13 Jan

The ONE thing to do when you write a marketing plan

There is no question that marketing planning has become a lot harder over the years.

For one, digital media, including social have added a whole new layer of complexity but many business now also work in more diverse markets. Physical distance is no longer the constraint it was (or was perceived to be). Local operations are now national, and national brands think and operate internationally.

Making choices

The hardest part of business and marketing strategy has always been choosing what NOT to do (as Micheal E Porter famously stated), and that’s even more critical now. It’s not made easier by the fact that from the outside, it’s hard to see the effort required in a lot of the work marketers do. Why don’t we do this and that, AND that? It can’t be that hard, after all.

The hard conversation

The best marketing plans start with a hard conversation. With your CEO, Sales Director (or with yourself if you’re all of the above.) Before you start thinking of WHAT and HOW you’re going to do all this marketing stuff, spend some time on clarifying the business and sales goals. If you are lucky, these goals are written down somewhere, but often they’re not. So the ONE thing to do, is have the hard conversation.

  • Make sure you’re absolutely clear on what the specific outcomes are  the business required, and by when.
  • Make sure you understand the priority order of these goals
  • Write them down, and get sign off before you start any marketing planning

It will be the hardest (and maybe most uncomfortable) part of writing your marketing plan, but it’s your foundation. If you nail this, making those choices becomes much easier, you’ll spend half the time on your plan, and you’re behaving like a marketing leader, not a manager.

 

07 Jan

Self education of B2B buyers? It’s only half right

It is now common belief among B2B sales and marketing folks that our B2B buyers self educate online, having made up their mind pretty much before a sales person is even in the picture. That idea itself creates a need of course, and it’s fertile ground for people selling marketing services and sales methodologies.

A recent study by the Corporate Executive Board reported that B2B buyers are 57% of the way to a buying decision before they are willing to talk to a sales rep. And a survey last year by DemandGen Report, reported that 77% of B2B buyers said they did not talk with a salesperson until after they had performed independent research, and 36% of buyers said they didn’t engage with a sales rep until after a short list of preferred vendors was established. (Tom Martin, ConverseDigital)

Great blog with interesting content and I don’t argue that self education takes place…however.

It works when customers know they have a problem and are motivated to solve it
It assumes that customers know they have a problem, and are actively looking for a solution to a problem. They research options online, without ever speaking to you until they need a price. It’s where your inbound leads come from, maybe as a result of your great SEO, advertising, social strategy, etc etc.But if you look back at last years’ new customers, exactly how many of them were inbound? 30, 40, 50%? Where did the rest of your new business come from? 

What if they don’t feel the pain, or are not motivated to look for a remedy?

More often than not our potential customers are pretty happy in their imperfect world. They tend to actively resist change. Change is risky, it costs money, it takes time and effort. 

A significant part of your new business probably came from people making outbound telephone calls, connecting via LinkedIn and in meetings, supported by email and other outbound tools and activities. They introduced potential customers to the fact they have a problem signifncant enough to invest the time, risk and money to solve it. They disrupted people. They somehow got 1 minute of someone’s time to introduce an idea. 

Now self education starts again

Of course, once that contact is made and the seed is planted, you still need to be ready for them to jump online and do their self education about your brand and product.

In a nutshell, it ain’t that simple.

So my point is not to ignore the need to cater for the self educating customer. But the greatest challenge remains to disrupt people and convince them that they have a problem significant enough to invest in a solution. How smart you are with that disruption is they key to success.

 

12 Dec

Agile in marketing- is SCRUM a new way for marketing project management?

“90% of our activity is in execution (Even for those that do take strategy seriously). What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.This post is about a different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “”agile”” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by modern software development companies. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.

The traditional approach – The “waterfall” method

A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop.

On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a “”design”” process.In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “”waterfall”” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.

Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.In comes “”agile”” development.

A “potentially shippable product”

The core concept is that you work closely with the “client”(which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “”stories”” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “”agile”” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.

The relevance to marketing

I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:

  1. Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
  2. Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
  3. Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it

More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.

As always, you’re never alone

When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success.  Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resourcesNext post: read how we applied it and what we learnt

29 Jun

Agile in marketing- is SCRUM a new way for marketing project management?

“90% of our activity is in execution” (Even for those that do take strategy seriously).

What holds you back more than anything in executing on your plans? My guess is that it probably somewhere between competing priorities and changing priorities.This post is about a new and different way of managing your marketing projects. First a bit of context: The company I work for Aconex, adopted an “”agile”” software development approach a few years ago, widely used by tech companies such as Google, etc. I took part in their workshops and realised that the problems software developers face, are not too different from ours.

The traditional approach – “”The “waterfall” method

A major challenge for software development teams is that there are always far more ideas of what should be developed, than there are people/money to develop. On top of that, it’s almost impossible to know exactly what the final product should look like. Think about it. You have an idea about what the software should do, but how do you foresee all the great new ideas that come about when you actually start using/playing with the software? It’s as much a creative process as a design” process.

In traditional software development methodologies, one or more people write a spec of exactly what they understand their client (the business they work for, or an actual client) wants, (takes a lot of time), hand it over to developers who build the whole thing (takes a lot of time) and then to another team who test it. It’s called a “waterfall” method, reflecting the typical GANNT chart of activity. It’s one all marketers are familiar with.Often, by the time the people who provided the input (client) see the end result, it is not quite what they expected. (We’ve all read the stories of tech projects years in the making failing to deliver little or no value at all.)

There are a bunch of reasons for this. A very common one is that people often can’t exactly visualise what they want.Another issue is that the best ideas to solve a problem can come at any time, not necessarily at the beginning of the project, when it is being designed. Finally, the people who write the code often have only a limited idea of what the business problem is that their code solves. In a traditional world, these development projects can take anything from months to years, and only at the very end it is clear that the project is a success or a failure.In comes “agile” development.

The core concept is that you work closely with the “client” (which could be an actual client or the business itself) to develop “stories” that articulate what it is that they want the software to do. (Stay with me, we’ll get to the marketing bit in a minute.)They then work in short cycles, called “sprints” involving all the team participants to deliver a “potentially shippable product”, that the client can evaluate and provide feedback on to determine the appropriateness. The key is that you are “agile” in your ability to respond to the needs of your client, or new and better ways to solve a problem. Importantly, it is the whole team who are responsible for the delivery, forcing close cooperation.

The relevance to marketing

I went to the workshops essentially to make sure we understood what the development teams would be doing, but I walked out with the idea that the problems they were trying to solve were very similar to the challenges we face in marketing.Like our development friends, we’re in a business that is continuously changing, like many businesses today. We continue to enter new markets, develop new partnerships, new products. There is always far more that we could be doing than we have time or resources for, so prioritisation is essential. Similar to the development environment, the best ideas to solve a problem don’t always get thought of in the annual planning session. To further complicate that, the marketing tools at our disposal also continue to evolve at a rapid rate.I’ve never worked on a 12 months marketing plan that:

  1. Was executed the way it was planned at the beginning
  2. Met the needs of the (changing) business during that 12 months
  3. Was actually developed by the team that was meant to deliver it

More likely than not, the plan is written at the beginning of the year, agreed, worked on for a few months at best, before the world changes and the plan is forgotten about until next year’s planning.

As always, you’re never alone

When I started looking into this, I realised that quite a few people in marketing have realised the same. Andrew Filev in his Project Management 2.0 blog writes about yahoo, H&M, John Deere using the same with great success. Another good read is Jim Ewel’s Agilemarketing.net, who’s actually seen a business opportunity in it and provides lots of resources.

Next post: read how we applied it and what we learnt

31 Jul

What has changed in the past 4 years in B2B marketing?

Change is not always obvious when you’re in the middle of it. Looking back over the past few years, here are a few things that I’ve noticed:Marketing automation and lead nurturing has replaced old fashioned email marketing Good news – more relevant, targeted communications. Powerful reporting that let’s you talk numbers with confidence. Bad news – requires excellence in content creation, which is HARD and TIME CONSUMING. So never mind the technology, it’s still hard work to engage people and keep them engaged.Social media has gone from “something we should do” to “something we’re doing” Good news – participation and experimentation are the only way to learn with this, so many brands are actually starting to do something meaningful. See, you never needed the “Social Media Guru”. Just a little courage. Bad news – It’s the new shiney corporate thing…everything now has to be “social media”. People feel overwhelmed with the volume and frequency of communication. The signal to noise ratio is terrible.We’ve gone through the GFC, and as always, marketing budgets get slashed first Good news – even people who used to have big budgets have started to look at more creative ways of marketing. Including social media. See point one. Bad news – Well, I know I for one would have loved to have had a little more to spend…Video is emerging as the killer app Good news: People were never designed to write and read, we were designed to talk, look and listen. Now that anyone can make and publish video at little or no cost, there is a whole new world of opportunity opening up to generate interest, build a brand and convert prospects. And if I was 20, I would go head first into that business. Bad news: As with everything online, the barrier to entry is low and so is a lot of the quality. This is not an easy game and requires people with skills to write stories, direct and create interesting stuff. No, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all you need is a flip camera…Have you seen any other trends and changes? What have I missed?

06 Apr

Food for thought – differentiating in a commodity market

A quick story about fresh food and little Aussie battlers.

In Australia the groceries business is largely controlled by two players, Coles and Woolworths. There are many things wrong with that. For example, you can imagine the negotiating power these guys wield over their suppliers. Or their motivation to give you the best products possible.

As a consumer, I care mostly about the quality of what I buy and the price I pay for that quality. Woolworth and Coles are falling over themselves to tell me that they are fresh food people (just like me, they recently told me in an ad). But I don’t see it.
Then we discovered (through word of mouth) that there is a crowd called Aussie Farmers Direct, who decided that there may just be an alternative to dancing to the tunes of the big boys.

They believed that there was room in the market for an old fashioned milkman, who delivers not only milk but juice, bread and fresh vegetables. We’ve started using this service and now get a weekly delivery of all the stuff that you need to get fresh. The only proviso is that they select the fruit and veg that go into the box, but if you like variety, that’s ok. At pretty much the same price as the supermarket, but at superior quality.

Who would have thought that while they are taking the last remaining bit of service out of the supermarkets (they now want you to scan your own stuff), there is a good business in home delivering high quality produce?

So what are the magic marketing ingredients?

Good model – cut out the middle man, direct to the consumer

Good positioning –  “Helping the Australian farmer” – “The Milkman is back”

Differentiated offering – home delivery, no more lugging the heaviest part of your groceries

Quality – no more good-looking but crappy tasting fruit and veg..

Word of mouth promotion – as a result of all of the above

Who says you can’t differentiate in a commodity market?

18 Feb

Bing vs Google – side by side

Here is a great idea: someone created a site that let’s you search one term and brings up Google and Bing side by side. The moment I saw this I realised why I liked Google so much. First, have a look that this:gogle_vs_bing-sm.pngThe information provided by Google on the term Aconex is a summary of the most relevant pages right on the top. In contrast, Bing gives me a list of seemingly unstructured information.google-sm.pngAdd to that the “show options” link right above the result and I can’t for the life of me think what would make me change from google to Bing…bing-sm.pngAnyone have other ideas? Am I missing someting?

11 Jan

Youtube tells you what part of your video people like

I haven’t used Youtube very much, but I suspect I will use video more and more in the future as it will become increasingly popular in B2B marketing.

My use to date has been to post little video’s of my kids. I had a bit of fun and dubbed “Dance little lady, dance” by Tina Charles over a video of my (then) 3 yo dancing. It’s had about 3,000 views (because of the title, I presume).

I had a look at it again last night, and I noticed some options to the right of the screen for “video owners” one of which was “insights”. I clicked and got to a dashboard of analysis tools:

insight_youtube.png

The next thing I clicked on what the “hotspots” button, which allowed me to see which part of my video people found more interesting than others:
hotspots_youtube2.png

Imagine how this can help you improve your communication over time? It tells you what people like with their actions, without having to provide any feedback. It allows you to continually improve your video, based on what people like and don’t like. I must be dreaming. Awesome.

06 Jan

Social media in B2B – who is reviewing your product?

If there is one thing unique about B2B purchasing, it is the time and resources people devote to evaluating a potential purchase.

Now imagine you are launching a new product. A good launch is one of those rare moments when you can get the media’s attention and a good launch will probably play a significant role in your products’ success. So you target the right media, you write compelling stories hoping they get picked up by those hard to reach technology writers. If you represent a big brand, you’re company may even advertise in the media you are hoping to get favourable reviews from them…

But of course they are not “the media” anymore. There are an increasing number of “other” media outlets. The people that create this “other” media tend to write out of passion or to demonstrate their thought leadership and generally share a couple of important characteristics:

  • They don’t get paid by a media company that relies on advertising
  • They are often very passionate
  • They are often not generalist “technology” writers but people with a very narrow interest/specialization

They are free to write what they like, they are likely to know what they are talking about, and they probably have a narrow group of readers who are equally focused and who are looking for unbiased, knowledgeable critique.

A real world example

Here is an example of such a product review by Stephen Few, from Perceptual Edge, a consultancy assisting companies “design simple information displays for effective analysis and communication.”
The blog post is called “ Xcelsius Present – Fast Track to Nowhere“; a 1,700 word review of the latest version of Excelsius from Business Objects. Now, I have no idea if he is right or wrong, but this is a little piece of the conclusion:

“Business Objects is a leading business intelligence vendor (based on sales), but its products consistently demonstrate that they don’t understand analytics and haven’t a clue about data visualization. A vendor that claims to be the best, which Business Objects unabashedly claims (just like every other major BI vendor), should be ashamed of selling such moronic products.”

Ouch. Not exactly what you’re hoping for. But the difference with traditional media is that it doesn’t stop there. The conversation is about to start.

44 comments and a great discussion
There are 44 comments posted, and it is a lively discussion including an exchange with what appears to be a representative from Business Objects (although not identified as such). Either way, good on them for participating, as it provides potential buyers of the product not just one take on the product, but many.

Now Google “excelsius review, business objects”.

So just before you start to believe that social media is just about Twitter, (and I don’t blame you) it is the fragmentation of media and the increasing number of very narrow, niche blogs, wiki’s etc that increasingly will come to the top of the search results when potential customers do their product evaluation. Search “excelsius review, business objects”  and the review by Stephen Few is on the first search page, just under ZDNet. If I was in the market to buy, I’d probably read it. Rightly or wrongly.

So what can you do?

Without pretending to write a strategy, here are a few simple things you could do.

  1. Know who the people are outside the “traditional media” that publish on your subject.
  2. Engage with them. Maybe give them an opportunity to preview your product and ask questions. It won’t mean you’ll get a positive review, but you might just be able to ensure there is no misunderstanding about your product (which there seems to in this particular example)
  3. Participate in the discussion, using not only the comment section of their blog, but also your own. (What do you mean, you’re company doesn’t have a blog?)

What else would you do?