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IT companies are wasting sales opportunities

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binResearch carried out by The Marketing Practice shows that IT companies are overlooking, and in some cases wasting, sales opportunities with the very companies they are closest to – their existing customers.

The 110 UK IT decision-makers we interviewed said that “information from existing suppliers” was their preferred way of finding out about new IT products and services. They rated this information source as highly as they rated their own networks (and above analysts and consultants). 

But at the same time, nearly half of all those surveyed said, “Current suppliers are quite poor in their account marketing and management”  and a similar percentage agreed that, “IT suppliers do not really understand how to communicate information about their products and services to me”, highlighting a huge missed opportunity.

So, your existing customers don’t just highly rate you as a source of information, they expect you to market to them. But as these verbatim quotes from the research show, there are a number of considerations in getting it right…

1. A joined up approach to sales and marketing communications (that finishes what it starts)… “Too often we are contacted several times by different people in different divisions of the same supplier who don’t seem to talk to each other and there is usually no follow up process. There are no solutions, only proposals.” Senior IT Manager in a Financial Services Organisation

2. And end to the “one hit wonder” marketing communications campaigning approach (by promoting once, and moving on, you’re mising a number of opportunities)… “Sometimes you get an Account Manager who starts to wine and dine you as they think they may get new orders out of you. When they realize there are no more orders the communication stops again.” Head of Application Development in a Media Company.

And…“If [a supplier] phones me today, it  might not be relevant to me at the moment but if they phone me in three months time, I might be interested in that topic.” Head of IT in a Financial Services Organisation

3. A clear account plan that’s shared with the customer (with a marketing plan that sits alongside it)… “They have to approach us at the right time with the right solutions; existing  suppliers have a better opportunity of interacting with us compared to new ones.” Head of Engineering and Infrastructure in a Finance Company.

And… “Existing suppliers are in a very privileged position in that, if they are communicating with their customers as well as they should be, they will know what solutions customers are looking for at any time.  What good marketing looks like from existing suppliers is a call, e-mail or letter offering a solution just when you are looking for it.” Head of IT in a Government Department

Whilst it’s understandable to focus on lead generation in the current climate, don’t let it blindside your strategy. Paradoxically, it’s the very campaigns that take the long view and look to build relationships that uncover the sales opportunities that others don’t even make the shortlist for.

You can download a free copy of the research findings here.

No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 30, 2009

How to combat the economic stasis

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For the second quarter in a row, McKinsey’s economic snapshot survey shows senior execs saying that things haven’t got worse, but they don’t expect an improvement any time soon. This chimes with what you hear out and about; business isn’t brilliant, but it isn’t bad either - a lot of people are waiting it out, to “see what happens”. McKinsey’s report calls it “a gloomy economic stasis”.

But short of gagging Robert Peston to increase the country’s optimism levels, how to beat the economic stasis, and keep the leads coming in and converting?

It’s interesting to note that whilst the McKinsey report points to continued cost reduction, it also highlights a heavy focus on operational efficiency and improving productivity. Plus, when executives were asked whether they were seeking external funding, most said they were not, but that the bulk of those who were, were using it for investment, geographic expansion and innovation. Additonally, half of all companies surveyed expected to shed staff in 2009.

So the drivers are there for spend on IT, outsourcing and services. But how to get those leads and convert them? Here are some points to consider:

-How about offering access to great content and ready-made, industry specific business cases? (doing more with less, how to maintain customer service levels after cutting staff, building remote workforces…) Go further than traditional marketing content and sales support tools – get in touch with project teams and ask for their solution-based content to give real war stories and meat to campaigning materials.

-Perhaps provocation marketing would bear fruit with some targets. (see the earlier article “Lead gen in a downturn: is provocation the answer?”) This involves going beyond solution selling and provoking the customer to buy through a series of highly-researched and targeted joint sales and marketing campaigns.

-Gather like-minded people together from different target industries to learn from each other. Develop the content of the workshop from new, fascinating and fast research and get a facilitator who’s been through the mill to ensure that a genuine and honest exchange of issues and ideas happens. Feed this content back to delegates with a detailed description of how you can help, with tools and documents downloadable/available to help them sell it within their own businesses.

-It follows from the above that supporting sales teams through account-based and narrow-cast marketing activity will bear fruit. By researching specific account needs in detail and building a plan of attack with sales (from lead to win) you stand a much better chance of shaping leads before they get to RFI stage. You can download our free ABM planner here.

The McKinsey survey results are available here, but please note it is premium content.

1 comment | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 27, 2009

The cost of bidding to government

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IT analyst TechMarketView’s bulletin this morning reporting on Ernst & Young’s ASAPTech event was fascinating. It reports comments made by John Suffolk, Her Majesty’s Government’s Chief Information Officer for Transformational Government, giving his views on how IT vendors should work with Government.

Amongst the varied comments from the Government’s most senior IT man (covering his views on Cloud through to offshoring), the major line that stood out for me was the comment that “the average tender process takes 76 weeks and vendors can spend up to £10m on their bids.”

With the recession biting, and government being the spender of last resort, IT government projects are being eyed up by even more vendors than ever before. Clearly these bids can chew up years and millions. For marketers, it’s important to have a very solid account-based and bid-winning focus.

You can read Anthony Miller’s full write up of Suffolk’s comments here on TechMarketView’s website.

No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 25, 2009

Spending on pipeline acceleration programmes doubles

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Benchmark spending research from Sirius Decisions out this month claims that B2B marketers are doubling their spend on pipeline acceleration programmes.

“After initial knee-jerk budget cuts, data from numerous business-to-business benchmarks conducted since October 2008 reveal that leading companies are wisely repositioning their marketing strategies and tactics — rejecting a ‘defensive posture’ by still working to close deals or at least lay groundwork for future business despite buyer anxiety and retrenchment,” says Alden Cushman, SiriusDecisions’ research director.

The research found that marketers are changing the make-up of their programs to be closer to field activity, shifting the focus more on clients and current deals. As a result, the mix of lead generation, pipeline acceleration and client retention programs has shifted significantly.

“From discussions with clients we’ve benchmarked, we estimate B2B companies are doubling their number of pipeline acceleration programs,” says Mr. Cushman. “Instead of focusing on generating new leads, these programs represent a more effective way for marketing to impact the extended sales cycle by helping to move deals that have stalled in the pipeline. Without question, the economy is driving this trend, as the program numbers we’re seeing are now more in balance with specific sales requirements.”

Traditional marketing programes have struggled to support the lead throughout the funnel from “lead gen” to “close”. New thinking around account-based (ABM) and narrow-cast marketing is making this a thing of the past. By designing campaigns around the customer journey, and focusing on issues on a client-by-client basis, lead drop-out rates can be reduced and win rates increased. Download our ABM planning tool here, or get in touch with us for a free ABM session which will detail how you can practically approach ABM.

1 comment | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 24, 2009

FDs support increased marketing investment

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More than 90 percent of UK finance directors in the B2B sector support the idea that companies should ‘market’ their way out of the recession, according to new research by WPP Lightspeed reported by B2B Marketing magazine.

When surveyed, most finance bosses said they believed undertaking such action would help their company to gain market share as the economy recovered. 84% of FDs favoured the idea of further investment in marketing and customer analysis as a way of countering the downturn.

Sectors that exceeded this national average included; banking, insurance and finance at 89 percent, travel and transport at 90 percent, utilities and telecommunications at 91 percent and, crucially, IT communications and hi-tech at 93 percent. Respondents from larger businesses were significantly more supportive of investment than their smaller business counterparts.

So it appears the potential for maintaining and even increasing marketing budget remains. But marketers will need to demonstrate prudent choices, healthy pipeline and ultimately a superb return on investment.

1 comment | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 23, 2009

CIO SOS: Help me influence the business

Categories: Best Practice

sosComputer Weekly’s excellent video interview with Corus’s CIO, Bruno Laquet, gives an up-to-date view on what it feels like to be a CIO facing a recession. It also shines a light on the debate about whether suppliers should be putting more effort into influencing decision-makers outside of IT, with Bruno’s experiences of doing exactly that.

The video is well worth a look – available here (and it gets to the best bits after about 2 minutes in) – but these are our conclusions/highlights:

Selling with the CIO, not to them

There was a move a few years ago for many IT companies to believe they should stop talking to IT and start talking to the business. It sounds very black and white, but for some companies it really was that simple.

But for every IT supplier bypassing IT and trying to build a case with the business, there’s an IT department that wants to do exactly the same thing. Perhaps if they worked together, they might both stand more of a chance?

Someone like Bruno should be a supplier’s ideal route into the business – and they would certainly appreciate the proof and angles that suppliers have to share. We’ve shared some of his tips for influencing the business at the end of this post.

But it will take quite a shift in mindset for many suppliers to get their marketing approaches ready to help a CIO like Bruno.

Real-life Corus project examples

Take Bruno’s story of a recent million-pound telepresence project. Of course, he had all the vendor benefits to hand (like reductions in travel expenses), but he knew the struggle he would have getting stakeholders to cut their budgets to fund ‘his’ IT project. Instead, he had to find a way to make telepresence fit with a key part of the corporate agenda – fortunately, CO2 reduction was a main objective of the steel company. (Of course, once telepresence was live, travel budget reductions followed swiftly…)

How many suppliers are adjusting their propositions based on the individual situations of the key accounts? And how many are sophisticated enough not to sell ‘to’ the CIO but sell with them? Every communication, every event, every meeting could be an opportunity to help the CIO engage with the business.

The example of a current Corus supply chain project shows just how strong the CIOs desire to play an integral role in the business is

“This supply chain project, without going into too much detail, the way we have been organised in the company is in business units which operate as silos, and there is a limit to how much we could optimise each silo. So we are looking at activities that could bring the business together. So this supply chain project, which IT is key to, is about breaking the barriers between business unit silos. I’m really proud of that, because it is business transformation powered by IT.”

Lessons from the CIO about selling a proposition into the business

How would Bruno suggest going about selling a proposition into the business?

Some of it is fairly obvious:

“Understand what their main agenda, business priorities, KPIs – make sure that my proposition and what I am trying to influence three months on match with this agenda. I’m looking to see if there is anything for him in that proposition.”

Although it does raise the question of how many IT/Services suppliers are really digging into these issues (think CO2 reduction rather than cutting travel expenses – and how for a different company these two could be the other way around).

But there are some important techniques, like the one Bruno describes as “trying not to finish the job”:

“What I do is try not to finish the job – I try to come with propositions that are open so they can put their own ideas into the proposition so that they feel they own it. So there are 2 areas – being prepared, but developing together the solution. Let’s make a proposal – and let them finish the job.”

There’s a fine line between crafting a proposition that has enough detail to spark interest (whether we’re communicating to IT or the business) but which the client can take on and own for themselves.

What does the recession mean for IT’s role and IT spend?

At a tangent to the main discussion, Bruno Laquet’s views on the recession’s impact on the IT department is also very interesting. The clarity of vision and clear purpose come across particularly strongly, as does the importance of showing how well aligned IT is with the 2 main business programmes (one focused on cost reduction, the other on business transformation to support growth in the future):

“We have two big programmes running at the moment [...] the first one is about eliminating costs – and we in IT do a lot to contribute to this. All my IT Supply team is focusing on moving cost out by innovative ideas – we’re not talking about reducing by 5% or 10%; we’re looking at ideas to cut spend by half. So that’s the kind of project we are doing at the moment, fully aligned with this business priority.

“The second programme is about [...] working with the business to help transform the company. We’re very active at the moment in supporting projects for business like creating shared services or the supply chain programme I mentioned.”

Once again, these focus areas give any supplier to Corus a clear idea of how to frame up their offerings for the next year.

But there is definitely a wider point here: How well do you understand your key clients? Do you work with or work around the CIO? How well do you shape propositions for them? Do you have the evidence you need to share with them? How about the initial points of interest that tell them you have something they need to know?

1 comment | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 16, 2009

Where the banks lead…

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…your messaging could follow.

Whatever their other flaws, retail banks have to understand the psychology of their target market. It’s been interesting to see in the last 6 months the new angles that are developing in their advertising (and especially interesting to think that these same angles could be the things that we should be promoting to our markets).

So what have the banks been up to?

There’s Lloyds TSB, who have been heavily featuring their ‘most trusted bank’ accolade:

And NatWest’s latest adverts, featuring the new ‘MoneySense’ service, promoting a ‘Helpful Banking’ approach and clearly acknowledging the sudden increase in customers hoping for ‘impartial’ advice from their bank.

The point that these adverts make for IT lead generation is twofold:

  1. A basic point that anyone selling to banks may be able to build a case around helping banks deal with the sudden rise in demand for ‘advice’, and will have to fit in with the more cautious, ‘trustworthy’ direction that banks are taking.
  2. A wider point whichever industry you sell to: it isn’t just ‘consumers’ who are reacting to the current economy by looking for advice and worrying about trust/reliability. Just one example of this: we’ve seen in recent months that promises of information-rich working sessions that will help a decision-maker understand how to de-risk their project or business are one of the most powerful calls to action.
2 comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 12, 2009

CPG IT Head, on managing and selecting suppliers

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cpgI was fortunate enough last week to be able to talk a senior IT exec for a large consumer goods firm.

Whilst I can’t divulge the company, the (sometimes surprising) insights into team structure, pressures and supplier relationships are useful for marketers planning campaigns in this turbulent environment.

  • The IT team is split into a number of divisions, and each division has a specific responsibility – some long term planning and vision, some delivering business programmes and others looking at the day-to-day needs of hardware and software
  • Each IT supplier is allocated an owner and there is an internal programme for each supplier to meet senior IT representatives. This is seen very much as being about relationships and not about purchasing or commercials
    Suppliers are ranked in importance and managed by IT as such. Importance is determined by the criticality of the programme, not necessarily the size of the spend with that supplier
  • If new suppliers are needed then there will be a tender process. For development and SIs the company tends to use people already known to them. If it’s a new need then the best way in is through the specific programme manager who will promote it up to the senior IT execs
  • There tends to be a specific effort to scout around for new suppliers if there’s a new project or the incumbent isn’t perceived as being up to the mark. New starters in the IT department or in procurement are also a regular source of suggestions around new suppliers.
  • Even when an IT purchase is being driven by an explicit need from the business (and this is almost always the driving force in looking for something new), it’s typically IT that drives the decision about what specifically is eventually implemented
  • In terms of marketing explicitly, senior IT execs attend networking and high value events and the CIO is the most heavily targeted of all. Interestingly, the next layer down, and the one below that is very lightly targeted, especially via direct mail
  • An interesting point to note was that at the moment, even in this “reduced cost” environment, IT spend is continuing apace (in some cases to demonstrate projects are on track with the commitments made at the start of the year). Being behind on budgets can be seen to suggest that you are behind on the delivery of your initiatives.
  • There is infinitely more demand for IT than there is supply. And resource can be a constraint as well as money.

And our conclusions on this?

  • Track your advocates – times when they join a new firm are one of your biggest opportunities
  • Don’t discount certain channels of communication just because of what you read
  • Campaign all the time because timing is critical – and monitor/research key accounts to make sure you are aware of weaknesses in competitors’ (or your own!) positions
  • Work hard at getting quality data for the business as well as IT, and at multiple levels. You’ll never know exactly who the right person to campaign to is at first touch – the word of a trusted lieutenant can carry more weight than a CIOs own views!
  • Consider propositions about easing resourcing pain as much as financial pain
1 comment | Posted by Lindsay Willott |

CMO’s top priorities for ’09

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A recent survey of CMOs by Jupiter and Verse Group asked a group of marketers about their top priorities for 09 and found that traditional approaches to marketing are increasingly broken. Two major themes run through the findings:

First, that  “an across-the-board push for greater marketing accountability is adding increased pressure on marketers to prove the worth of their marketing dollars.”

Second, that “as media consumption shifts online, marketers must find a better way to manage brands across multiple platforms in order to create a coherent brand experience across all platforms and customer touchpoints.”

The following are the top priorities CMOs and senior marketers have for 2009, according to the study:  

  1. Achieving measurable ROI on marketing efforts.
  2. Developing marketing programs that integrate online and traditional media.
  3. Translating brand experience across different touchpoints.
  4. Cutting marketing budgets without cutting performance.
  5. Optimizing portfolio of brands.

The research uncovers a big gap between marketers’ priorities and their current perceptions of existing tools. Nearly three-quarters (71%) say that managing their brand across multiple platforms is a big challenge for their organization and that there is a large gap between need and capability. This echoes many of the themes from John Quelch’s recent article in Harvard Business Review (see previous post).

We’re currently creating a presentation download which will lay out how continuous opportunity generation programmes can get more from budgets and increase marketing performance. Drop us a line if you would like to register to receive it.

No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 9, 2009

The 4 things your CEO wants from you

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John Quelch’s article for Harvard Business Review highlights new research that says CMOs are holding onto their jobs longer, suggesting that closer alignment with the CEO is the main reason. In a broadly B2C focused article Quelch says, “The best CMOs stay low-key and aim to make the CEO, who is often from a non-marketing background, comfortable becoming the chief cheerleader for the brand.”

He goes on to argue that, if the CMO is hanging around longer, then the recession has actually elevated his or her standing. He thinks there are 4 things that the CEO is looking to marketing/the CMO for in the recession. We’ve taken these thoughts and reinterpreted them for B2B marketers.

Revised approaches to segmentation.

For B2B, marketers need to focus more around client and target data, and allow that to inform and ultimately drive the communications strategy. By targeting at a micro-vertical or even account-based level, comes become more relevant and more compelling for the recipient.

Core benefits re-emphasised in the face of recession-driven price sensitivity.

For IT marketers especially, it’s important in a fast-paced world to remember your company’s heritage. Look for strong messages, opinion-leading thoughts that reinforce the good things about what you’re already known for, and apply them to the world’s new challenges. In doing so you engender a sense of trust and reliability.

 More from the marketing budget.

Focus on what matters, consolidate core programmes and make sure they are operating at an optimum level. Invite your team, the salespeople and your suppliers to think with you on this issue.  Adopt a strategy of long term, continuous campaigning where there’s a blend of added value communications with stronger “call to action” pieces to build up a value exchange and increase credibility. This has the added advantage of providing you with multiple opportunities to contact, increasing the likelihood that your timing will be just right.

Digital consideration

We’re completely channel agnostic at The Marketing Practice but it can’t be denied that the recession is accelerating the move online. It’s cheaper, faster and increasingly well-used by even senior decision makers. However, don’t fall into the trap of the move online only being about email marketing and monitoring click throughs, or on the other hand a broad “skittles-esque“ web 2.0 programme. The online move needs to be planned and executed like a traditional programme. Who are we targeting, what are they interested in? Where will they go online to find it and how do we meet them there without looking like an ‘advertiser’. More on how to do this here.

It’s worth noting that at the end of his article Quelch points out that there will be “two major, and lasting, ramifications” of the recession for marketers - “increased financial accountability, and the financial literacy that comes with it.” Now’s the time to start tackling the thorny issues of how programmes can make a difference to profitability and profitable growth.

No comments | Posted by Lindsay Willott | March 7, 2009