Some of us are still nursing bruises from the dodgems and hangovers from the celebrations after we picked up the most awards (3 wins and 2 runners-up) of any agency at the B2B Marketing Awards last week. It was a great reward for our team and winning clients at AXA, Atos, Canon and O2.
If getting the personal touch right takes a lot of work, creating compelling C-level content is no picnic either.
All three presentations from November’s Sales & Marketing Forum linked back to this challenge in different ways. I’ve picked out a few here:
Content marketing for the C-level.
Content marketing is still a buzzword, despite numerous commentators pointing out that it’s not exactly a new phenomenon (see Dave Stevens’ enjoyably provocative intro to the topic at this year’s B2B marketing conference).
But providing a regular stream of interesting and useful stuff for the c-level audience can open doors, and raise credibility. That said, marketers face stiff competition – and not necessarily from other marketers. For strategic business topics, it’s hard to beat the likes of The Economist, the Harvard Business Review and the Financial Times.
For all the talk of marketers becoming publishers we can’t hope to match the majority of their output – but we should at least understand the kind of quality that’s required at this level.
To see an example of that kind of ambition and scale, just take a look at IBM’s Global C-Suite study. Andrew Grill joined us from IBM to share some of the latest results:
For the last ten years they’ve been running studies that act as a barometer of executive opinions and priorities around the world. This year’s study covers the entire C-suite, through 4183 interviews in 70 countries. The main theme that emerged is The Customer Activated Enterprise, captured in the nice infographic above.
Produce less, produce better
Of course, it doesn’t have to always be quite this grand. A good piece of advice I heard recently from a journalist turned content marketer was to produce less but produce better. And work out ways of making it last.
In doing so, marketers need to sniff out those angles where their organisation can say something different – the thought leadership territory they can realistically own. Focus on a particular job function, or a particular industry issue. Then invest the time and money to create something original and useful there.
Who do you lean on for content?
A clever part of IBM’s work is the collaborative element.
In the process of creating the content, they also strengthen the existing relationships with their customers and generate high level discussions about their pain points. With care, and the right senior backing, this trick can be repeated in all manner of B2B scenarios.
Identifying and then managing the best thought leaders within your organisation is key. Your own time-poor senior executives are often your most interesting spokespeople and skilled content advisors. Supplement them intelligently with the right mix of genuine high profile industry experts, customer opinions and economic commentators and you’re on the way to creating something worthwhile.
But there are plenty of marketers trying to pull off the trick. So without rigorous content planning and understanding up front, your efforts could disappear into the general background noise.
Frequency and rhythm
Prestige and credibility come with longevity. The B2B world is littered with the corpses of exec engagement programmes that never got beyond the first couple of canapé-fests. These same defunct programmes are then apparently reincarnated after a year or two, duplicating the same effort and fanfare that was expended the first time around. Surely it’s best to stick with a good one a think long term?
Also, there’s really nothing worse than those people who only come to make small talk with you when they want something…
Or just get to the point with an intelligent meeting request…
Hasse Iwarsson, UK & Ireland MD for Canon, offered up a more direct approach. A campaign with all the firepower of the senior executive team behind it, but focused on generating individual meetings.
In this case success depended on a killer conversation starter – something that would really get to the point and show a meeting would be worth the time. Something that challenged their status quo – but shows you’ve probably thought through the risks and benefits of change for them.
So the Aiming Higher campaign structured content around each target organisation’s annual report, picking out the areas where Canon could make a demonstrable difference. (The kind of marketing support that seems fit for the challenger sale, in fact)
This still required a considerable amount of rigour. It depended on taking the time to really understand the prospect’s issues, and being able to read between the lines of their annual reports to tap into the issues affecting that individual.
Whichever way you do it, invest time and thought.
In Canon’s case the marketing collateral helped set up meetings by being both pain-point focused but also provocative. It worked because of the combination of intelligence and senior commitment.
IBM’s great content marketing (and other, smaller programmes too) attracts a senior audience because it teaches them something different. This can come from original research, a senior peer group or other assorted original thinkers.
But whichever way you do it, a real C-level audience will see through half-baked marketing quickly, so don’t be tempted to cut too many corners…
It can sometimes feel like every marketer wants to talk to the ‘C-level’. And as we’ve said before, there are probably a few times when they should focus their efforts elsewhere.
But there’s no doubt that building and maintaining a warm relationship right at the top can reap big rewards when it comes to writing business.
Our latest Sales & Marketing Forum was a chance to hear some very interesting pointers from people who are out there actually doing it.
Our thanks go to: Hasse Iwarsson, Managing Director, Canon UK & Ireland and Andrew Grill, Partner, Social Business at IBM, not to mention, TMP’s own Carl Rigby, for an excellent intro to ‘The Challenger Sale’ in context.
Making it personal…
One of the overarching themes of the night for me was the importance of the personal touch.
Picture a C-level audience bombarded with marketing material. The vast majority is filtered out before it even gets to their desk, the vast majority of even that’s then binned. One of the quickest ways to tell if a conversation is going to be worthwhile or not is likely to be the seniority and profile of the person / people who will talk to you.
This chimes completely with our own Inside Sales team’s feedback – if it’s a meeting, how do I sell the value of the individual they’ll meet. If it’s a roundtable, can we prove that it’s a genuine peer-to-peer session, etc. etc.
There’s also another powerful psychological angle here: if it’s a reasonably well-known brand and the senior management are personally backing a programme, there must be something worth talking about.
Canon UK&I MD, Hasse Iwarsson
practising what he preaches in the
award-winning Aiming Higher
campaign – this is a shot from the DM.
… takes a lot of commitment
Getting your senior execs involved is easier said than done. Marketers are asking them to take considerable time out of a busy schedule.
But as Hasse pointed out, the management team has a responsibility to contribute to business development and customer satisfaction. So we have to propose intelligent ways of doing using their time – and clearly demonstrate how this aligns with our organisations’ strategic objectives.
Make the most of online profiles and connections
For both our own execs and our target audience, we need to think more about the kind of personal connections they may already have.
What areas of expertise and thought leadership output do they have that may be relevant to a particular prospect or event?
What kind of online profile do they have? And if they are using social media, what kind of connections can they make or have already made there?
Andrew Grill described the power of the virtual ‘tap on the shoulder’ – checking out someone’s LinkedIn profile or following them on Twitter before making formal contact.
That’s how we got him along to speak too, by the way – how about that for the proof of the social pudding?
Adopting a ‘challenger’ mentality…
Then there’s the commitment needed to prepare and understand. The cornerstone of Hasse’s work for Canon was the client’s own Annual Report. The senior exec didn’t just turn up to ask ‘what keeps you awake at night?’ because by that point they probably already had a good idea.
Being this well informed allows you challenge the status quo and offer an appealing, well-researched alternative that’s highly relevant. You’re already setting the agenda.
This, by the way, is the kind of educated provocative approach described in ‘The Challenger Sale’. (See our views on what challenger selling should mean for B2B marketers.)
Oh, and don’t underestimate the PA
I can’t do this issue justice in this short post. But at the highest levels of business the PA is a vital part of the mix. It’s really not good enough that some marketers can’t see past them as being a mere gatekeeper.
So establishing relationships between PAs is also a key part of the genuine peer-level engagement process. That’s why we’re doing some research on the topic – more to follow later.
Read Part 2: What really interests the C-suite
What’s all this fuss about the challenger sale?
This work by the Corporate Executive Board is one of those concepts that just intuitively feels right: in complex sales, the most effective salespeople are those who can get the buyer thinking about their problem/opportunity in a new way and who can keep this ‘re-education’ going right the way through the sales process.
We’ve heard in interviews/presentations over recent years a number of buyers saying specifically that this is what they want from suppliers. These notes from our conversation with former government CIO John Suffolk are a great example:
“The headline shift is that suppliers have the opportunity to be bolder in creating propositions to solve specific challenges. Consultants need to stop asking “what keeps you up at night?” and software vendors need to stop saying “we have the best tool on the market – how many licenses do you want to buy?” Instead, suppliers should come with specific propositions that solve well-documented business challenges – the kind of thing that we’ve described before as a ‘provocation proposition’.”
This video gives a good intro to the challenger sale concept, but is no replacement for reading the book and seeing some of the examples brought to life!
So what does it mean for B2B marketers?
- I’m really excited by the role it creates for marketers to drive better propositions. In the solution selling world a lot of this is down to the skill of the individual salesperson and ‘differentiation’ isn’t really as important as having a comprehensive set of case studies and capabilities materials. The success of challenger selling comes down to one thing: have you got a compelling fresh perspective to educate your audience about? The vast majority of B2B marketers would have to answer ‘no’ to that question. (Unfortunately, ‘the quality of our people’ or ‘it’s about people, process and technology’ aren’t compelling challenger propositions.) It may be wishful thinking, but the more the sales team are asking for support with challenger selling, the more opportunity there is for marketers to invest time in getting closer to the audience and creating compelling propositions. You may think ‘there’s nothing new to say about what we offer’ but some of the examples in the book show how to overcome that issue. By way of a shameless plug, this is exactly the approach that made our award-winning campaign with Canon such a success.
- It’s marketing’s job to start the re-education process early in the buying cycle. The general consensus is that around two thirds of the buying process now happens before a buyer wants to make contact with sales (although I don’t agree with this across the board). So having created a compelling challenger proposition, it’s marketing’s role to get the story out and capture/convert interest (hence a greater role for inbound marketing and influencer marketing alongside content marketing in 2014).
- Sell the value of engaging with sales to convert interest to action. With a lot of propositions, we know that the earlier a prospect engages with sales the more chance you have of shaping – and winning – the deal. But people still insist on marketing the ‘end product’ rather than the ‘next step’. If the next step you want someone to take is to have a meeting with your sales/business development team then sell the value of that meeting in your marketing. Work with sales on exactly how to articulate the potential value that the customer/prospect will get from a meeting. You don’t have to convince them to sign a contract with the second marketing email they receive.
- Equip sales to continue and convert the conversation. Sales enablement continues to emerge as a growing focus for B2B marketers. I hear more people agreeing with the sentiment that if they only had budget for either sales enablement or lead generation, they would pick sales enablement every time. Alongside a general push to look at more innovative tools and the right way to roll them out, the challenger sale offers a useful perspective on the type of sales enablement we should be considering.Partly, this ties back to the question of whether you have a convincing challenger proposition in the first place (if not, the content of your sales enablement may be a struggle). But the book also talks about the importance of the sales experience as a factor that’s massively important to the buying decision: how you sell being actually marginally more important than what you are selling. This challenges marketers to think about creating sales enablement assets that will help sales to engage in different ways and will give sales opportunities to keep that engagement and education happening over a sustained period of time. Think about materials to support different meeting formats, assets to re-engage with cold leads, and tools that can help different job functions reach a consensus.
- Work jointly with sales to progress key opportunities. Sales enablement shouldn’t be a question of throwing assets over the fence from marketing to sales. There’s lots of potential to work jointly on specific opportunities, for example with services to monitor accounts and contacts or create custom insights, and getting involved far earlier in bid support (even before the bid is live) when there’s a chance to create a challenger position with the target account. In fact, I think there’s a gap here between traditional Account Based Marketing (focused on a few key accounts) and bid support (focused on the later stages of specific major deals). But that’s a topic for another day…
Well OK, maybe not – but give Matt Hanks, chief data smoother at The Marketing Practice, two minutes to explain what his dental floss has to do with your data…
The idea of ‘payment by results’ is an attractive one. Get it right, and it’s a great way for agencies and departments to concentrate minds on what really matters. And the drive for accountability in marketing will only make it more common. So how does it work and are we ready for it?
What is ‘payment by results’?
It’s a way of tying agency compensation to results that the business will care about. That could be basing some fees on leads, pipeline, or even closed revenue. To quote that horrible phrase, it’s about ‘having skin in the game’ (a prize to the first person who sends me a credible source for this saying).
Done well, it can be the basis for building an effective partnership between an agency and marketing department. It’s also an opportunity for agencies to influence or take responsibility for the factors that directly impact end results.
But there are some important foundations you will need in place for it to succeed.
Setting the right targets
Incentives work, particularly financial ones. But that’s also a challenge. If you are going to do payment by results, you can be sure that lots of energy will go on the results being paid for. And if they’re not absolutely right, you might end up with some unwelcome outcomes. (Some have argued that the whole credit crisis can be tied to poorly thought-out incentives – see Michael Lewis’s The Big Short for one).
The most obvious example of this is when payment based on marketing-generated leads or early pipeline leads to sales teams wasting their time on poorly qualified opportunities.
There is also a common problem where marketing and sales have different objectives. Let’s say marketing wants to generate opportunities for ‘high-value’ business consultancy, but the sales team’s bonuses are based on a specific technical product. Sound familiar? We’ve certainly seen lots of examples of this or similar misalignments. In these cases, both parties have skin in the game; the problem is they’re different games.
Which leads me nicely to the real rub…
Trust and collaboration with sales
One way to get the incentives right is to pay by end results: sales qualified leads or closed revenue. But to do this requires real trust between marketing and sales (wince).
At the very least, we need to find ways to work effectively with sales beyond the usual handover points. Our responsibilities cannot end when a lead is generated, for example. We need to support sales through the qualification stage to close. It’s not traditional agency territory so it can feel uncomfortable at first, but with goodwill and concerted effort it can work extremely well.
Taking a measured approach
One requirement for this approach is the ability to track leads to revenue accurately. But more than just good systems, payment by results requires a well-planned and long-term approach. Partly because of the need to have marketing plans that focus on an entire audience journey, rather than a single touch point. But also because, if you are going to tie payment by results to the business objectives that really matter, there can be no papering over of cracks.
Payment by results should discourage short-term thinking and encourage departments and agencies to look at the fundamentals of their approach. It is this potential that makes it so attractive but it’s also perhaps why we don’t see more of it. But, if we are serious about raising the profile of marketing in the business, it might be something we need to get to grips with.
Based on an article written for B2B Marketing
This little one-pager is one of the training tools we have to help people think laterally and develop innovative solutions.
I’m wary of the phrase ‘big idea’. It’s bandied about a lot. It’s easy to think of the ‘big’ being about pomp and largesse. It can lead people to think up solutions then look for a problem.
But lateral thinking is a critical skill in any marketing role. The challenge when training people on it is that there is no one way to do it. What you can teach, however, are techniques that help people to look at problems in a different way.
This one-pager summarises a few of those I’ve found most useful. Still the best for me is an old classic, Kipling’s six serving men: who, what, where, how, why and when.
‘We need to speak to the CIO.’
So begins many a briefing.
What can often follow is a campaign that attempts to do just that. And scores some notable successes. Meetings may follow, or perhaps a well-attended event. Some good leads bubble to the surface and it’s a job well done.
But very few of these leads are actually with CIOs.
That’s not really surprising. As we heard from two well-seasoned CIOs at a recent S&M Forum, the IT function is a complex organisation in its own right (here’s a handy table in the write up). There are plenty of trusted lieutenants who take responsibility for key areas – and these are often the ones who make up those excellent leads.
At The Marketing Practice we often turn to our tame enterprise IT sales attack dog, Carl Rigby, to sniff out the sweet spot. A couple of decades’ experience, and more than a few friendships forged with the IT crowd itself, gives us a great view of how decisions are made. Now we’ve brought this together in a regular series of sessions in the TMP barn:
We get to know the rest of the senior IT players.
We look at what their typical day is.
We get a feel for their language, their ambitions and their grievances.
We dig deeper into what they actually do – and take time to properly understand the technology they work with.
We even explore what they think of their colleagues – and what their colleagues probably think of them.
In short it’s full of useful nuggets for marketers who need to reach the people who matter most. It may still be the CIO – let’s not leave them in peace completely – but it may just be the Apps Director, the Ops Director or the CTO that gets you through the door first…
We’ve put the first presentation in this series ‘marketing to the CTO’ on slideshare here – but friends of TMP can always get first hand access to Carl himself, if you ask him nicely.
In pursuit of a picture to reinforce my attack-dog metaphor, I discovered an excellent children’s illustrated series by Alexandra Day, featuring Carl, ‘everyone’s favourite babysitting Rottweiler’.
Titles (published by MacMillan) include ‘Carl’s Sleepy Afternoon’, ‘Carl’s Masquerade’ and ‘Carl goes to Daycare’. If the last one sounds a little final, don’t worry; he assures us there’s life in the old dog yet…
I came across this chart the other day here – http://t.co/uwNZuwRvgf. Should say – as a disclaimer – that I don’t know if any of the stats in it are accurate. But I think the things they are tracking (marketing’s contribution to sales; cost per lead; conversion rates) are interesting to look at.
Good to see that marketing’s top targets are based on a percentage contribution to sales opportunities and revenue. I’m not sure how likely it is that the two percentages will be the same in real life. You’d normally expect sales to convert a higher proportion of opportunities that they source themselves than ones that marketing have provided. But I’m happy to have an open mind on it and if anyone in Cisco is reading perhaps they can say whether this is accurate or not!
Tracking the percentage of leads being accepted by sales is also a great top-line sign of the health of demand gen. I saw recently that Forrester say ‘best in class’ organisations see around 30% of marketing leads becoming sales qualified leads. That strikes me as low (our average is running at around 75%) but then I guess the US market probably skews things.
Then there’s a set of stats around cost per inquiry/lead and more detailed conversion rates.
It’d be easy to keep expanding the list of results to track, but I do think there are a couple of other metrics that would be useful. For example, something purer around ROI or even looking at average deal sizes (do these differ between marketing and sales-sourced leads?). And the duration of the sales cycle would also be good to track – we reduced this by 30% on a recent campaign which had a big impact on the business.