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Reflections on June’s Sales & Marketing Forum #2: Is B2B social media really going nowhere?

July 31, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

After revisiting the topic of ROI, the other old (but not that old) chestnut on the agenda at June’s S&M forum was social media.

It was a nice conjunction of topics, given that social media remains something of a grey area for many B2B marketers in terms of ‘what good looks like’ and how they measure success.

And it was great to be joined by Joel Harrison of B2B Marketing Magazine, who talked through the findings of their latest benchmarking research on the topic.

So, what progress have we all made since their last report in 2011?

The first impression was rather disconcerting – apparently we’re not getting very far at all as an industry – or may even be going backwards.

B2B social media stuck at the start line?

Among the dispiriting snapshots were:

‘Social is still not a core channel in B2B’ – nearly half see it as of ‘only some’ or of ‘limited or no’ importance.

‘No improvement in strategic thinking’ – over 60 per cent are ‘only doing ad hoc social media’.

Joel rightly pointed out that this is reflected in some pretty uninspiring, woolly objectives, with ‘drive traffic to website’, ‘branding and positioning’ and ‘strengthening thought leadership’ dominating the responses.

Only a third of respondents said they thought of using it to actually generate leads.

And an even smaller minority claimed they could actually track the value they were getting out of it.

So far so gloomy – which prompted one of our guests (who I happen to know is a social media advocate) to ask simply, ‘does it work, then?’.

A few reasons to be cheerful

At this point, I surprised myself. I found myself thinking this was all a bit too pessimistic – and I speak as a former social media sceptic.

Here are some reasons why:

I couldn’t forget about one particular CTO who told us how he used social media to broadcast his professional frustrations in the hope that a supplier would come back with an innovative response.

I couldn’t ignore how the best business networkers already know that social media offers an uncluttered and direct channel to people at the top of large organisations. One was there in the room, by the way: 26 face to face meetings from 100 Inmails is a pretty powerful example!

And I couldn’t forget that time-poor, information hungry business leaders often look for quality aggregated content. Which social media certainly does do well – and gives us marketers the inside track on which snippets and influencers our targets are most interested in following.

Forget the grand strategy?

Most of my reasons to be cheerful are related to lead generation and nurture scenarios. Unsurprising given that these are a TMP speciality. But this is also the point.

If a large number of B2B marketers say they don’t have a social media strategy, perhaps that’s because ‘social media strategy’ is too grand a term. There’s a bit of PR here, a bit of internal comms there, a sprinkling of events management, brand awareness, some talent recruitment, a dash of market intelligence, etc. etc. That’s a lot to think about.

And as social media is now so widespread, and part of so much of what we do, is it really sensible to have a separate ‘strategy’ for it? Or should ‘strategy’ be reserved for your overall marketing plan and major objectives like acquiring new prospects, shifting positioning or growing customers? All of which should have a dash of social media at their heart.

However, for the sceptics out there, why not simply start ‘having a go’, experimenting with these channels in those different areas, using some imagination and following the lead of some of your brightest stars on the ground, you’ll start to see what does work. And that doesn’t seem like such an intimidating challenge.

So, for example:

If you’re aiming to generate leads with senior decision makers, it might be worth checking to see if they’re connected to one of your best advocates on LinkedIn.  Or if they used to work with your CIO. Or have retweeted something that’s perfectly aligned to your proposition. Or are currently sitting in the next row at the conference keynote…

I get the impression these little experiments and examples are already being repeated across much of marketing’s remit, and as they happen, social media interactions are finding their own natural best fit with the more traditional channels.

To paraphrase Brian Potter, ‘Social media: it’s the future, I’ve tasted it’.

What do you think? Let us know.

Read part one on ROI

2 comments | Posted by Tom Upfold

Reflections on June’s Sales & Marketing Forum #1: tracking ROI

July 31, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

Good old ROI – are we seeing the light at the end of the funnel?

June’s Sales & Marketing Forum covered some ‘modern classic’ B2B marketing challenges.

Cisco’s Suzannah Darlow, and B2B Marketing Magazine’s Joel Harrison, kick-started the discussions energetically and the conversations on the tables took up the thread with gusto. Here on the blog I’m adding a few personal reflections from the night.

First up is ROI. Some might call this a hoary old chestnut of a topic – so why did we think it was a great time to talk about it?

For the last few years, the B2B Awards entry requirements have specified the need for clear, demonstrable ROI. We used to wonder how many people could really say that with confidence.

But it feels like it’s now that we’re starting to see some real progress. Marketers are talking less about presumed or potential returns. They’re not limited to questionable metrics like click-throughs or column inches.

We’re seeing more and more cases where we talk in terms of actual revenue delivered. Where we can say with confidence, ‘It’s The Marketing Wot Won It’.

This is transforming perceptions of marketing in the business

When it’s simply seen as a cost centre, marketing is likely to find its budgets on a downward slope. But with more clarity around ROI objectives and results, you can communicate the value of good marketing a lot more clearly.

It’s a subtle but quite powerful culture change, and sales are inevitably being drawn closer to marketing:

  • Collaboration and ownership –there’s more understanding from all sides of what needs to be delivered, and greater commitment to achieving a mutually agreed target.
  • Proposals rather than demands – requests for support from sales are starting to come with a nascent business case attached.
  • More scrutiny on the real value of activity – e.g. reducing the number of events that serve only as ill-defined ‘flag-waving’ activity, or sponsorships that persist only because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it…’


What does the journey look like?

Making this happen is easier said than done, of course. Those marketers in the room that are driving these changes spoke of the investment in time and effort up front.

They took the time to do the necessary – really understanding their sales and marketing performance and predicting the returns. It meant crunching some numbers to arrive at the percentage chance of a lead converting – and how much those leads would probably be worth.

Then they sense-checked how these figures would fit with the overall business plan and targets.

They also had to face the fact that fresh marketing leads in new accounts may not always be the easiest or most lucrative option for sales in the short term.

When to measure, and what…

Marketers are terrible with statistics, a sceptical colleague of mine (an Oxford physics graduate) often says.  Sometimes he has a point. To measure returns properly, we need to think carefully about what we measure, and where we draw the lines.

By focusing on clear, demonstrable ROI, not just click-throughs, registrations and canapés eaten, we’re making a good start. But focus too narrowly and we’ll get all kinds of statistical lemons.

This is increasingly important in the context of longer programmes of content-driven lead-gen and nurturing. These may involve a number of touchpoints and next steps which all play their part in taking the audience on a clear, natural journey.

But if we attribute leads to just one phone conversation, just one event, or just one quirky DM in that journey, then these individual parts might be seen as a spectacular ROI success or dismal failure. Either way, they’re completely out of context.

If this sounds like the bleedin’ obvious, it’s nevertheless an easy habit to slip into. Especially if you’re not doing coherent joined-up programmes and you’re stuck down in the thick of it delivering multiple disparate campaigns…

Striking the right balance between the whole suite of activities, while still making sure the constituent parts are doing their job properly, is key.

One step at a time or a Big Bang?

Nearly all the marketers in the room felt they were making progress on ROI. It showed that driving this kind of change isn’t as intimidating as it might sound.

It doesn’t have to be part of a Big Bang, hitting the pause button while transforming an enterprise’s whole approach to marketing from the top down. Although that can certainly focus the mind!

We’ve seen plenty of evidence of marketers changing mindsets and performance by getting stuck in at a campaign level:

  • Engaging more closely with annual sales objectives in detail and carrying out planning with them.
  • Questioning legacy arrangements and shifting away from ad-hoc content and interactions.
  • Understanding the role of engagements along the whole funnel – and clearly communicating their value to the business.

There’s another facet of marketing that we discussed at the Sales & Marketing Forum that won’t necessarily profit from a big, transformational approach. This is social media, which I look at in part 2.

Part two: Social Media (ROI)

4 comments | Posted by Tom Upfold

#TMPVines part deux

July 26, 2013 Categories: At the Barn, Experiments

Continuing the story of what happened when we challenged our teams to create a Vine video about life at TMP…

Here’s what our Oracle and Canon client services teams love about life at TMP:

A genius interpretation of what our Data team do:

Stuart Constable in praise of flexible working:

This one definitely packs in the most of the office:

Here’s our inside sales team working across languages to attract, win, retain and grow customers:

And this is the competition winner (soon to appear on our careers page), as judged by our HR & Recruitment Coordinator Joanna Marlowe:

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

#TMPVines – a new angle on life in a B2B marketing agency

July 21, 2013 Categories: At the Barn, Experiments

We challenged everyone at The Marketing Practice to create a video that promotes life here to potential recruits. The only rule is that it has to be on Vine (explanation of what Vine is if you’ve not come across it before). We’re already planning to use Vine for some client projects, so this was a great chance to experiment on ourselves first! (some are best viewed with sound on; a couple – mine – are best not viewed at all!)

First up, a highly creative entry from the highly creative Dan Sillifant. I won’t look at our coffee mugs the same way again:

And the entry from our Planning team, bringing to life our ‘meeting role’ beanbags:

Captured on an off-site day, exclusive footage of free range marketers:

According to our O2 client services team, every day is a mini adventure at TMP:

Spot on brief from a team of our support functions:

And wildly off brief from the Board’s effort:

See the rest (and the winning entry) in the next post…

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

One stat to rule them all…

July 5, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

[scroll to the end if you just want to skip my rant and get to the killer stat]

“Buyers are taking control of the sales process.” Backed up by the often-repeated stat from Forrester – “Technology buyers are two-thirds of the way through their buying process before they engage with vendors’ sales teams” – this is one of the things we say to sound intelligent, like:

  • “B2B is dead, it’s all about Business to Person” – as though there was a time when good marketers weren’t using the human angle in their comms (and good companies weren’t always finding ways to build relationships between their employees and their audience); or
  • “The Germans are very strict” – when trying to appear knowledgeable about international data rules.

But the idea of buyers taking control of the sales process is a particularly dangerous one to take completely at face value.

It is true (up to a point): obviously, the wealth of information available to buyers means they can be far better informed – and can have formed their own clear views on an issue and potential solutions before engaging with a supplier.

There’s truth in this, and it is powering the rise of content marketing as well as creating more clear space for marketing to take an important business role through the funnel. But it is far from universal, and is being applied much too widely leading to a large number of missed opportunities.

Which is where the ‘one stat to rule them all’ from my headline comes into play. The next time someone quotes the Forrester stat, or says “the buyer in is control” (basically, the next time you spend more than 10 minutes with a group of more than 3 B2B marketers) just tell them this: “According to ITSMA, 70% of customers want to talk to sales during the epiphany, awareness, and interest stages: when they’re information-grazing, when they first learn what you can do, and when they put you on the shortlist.” The rest of the ITSMA summary is well worth a read.


  • There’s a sizeable group of buyers who want to meet sales. Not to be sold to, but to have a consultative meeting that adds value to them. This isn’t simple. Megan Heuer puts it well when she says “the standard is now higher for sales to add value to the conversation, because so much information can be found online.”
  • Marketing that tries to ‘go it alone’ through the first half of the sales cycle and present sales with ready-made deals may be the wrong answer for most opportunities.
  • Think about how marketing can help to identify the right early opportunities for sales (or business development) to meet with prospects,  how it can equip them for a good conversation, and how – if needed – it can pick up the relationship to continue nurturing until the real selling phase begins.
  • Marketing and sales integration isn’t about a black and white handover halfway through the sales process. It’s about true joint working throughout it.
  • Don’t ignore the opportunities presented by inbound marketing, but don’t ignore the ‘unfashionable’ outbound either. Buyers aren’t under any obligation to get in touch (however useful your content) and their ‘digital body language’ won’t tell you they’re ready if they’ve been doing their research on someone else’s website – but regular proactive touchpoints can ensure you get in front of them when it counts.
No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

Seven Deadly Sins of Demand Generation

July 4, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

Our presentation from the B2B Marketing Summit, uncut and with added sins!

No comments | Posted by Gemma Davies

Sales and Marketing alignment: a painful, drawn-out process?

June 3, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

Broadly speaking, I think there are 3 stages to the evolution of sales and marketing alignment around demand generation.

Stage one: complete separation. Marketing hopes that no-one asks what revenue it has sourced, or what impact it’s having on share of wallet in major customers, or where to look for a definitive database of target prospects with their campaign histories. Sales don’t really take any interest aside from asking for the occasional new product presentation.

Stage two: marketing is working ‘for’ sales. We realise that the direct route to showing the impact of marketing is to show how it has sourced/influenced sales opportunities. So we go all out to be helpful to sales, running campaigns and creating materials around the products we think sales want to sell. But sales don’t really believe it’s going to work, and don’t put much time into it. So marketing often ends up targeting the wrong organisations (sales don’t take the time to agree the target list), without any strong customer references (sales aren’t convinced about how they’ll be used/the value of using up ‘favours’ with a customer), and generating leads that aren’t followed up.

Stage three: this is where the equal partnership happens. The change often happens after senior management review a year’s worth of lead generation effort and realise that nothing happened with them. Marketing should be asking sales to agree to some SLAs (around approval of target lists and follow-up/feedback on leads for example) and asking for more time with sales management to understand their targets and bonus structures (so we can structure our campaigns accordingly). We’ll also be helping identify pinch points in the sales process and offering tools/training to help. And we should be gathering and feeding back valuable intel from the audience (drawn out of anything from inside sales conversations through to marketing automation systems).

Can you jump straight to stage three?

Well you could argue that it’s only by going through the previous stages that you build up the experience to get to the top.

Maybe that was true in the past, but I think there’s enough general awareness of the benefits of sales and marketing alignment now that it should be possible to spend as little time at stage two as possible. And enough people have gone through the process now that it is definitely worth trying to find a shortcut if you’re still at level one!

The simplest way to shortcut the process is to start small and build up an example of what great looks like in just one area (maybe working with a specific sector or proposition team). Then use the example to build momentum and starting acting like marketing is an equal partner to sales even if it isn’t true across the board. Ask for more time with sales management, agree some two-way SLAs and see what valuable customer/prospect intel you can mine from your campaigns. Then see what happens.

Of course, the challenge of scaling up from one specific area to having the processes in place right across the business is a topic for another day!

No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

Marketing Automation: babies and bathwater

May 20, 2013 Categories: Best Practice

I wrote briefly last month on ‘Planning for Failure‘ in marketing automation campaigns (the idea that we should spend more time thinking about what to do with people who don’t respond rather than concentrating only on the ones that ‘click’).

Today I was in another marketing automation campaign planning session and the main lesson for me was “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Let me explain…

We were looking at how to better ‘integrate’ the campaigns that will be running in Eloqua with the Inside Sales team’s calling activity. Obviously, there’s a lot of excitement with a new marketing automation implementation so the early conversation was about how we would push all the leads that will be created from the Eloqua campaigns through to Inside Sales to be qualified and then handed over to the sales team. And it would be easy to have left it there, but that would have left Inside Sales with basically just a ‘box ticking’ job.

It is easy to relegate Inside Sales to the end of the process when it comes to marketing automation. “The contact comes inbound from the link in our tweet, they register and download our whitepaper, then they click on the email survey, and then they attend our webcast. Then they’ve reached a high enough score and we funnel them to Inside Sales to call.”

But I think it’s wrong to see the phone as a qualification tool at the end of the process – the reality for higher value deals is that it’s another channel to be used at broadly the same time as email, webinars, social, sponsored media, direct mail etc. Yes, it’s potentially higher cost so it needs to be focused on the right people (and marketing automation can help there too of course).

There are so many people who will never respond to your emails or fill in your contact forms. If you wait for these people to respond or hit a set lead score, then you may never reach them. But sometimes they’re the kind of person who will respond to a simple phone call (whatever stage of the buying cycle they’re at) – and then you need to make sure that the results of that call are properly integrated with the ongoing Marketing Automation programme: should they be nurtured? put on a different track? qualified before being passed to sales? When you look at it like this, there might even be more of an argument (or as much of one) to call a senior contact who hasn’t responded to an email campaign, compared with one that has!

So in the early days of a new marketing automation system, don’t throw the baby of Inside Sales out with the bathwater of generally inefficient marketing processes. (hmm, is it too late to change my metaphor?)

By the end of the meeting, we came up with three broad use-cases where marketing automation will integrate with Inside Sales:

  1. New or inbound contacts who reach a set score in the system will be passed to Inside Sales for qualification (the basic level).
  2. Inside Sales will continue to campaign as before in some areas, but taking advantage of the system to (i) nurture contacts who don’t have an immediate next action against them and (ii) use intelligence about contacts’ behaviour (e.g. on the website).
  3. ‘Joint’ campaigns will see Inside Sales deployed at key points alongside the rest of the campaign flows (events would be an obvious example where calling will be used to target senior contacts who haven’t responded online).
No comments | Posted by Paul Everett

Shortlisted 5 times for Marketing Week Engage Awards

April 15, 2013 Categories: At the Barn

Two of our campaigns with O2′s Enterprise team have been shortlisted 5 times for the Marketing Week Engage Awards on May 21st. Two very different campaigns, but what they have in common is that they’re based on real business initiatives that gave us concrete stories to tell. I’m convinced that this will increasingly be the best way to climb above the sea of content and say something truly different to the audience.

Marketing in the face of cuts

The Local Government Future Fund has been shortlisted for the Direct Marketing and Telecoms/IT awards. The Future Fund is a grant funding initiative from O2 and offered £250,000 to encourage councils to innovate, using ICT in new and exciting ways. Councils were invited to pitch their ideas to the judges, who selected three candidates to receive one of the three funding packages, which offer access to O2’s consultancy time, service and technology. There were 37 applications submitted by 40 councils, which equates to 10% of the UK Local Government sector.

Bringing business readiness to life

We also worked with O2 for its flexible working day. O2 closed its head office for a day, with 2500 people working elsewhere, to show business readiness in action. This single, radical step said more about business readiness than countless hours of advertising, or volumes of email, could ever hope to convey. The Marketing Practice worked alongside O2’s internal marketing team for the eight-week campaign, followed by ongoing activity to the present day. Our work on this has been shortlisted in three of the Marketing Week Engage Awards: Direct Marketing, Business to Business, and Telecoms/IT.

1 comment | Posted by Paul Everett

Mad men: life inside an integrated marketing agency

March 12, 2013 Categories: At the Barn

Mad Men may be set in an advertising agency in 1960s New York, a world away from our barn in East Hendred, but when I told my friends that I had a job in marketing, that didn’t stop them asking me, “Oh, so are you a Peggy or a Pete?”

The AMC series has contributed to a trend of images associated with marketing: crisp, grey suits worn by wacky, creative copywriters and the lavish schmoozers of client services.

I’m not Peggy or Pete, but Planning. The Marketing Practice’s Planning team helps create better-targeted and more compelling campaigns through detailed research into B2B audiences. I’m its newest member, and I started with a nomadic month, travelling from team to team observing, listening and making what small contributions I could to the daily functions that to them were routine, and to me a source of amazement.
So what is it really like at the heart of an integrated marketing agency?

Well, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the sheer variety of experience on offer. Two weeks in client services and I thought I was in Canary Wharf. It was daunting to realise that account managers that had left university a year or two ago already used more acronyms than Franklin Roosevelt, and knew the products that they marketed as if they’d invented them themselves.

A week spent in the creative team provided very different work. Having recently graduated from Oxford, I was pretty confident about my English-writing ability. Not so much. The multitude of conventions and processes that govern effective marketing was a sharp wake-up call. The same sentence could be too long for one piece and too short for the next, too vivacious for one but too bland for another. I had to admire the copywriters to whom this complex art was second nature.

The last stage of my tour de force was a couple of days in the BIG team (I approached those days with some trepidation. Even harking from Merseyside, where self-deprecating humour is taught at primary school, I was a little shocked, having not realised that BIG stood for ‘Business Intelligence Group’ – the team that gets data into shape, dispatches emails and makes lead-generating phonecalls). So I listened in on some calls, awed by the concentration and drive it takes to sit at a phone all day maintaining a consistent level of energy despite so many knock-backs, all because whilst the first 39 of those calls could be spectacularly unsuccessful, that final call 30 minutes before you are due to go home could lead to a key opportunity and a huge deal.

What I came to realise was that the stereotypes an avid fascination with Mad Men had taught me to expect, simply couldn’t exist –Instead, there is a recognition that everyone is a marketer with different skills to bring to the table, one of the benefits of an integrated agency.

For example, let me take you into a brainstorming session. I was expecting to discover a team of creatives sat around a flow chart, or a mind map, or an etch-a-sketch or something. But the brainstorms at TMP can involve people from any function. The most precise and judicious of account managers could come up with the most creative ideas, just as a lead-generator might have a great concept for design, or a designer think up a wonderful tagline. Everyone has something to contribute because they view the client’s challenge, or represent the target audience, from different angles.

In Richard Branson’s book, Like a Virgin: Secrets They Won’t Teach You at Business School (2012), the entrepreneur has provided 18 tips for succeeding in business. Number 10 on that list is the need to avoid an ‘us versus them’ environment. Bosses, according to him, should allow their employees to express themselves, and should encourage a relaxed yet focused environment. That certainly describes the atmosphere at TMP. Having different teams under one roof means that everyone has trust in everyone else, and shows a lot of respect to one another professionally (and a lot of calculated disrespect personally).

When I was interviewed for my job I was told that one of the reasons that TMP was successful was that it was ‘fully integrated’. Fair enough, I thought, slightly confused and wondering about the conflicts that went on in a company that was disintegrated.

But now that I actually know what it means – the combination under one roof of every skill required to produce great marketing campaigns and strategies, their merging into a limb-like extension of the client company – I’m struggling to imagine how on earth other agencies can manage without it.

Posted by Matt Harper

No comments | Posted by Matt Harper