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Your B2B Marketing Content: Corporate Asset or Just Another Expense?

Way back in 2011, Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, posed the question, “Is content an asset or an expense?”. Most B2B marketers know content is the fuel for their lead generation and nurture. However, it seems many have forgotten or failed to answer Joe’s important question. So let’s revisit this topic now.

“Why now?”, you ask. You’ve likely set your budget for 2019. But ask yourself how hard it was to get the budget for your content development including writing, design, and management. If you had trouble justifying the budget or didn’t get the budget you needed, then read on. Read more

Lead Tracking Leads B2B Marketers to Answers

How many leads did your marketing team generate last year? This simple question can be hard to answer for many B2B marketers because tracking leads is a complicated process, especially if you don’t have automated systems in place. However, being able to confidently answer this and other questions around marketing’s contribution to lead generation and revenue will:

  • insure company growth
  • justify increasing budget dollars for your marketing efforts
  • improve marketing’s lead generation effectiveness

B2B marketers need to utilize a system for lead tracking to answer these questions.

Let’s discuss what lead tracking is and how to get started, even if you’re a marketing “team” of one or two, or lack an automated lead tracking system.

What is lead tracking?

One of the most important responsibilities for a B2B marketer or marketing team is to generate leads. In its simplest form a lead is an individual who is interested in your product or service. And a simple lead management process is one where marketing generates a lead, then passes it over to the sales team who “close” the lead as either a won or lost sale.

Lead tracking is the ability to track each lead from initial inquiry via a marketing channel (online or offline) or campaign (digital ad, email, direct mail etc.) response through to a closed sale (won or lost).

This simple lead tracking and management business process can get complicated very quickly. For example, is the lead located in a geographic area your company sells into, which sales person gets which leads, how does marketing hand off the lead information, and how does sales notify marketing of closing the sale. These are just some of the lead tracking details you typically need to work through. Read my post about business processes to learn the why and how for lead tracking and other marketing processes. Read more

B2B Buyer Personas: 6 Easy Ways to Research & Develop

In my previous post I shared 7 reasons B2B marketers need buyer personas. B2B buyer personas describe your ideal customers so that your social posts, emails, website, blogs, and other marketing content attract, convert, and nurture the right people.

Now that you’re convinced you need buyer personas, these tips will help you get started. According to Cintell’s Understanding B2B Buyers: The 2016 Benchmarking Study high-performing companies use a variety of methods to compile insights about their buyers, while underperforming companies reported using fewer sources of data. So use as many of the tips below as you can to research and develop your B2B buyer personas.

Here are 6 tips for researching and developing B2B buyer personas:

1. Create (steal) a persona template – The first thing you need to know is what information will describe and personify your ideal customer so that it’s meaningful to internal users in marketing and sales. Create a buyer persona template with sections for the types of information you want to collect.

Why start from scratch when you can get persona templates for free. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll find many more in addition to these – HubSpot Buyer Persona Guide, Content Marketing Institute Target Persona Template, Content4Demand Buyer Profile Playbook. The HubSpot and CMI templates are simple to use, but I like the Content4Demand templates which are downloadable from within their Playbook because they are more comprehensive, providing a richer description of the persona. As you review the templates, take what makes sense for your situation to create your own custom buyer persona template. With this in hand, the rest of your B2B buyer persona research will fill in the blanks.

2. Analyze customer and prospect data – According to the B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America 64% of marketers use a dedicated email platform while 51% use a marketing automation system. That’s a lot of contact data. Plus you’ve likely got a CRM system with even more customer and prospect data. Mine your contact data for things like contact titles, company types, gender, and vertical. Use this information to focus in on specific LinkedIn profiles (see #5 below). You can also use this data to segment and send a survey to your contacts to gather insights.

It is concerning to see that only 47% of B2B marketers use buyer personas according to the B2B Content Marketing 2017: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America even though more than half use a dedicated email platform or marketing automation system. Apparently these marketers aren’t convinced they need buyer personas.

3. Interview sales – Your frontline sales people know who they want as customers and who have made the best customers in the past. The same goes for Key Account or National Account sales people. So interview your sales team to learn who they see as your ideal customer. Be sure to pick sales people from the different geographies you sell into and with experience in the persona’s vertical. It may also be insightful to interview sales support or account managers. Depending on your product/service and company structure, these people probably know your existing customers better than anyone else.

Attending regional or national sales meetings is a great way to get in-person interviews with sales. Of course picking up the phone works too, especially if timing is an issue. Interviewing sales team members has the added bonus of helping align sales and marketing.

4. Interview your customers and prospects – There’s nothing better than hearing firsthand what your customers and prospects think, how they find information, and who they look to for advice. If you have time and access, conduct in-person or phone interviews with customers and prospects.B2B buyer personas

Trade shows can be a great place to do quick in-person interviews, as are sales ride-alongs. Or review your CRM database with guidance from sales to find suitable customers and prospects to interview over the phone. Be sure to keep the call less than 30 minutes, 15 minutes is better.

5. Use LinkedIn – Search LinkedIn to find real customers, prospects, and others similar to them using titles, companies, and verticals. Look at individual profiles to learn their education level, interests, “typical” background, certifications, associations, and years of experience. See what LinkedIn groups they belong to and who they follow.

LinkedIn job postings for the titles/roles you are researching can provide additional insight. For instance, things like education, background and experience, certifications, plus their responsibilities and goals. You may need a LinkedIn Premium account to see the information you want, but can drop back to a free Basic account afterwards.

6. Interview customer service – You may need to understand and describe those who actually use your product, a user persona, especially if your marketing efforts include customer retention goals. The user of your product or service often has direct influence on renewal/repurchase decisions. Your customer service reps know better than anyone else in your company what describes your ideal user . They know their challenges, typical titles/role in the company, where they go to get information, and how their input factors into the buying decision.

You may only need one persona to improve your marketing results and can add others later. Developing buyer personas is a bit like exercising — it can be hard to get going and there’s many ways to go about it. But like the Nike slogan – Just Do It! Using these tips can make getting started on your highest priority persona easy.

What techniques have you found effective for researching and developing B2B buyer personas?

 

7 Reasons Every B2B Marketing Strategy Needs Buyer Personas

Are you confident your B2B marketing efforts are targeting the right audience? Most B2B buyers today self-educate long before reaching out to sales. That’s why your B2B marketing strategy needs buyer personas.

You’ve seen the numbers — 57% of the purchase decision happens before sales gets involved according to CEB and 67% of the buyer’s journey is now done digitally according to SiriusDecisions.  Therefore, it’s more important than ever that your social posts, emails, website, blogs, and other marketing content attracts, converts, and nurtures the right people – your ideal customer or buyer persona.

Here are 7 reasons your B2B marketing strategy needs buyer personas:

  1. B2B buying is complicated – Most B2B buying decisions aren’t made by one person. Sure, there may be a single signature on the contract or PO. However, usually a buying team has purchasing, technical and functional experts. In addition, senior management weights in on final B2B purchase decisions. In fact, CEB’s research shows that an average of 5.4 people are involved in B2B buying decisions. Personas help marketing reach and influence each person on the buying team.
  2. Helps you prioritize – Every marketing team has limited resources. The persona development process helps you and your marketing team (and sales) really home in on your ideal prospects. In addition to the role of your ideal customer (see above), developing personas forces everyone to think about and prioritize verticals, geography, etc. that will drive growth for your organization.
  3. Improves sales and marketing alignment – Since marketing works closely with sales to develop personas, this naturally drives alignment between marketing and sales teams. Marketing will learn from sales, and marketing and sales will be aligned on reaching the priority prospects. The personas you develop can become part of sales on-boarding. This helps new sales reps ramp up more quickly and align them with marketing.
  4. Improves lead quality –Creating your marketing campaigns and content with your persona in mind will naturally attract people more likely to convert to leads. And those leads will be easier to segment for more targeted, personalized and engaging campaigns resulting in more effective nurturing. Marketing will be handing off higher quality leads to sales – sales will love you!
  5. Better focus channels – Do your research right and you’ll know where your personas go to educate themselves and research new solutions. This means you can save time and money by devoting resources and promoting your content to the channels where your personas are, not where you think they might be.
  6. Improves content topic ideation – Without personas your team will be wasting time trying to guess what topics will be of interest. Even worse, you may be developing marketing content that never gets seen. Well-developed personas clearly spell out pain points and challenges, interests, common problems, goals, etc. This makes it much easier to develop topics that resonate with and engage your ideal prospect.

During the persona development process you will invariably uncover internal resources for developing future topics and content.

7. Quicker and better content – Having a persona to share when making content development requests or assignments helps ensure it’s written with the right audience in mind. This is true no matter who the writer is, a new marketing team member, guest blogger, outside writer, or internal subject matter expert. You’ll save time and improve your content.

According to Cintell’s Understanding B2B Buyers: The 2016 Benchmarking Study, companies that exceeded their lead and revenue goals were 2.2 times more likely to have and document buyer personas than companies that miss their goals. So what’s holding you back? Isn’t it time your B2B marketing strategy includes formalized buyer personas for marketing success? Learn more by reading 6 Easy Ways to Research and Develop Buyer Personas.

 

B2B Lead Generation is Just Like Motorsport Racing – No Really!

The Top 4 Elements for a Podium Finish

Over Labor Day weekend I had the opportunity to drive my race car on my favorite track, Virginia International Raceway. The weather was perfect in spite of Hurricane Hermine barreling along just 20 miles south of us. Plus the car performed well making it a most enjoyable weekend. By now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with B2B marketing. A lot actually! In this post I’ll discuss the top four elements to ensure your B2B lead generation strategy results in a podium finish.

Prepped for high performance B2B lead generation

Before I head to the track there’s a lot of preparation required to ensure a fun and safe weekend of high performance driving. I inspect the car for any safety or mechanical issues, purchase gas, and gather spare parts. Sometimes I change the oil, brake pads, or tires. Then there’s the hotel reservations, event registration, planning when to get the trailer from storage and load the car, and purchasing track insurance. Yes, I have a very long checklist to make sure I don’t forget anything.

Successful B2B lead generation requires a lot of preparation also. Before the launch of any campaigns you need to be “race prepped”. By that I mean you need target buyer personas, a mapped out buyer’s journey, and appropriate content for each journey stage. You need your marketing engine (website, online and offline channels, marketing automation, and analytics) tuned up and ready. Your content calendar may have some holes in it, but you should have some “spare” content on hand. Additionally, you need a plan for producing new content going forward since content is the “fuel” for lead generation.

Think about what else might be needed and what might change. Not having a set of spare tires or brake pads at the track can ruin a weekend. In fact it can waste the investment made to be there. What can you prepare ahead of time to respond more quickly? Close alignment with sales can provide early insight into customers and sales enablement needs. Having relationships with outside resources for market research, content development, design, etc. can help you implement backup plans or new tactics, make you more nimble, and reduce risk.

Strategic and integrated tactics win the B2B lead generation race

The courses I drive are road courses, typically 2 to 3 miles long with many turns and elevation changes. So unlike NASCAR’s oval tracks, I can’t see the whole course at once and it’s not just left turns. Before going to a new track I’ll watch video and study a track map to learn “the line”, the best way to take each turn for the fastest lap times. Although each turn has a “best way” through it, it’s better to take an integrated approach to get the fastest overall lap times. An integrated approach may sacrifice speed through one turn to optimize a more important turn that follows. For example, turning in later and slower for a turn so that upon exit the car is set up perfectly to enter the next more important turn.

B2B marketers have more channel choices than ever for lead generation. However, it takes a strategic and integrated approach to beat the competition. For example, exhibiting at a trade show will certainly generate some leads. However, integrating your trade show presence with social media, email campaigns, a web landing page, and direct mail will generate higher quality leads faster.

Consider which marketing tactics integrated together will deliver the fastest results for the overall strategy and resources available. According to the B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report from the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs 75% of B2B marketers rated in-person events as the most effective tactic while infographics and on-line presentations came in last at only 58%.

The report also shows that B2B marketers use on average 13 different tactics and 6 different social media platforms. Respondents chose LinkedIn(66%), Twitter(55%), and YouTube(51%) as the most effective platforms. If your target prospects don’t use Facebook for investigating solutions to their business problems, then why devote resources to it? An integrated marketing plan might “sacrifice” Facebook while putting more resources into LinkedIn, YouTube, email campaigns and webinars. Running fewer email campaigns may actually reduce unsubscribes and increase click through rates and engagement with prospects.

A data dashboard for midrace adjustments and a strong finish

Speedometer up and close

With preparation and an integrated strategy in place, you’ll need to gather data to assess and make course adjustments as you go along. During a race the team measures tire pressures, engine and transmission temperatures, fuel levels and lap times. This helps drivers and crew make adjustments that improve performance. Teams also relay competitor information to help determine when to make pit stops and what times will win the race. Without this kind of data, the team is driving blind. Making more pit stops than necessary or not changing tires soon enough can lose the race.

Measuring lead generation efforts helps B2B marketers know whether they are meeting their goals, what’s working and not working. This measurement data should provide an indication of where to allocate resources and help justify more budget. With the tools and technology available to marketers today, such as marketing automation and Google Analytics, there’s really no excuse for not being able to gather and measure lead generation efforts.

The bigger challenge now is learning what to measure and how to analyze, adjust and optimize to keep improving your lead generation capabilities. The B2B Content Marketing Report indicated the top 3 most important metrics for B2B marketers were sales lead quality (87%), sales (84%), and higher conversion rates (82%). Creating a lead generation dashboard with meaningful metrics will ensure you’re not driving blind and take you to a strong finish.

B2B lead generation is an enduro, not a sprint

Race car crossing the finish line on a circuit

You can’t win the race if you don’t finish. Race cars have more robust parts and extra cooling to withstand extreme conditions for longer periods. Your street car with the same horsepower might make a few laps around the track. However, it would likely lose brakes, wear out tires, or break a part before finishing the race.

B2B lead generation, contrary to the sales team’s quarterly or even monthly sprints, is more like an enduro race that lasts several quarters or even a fiscal year or more. Sure there may be twists and turns that require you to adjust your tactics. However, consistently engaging your prospects throughout their buyers’ journey is what wins the race. Stopping and starting tactics midstream or doing one-off campaigns, be they online or offline, won’t make much, if any, impact. Make sure you’ve got the resources and team in place to make it through several quarters at least. That way you’ll have enough data to learn what works and make educated decisions about your future B2B lead generation strategy and tactics.