangible business results, award competitions make very little sense.

Rather than seeking brand credibility through what is a relatively weak 3rd party endorsement tactic (compared with earned media exposure, public platforms and direct client endorsements, for example) companies of all sizes are better served by re-directing award-related resources to strategies that foster referrals and increase the effectiveness of their direct solicitation process. Instead of hoping that your prospects will be impressed by your industry awards (if they happen to visit your website), build awareness and brand equity among target audiences with content that consistently showcases your firm’s intellectual capital in a non-self-serving manner.

Reason #3.5: The Award Selection System is Stacked Against You

Although the selection process for awards competitions varies greatly, all awards are subject to human bias and political / financial factors that are beyond your control, and that will always influence the outcomes. Even in “blind” competitions, if the basis of an award is subjective, relies on the opinion of a “blue ribbon panel,” or involves any type of voting / scoring system, most competitors will end up wondering why the designated winners were any more innovative, effective, attractive, or otherwise superior to them. Judging is always highly subjective, and never an accurate reflection of the best idea or solution.

For a host of reasons that are rarely discussed (such as the advantage of entrants who are advertisers in award competitions sponsored by industry publications), the award selection system is stacked against most competitors.

Their inherent weaknesses notwithstanding, and despite this particular rant, industry awards are not in any danger of losing momentum, and will remain as one component in the marketing tool kit. But the easiest tactics, like award recognitions, are not always the most effective or enduring ways to help your business grow. Think of industry awards as a car radio: they make noise, and can be nice to have…but it doesn’t help you reach your destination.

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7 Signs that You’re NOT a Thought Leader

wise-man-guru-mountain-top-photo

Thought Leadership is perhaps the most widely used and consistently abused strategy in professional services marketing. There’s diverse opinion regarding what it is, and fuzzy expectations with respect to its benefits.

Our simple definition is that Thought Leadership is a content marketing strategy designed to leverage intellectual capital as a means to engage target audiences. The practical benefits of Thought Leadership are delivered through the power of “intrinsic selling.”

Without getting overly theoretical, here’s what we mean by that:

“Extrinsic selling” occurs when a seller’s credibility relies heavily on work they’ve performed for other customers. This requires the prospective customer to make a leap of faith; to believe the service provider can match or exceed what’s been done for others. It’s a “trust me” sales approach.

Conversely, intrinsic selling does not require a prospective client to base their selection on work done for others. Instead, it engages the prospective client based on ideas, opinions and advice that enables them to make their own objective decision regarding the seller’s potential to add value. Because no leap of faith is required, it’s a more powerful sales methodology.

The intellectual capital embodied within Thought Leadership is what provides you with credibility, and gives potential buyers the confidence to do business with you. It also serves as a sophisticated sales hook designed to grab their attention.

It’s easier to understand what Thought Leadership is by examining the behaviors that are contrary to its fundamental principles.

So here are 7 signs that you’re not cut out to be a Thought Leader:

  1. You call yourself a Thought Leader. Worse yet, you call yourself a “visionary.” Thought Leadership is not a mantle that can be claimed. It’s a market perception that’s earned over time, and an unofficial stature that’s assigned to you by others.
  2. Your editorial content is self-serving. If you’re unwilling to provide insights, information and recommendations without making yourself the hero, or without directly plugging your firm’s products / services, then you’re not really practicing Thought Leadership.
  3. You lack original or interesting ideas. Repurposing “archived” content (a/k/a other people’s thinking), or providing summaries or news reports of information that’s available elsewhere, will likely position you as an industry parrot, rather than a Thought Leader.
  4. You’re not a true student of your craft. Bona fide Thought Leaders are constantly focused on the current state and future direction of their professional discipline. They appreciate that a rising tide floats all boats, and unselfishly share what they know and think.
  5. You think Thought Leadership has a goal line. If you’re looking for instant gratification, and don’t completely believe, at the outset, in the long-term value of Thought Leadership as an ongoing marketing strategy, then simply scratch it off your to-do list.
  6. You refuse to share the spotlight. The most effective Thought Leaders seek to manage, rather than control, the conversation. Rather than pushing their own viewpoint, they define and promote topics and identify people worth paying attention to.
  7. You’re unwilling to work hard. Consistency is the most significant hurdle in the quest for Thought Leadership. To establish a level of top-of-mind awareness required for your target audiences to form and sustain a positive opinion, you need to generate relevant content on a quarterly basis. And that requires personal (or enterprise) discipline.

Just to be clear…the most effective Thought Leaders are not in the game for altruistic reasons. They expect a tangible return on their investment, in terms of market engagement.

Toward that end, a Thought Leadership strategy must ensure that your intellectual capital – whether it’s initially presented in a public platform (such as a seminar), through earned media (publicity), or owned media (social) channels – is also delivered directly to all relevant target audiences in a manner that’s not self-serving, and that fosters two-way conversations.

For example, rather than publicly touting that you’ve been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, you should leverage that media exposure in a more nuanced, sophisticated manner. You can expand on the underlying topic in a direct communication to clients, prospects and referral sources, soliciting their thoughts, and referencing the Wall Street Journal article (rather than your specific quote in it) as a catalyst for the discussion.

This long-winded perspective is not intended to dissuade you from seeking Thought Leadership status. To get started, you should identify a relevant, respected Thought Leader, study how they’ve earned that status, and then simply jump into the pool. Once you’re comfortable in the water, there will be ongoing opportunities to tailor an effective Thought Leadership strategy.

In true Thought Leadership fashion, please share your opinions, experiences and frustrations involving this battle-worn marketing strategy.

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Manage the Pedigree Factor in Professional Services Marketing

MissP1Institutional pedigree always matters, regardless of the type of professional service you’re selling. But to leverage pedigree as a marketing asset, you first need to understand why it’s important to your target audience, and decide what type(s) of pedigree will have the greatest influence on them. The professional credentials your firm possesses (or creates) are a major consideration in determining which doors to knock on, and which doors to ignore.

Pedigree means different things to decision-makers. In the classic sense, personal pedigree can take into account where you were raised, schools you attended, club memberships, employment history, who you know, and even your race and ancestry. For better or worse, there are many companies that hire employees based largely or exclusively on those external credentials, in order to create a consistent (albeit often elitist) institutional persona.

Whether they’re selecting a lawyer, management consultant or hedge fund manager, there are decision-makers who will always require the classic resume-based pedigree. Conversely, there are plenty of “meritocracy” buyers of professional services who will eschew external credentials and base their selections on the quality of ideas, past performance or future potential.

These suggestions might help you hack your way through the pedigree jungle:

Understand the fear factor in selection of an outside advisor. The old adage, “No one was ever fired for hiring I.B.M.” still rings true. Known brands are safe choices. When an individual selects an outside advisor, career risk plays a significant role in their decision-making. Their personal nightmare is twofold: first, that their selection will fail to meet expectations by a wide margin; secondly, that their own organization will not agree with their reasons for selecting the outside advisor…even if they supported the decision.

Unfortunately for professional services providers lacking strong external credentials, the reluctance to select them is far more prevalent at larger institutions. This is simply because the downside risk of making mistakes is much greater at larger firms. Selection errors may be tolerated at smaller firms, but as a company’s bureaucracy grows, so do the consequences related to selection errors. At big firms, taking a chance on an unproven or unknown outside provider is considered career suicide.

Reduce decision-making risk for prospective clients. If your firm doesn’t possess a strong traditional pedigree, there are several ways you can reduce decision-making risk for prospective clients. The most effective tactics involve generating either direct or indirect 3rd party endorsements that support your firm’s credibility. Here are three examples:

  • Earned Media: Positive exposure in respected, bona fide media sources (Wall Street Journal, Forbes, etc.) is still one of the most powerful ways to build credibility. Most small firms can’t afford a sustained PR effort delivered by an outside agency, but with a modest investment of time, creativity and determination, a DIY initiative can yield media placements that will bolster market confidence.
  • Industry Platforms: Most conferences, seminars and other types of industry platforms are now “pay-to-play” arrangements that extract significant sponsorship fees in exchange for a spot on the agenda. But the inherent 3rd party marketing value of these events is directly related to the credibility of the sponsoring organization. So rather than investing heavily in these events, seek opportunities to participate actively – as an officer or committee member – in professional associations that are respected by your targeted decision-makers.
  • Branded Interviews: This powerful but little known tactic involves alignment of your (lesser known) brand with a 3rd party (an individual or company) that’s well known and highly regarded in your market segment. One simple way to benefit from this “halo effect” is to create a quarterly publication that features non-self-serving interviews with these opinion leaders, covering topics of interest to your decision makers. In addition to driving top-of-mind awareness each quarter, when archived on your website, these interviews will serve to validate your pedigree.

Take advantage of non-performing, highly credentialed competitors. Some highly credentialed firms will coast on their reputations, and are not as hungry or diligent as their competitors that rely on performance rather than pedigree. This market opportunity often involves mid-sized firms that have engaged high pedigree providers, in hopes of receiving first-class service, only to be disappointed by treatment as second (or third) class citizens.

Thanks to internet transparency, these “abused client” opportunities can be easy to identify if you look for them. A straightforward “Are you receiving what you’re paying for?” solicitation can resonate in the prospect’s corner office, and often initiate conversations that lead to engagements where your firm is viewed as a hero simply for providing a level of service that the client deserves.

Conduct a pedigree “sniff-test” before you knock on doors. Marketing success relies heavily on hunting for high potential targets, and not wasting time elsewhere. A prospective client’s own pedigree is a strong indicator of their selection preferences for outside providers. Here’s the sniff test: if a potential client employs people with very similar academic and professional backgrounds, and your firm’s credentials are not a match, then don’t waste your time where you’re unlikely to be considered. Instead, look for pedigree landscapes that are compatible with your firm’s credentials, or seek opportunities where your firm’s credentials will be considered a cut above the prospective client’s pedigree.

Mark Twain once wrote, “In Boston they ask…How much does he know? In New York…How much is he worth? In Philadelphia…Who were his parents?”  The most effective professional services marketers define precisely what’s most important to their targeted prospects, and showcase their pedigree accordingly.

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B2B Marketing Needs One Giant Step…Backwards

Vest Pocket BrochuresIn the dark ages of B2B marketing communications, circa 1980, the goal was to get your snail-mailed communications past the office gatekeepers (a/k/a “executive assistants”), and onto the desks of your targeted decision-makers.

Most often, however, the sheer volume of first-class mail processed every morning by office gatekeepers made it more likely that your personalized pitch letter and costly sales brochure would end up, unopened, in the garbage can. Dead on arrival.

But starting in the mid-1990s, corporate adoption of email communication changed the dynamics of direct marketing.  First-class mail volume dropped from a peak of 59 billion pieces in 1996, to 23 billion pieces in 2013 — a 61 percent decline.

So in theory…this significant reduction in snail mail volume meant that the bar for getting materials past the office gatekeepers was lower; making it far easier to get your marketing materials into the hands of intended targets.

But that’s not what’s happened.

Instead, in lemming-like fashion, B2B marketers largely abandoned snail mail as a viable marketing communication channel, and adopted email as their “direct” medium of choice.

Now, 20 years later:

  • The sheer volume of email, even with clever Subject lines, makes it nearly impossible to gain the attention of targeted decision-makers; and
  • Misguided “eco friendly” practices (notably, failure to appreciate the paper industry’s stellar record of sustainable forest management) have fostered a generation of lifeless marketing collateral that’s either viewed onscreen, or downloaded and printed in PDF format on office printers.

As a result, today’s B2B marketers are failing to capture opportunities to connect with prospects through physical materials, in a business environment where the arrival of personalized, first-class mail is often a unique event; prompting most gatekeepers to ensure that it’s delivered to the intended target.

In addition to capturing this marcom window of opportunity, marketers would be well-served to take an additional giant step BACKWARDS…by developing “Ink on Paper” collateral materials that build brand stature.

What marketers will gain by recapturing the lost art of Ink on Paper includes:

Visceral Impact – Pixels on a screen have no weight, no dimension, no texture, no smell. Ink on Paper places something physical into a person’s hands. They open the cover and turn its pages. It’s a sensory experience that communicates on human terms, and that cannot be replicated by a flimsy PDF reprint created on a laser copier.

Personality – The range of creative expression using pixels is limited by the fixed dimensions of a flat glass screen. Ink on Paper lives on a canvas of unlimited graphic possibilities, in terms of size, shape, color and physical features. It provides an opportunity to stand out from the crowd, to express yourself more effectively, and to make an impression that’s likely to be remembered.

Permanence – People scroll through computer screens at hyper-speed. The volume of information is unlimited, and no intellectual commitment is required of viewers. Ink on Paper moves in slow motion, forcing readers to pay closer attention to its content.

Whether they sit on a desk or in a vest pocket, high quality printed materials suggest that the people and company who produced them actually exist, have nothing to hide and can be trusted.

Practitioners in most disciplines are often quick to embrace new tools and methods that enhance their results and professional satisfaction. But a much smaller number of those professionals understand the importance of sticking with, or adapting, existing tactics that work well. They do not fear appearing out-of-touch or old fashioned.

Seasoned marketers who have thrown the baby out with the bathwater in their wholesale adoption of digital communications, as well as more recent arrivals to the marketing profession who have always lived in a paperless world, would be well-served to reconsider Ink on Paper as a medium.

No marketing communications program is truly integrated without high quality print collateral.

Try using those materials as the basis for a snail mail campaign with clients or prospects, and see what happens. Ideally, do it before your competitors discover the opportunity.

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The Death of Rolodex Marketing

RolodexSurprisingly, a significant number of professional services firms continue to resist building online brand visibility as a business development strategy. The excuses we hear from them most often include:

“We’re in a relationship business.”

“New clients don’t find us by searching online.”

“Our business is driven exclusively by referrals.”

Although often it’s a waste of time to push back on their refusal to embrace online visibility, these are 3 reasons that we use to plant some seeds of doubt:

The Way People Make Decisions Has Changed Forever

In the pre-internet world, personal relationships, referrals and endorsements played a significant role in the decision-making process. Before making a decision about anything –buying a car, hiring a plumber, investing in a fund, and even sizing up a potential love interest – people communicated directly with friends, family and business associates, seeking their opinions and guidance. For generations, human interaction served as the primary validation process in decision-making.

Over the past 20 years, the internet has dramatically and permanently changed the way that people make decisions. Online research is rapidly replacing human interaction as the primary validation process in all decision-making. We check out Edmunds.com before we buy a car. We join Angie’s List to find a reliable plumber. We read Morningstar.com to gain insight into investment opportunities. We scan profiles on Match.com to evaluate candidates for a life-long relationship. Studies show that business buyers now complete up to 75% of their decision-making process online, in advance of contacting potential suppliers.

The most significant aspect of society’s rapid adoption of the internet is that we’ve raised nearly two generations of young people who have increasingly less direct social interaction with humans, and who rely almost exclusively on electronic devices to supply the information they need to make decisions about everything. Those generations are now starting their own companies, are moving into managerial positions, are raising families of their own…and are making personal, business and investment decisions that affect the fortunes of individual enterprises and the entire economy.

So if your company relies exclusively on personal relationships and referrals to drive engagements or revenue growth…it is living on borrowed time, as relationships become less personal; as human referrals are replaced by online content; and as lack of online transparency is viewed in a negative light by your friends, family and referral sources.

Referral Sources Require Nurturing and Validation

The Old Boy Network may not be dead yet, but it requires a far greater amount of effort to maintain it properly. Here’s why it makes sense to nurture your personal and business relationships through an online presence:

  • Referral sources have many choices. As strong as your relationships may be, peoples’ allegiances and motivations will always ebb and flow. A consistent online presence helps to drive top-of-mind awareness that keeps you high on their list.
  • Referral sources want to refer “safe choices.” Their personal reputation is always at risk when your contacts make a referral, and their comfort level is increased when their recommendation is validated by online content that is consistent with their opinion of you.

Notwithstanding how much time you invest in phone calls, lunches, conferences and rounds of golf, those Old Boy Network nurturing tactics simply cannot compete – in terms of consistency, market reach and “conversation” quality – with what online visibility offers. When it comes to business development, your Old Boy Network is becoming irrelevant.

Reliance on Rolodex Marketing is an Opportunity Loss

Regardless of the size of your Rolodex inventory of family, friends, club members, fraternity brothers, former business associates, vendors and clients…you will never scale your business, on a long-term basis, by relying exclusively on that group of people to drive business growth, either directly or indirectly.

Rolodex marketing may be a reliable way to jump start your firm, but it will fail to sustain momentum, simply because you will eventually overstay your welcome with those sources. Your contacts are a diminishing asset, in terms of business development.

Marketing to your existing contacts always makes sense, as a means to maintain awareness and to encourage engagement and referrals. But limiting your marketing strategy to this finite group is short-sighted at best, and represents a lost opportunity to establish awareness and generate interest among an unlimited universe of prospective customers.

So…If you’re a professional services firm that’s ready to sell the way that people buy; to take greater advantage of your referral sources; and to expand exponentially the volume of potential clients, there are three “bare essentials” of online visibility that include: maintaining a robust website, building a comprehensive presence on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and consistently producing non-self-serving Thought Leadership content.

However…If you’re still not convinced, good luck with your Rolodex-based marketing strategy. If your firm is a “lifestyle” business, rather than a serious enterprise, your Rolodex may be all that you need…for now, anyway.

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The 2 Most Deadly Sins of B2B Marketing

deadly sinsThere are two major reasons why marketing is failing at your small- or medium-sized B2B firm:

You view marketing as business triage. Your 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, only then does marketing becomes a priority.

You expect marketing to deliver immediate results. Either because your company always views marketing on a “cause & effect” tactical basis, or because marketing triage must be applied quickly to revive an ailing company, the marketing function is given insufficient time to produce tangible results. It’s no surprise that marketing professionals have the shortest tenure of any corporate function in the asset management business.

The hard truth is that very few B2B business owners either understand the marketing function, or have the discipline to design, implement, measure and adhere to a consistent marketing approach that builds brand equity and market engagement over a sustained period.

To establish the infrastructure and internal culture necessary for the marketing discipline to succeed, we offer the following simple path:

  • Create a Written Marketing Plan. This need not be in a 3-inch binder; a two-page document is often sufficient. Include goals, strategies, responsibilities, timelines, budgets and ways to measure results. Without a Marketing Plan you’ll waste lots of time and money. And unless it’s a written document, you won’t have commitment or accountability.
  • Gain Senior Level Commitment. The honcho in corner office (which might be you) must understand, endorse and support the Marketing Plan. This involves more than lip service. If your Plan isn’t properly staffed and funded at the outset, there’s no real commitment to marketing.
  • Do a Few Things Very Well.Your marketing success will be based on the quality and effectiveness of a limited number of strategies / tactics. Firms sometimes go overboard, thinking there’s a correlation between the size of its marketing investment and business results. But less is usually more, in terms of marketing ROI.
  • Build and Nurture your Database.Direct and easy access to your company’s clients, prospects, referral sources and opinion leaders is essential. Without an email pipeline, the marketing value of the content you create is close to zero. If your firm’s thought leadership simply sits on its website or social media, you’re missing the opportunity to build relationships with people in your target audiences.
  • Create Meaningful Content. Self-serving, long-winded white papers and research reports have very limited appeal. Generate content that validates your company’s intellectual capital, that’s easy to read, and focuses on timely topics that people have a genuine interest in.
  • Drive Top-of-Mind Awareness. To be included on the short list of candidates for an assignment or sale, you need to build awareness with key decision-makers. To accomplish that goal, share your content directly with target audiences on a quarterly basis. (More frequently than that, and you may be viewed as a pest.)

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

A…..Always

B…..Be

M….Marketing

…for the discipline to be effective. Otherwise, the traditional short-term, hair-on-fire approach to business development will keep your company from ever reaching its full potential, regardless of its quality or reputation.

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