Category Archives: Marketing Principles B2B

B2B Marketing Principles 6: Brand Value Systems

Building and raising brand awareness is often a hallmark of any B2B marketing plan but do you as a B2B marketer have a carefully constructed consistent and coherent system in place to measure the value of your brand?

We sometimes assume that if a cluster of prospects have some awareness of your offering, and can identify with it, this puts you in a more favourable light to secure their business. That’s why most B2B marketing plans include some form of advertising twinned with targeted direct marketing aimed to acquire and then retain customers.

If you’re going to invest in creating and promoting a brand, consider how you will measure effectiveness and value. Becoming, and staying ‘front of mind’ can cost a small fortune as companies compete to build a brand containing some intrinsic brand value.

Take a different view. One where you don’t own your brand and it is instead defined by those who come into contact with it. Think of all your brand ‘touch points’ – a trade counter, your call centre, a representative or engineer, your mail shots, your advertising, your exhibition stands, your seminars, your website, email, social media pages. All of these can offer a great experience and provide the opportunity to ask for feedback. And therein lies the rub: The only way to create a benchmark, and then measure brand value, is to ask.

The Cooperative asks questions on their Chip & Pin machines at the checkout. Linkedin, SurveyMonkey and Zoomerang polls can be quickly created and distributed. Email and website based tools can be effectively harnessed post transaction. In-store and direct marketing response offers can be deployed. Questions can be added to omnibus surveys. And at the most expensive but perhaps most focused end of the spectrum, you can utilise focus groups and tailored market research programmes. There are a wealth of online tools to monitor chatter and buzz about your brand online (to be covered in a future blog).

What is clear is whilst you may set a vision and a value proposition for your brand, it is the market that ultimately determines how your brand is perceived. Come out from the ivory tower, never assume your view is in the line with the market and always deal quickly with a complaint.

Put in place a regular, rigorous process for measuring the effectiveness of your marketing. Focus groups and online research panels together with quick fire surveys can give you a measure of perception together with partnership surveys created with relevant associations and institutions, trade publications and exhibitions.

Image www.davidzinger.com

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B2B Marketing Principles 10: Ultimately, think consumer!

The driving force behind this blog series has been to expose the common challenges that affect and afflict B2B marketing. It is clear that planning is critical to succeeding with a B2B marketing campaign.

You must, as a B2B marketer, understand your target audience, understand what they need rather than what you have to sell them, understand the complexity of selling to specifiers as well as users, create a value proposition to differentiate yourself from other providers, use all data you have as fully as possible, create ways of measuring how your business and its brand is performing, use eye catching, interest-grabbing creative campaigns and adopt the latest, and most relevant digital and online marketing techniques.

Interestingly, this often means rethinking your complicated marketplace and your complicated customer with their complicated needs and complicated multi influencer, multi specifier team dynamics, and your complicated product/service solution. But that’s unnerving so we tend not to.

Maybe we should ignore everything that has come before on this blog about why B2B is different to B2C and approach your challenge from a different perspective. As mentioned right off the bat in B2B Principles 2, we are entering the people-to-people era of business communications.

Approach it from a consumer perspective. You are a human being working within a team providing solutions to another human being or a team. Regardless of what it is you’re promoting, rethink the value proposition you give to this person or team. Are you the fastest, the widest choice, the most customised, the expert, the biggest, the specialist, the best quality, the best service, the best after sales care?

It would be great to hear what you think. Please leave your feedback on the blog, contact me on Twitter @renepower to engage further.

B2B Marketing Principles 9: ROI unmeasured despite being a primary driver

Do you measure return on investment (ROI)? For all the talk of measurement and evaluation, ROI is proven to be the only credible barometer of marketing success but is rarely done well.

Being able to attribute sales to specific promotional activity is critical whether you have a large marketing budget or a small one. Why? Simple. Spending on activities that make little impact and conversely not spending sufficiently on activities that could reap dividends ultimately risks the long term profitability of your business.

But where do you start? The good news is that even the most basic elements of the marketing mix such as advertising, direct marketing and PR can be tracked with varying degrees of accuracy. Advertising can be evaluated against reader enquiry, direct marketing against post card, email and telephone response, PR against advertising equivalent value (AEV) and any onward PR – for example, from regional to national or local press to headline news.

Taking it to a second level, specific telephone numbers, email addresses, post boxes and website landing pages can be deployed inexpensively to support the evaluation of these marketing methods.

But only when you utilise digital marketing do you bring your marketing to life.

Advances in website, email and advertisement design mean you can run alternate versions of your website, ensure recipient mailing lists receive different versions of email messages, and run different advertisement designs on different websites. This allows you to constantly innovate, test, see what works, continue to gain permission and get a greater insight into what your customers and prospects are really interested in.

And you now use more sophisticated ‘attribution’ models and software to track even more accurately which activities really impact the sale. This becomes more important if you operate a multi strand, multi channel marketing program where customers could come into contact with you because of in-store promotion, online and trade press advertising, after receiving direct or email marketing, by searching for you on the Internet or because they read a feature about you. These products help you allocate the percentage of a sale to each element that supported the sale, and provides you with a more comprehensive view of what worked, rather than simply allocating the sale to the last element or using an ‘average’ score.

If you’re interested in attribution modelling, check this blog which was inspired by the Econsultancy session on attribution at TFM&A 2010.

There will also be an entire blog series on the topic of return on investment and evaluation in April as this topic is amongst the most read on The Marketing Assassin blog since the blog launched in June 2009.

My final observation. The best investment you can make in good marketing is not cost, but rather your time. If you are going to spend ANY money on marketing and promotion, ensure you have set objectives in place from the outset. Objectives act as your safety net. When adhered to, they drive activity selection and give you a benchmark to evaluate success against.

Image from http://buzzcanuck.typepad.com

B2B Marketing Principles 8: Slow uptake of digital marketing techniques

The debate has raged in the business press about the merits of digital marketing techniques in B2B.

B2B companies predominantly sell product and operating a sales driven approach, so it is not a surprise that some if not most continue to use unsophisticated marketing methods to drive interest, stimulate enquiry, convert, and remain in long term dialogue with their customers.

Sales teams want material that supports their presentation of the business, positions the product, helps handle objections, compares with competitor products and closes the sale. This in itself gives some context for why communication problems are created when companies try and introduce a marketing led approach to a sales focused business. Marketing techniques, including digital, are aimed to drive enquiry, work 24-7 and when done well keep your sales teams busy.

Companies in B2B can be slow to adapt digital marketing techniques for several reasons.

1/ Information skills gaps mean there isn’t always someone who sufficiently understands the technology or is able to argue the case for its use at a senior level, contributing to a general reluctance within the business to embrace it.

2/ The fear and cost of change (including the cost of hardware, software, training, resource and maintenance and upgrades) puts some companies off.

3/ The challenge of converting from legacy paper based systems to digital can be process obstacle to overcome.

4/ The bewildering selection of database, CRM, eCRM, types and styles of website can put off important decisions.

5/ The emergence of social media and with it an era of direct communication and engagement frankly scares many companies. They have also spent years building lucrative distribution relationships to secure market penetration and don’t want to risk upsetting business partners by entering into it.

So where does this leave us? Most B2B companies operate limited database and communications systems, do not maximise customer relationships, do not leverage prospects, have underperforming websites and limited awareness online.

But the benefits of embracing digital marketing techniques are vast (and will be covered in an entire series on digital marketing in April 2010). Every click, enquiry, visit, recommendation, connection, friend, fan, follow, email, advertisement can be tracked, measured and evaluated in ways offline marketing techniques can only dream of.

As a minimum, consider putting in place the following:

– A hosted database/eCRM package – like Project Sales Achiever.

– A website with a contact form, news and email opt in subscription and RSS feed.

– Encourage (and incentivise) 1-2 passionate employees to start blogs about what you do.

– Register an email address with Google and set up the following

– Google Reader – to keep on top of industry news without increasing the amount of email you receive

– Google Analytics – to monitor traffic to each and every page of your website

– Google Adwords – even if only £5 a month, create a presence in customer searches

– Have an expert assess the SEO functionality of your site, these guys are my pick www.latitudegroup.com

– Create a Linkedin profile for yourself, join relevant groups and create a company profile and encourage your staff to join it

These are small steps but they will give you additional exposure on the web, raise your profile and give your credibility a shot in the arm.

B2B Marketing Principles 7: Poor creative

B2B marketing is often epitomised by lazy and tired creative. I’m not talking about high end bespoke photography or clever five word slogans, I’m talking about the basics.

But if we assume that there hasn’t been the attention to details like targeting, the specifier or an effective value proposition, it’s not a surprise.

Like adverts aimed at equipment buyers in the oil & gas sector with – you guessed it – an oil rig in the background and a product shot in the foreground!  Flick through whichever sector specific trade magazine you like (I recommend Oil & Gas Engineer) and you’ll find at least ten clichéd advertisements.

Or like brochures that rely on over-used stock photography like this I talked about in a previous blog.

Or the use of flamboyant, over the top and ultimately undeliverable benefits.

What do they have in common? They were probably designed in isolation with little consideration of the environment in which they would be seen, with little appreciation of the requirements of the customer or an understanding of the competition and how they are positioning themselves.

To their credit, IAS B2B produced a great piece of direct mail in 2008 when they created 101 B2B Cliches. If you missed it, check the site out here.

And if you’re sick of lightbulbs, targets and handshakes representing what you do, challenge yourself to look at what everyone else is doing and do the opposite.

Image from Flickr

B2B Marketing Principles 5: Customer data

There are two statistically proven rules in business. 1/ 80 % of your business comes from 20 % of your customers. 2/ It is far easier and more profitable to keep an existing customer happy than to try and replace them with a new one.

I think many businesses fail to keep these rules in mind, often seduced by the glamour and thrill of business development. More importantly, they fail to have an adequate control over and fail to best use the customer data they have on record.

Look at the chronology of data management. It is reasonable to argue that most companies start using paper based systems which lack finesse. In time they migrate to Excel or another simple data capture program. At some point they are convinced of the need for an expensive and complicated system like Salesforce.com or Project Sales Achiever of which they use about five percent of the functionality. Every additional tool becomes a chargeable bolt on.

Some companies operate all of the above and end up with no centralised system for capturing customer, former customer, prospect, supplier and partner contact details and contact history.

The benefits of database marketing are undeniably clear – accurate, relevant, timed, personifiable communications with responses tracked and evaluated. But it takes time and costs money.

In the niche B2B arena where the universe containing your target universe is probably small, a database becomes ever more critical. Lists relevant to your business are increasingly harder to purchase so you really have to look after every single lead you ever receive. Even those that are not financially viable for you to convert may still be a useful contact if you consider potential access to their contact pool.

Planning and logging communications and tailoring them with known enquiry and/or transactional data gives you an incredibly powerful profile of each customer and provides insight into what interests them and what potential future requirements might be, meaning you can constantly pre-empt them and keep them satisfied.

Apply a little Tesco magic. Their Clubcard is the main driver in them owning £2 in every £5 of high street grocery spend.

Use cost effective database and CRM packages like DotMailer, Constant Contact or MailAgent, supported by communication platforms like Basecamp which keep all project correspondence in one place.

Why? You look professional. You are engaging. You are in control. You are trusted. You are a partner and therefore more difficult to replace.

Image from http://www.tyson-consulting.com (David Waddington)

B2B Marketing Principles 4: The B2B value proposition

The drive to write a blog series about B2B marketing came from a realisation that there remains little clear information and guidance on effective B2B marketing in the UK. There are few books on the subject (believe me I’ve checked Amazon), one magazine (B2B Marketing) and a few discussion groups in places like Linkedin. There are a small handful of agencies and specialists attempting to drive best practice.

I even approached the CIM about creating a B2B interest group (there isn’t one) and they are yet to get back to me.

I believe that, as a B2B marketer, you are looking for strategies and approaches to give your business the best chance of break through, the best chance to stand out from other commodities. So how can you standout in a B2B market?

Beating the commodity trap demands an appreciation of who are presenting to (target audience), understanding what they want (their needs), their concerns and trigger points (objections) and ultimately presenting yourself in the best most favourable light to secure the supply contract.

To provide the most favourable offer means being able to deliver what is expected and then some. It is often the ‘and then some’ that secures a contract win. But such an indefinable element means you have to think long and hard about your value proposition. In light of what you know about your customer, consider the following value propositions. Bear in mind the quality, speed, price conundrum; you can only really offer two of these.

1. Be the fastest – ProntaPrint provides on the spot print and collation services to businesses. It is priced slightly higher than other print providers because you can have collateral printed immediately at hundreds of high street locations.

2. Offer the most choice – Wolseley supplies the building and plumbing trades with product lines running into the tens of thousands through their nationwide network of Build Centres, Plumb Centres etc.

3. Provide the most customisation – Dell allows you to customise your computer purchase online, add a range of extras and add discounted peripherals and accessories. You receive a bespoke computer, though it does tend to take a while to arrive.

4. Be the expert – KPMG help thousands of businesses audit their accounts and ensure their financial affairs are in order and comply with financial and legal and requirements. As a professional service they are arguably unrivalled.

5. Be the largest – Microsoft support their global domination of the PC software market with accredited partner schemes meaning there are millions of Microsoft certified experts supporting businesses with their IT needs.

6. Provide the best quality – quality in the sense of design, performance, finish and process (ISO9001). This might be related to total product (Bentley, Apple) or individual components.

7. Provide the best service – service from a customer experience perspective. Is your website easy to browse and automated to the extent of Amazon. Are your staff fully conversant with brand values and company mission? How is your service delivered – instore, online or through channel partners and distribution?

8. Be the most informative – Google Adwords, whether you love them or hate them, have done a great job in advancing take up of the advertising scheme with Google University sessions and seminars at hundreds of events every year. They show the product in use, allow people to trial, ask questions and get a feel for it, resulting in much higher take up than might have been the case.

Business experts always say focus on what you are best at. Above all, avoid being the cheapest. Price differentiation positions you as a commodity proposition. Consequently, you provide little value and can be easily replaced.

What value do you add?

Image: http://blog.perksconsulting.com