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A prescription for the pain: CEB puts ease of purchase at the heart of the B2B sales process

Categories: Best Practice

CEB sales.jpg


CEB’s latest update to its Challenger sale approach suggests that a more prescriptive approach to selling is the key to success. Does that mean ‘off the shelf’ solutions are the only game in town?


If you’re a fan of CEB’s Challenger approach to B2B sales (and here at TMP, we’re strong advocates of this model, having used it successfully for campaigns on behalf of clients such as Salesforce and SAS), then CEB’s latest research, “The New Sales Imperative”, probably falls into the ‘required reading’ category.


The New Sales Imperative continues CEB’s quest to help companies get inside the ‘purple arrow’ (see diagram): this stretches from the start of the purchase process to the point at which a prospect typically engages with a supplier – 57% of the way through the process. The Challenger sales approach stipulates that only disruptive commercial insight will earn the right to engage earlier in the sales process, and the New Sales Imperative builds on this to suggest that ‘[t]oday’s best suppliers help customers consider not just what to buy but how.’




Drowning, not waving

According to CEB, the number of stakeholders involved in the purchase decision has increased from 5.4 to 6.8 and a typical solutions purchase now takes twice as long as customers expect. In other words, the process has become a ‘painful’, ‘frustrating’ ‘minefield’. The answer is, of course, to make buying easier, but customers are now awash in information and the traditional ‘responsive’ approach to sales (giving them more information) is akin to pouring water on a drowning man, actually reducing purchase ease by 18%.


Instead, CEB recommends a ‘prescriptive’ sales approach, characterised as ‘giv[ing] a clear recommendation for action backed by a specific rationale; present[ing] a concise offering and a stable view of their capabilities; and explain[ing] complex aspects of the purchase process clearly.’ CEB claims that this prescriptive approach increases purchase ease by 86% and provides a 62% greater chance of making a high-quality sale.


Off the shelf?

Essentially, CEB is saying that more and more is required of the supplier. It used to be enough to say, ‘What is it that you want us to do?’ and rely on a superior offering to provide a more compelling answer to that question than your competitors. Then you had to come up with a disruptive commercial insight, to tell the prospect something they didn’t know about their business. Now you have to go one step further and anticipate and provide solutions for problems that haven’t yet arisen – for prospects whose business you do not yet fully understand. So, does that mean that this prescriptive approach asks a supplier to provide ‘off the shelf’ solutions for complex problems?   


Thankfully not. At the heart of The New Sales Imperative is a focus on the buyer journey – an analysis not just of what they buy, but how they buy it. So, while you may have limited knowledge of your prospect, you will have sold to companies like them in the past and will understand the typical hurdles and challenges they will face in in the process of buying from you. Sharing that experience is at the core of the prescriptive sales approach.


The next meeting

At TMP, we spend a lot of time with clients on the ‘next step’.  So, if the prospect ultimately needs to get senior stakeholders to sign off a proposal, we make sure that the meeting will deliver enough value to justify their involvement. If a large group of people need to agree on the buying decision, we might develop meeting agendas or presentations that help to facilitate consensus. Essentially, we work hard to ensure that the first meeting will lead to a second, something that chimes with CEB’s prescriptive B2B sales approach and allows you to go to your prospect with solutions that are on the money, not off the shelf.


Posted by Iain Halpin | March 23, 2017

Elements of success: how to distinguish marketing strategy from tactics

Categories: Best Practice

Late last year I attended an APG event entitled Why we think what we think. The presenter talked about a pitfall many marketers fall into when planning campaigns and developing insight. Rather than heading straight into the deep account research – costing valuable time and money that may possibly be useless – he suggested we should be casting the net much wider and considering a broader range of viewpoints at the outset. Being reflective about the experiences and agency culture that influence our approach will help to move us beyond the obvious, and towards unique commercial insight.

This might sound very theoretical, but I think it has a clear importance in B2B marketing. Many commentators have noted the worrying trend in B2B marketing towards campaigns which are planned channel-first rather than strategy-first. The trend appears to be symptomatic of the eagerness with which marketers have embraced new digital channels at our disposal. For example, social media, apps, mobile, marketing automation – and, as we move forward, wearable tech, predictive analytics, virtual reality and Internet of Things – have the potential to change the way marketers reach their audiences. But eagerness to embrace these new technologies has overshadowed critical strategic thinking about the appropriateness of these channels to deliver a message to an audience.

Mark Ritson remarked on the problem in 2016:

Our discipline must be founded on understanding consumers and then coming up with the strategy that helps our organisation win in the market. All the tactical mish-mash and creative hoo-ha that follows is an important part of the marketing plan, but it’s not the starting point and it’s certainly not the most important bit.

By thinking carefully about the marketing challenge before diving into specific channel tactics, we can direct our attention towards a customer-first approach with an emphasis on long-term strategy. At The Marketing Practice we split this approach into four steps:



  1. Understand

We ask about commercial objectives, and then we ask, what is the marketing challenge that is standing in the way of achieving them? It may be an outdated brand perception, or low product awareness in the market. We need to understand that challenge in order to form a B2B marketing strategy.

  1. Strategy

Once we know the core challenge, we can consider the best marketing approach. This starts with insights from our Planning team, which we develop into an overall strategy. Do we need a brand activation campaign followed by a demand generation programme? A new value proposition leading into an advocacy campaign? Whatever the strategy, we need to agree that we’re heading in the right direction – before we actually go in that direction.

  1. Solution

Once we’ve come up with an overall strategy, the next step is the marketing plan. This is where we get into the details of project plans, concepts, user journeys, comms plans. The marketing plan should give a much more detailed idea of the scope of your activities and help to define how your success will be measured.

  1. Deliver

Everything is set – now we deliver the marketing programme. We regularly review work against objectives and feed any findings back into ongoing programmes. The programme launch should never be seen as the finish line.


One of the biggest dangers in B2B marketing is confusing channel tactics with a properly researched marketing strategy.

The best marketers appreciate the need to think about the marketing strategy first, and ensure new technologies and channels do not obscure their focus on the fundamentals. Asking the right questions, remaining open-minded in our approach to developing insight, and only then utilising appropriate tactics and channels, delivers the best long-term B2B marketing outcomes. 


Posted by Alice Rudland | February 10, 2017

The Clash taught me everything I know about B2B copywriting

Categories: Best Practice



I know there’ll be some of you reading that headline and thinking: this guy needs a smack on the nose. And a fair few others thinking ‘who are The Clash?’ In response to the first I’d say: bear with me, as this is not as twattish as it sounds, and to the second I’d say The Clash were the greatest band to walk the Earth. If you need convincing of the latter, watch this. So, what am I talking about? One word: authenticity.


Write about what's affecting you, what's important1


The Clash were pretty much musical year zero for millions of us in the late 70s/early 80s – politics translated into a musical style that took from rock, dub, reggae, 1930s jazz, Elvis, disco, calypso, hip hop and beyond. They were so punk, that the punk purists complained when they moved on from the iconoclastic three-chord style of songwriting. And that’s what made them authentic. They didn’t represent what was in vogue at the time, only themselves. They stood apart from their peers because they stood for something that was real. Issues that resonated. And they did it without posturing (hello Coldplay and U2).

It also explains why a band that split up 31 years ago still inspires such fierce, tribal loyalty.


What you gonna believe in?

And while I appreciate the heresy of linking the band to IT B2B marketing, we can all learn something from them.

All the big IT brands spend an age and a fortune trying to carve out some form of differentiation. But how different – or as marketing would have it – how ‘unique’ are they? Once you’ve looked at their propositions, it’s obvious they’re similar – so the only thing they’re competing on is price. And while that might work for a budget airline or Sports Direct, if you’re supplying complex IT services, that’s a massive danger. Let’s face it, there’s always going to be someone, somewhere working on a start-up who will claim they can do what you do – just cheaper. So, how do you generate sustainable loyalty? By being authentic. And if you don’t believe that, I’ve two names to throw at you: Trump and Corbyn.

If you want to look at a brand that’s doing it, then there’s Apple. Regardless of what you think about the company, its products or its slippery market share, it communicates authentically. We all know what it stands for, and why its customers believe it’s different. Now compare that to Dell or Lenovo and tell me what they stand for, or what their customers would say about them.

And why is that important? Because authenticity breeds loyalty – and loyalty suggests you may have a future. I read that half of S&P 500 companies won’t be an S&P 500 company in ten years’ time2. Now there’s going to be various reasons for this (new technology, changing consumer habits, managerial ineptitude) but the more that people believe that you represent something that’s real and not just a ‘tangible’ marketing buzzword, the stronger your neck is going to be when the axe is getting sharpened.


Separating the wheat from the crap

So if you’re still here, this is where authentic writing and marketing comes in. You’re not going to drive loyalty with meaningless stats or drivel about ‘leveraging’ this or ‘optimising’ that. You’ll do it by making what you do real. That means finding the human truth to a technical subject or another angle to an old problem. And then choosing language that people actually use to explain it. It’s not even that difficult really. All you need is confidence and a finely tuned BS detector.

In 1980 I was 14 years old. In the January of that year I bunked off school with my mates Colin and Sharon, jumped on a bus and paid £3 to see The Clash3 play live. It was like a UFO had landed and my mind was promptly blown. My mum and dad went nuts when they found out, but it didn’t stop me doing it the next month when the band played the Electric Ballroom (I think) in London. So why does any of that matter – and why am I still listening to them all these years later? There are loads of bands whose music I like, but only one I believe in. They were authentic. The real deal – that’s why I stuck with them and why they taught me everything I know about B2B copywriting.


1). Advice allegedly given to the band by their manager

2). Let’s face it, most stats are meaningless but if you are interested, this claim came from here: http://www.inc.com/ilan-mochari/innosight-sp-500-new-companies.html

3). I wanted to use more Clash videos but couldn’t think of a way to shoehorn them in, but this one is great: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ydao39coPn8


Posted by Ray Philpott | January 18, 2017

What Marketing Automation teaches us about predictive analytics

Categories: Best Practice


Predictive Analytics is currently a hot topic in B2B Marketing. But if it is going to live up to its hype, we need to heed the lessons of marketing automation.

Marc Benioff, Salesforce CEO, is quoted as saying “If this is not the next big thing, I don’t know what is”. He’s just launched Einstein, an AI and predictive analytics platform, with much fanfare and rapturous applause at Dreamforce. Since its triumph on the television quiz show Jeopardy!, IBM has also advanced Watson’s capabilities and have announced plans to invest $200 million into its global plans.

It’s the ‘Open Sesame’ to the next big sales deal. We’re no longer looking at data and asking ‘so what’, but ‘what next’?


Sceptics argue that you can never predict human behaviour but predictive tools have been around and have been working well for years, particularly in the B2C space. Now it’s our turn.

The choice of predictive analytics B2B technology at our disposal is huge with 2015 seeing nearly $300m in new start-up investment compared to $375m in prior years combined. More importantly, there is so much more data than ever before. By 2020, the International Data Corporation (IDC) expects the global annual data-creation total to reach 40 zettabytes, which would amount to a 50-fold increase from where things stood at the start of 2010. Staggering.

What this means for B2B marketers is that alongside CRM data, there’s a whole new world of unstructured data hiding in social media, websites, transaction history, blog posts, and satisfaction surveys – all offering digital clues to customer needs and likely intent to buy.

We still await clarity from the DMA and ICO on EU General Data Protection Regulation (EU GDPR). This could have significant implications on how we collect, process and track unstructured data with which analytics tools rely on.


One thing that is certain, is that we must learn from our Marketing Automation experiences over the last 3 or 4 years before jumping in feet first with a global, all-conquering predictive analytics rollout.

Like predictive analytics, Marketing Automation was heralded as the next big thing in B2B marketing, yet Sirius Decisions report that 85% of B2B companies using Marketing Automation believe they are not getting the most out of it, despite significant investment.

That’s a very high percentage but not altogether unsurprising. I’ve worked with organisations who simply expected to pull their automation software out of the box, switch it on and let it work its magic almost overnight.

It’s a path well-trodden, but we know (or we should know) that automation success takes time and requires an ever expanding, well-structured and engaged database all supported by scoring models (that requires continued and sensible re-adjustment) and plenty of content for it to work.

It also doesn’t need to be complicated. Einstein defined genius as “taking the complex and making it simple” – some of the best examples of automation I’ve seen or worked on have been based on simplicity and scaled over time to produce a lead flow that sales are positively purring over. You can see our suggestions for how to run an effective marketing automation programme here.


The same principles need to be applied today. Our automation experiences tell us so. Simply put, B2B companies are more likely to succeed with it if they have invested well in their data and they have already mastered the art of making technology work in their favour.


Posted by Gary Billings | December 5, 2016

Challenger Marketing 101: The 4 principles of Challenger Marketing

Categories: Best Practice



The challenger approach entered common lexicon with the publication of The Challenger Sale and The Challenger Customer, by Brent Adamson, Matthew C. Dixon, and their colleagues from CEB Inc. You can read a quick summary of The Challenger Sale here and The Challenger Customer here.

Being fairly new to the Challenger concept myself, I did a little investigating on your behalf around The Marketing Practice, asking not just for a definition of what ‘Challenger Marketing’ is, but for practical advice on how to do it.

And now, ta-da, here it is. An ultra-quick crash course into the four pillars of challenger marketing, courtesy of my colleagues.


What it is:

As opposed to colourful ad campaigns that look great when pasted into an awards entry, but fail to convert customers, challenger is a sales-focused methodology. It is based on rigorous research into a handful of relevant prospects, and a commercial insight into why those prospects should consider your product or service.

What it isn’t:

It’s not a quick 1-2 formula. It’s not a collection of channels, or a specific selection of assets. Nor is it a mindless attempt at shocking prospects with a controversial headline. Successful challenger campaigns don’t look alike. They might all share a strategic backbone, but they’re all dressed quite differently. Because every challenger campaign is informed both by the proposition (the product or service we’re trying to sell), and by a unique understanding of the personalities and driving forces of a customer decision-making unit.

In short, challenger marketing works because it’s so closely aligned with a successful sales strategy. It works hard to achieve the same thing that a sales team are after: sales.

…Fine. So how do you do it?

I’ve outlined below the four core principles of The Marketing Practice’s challenger method according to members of TMP’s centres of excellence.

They might look simple at first sight, but in reality, the ‘secrets’ revealed below are really just the starting point of a much greater, and more involved, process. Consider the steps below as a ‘starter for ten’, that could give you and your own teams a place from which to start thinking about being a bit more ‘Challenger’ in your own marketing.


1. Find an insight that reframes


This is what the CEB means when it talks about ‘teaching for differentiation’. Insight is not your proposition’s USP, a thinly veiled dig at your nearest competitor or an impressive savings calculation. It’s a single piece of crucial information that literally stops your prospect in their tracks and causes them to think “****, I hadn’t thought of it like that”.

Like a fun-house mirror in reverse, these insights reveal the truth from a new perspective, reframing a business issue, and turning the status quo on its head.

But it’s difficult to find an insight that is both true and provides cut-through. B2B marketing isn’t the same as selling fizzy drinks or mobile phones. It’s creating the business case for a significant investment in a long-term solution.

As Heather Barnett, Associate Director at The Marketing Practice, tells me: 

“We’re not trying to argue against a competitor’s offering, we’re trying to argue for them to change their business.” tweet this TMP.png


2. Tailoring for resonance


That means more than just including someone’s first name in a subject line. It’s also not just looking at verticals, job titles or demographics.

That’s just tailoring for relevance.

Tailoring for resonance means finding out as much as possible about a prospect’s goals, fears, motivations, history and ambitions. It means getting under the skin of a prospect, slipping on their size 8 slippers and understanding what would make them give a tinker’s about what you’re trying to sell.

Which, in turn, means conducting hours of research into companies and decision-makers at a granular level. It means scouring annual reports, company news, and individual LinkedIn profiles. Only when sufficient data is available is a prospect considered for a challenger campaign.

Jo Willis from The Marketing Practice’s data team goes so far as to say:

“We sometimes have to dismiss a targeted account if there isn’t sufficient information available. They may be a good target on the surface, but if we can’t verify our figures and information, then we can’t include them in the campaign”.


3. Taking control of the sale


“Sell me this pen!”

According to Hollywood, ‘taking control of the sale’ means you’re about to kick your prospect’s door down and launch into a six-minute monologue that’ll have them signing a contract just in time for you to make it to your kid’s football match/stop the love of your life from boarding a plane to Madagascar/save your community dog-wash.

In reality, there is no pen, no football match, and – usually – very little yelling. Taking control of the sale from a lead generation perspective means taking the time to engage in a series of ‘nurturing’ interactions. By leaning on the previous two principles, marketers and sales people work together to create a conversation platform that gently works to navigate leads towards a state of higher interest.

Again, there is no magical, gluten-free recipe that will work for all industries and clients. No set number of emails or InMails and no predefined messaging template. The only common ingredients are perseverance, talented salespeople, good content, a consistent cross-channel brand message… and step number 4.


4. Measuring and learning


Research doesn’t end when the campaign is over. Digital channels are an excellent way of collating data on an asset. From number of times a page has been visited, to the time spent reading an article, or the number of visitors redirected from an affiliate site. But a full account of a challenger campaign extends beyond an excel report. As I mentioned before, face-to-face, anecdotal feedback from the sales team is occasionally some of the most salient information a marketer can get. You can look at Venn diagrams until your eyes cross, but hearing first-hand from a prospect why an approach has worked, or not worked, is the purest and most straightforward form of feedback.

Unfortunately, I can’t give you a beat-by-beat breakdown of what assets to create for your campaign, and when to distribute them. Sorry.

The fact is that each challenger marketing challenge (see what I did there?) is unique. But by focusing your efforts on a methodology that uses business insight to convert customers instead of winning awards, you’ll already be on the path to more resonant, and more effective, marketing activities.


Did you find this post useful?

Do you have any more questions?

Do you have a diametrically opposed view on Challenger Marketing?

Let me know in the comments below.


Posted by Jade Mitchell | November 30, 2016

Customer success marketing: How B2B organisations can make it succeed

Categories: Best Practice

Marc Russman recently pioneered Customer Success Marketing for the IBM Cloud Business Unit. His objective: To integrate the art of storytelling into a disciplined marketing process.

Marc has now joined The Marketing Practice in the US to advise enterprise clients as they embark on inventive and disruptive marketing strategies. I caught up with him to get some of his thoughts on his work with IBM and the impact of his customer success strategy there.


What is 'Customer Success Marketing'?

Nothing is more contagious in business than success. Satisfied customers have fascinating stories to tell about the benefits they’ve experienced from deploying a new technology or service. So, why not ask a happy customer to share their story?


Customer Success Marketing is an orchestrated process for identifying, capturing and leveraging customer stories. Communicated internally, success stories go a long way toward building an atmosphere of success across an organization. Utilized externally, customer success stories are a powerful means of attracting new buyers.


If it’s just a set of customer stories, why is it called a ‘program’?

Highly satisfied customers don’t pop up by accident. Customer success is the outcome of many business processes working harmoniously together. The same is true for developing customer success stories. They should be the steady, predictable outcome of a program that has measurable goals and objectives. This is a disciplined process with a management system that ensures a continuous flow of new content. Sellers should know with certainty they will have the customer evidence needed to close deals. And with this program, marketers have confidence in the supply of fresh new content to deploy across marketing channels and in campaigns.


Why do you think businesses are starting similar programs?

Customer references have a very limited shelf-life and age rapidly. Prospective buyers want evidence of customer satisfaction that is current and relevant to their business challenges and industry. A Customer Success program drives a tighter link between sales and marketing that results in a more rapid identification and delivery of new stories and marketing content. The program can also reward customers for their loyalty.

It places the focus of everyone in an organization where it should be: On ensuring customers are so satisfied they want to share their experience with others.


When it comes down to it, what is the value of Customer Success Marketing?

Customer references are the most valued sales asset for closing deals. These stories, case studies, blogs or customer quotes are verifiable proof-points of success. Similarly, customer stories are valuable to marketers because the content can be leveraged to raise awareness, develop interest and nurture prospective buyers.


Does that mean the salesperson plays a critical role?

Customer Success Marketing takes the art of storytelling and surrounds it with the discipline and rigor of a marketing campaign. Salespeople have the closest relationship with customers and play a pivotal role in the program. They are accountable for identifying customers who are willing to provide a success story. After asking the customer to share their story, they hand off to marketing to develop the story. They also need to communicate the value proposition for participating in the program to their customer.


On the other hand, what role does the customer play? What’s in it for them?

Customers who share their success stories need to see this effort as a win–win. A bundle of benefits should be presented to a customer considering participation. Customers who agree to provide a success story should be offered tangible rewards that are significant and meaningful to them. But, they don’t have to be monetary. Their story will receive media exposure which is a huge benefit in itself. In addition, customers can be provided with services like technical support or education credits as an example. Other benefits might include free trials or beta tests, access to executive roundtables or pre-release disclosure briefings for new offerings. The key is to provide the right set of benefits to the right customer which requires flexibility and an understanding of the customer’s needs.


Is it a resource-intensive program to run?

Establishing a cross-organization Customer Success program requires senior management support. The objective is to create an atmosphere of success throughout the organization. Managers can demonstrate this commitment by opening every meeting with a customer success story. They’re difficult programs to run―complex, and requiring tight integration. Dedicated resources are required to support the program. Sales enablement is necessary to educate sellers on the value of customer success stories to the business and their role in driving customer participation.


How do you justify that kind of investment? How do you measure it?

Objectives and targets are essential to the program’s operations. For example, individual salespeople can be assigned a target for identifying a specific number of customers willing to participate in the program. Marketing targets can also track improvement in awareness and customer reach. A scorecard is a tangible measure of progress to share across the business with other key performance indicators. Rewards and incentives for the sales team are a good way to reinforce the importance of customer success activity.



Questions or comments? Please feel free to get in touch with Marc directly at mrussman@themarketingpractice.com or on LinkedIn.


Posted by Dan Squire | November 8, 2016

"I take my martech providers with a pinch of salt": how recent claims challenge the future of B2B marketing

Categories: Best Practice


September 2016 saw the release of two research reports that caught my eye – the ‘State of Inbound Report’ by HubSpot and ‘Digital First?’ by ITSMA.

They’re the latest in a host of studies published by marketing technology providers and professional bodies that are characterised by bold yet spurious claims. At worst, they’re inaccurate. At best, I think they pose a threat to the positive direction much B2B marketing is heading in.

I thought it was worth picking on these two to show you what I mean.

Let’s take this HubSpot stat as an example:

"59% of marketing and salespeople say their highest-quality sales leads come from inbound sources."

‘Inbound sources’ – what are those? I’m guessing it harks back to that old HubSpot mantra: that ‘outbound’ is a byword for out-of-date marketing. For cheesy airport adverts and cold calls.

Inbound marketing is everything that’s good about modern marketing. Outbound is everything that’s bad about old marketing. Inbound is Justin Bieber. Outbound is Cliff Richard.

Inbound. Outbound. Shake-it-all-about-bound.


Some of the survey questions seem to assume this false dichotomy (inbounds vs. outbound) actually exists – they ask what the most ‘overrated’ marketing tactics are, without clarifying the objectives of those tactics, why they’re being used, and to whom.

Cue a quote from our Chief Digital Officer, David van Schaick, who I asked for an opinion on this blog:

“They [HubSpot] have a tendency to ascribe to tactical approaches some universal properties which aren’t really valid (i.e. inbound is more effective than outbound; social selling is better than events). Context is important and strategy should drive appropriate tactics for that context."

I'm going to take this HubSpot claim to its conclusion. If tactic and channel selection is the main influence over success in B2B marketing (which is a fair inference from their studies), is the modern B2B marketer just a tactician and nothing more? I’m hoping you’ll agree the answer is a resounding ‘no’.

This is my next favourite stat (courtesy of ITSMA):

"Digitally-savvy B2B buyers make 49% of buying decisions offline, and 51% online."

Do you make decisions online or offline? Decisions are made over time and with careful consideration. In B2B, they’re most often made by a group of decision-makers, which makes it even harder to assess whether the decision's offline or online. And don't get me started on the phrase 'digitally-savvy'.

But overall, ITSMA does a better job of its report. And that's where I want the conversation to go.

It at least looks at the balance of online and offline, and makes a completely outrageous conclusion: people actually still do things offline, so B2B brands need to have an offline presence.


Shocking, I know.


In fact, ITSMA went and found out the most common information sources for buyers at the beginning of the buying process. They realised the most important channels were almost all offline and people-based. Yet despite that, 82% of marketers expect online marketing spend to increase in FY16.

And this is my point about the challenge for B2B marketers inherent in these reports.

My worry is this: is that future spend based on sound marketing strategies, or is it a response to the drive towards tactics and channels promoted by providers like HubSpot? Do people really know what they're buying?

If there’s one thing I think we need to start stressing, it’s the importance of marketing strategy to inform spend. And a genuine understanding of how strategy differs from tactics.


For further reading, have a look at David van Schaick's blog about the role of customer experience in B2B marketing and how that could be a really positive bandwagon to jump on instead.


Posted by Matt Harper | November 4, 2016

Why fine-tuning your proposition is the key to being customer-centric

Categories: Best Practice


Today, I hardly ever get a client brief without some reference to ‘customer-centricity’ somewhere within it. There’s nothing wrong with that – but what does ‘customer-centric marketing’ really mean in B2B?

A lot of people will tell you that it involves a detailed content marketing strategy and/or a commitment to marketing automation and more sophisticated customer data profiling. At the heart of that: the creation of detailed customer personas that help us better visualise our audience.

These are all valuable tools, but in the general hubbub of ‘modern marketing’ discussion, the product and the concept of the proposition is in danger of being neglected.

I want to make the case here that the proposition is still the central challenge facing B2B marketers. I’d even add that if you’re doing your proposition development right, you’re probably well on your way to nailing the challenge of customer-centricity too. Because a good proposition understands a customer’s challenges and responds to them. A good proposition is a customer-centric one.


Don’t take my word for it – here’s what the audience thinks!


As things stand, B2B audiences aren’t very satisfied with the quality of the marketing and sales approaches they receive. Here’s a quote from a fairly recent CEB and Google study:

“86% of B2B buyers saw ‘no real difference between suppliers’.”

And here are the thoughts of some B2B tech decision-makers from a recent study we conducted with Kindle Research.

“It’s all believable, but nothing grabs me. It’s just general marketing blurb.”

“For me to take 30 minutes out of my day I need to see some value in it, and quite often I’m unconvinced.”

So why’s it so hard to get this right?


Is this the toughest kind of marketing there is?


Many B2B marketers have to deal with complex, highly specialised solutions and services.

There are often long and complicated stories to digest about how and why these offerings were developed. Getting the most interesting details out of these – and consensus among the solutions architects, consultants and sales teams – takes time and effort.

You then need to map these against some equally complex customer worlds – multi-faceted business challenges, subtle variations by industry, convoluted decision-making processes and groups, sometimes long sales cycles. According to the CEB, 80% of sales leaders say the number of people in a decision-making unit continues to rise. And it’s already at 5.4.

It’s hard graft, but well worth it. In the process you start to uncover some nuggets of gold – the little things that will give you some genuine differentiation, leading to more exciting creative, clever messaging and marketing that will stop people in their tracks.

However, the truth is that this hard graft doesn’t always happen and the foundations for everything else B2B marketers do is weakened by that.


Understanding the customer and understanding the product is the same thing


My message here is that by doing the hard work to understand your offering and the story behind it – its ‘why’ – you will end up with a far better informed view of your customer’s world and where you fit in it.

You can read the full detail of the research we carried out with Kindle here – it’s loaded with quotable reactions from the B2B tech audience, which I think really help us focus when we’re planning a campaign and discussing audience insight.

You can also find out more about how to structure your approach to this challenge in our proposition playbook. In this document we’ve brought together the approaches that work best from years of B2B campaigning on complex propositions.

So next time you hear someone complaining about being too product-focused, just remind them not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.



Posted by Tom Upfold | October 17, 2016

Festival of Marketing 2016: Customer experience and the rise of cognitive

Categories: Uncategorized


Last week I spent a couple of days at Econsultancy’s Festival of Marketing event in London. Spread over two days, the 12 different ‘stages’ covered subjects from digital transformation to brand to the customer experience (and even one on B2B).

Here are my key takeaways…


The customer experience (CX) will be front of mind for B2B marketers in 2017

The event reinforced my view that CX will be top of the agenda next year. Adobe are claiming we are entering the ‘Experience Wave’ – the third major ‘wave’ of business transformation in the last 10–15 years. First was back-office efficiency, second was CRM and loyalty, and this third is experience and customer journey.

It’s not a new issue, of course – we ran an event on CX Maturity in 2007. But with tech vendors and publishers pushing the agenda, including at the B2B conference in November, it feels like 2017 will be the year when B2B marketers are pressured to do something about it. I can almost imagine the planning sessions going on right now, Post-it notes clustering around ‘Improve our customer journey’ and bosses demanding, "What’s our Customer Experience Strategy?"

In practice, we’re already seeing more programmes with an emphasis on ‘brand expression’ – does our experience make the audience feel the right way about our brand? – and projects to review the customer journey and identify ways it can be improved.


Integration and exploitation of data will be a growing focus

Consensus is well established: marketers have plenty of data but struggle to make use of it.

But to achieve your burgeoning CX ambitions, you need to integrate the various sources of data (eg search, web analytics, social analytics, marketing data, CRM data, third-party data). More importantly, you need to manipulate it in such a way that you get useful insights to help improve customer journeys, creative impact, content performance, channel selection, advertising placement and cadence, messaging, email… the list is a long one.

I think this will mean B2B organisations get more serious about the ‘data layer’, analytics and smarter in the way they apply their martech. It may well come under the banner of digital transformation.


Cognitive is coming to marketing

Cognitive will be the next big martech trend and has some pretty far-reaching implications in and outside of marketing. The most impressive/interesting sessions I saw were IBM Watson for marketing and a panel discussion on how AI is influencing the customer experience.

Cognitive technology is the description for a range of capabilities that allow computers to think and learn like (or more like) humans, from visual recognition to natural language processing and machine learning.

Watson is arguably the leading cognitive tech ‘brand’ (thanks to both an enlightened business strategy and great marketing). It’s making use of massively more data than either we humans or traditional analytics tools can; 80% of data is unstructured. Watson can read 800 million pages of text a second (faster even than Short Cuts?), interpret pictures, understand complex metaphors, idioms and emojis. It can also learn as it goes.

Use cases range from predictive analytics to reduce customer churn, to personalisation of advertising and promotions to improve sales, to segmentation, product and proposition development. It’s already being used in a few experimental B2C cases – North Face’s jacket-choosing assistant may seem a little OTT but gives a good idea of the sort of interactions we’ll be seeing more of.

Still early days, and I think it’ll be a while before we see it in B2B outside of brand activation-type stuff, although Salesforce recently made Einstein, their AI platform, the star of Dreamforce.

Caveats with cognitive are that it relies on a fair bit of data and it needs experts to teach it. But imagine if you could plug it into your CRM data and all the data, say, LinkedIn has about networks, connections and behaviours and give that to Watson. Interesting times ahead.


The next few years will see less new martech and consolidation in the martech space

This is the view of Econsultancy VP of Research, Stefan Tornquist. VC funding for martech is down 50% on last year, itself down 33% from the previous year. Stefan’s view is that this ‘plateau’ will allow B2B organisations to catch up on themselves and get much better at making the most of digital technology. Sounds like a good challenge!


Posted by David van Schaick | October 12, 2016

The Marketing Practice Inc: why TMP is setting up shop in Seattle

Categories: At the Barn

B2B marketing is developing rapidly around the world, with more and more companies demanding integrated, measurable, commercially focused programmes. Particularly in the US, integrated demand generation programmes are becoming increasingly sought after. That was most recently seen in the Business Marketing Association's B2 awards earlier this year, where integrated campaigns featured heavily.

The President of TMP’s international operations, Paul Everett, has been closely involved with setting up the agency’s newest office in Seattle. I caught up with him to get his thoughts on how B2B marketing in the US is evolving.


Why are you opening a US office?


A number of the programmes we are running for clients in the UK and EMEA are being sponsored by their headquarters, which are predominantly in the United States. Equally, our reputation in EMEA has meant that more and more of our clients’ counterparts in the US are asking us to replicate that success over there.


The US is a really interesting new market for us. We’ve seen that our approach is transferable through programmes we’ve already run in the US. But there’s also plenty we can learn from US companies which we will then be able to apply to our programmes in EMEA. So overall there’s a great opportunity for us to cross-pollinate, and we expect our clients to benefit greatly from this.


What do you mean by cross-pollinate?


We’re bringing a lot of EMEA experience to the US, which gives us a different perspective that we can offer clients there. And we know there are a lot of things we can learn from the US market and apply to our EMEA campaigns.


For example, in Europe you’ve got smaller markets, and each of those markets speak a different language, whereas in the US you have a far bigger audience to run tests with. An account list in EMEA might include 100 companies. In the US there might be 1000 accounts for the same criteria.


So in Europe, it’s always been essential to integrate different elements of marketing – we can’t afford to let a single account slip through the net. Whereas American marketers are ahead with their marketing technology and automation, because it’s necessary for such a huge audience.


So what is the advantage of having experience in Europe?


As I was saying, we’ve always promoted an integrated approach to campaigns all the way from proposition development through to sales handover, which is what many American companies lack. In several cases, they have highly specialised teams working in siloes. So they’re more advanced in specific disciplines but have less experience at end-to-end integration.


Our experience in EMEA also gives our clients an advantage when it comes to proposition development. With a crowded market of suppliers and a smaller audience to target, it’s essential to have a campaign proposition that is truly differentiated.


What are you most excited about for the US office?


The scale of the market offers us massive opportunities. Because the audience is bigger, you can put more investment into the planning and preparation of a programme whilst maintaining strong ROI at the end. That means we can drive more digital engagement by investing in the right tools and technology up-front, which continues to be a challenge with UK marketing budgets.


And of course the excitement for employees in the UK can’t be underestimated. There are a lot of opportunities for our existing staff to spend time working in Seattle, which is a big deal. So we’re cross-pollinating employees across two continents as well.


Perhaps you’re stretching the metaphor too far now.


Okay, point taken.


Finally, do you have one piece of key advice for anyone setting up in the US?


There’s a misconception that you have to open an office before you can approach the market. But because of the scale of the country, having an office doesn’t actually give you more than 1–2 hours’ advantage over the UK. There’s still a 3-hour time difference between the coasts – by comparison, the UK is only five hours away from New York. Over the last few years we’ve shown our approach works from the UK before we made the leap to opening our Seattle office – the three B2 Awards we won earlier this year are a testament to that. And now we have the opportunity to work even more closely with those clients and others to continue delivering that service on an even larger scale.



Posted by Dan Squire | October 10, 2016