If I were to say the word ‘creative’ to you, what would you think? Big square media spectacles? An office painted in primary colours – possibly located in Shoreditch?
If you’re a marketing director or CMO of a business services or business process organisation, the answer might be ‘not a lot’. After all, your customers deal in rational decisions when it comes to purchasing your products and services. They want to know you’ll deliver ROI, that you’ll help them build credibility – even that signing a deal with you won’t cost them their job.
So creativity is for those flakes in B2C right? You’re in the business of marketing and selling serious services to serious people. They, like you, want to see results.
Well, there’s no easy way to tell you this, but you’re wrong. As wrong as Motörhead appearing on the X Factor, or Graham Norton becoming the next Bond. That wrong. Creativity does play a role in the B2B space – one that when done properly, leads to cold, hard sales.
That’s not me saying that by the way. You could be one of our clients, or a prospect – I’d be mad to offend you. That’s straight from the marketing and advertising body the IPA, and the Marketing Leadership Council of CEB.
What an analysis of work by both organisations reveals, is that building an emotional link to a B2B brand through the use of creativity is a critical driver of purchasing decisions. Simply put, you are more likely to buy from a vendor that you trust – and that creatively-driven campaigns are 10 times more efficient at driving market share than non-creative campaigns.
Is it possible to do the subject justice in a blog? Probably not. That’s why we produced a more in-depth piece of work, put together by our former Marketing Director Robert Ainger. Balancing Reputation and Revenue: a logical argument for creativity, shows why combining the emotional with the rational when speaking to B2B purchasers benefits the bottom-line (in terms of what people think of you and actual cash money) over the immediate and long term.
And that leaves you with a clear and logical business case for building creativity into your campaigns.
If I were to say the word ‘creative’ to you, what would you think? Big square media spectacles? An office painted in primary colours – possibly located in Shoreditch?
Join us as we grow. And grow. And grow.
2016 is the year The Marketing Practice takes over the world! Okay, well, world domination might be taking it a bit far, but we are growing pretty quickly, whilst delivering award-winning marketing for our industry-leading clients (we’ve been the most recognised agency at the B2B Marketing Awards over the past 3 years). We’re moving into a third barn at our rural Oxfordshire home this year, and we’re opening two offices overseas too. And as exciting as this is, we can’t do it alone – there’s 120 of us now, and we need another 10+ exceptional B2B marketers to join us and help with our huge plans – from graduates to copywriters, and Account Directors to Inside Sales. Sound good to you?
I joined TMP a little over two years ago as a grad and haven’t looked back since. It’s a culture of exceptionally talented, fun, focused, diverse and rather different people. And as well as genuinely enjoying the work we do, we love to have fun too:
- we’ve raised over £15,500 for the Footsteps Foundation over the past year with our Chains for Change initiative
- we raised over £10,000 for Parkinson’s UK with a 24-hour table football marathon
- our social committee opened our Friday after-work-drinks bar in 2015
- and someone decided it would be a good idea for us to build and race our own go-karts at our annual Hall of Fame company celebration ‘away day’ last year…
So ask yourself this… Are you looking for a challenge in 2016? Because if you’re an exceptional B2B marketer, and you think you could help us in our quest of continuing to conquer the B2B world this year, then you should probably let us know. Before you do, you can find out more about us on our website, then either drop us an email to tell us why you think you’d fit in well around here, or give us a call (01235 433 435) and have a chat with our Recruitment team – ask to speak to Joanna.
I’ll leave you with this. It’s a video of me from a couple of years ago, not long after I first joined TMP, feeling a little more embarrassed than usual… I was told I had to write this bit…
Senior Account Manager
This blog post is going to make you reach out. Reach out and touch those tangible benefits. It’s going to immerse you in puddles of innovation. Leverage your vision. Synergise your solutions. Optimise your… you.
So why do we do it? There are four reasons:
1. Hooked on the “language of business”
The more that people in positions of power repeat jargon, the more we begin to believe that this really is the language successful people use. We have to say these things to make ourselves look “in the know”. These are words that make money!
2. Not trusting the audience
We think our audience is familiar with this language and if we stray from it, they won’t understand. The issue with this thinking is that, in one way, all audiences are the same. They like things to be spelled out in a clear, concise way.
3. One crime leads to another
Sometimes the real crime isn’t using a banned word, but the lack of understanding of the topic. The writer throws in a few buzzwords to muddy the waters. With a bit of luck, any readers who don’t get it will assume that this is down to their own stupidity.
4. It’s really hard to say no
There are times when these words are difficult to avoid. You need time and you often need a longer character count – which may or may not be available.
Think twice before using these words…
First, a disclaimer: this isn’t a hit list. These words don’t have to be Tipp-Exed out of the dictionary. These are words that should be handled with care. Here goes…
A word that means “doing new stuff” has been used so many times that it’s become old hat.
Are you doing something no other human has ever done before? Do employees freely share controversial ideas? If the answer is yes, then you might be innovative, but that doesn’t mean that you should shout about it.
Innovative people don’t tell people they’re innovative – they prove it. Talk about the work you’re doing. Explain what it is about your product or work culture that’s new and exciting.
A few alternatives to consider: inventive, original, new, advanced, groundbreaking, pioneering.
Scalability may well be relevant to the product you’re writing about. For example, it might be a system that can be tested on a small team and then rolled out to a large number of users. The key here is to ask in what way is it scalable? How does scalability help my readers? Don’t gloss over the details – these are often the bits that will bring your proposition to life.
Strategic. Sounds like a respectable sort of a word. And it is – except when it’s applied to topics that are innately strategic.
“The Board’s strategic plan”
Is this ever not strategic? That’s the question to ask yourself every time you find your fingers typing those nine letters. Do the board ever make plans by accident? Do they set out proposals that are unrelated to their long-term goals? If the answer is no, then all you need to do is hit delete.
I have a dream. If it’s good enough for Martin Luther King, it’s good enough for you, right? Wrong. Visions have to be big. World peace. Curing cancer. Changing lives.
A vision isn’t just a plan. It’s thinking about the future “with imagination or wisdom”. The OED will back us up on that one. Making more money and organic growth don’t count. If your long-term objectives aren’t transforming the way your customers work or live, let’s just call it a plan.
You’re either trying to say people can touch your benefits or that they are real. The first option is probably not correct. The second option probably is, but it’s also not necessary. Unless you’ve given readers a reason to think that you’d present false benefits, there’s no reason to say that this isn’t the case.
So we’re back to plain old “benefits”. Admittedly, this has been used a lot. You could try replacing it with “advantages” or “differentiators” or, even better, state what difference the benefits make. Tell the reader why they should care. How the product helps them. Then you might not need to say “hey, this is a benefit” at all.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg…
There are plenty more words that deserve a place on this list. Which terms do you see too much of? Do you have any tips on how you avoid them? Let us know what you think.
Matt Harper, Head of Content at The Marketing Practice, discusses the changing relationship between Sales and Marketing and why those who can merge the two fields bring the most success to their B2B organisation.
B2B Marketing has experienced the same formative changes affecting every industry. Once again, it’s down to digital.
This word has distracted marketers. It’s divided Sales and Marketing even further. The world of content marketing and infographics is remote for the salesperson consumed by customers, pipeline and bids. But, marketing profs have reported that “Companies with aligned sales and marketing generated 208% more revenue from marketing.”
This gulf has given rise to a new breed of Sales and Marketing hybrid. A smarketer.
The smarketer understands the salesperson. In fact, they’re more than likely a former salesperson themselves (the one that led social, and had lots of bright ideas for that event stand).
Not only do they deliver more revenue opportunities by understanding effective demand generation, but they deliver the right ones because they can identify a good opportunity.
They understand marketing too. They know it’s not just about hitting the phones and sending emails. Integrated marketing isn’t a pipe dream for the smarketer, it’s just good selling - communicating with customers on their terms.
McKinsey have said that “90% of companies who embrace a new approach to marketing, sales and pricing are delivering above-market growth and sustaining it over time.” The smarketer creates a bridge between insight and feedback from sales, and input and support from marketing.
They keep everyone happy. And, they’re responsible – for sales and marketing integration, for pipeline and even for revenue.
Smarketers are on the rise. They’re bringing with them a host new approaches, demands and agencies. But, most importantly, they’re bringing an improved approach to delivering effective reputation and revenue for B2B organisations.
In summary: Rushing to engage with audience concerns through content 'at the top of the funnel/start of the buying process', we have significantly under-invested in 'product marketing'. And now that more and more of the buying process is being done online, we are left with very little decent material to help people actually buy.How many steps to CRM success would you like?
A couple of years ago a colleague, Tom Upfold, said he thought it'd be possible to find articles on any number of 'Steps to CRM Success' up to 13. Turns out he was right. (Personally, I'd rather go with the company promising success in under five steps - I'm simple like that.)
But we've got bigger issues than just a deluge of poor-quality content. I'm going to talk about where I think even the good quality stuff is going wrong.
What do I think is going wrong?
People have jumped on this line "stop talking about what you do/sell, start talking about what your audience cares about". Originally a useful idea but it has now been taken much too far, to the exclusion of other useful content.
I think that if what you're doing/selling isn't interesting to the audience then you have bigger problems than needing a content marketing strategy. But it's not fashionable to say that. The current orthodoxy says we should be looking 'outside-in' and talking about the core business challenges that our audiences are struggling with. Or at least asking what they can learn from Beyoncé about these core business challenges.
Which has resulted in most 'content' investment being focused on helping people to look at their business challenges in a new way, or to associate a supplier with an interesting viewpoint on these. There's some great content that does this, and it's a pleasure to help clients create it! But it's not enough.
What happened to product marketing?
A lot of businesses seem to have cut back massively in their product marketing teams over recent years. Hard to invest in product marketing when everyone tells you to "stop talking about yourself so much". For me, that's the biggest crime committed by content marketing over the last 5 years (even worse than filling the internet with infographics).
But if we capture people's attention with great business-issue content or thought leadership or a 'challenger' proposition, where do we take them next? There are plenty of people in the audience who don't want to hear more about the problems they've got – they want to hear about your solution. What it does, where it fits in their business, how to implement it successfully (in anything from 2 to 13 steps)...
Now we're told that somewhere between 50% and 100% of the purchase process can be completed by a buyer without talking to a salesperson. So marketing teams desperately need this kind of product content to be able to help close the deal.
I'd go further than this. I'd ask how content marketing teams can produce the best possible early-stage content without knowledge of the detailed product materials that will follow on.
I'm not suggesting we can just go back to the stereotype of product marketing "6 new features in our version 11 launch". What we need is a delicate balance of three things:
- Detailed product content – the kind of thing that buyers will feel has been created by a peer of theirs. That might reduce your audience to a few thousand people but they'll be the right few thousand.
- Audience insight – bring to life the challenges that the product or solution will be used to solve. People are probably already buying it – why? Create real-life scenarios to show off the product so we avoid ending up with dry documentation.
- Content Marketing savvy – I'm not suggesting we throw the baby out with the bathwater. Clever thinking about how we plan, create, distribute & track all this product content is essential. Let's stop thinking about product materials as 'dirty' and realise they're actually some of the most exciting content we should be creating.
What next? Reading list...
One stat to rule them all
I've talked here about people doing anything up to 100% of the buying process online. That does show the need for more imaginative product content. But I don't think this line "buyers are taking control of the sales process" is universally true. We should be pushing early-stage content to do a better job of creating opportunities for the sales team to get in front of buyers.
No more 'journeys', please!
Andrew Davidson's article about the clichéd language of IT marketing had a line that gave me the first idea for this post: "Let’s push the product marketing teams to deliver more defined benefits and fewer ‘also ran’ solutions."
B2B marketing personas – there's still time to save them
A plea from Tom Upfold to make personas actionable. Not just scratching the surface (where do they shop? what car do they drive? do they want a bit more efficiency or agility?) but really making sure we talk the language that will make them see us as a peer. That's going to be essential if we want to shift our content engines to producing decent product content.
The Marketing Practice (TMP) has continued its success story at the B2B Marketing Awards, picking up three trophies from this year’s ceremony on 19 November. The agency has won more trophies (14) than any other agency over the past three years.
The agency won in two of the Awards’ most competitive categories this year: ‘Best Lead Generation or Nurturing Campaign’ with Genpact and ‘Most Commercially Successful Campaign’ with Atos.
For the third year in a row TMP was runner-up in the ‘Marketing Communications Agency of the Year’ category.
It is also the third year in a row that the agency has picked up the award for ‘Best Lead Generation or Nurturing Campaign’. Clive McNamara, Chairman and Founder of TMP, believes this is evidence of the agency’s continued focus on driving unrivalled commercial outcomes from marketing:
“For 13 years TMP has driven programmes for clients based on a single principle: that marketing should be the engine room for business growth. I think over recent years that’s been reflected in the maturity of the campaigns that are winning B2B Marketing awards.
“What I’m most delighted by is the consistency we’ve shown. For years we’ve been winning the same awards again and again, and consistently featured amongst the top agencies. I think that shows how our highly focused approach is incredibly effective for our clients.”
Atos’ Lead Generation Factory was in fact a former winner in the Lead Generation category in 2013, before being named the Most Commercially Successful Campaign in 2015 for delivering a sales return of €240 for every €1 spent.
Genpact’s ‘Intelligent Business Operations’ campaign saw Marketing’s contribution to sales pipeline increase from 5% to 27% over 6 months, revolutionising the Sales and Marketing relationship and setting an example that is being replicated globally.
The agency has recently expanded its operations into Germany, with an office based in Munich. McNamara believes the awards provide a strong foundation for the agency’s expansion:
“Awards in their own right are just recognition. What matters is that we know how we can use those winning principles to be successful with other clients, both new and existing. As we expand into new geographies, it’s vital that we stay true to the same focus that has brought us success so far, but that we evolve our methods to changing markets and buying habits.”
Notes for editors
The Marketing Practice was founded in 2002 to offer fully-integrated marketing services to blue chip business-to-business organisations. Located in a tithe barn in East Hendred, Oxfordshire, the agency operates global programmes for clients including O2, Microsoft, Standard Life and Canon. Founder and chairman Clive McNamara created the company with the belief that the best marketing combines the driving of a business’s reputation (brand) and revenue (sales opportunities) in a single place.
Claire Lund, email@example.com
For eight years, the Sales & Marketing Forum has led the thinking on the shape of the sales and marketing relationship in B2B. On 15 October 2015, 40 senior professionals from both sides gathered to align their thinking, led by two speakers that have held senior positions in both camps – Martin Hess, VP at HP Enterprise Service, and Louis Fernandes, Director, Market Development at SAS.
It’s fascinating to think that many of the discussions today are the same as they were eight years ago. How does marketing play a driving role throughout the sales cycle? What metrics should we be using? Will Second Life turn out to be a critical marketing channel?
Well, maybe not that last one.
What has changed is the maturity of the answers we can give to those questions, driven by Martin and Louis’ experiences.
Here are the conclusions from the latest Sales & Marketing Forum, which ended with one very provocative thought: it’s very possible that in years to come, the very issue of sales and marketing alignment will go the way of Second Life.
Alignment is an opportunity
One thing that sales and marketing alike can agree on. MarketingProfs claim that organisations with aligned sales and marketing generate 208% more revenue from their marketing.
Identifying the right opportunities is becoming harder in competitive markets packed with more informed buyers. And harder still to turn into profitable, repeatable business. Sales can expect more from marketing to counteract this – more intelligent demand generation that finds the right deals at the right time and in the right volume – an industrialised yet precise process. That’s provided marketing knows what good looks like from a sales point of view – they can expect more from sales here. Thus, alignment becomes business-critical.
'The death of the salesperson'?
The salesperson accustomed to spending a year hunting down a single megadeal has lost their prey. That slow, lumbering, resource-intensive process has been replaced by the need for an agile one. Opportunities are quick to appear, and even quicker to disappear. The salesperson always needs to be one step ahead of the game, and the marketer needs to keep them there. Forrester’s claim about the ‘death of the salesperson’ may be overly dramatic, but new skills and ways of working are required as a minimum to combat the commercial changes they’re alluding to.
How do sales and marketing teams adapt to these changed demands? With difficulty. But also with patience, experience and understanding. “The best marketers are salespeople, and the best salespeople are marketers,” said Martin. Understanding the demands being placed on one another makes us better placed to handle those demands together. And agreeing up-front what we expect from one another, and being held to that, is the only way to do it.
Metrics: the Somme of all sales and marketing battlefields.
Both sales and marketing need to be dealing with more mature metrics. The changed nature of the B2B sale means it’s no longer just about that big number. Now we’re thinking about the profit margin of the deal. We’re thinking about the value of the relationship as a whole, not the immediate opportunity. We’re thinking about the contribution to the entire business over a period of time, not the cash influx next quarter.
But more than anything, we’re sharing the same metrics for the same activities. Measuring marketing’s demand generation efforts on quantified, real demand and order entry. And brand-building investment on its contribution to the brand: which is all about a propensity to buy, not a propensity to tweet about it.
Examples of the avant-garde
So what does the perfectly aligned sales and marketing programme look like? There are a few hallmarks:
- Marketing content that challenges the status quo. That is precise, tailored, and understanding of the prospect. Meaning it finds the buyer that is willing to be taught. And the deal that can be shaped. The salesperson has to be able to challenge in equal measure.
- Agnostic of systems or processes, the sales and marketing teams operate an unbroken loop of insight – campaigns feeding the sales process, and the sales process feeding campaigns.
- One-off campaigns and bids are a thing of the past. The best programmes are operating in long cycles that retain and reuse insight, making the process highly efficient and effective.
For further reading, the charter for sales and marketing integration was created based on insight from TMP’s sales and marketing clients on the topic. It covers suggestions like:
- Sharing detailed commercial objectives
- Working to SLAs
- Making demand generation a fundamental part of your business plan
- Marketing ownership of a defined proportion of sales pipeline
- Improving win rates by involving sales earlier in the buying process
- Developing the right sales enablement materials
Content was high on the agenda at the recent B2B Marketing conference, which was themed around customer centricity.
Many of the talks focused on the content surplus our industry is blighted with, the majority of which is far from customer-centric. So it’s ironic the conference was hosted by The British Library, a legal deposit library still redundantly receiving hard copies of every book published in the UK. That’s three million new items a year. And we thought B2B marketers produced too much.
Rather than summarise the findings from the day, I thought it’d be interesting to talk about the things that weren’t mentioned.
Most agreed that customer centricity represents an opportunity for marketing to take a more strategic, board-level role in a business. However there were three things I didn’t hear mentioned in any of the sessions I attended that seemed like critical stepping stones on the path to customer centricity:
- Data. I don’t know any clients who would say they have complete confidence in knowing who every customer is, let alone have further insight on their needs and challenges. Even where customers are more easily identified, it tends to be complicated by different buying centres of the customer, and divisions or geographies of the client organisation. Any customer centricity programme would need to start here by creating a sustainable way of identifying and maintaining a customer database.
- The benefits to the customer. This was mentioned, but not resolved. Many of the sessions talked through the benefits to the organisation, and even more talked through some of the steps to getting to a customer-centric approach, but none talked about how those benefits are articulated to a customer. Yet customer buy-in for the process is vital. You need them to share their views and be honest. To become strong references and advocates. Even to attend board meetings. So they need to know what the programme will deliver for them too, and it needs to be quantified.
- What’s an insight? It struck me that there are a number of strong examples of individual customer stories influencing individual strategies. But it seems dangerous to take anecdotal customer insight and apply it to rational business decisions. Likewise collating feedback at scale to inform decisions more quantifiably is difficult and demanding of the customer base. I think any customer-centric organisation would benefit from a clear strategy for identifying what they expect from customers, and how that insight will be used. Ultimately it demands a mixture of types of insight, applied with a strong dose of business sense – but unless that is documented, the customer’s word could easily become law. Every client I speak to wants to be more closely involved in helping the customer scope the requirement early to avoid commoditising their solution, so this balance of customer insight with commercial sense is an important one to strike.
Essentially, customer-centric programmes need to have an element of pragmatism in the planning. Specifically in what outcomes we expect the programme to drive. Businesses are generally more successful (and more profitable) when they are able to challenge and lead a customer rather than take customer requirements for granted.
It’s the same reason customer focus groups require inputs. If you sit a group of customers around a table and ask what new flavour of crisps they’d like to see, you won’t get much back. You have to suggest, lead, and inspire. And if it’s hard with crisps, it’s even harder with complex propositions and sprawling relationships. You probably know that, but it’s worth making sure everyone else in your organisation does.
For further reading, The Challenger Customer by the CEB is a fascinating piece of research that delves further into the detail behind customer attitudes towards buying in B2B. I’d highly recommend it – but just be sure to apply your own dose of commercial sense.
We see an awful lot of personas in B2B these days. The rise of content marketing has led to a renewed emphasis on audience insight. Recognise this?
Of course, this isn’t totally wrong, but it’s been dangerously oversimplified.
The hunger for B2B personas and audience insight is producing a lot of very mediocre output and wasting a lot of effort and budget. Michael Brenner makes this point nicely, with some very funny (and accurate) spoof examples of ‘what sucks’.
Michael also makes the very sensible point that a persona should be actionable. We come across a lot of personas that aren’t actionable. Especially when you get down to activity that is supposed to be generating demand, producing meetings for big, complex propositions.
Of course, the people working on these personas want to make them actionable. So what’s going wrong?
A view from the sharp end of demand generation
Up at the ‘brand’ level of activity, which is where most of these personas crop up, you can be a long way from the end audience. And a long way from sales. These are the people who actually understand the challenges and propositions in detail and know what a sales conversation really feels like.
People who get into marketing are rarely attracted to things like enterprise IT architecture, cloud orchestration or finance & accounting optimisation. But our end audience is – they’ve made a career of it!
So we’ve got to a situation where many B2B marketers have adopted a B2C tool for audience insight, without being able to engage with the detail. We’re not selling hair care products here – we’re addressing some pretty complex problems and buying behaviours.
This comprehension gap is laid bare in some of these personas. It’s why salespeople often laugh if you show them one. It’s not doing wonders for bridging the sales and marketing divide, is it?
What we should do differently
Personas aren’t the wrong thing to do in principle.
But the really interesting pain points are often being missed. What may seem new and insightful to a marketing team can be pretty facile and obvious to a specialist B2B audience. It looks a bit like this:
Here are just a couple of thoughts on how to stop this happening.
- Make understanding of the proposition sacred
It’s not enough to talk about something like ‘productivity’ or ‘efficiency’ – there needs to be an original angle. And that should be easily tracked right back to the proposition. Not just because it’s the sales end game, but because if you understand the problem it’s solving in detail, you’ll understand your audience better. Then it’s just a question of rooting that particular pain point in their broader context.
- Marketers need to move in different circles – or be different people
B2B marketers (and especially those who work in campaign planning) should be much closer to the sales teams, the solutions designers and the audience’s general environment. It requires a certain amount of specialisation. It may even require some original thinking about recruitment for these roles. I for one have benefited hugely as a planner from close proximity (and brutally frank feedback) from the following kinds of people:
- Client-side senior sales people
- The people who design or implement solutions and services
- Friendly insiders drawn from the target audience – senior Finance, IT, Ops style people
- Former enterprise sales people who work in my agency
- Desk-based ‘Inside Sales’ agents in my agency who take the messaging right into the lion’s den
These people will tell me pretty quickly if the messaging and any personas are relevant and actionable. They will also be very good at testing my team’s understanding of the proposition.
So next time someone says ‘Let’s do some personas!,’ have a really good think about just who’s going to work on them, where that insight will come from and what kind of quality (or bullshit) controls are in place.
Marketers are a funny bunch. You've seen them all – the ‘Mad Men’ with their skinny suits, talking through the side of a cigar, the digital guru with tablet super-glued to their palm, the perfumed account handler with a taste for fine dining.
Have a go at our quiz, and find out what type of marketer you are. You’ll be matched up with someone that works at TMP, you’ll find out what they do, how they do it and, hopefully, where you might fit. And of course, if you feel inspired and want to find out more, get in touch with Jo, our recruitment coordinator…