So Here’s the Strategy … Look, Kittens!

One of my criticisms of B2B marketing is that it is still too dominated by old-school, US-style thinking – product-driven and financially obsessed. The corporate culture is all about the quarterly report – the numbers – and that leads to a reductive, short-term approach. It’s like we’ve all got attention deficit disorder.

Sorry, what was I saying?

Marketing shouldn’t be like this. If it is, you end up with bursts of campaigns rather than campaigns that are sustained, carefully thought through, and more effective in the long run. Burst campaigns soak up a lot of budget, achieve a spike of interest, then fizzle out. That’s not a good use of your cash.

The market isn’t going to disappear overnight; nor are your prospects, hopefully. They will still be there in years to come. So rather than taking a quarterly approach, we’ve got to think more strategically and respect the longevity of the market, otherwise you tend to see a very fragmented and inconsistent budget spend.

Fishing, Pulling and Statistics

All this talk of creativity, the big idea and long-term thinking doesn’t meanI’m against measuring stuff. As I’ve already said, the point is that metrics should inform us, not dictate to us.

Statistics can tell a story, too, and provide a call to action. Here’s a few that I think are relevant to this discussion.

Stat 1: Only 5% of the market is ever in the market at any one time.

What does that mean? Well, look at buying a piece of strategic factory machinery. It’s not something we buy every day like a skinny latte. So we’re not actually in the market to buy very often. But that’s not to say we won’t be thinking about automation robots or dreaming about fully joined up production plant that we’d like to buy one day, if we ever won the equivalent of the business Lottery.

All that production automation marketing we see at trade shows, online, and in print still has an influence on us even though we’re not at the point of buying. Brands still need to work hard to influence our thinking even though the likelihood of an immediate sale is minimal for most of the time.

Because when you do think it’s time to upgrade to the state of the art factory, it’s very unlikely you’ll approach the purchase with a blank piece of paper and an empty head. And when you do enter the market, which brands are most likely to be front of mind? Not the ones that popped up every now and then with sporadic bursts of marketing, but those that patiently and consistently delivered their brand messages over the period between purchases – the ones who were around you, there or thereabouts, most of the time.

A fisherman may wait a whole day for a bite, but he’s more likely to catch something than the johnny-come-lately who plops in his inappropriate bait at the end of the day hoping to catch a prize-winning pike at the first time of asking.

When purchase frequency is small but the sale size is relatively large, marketing has to be even more long-term and strategic than for those tactical products or services we buy every day.

So how do we make sure we’re there or thereabouts when customers decide to buy? The best place to be is in their heads, obviously. We achieve this through reach – the high-level stuff, such as PR, advertising, sponsorship and search – and targeting – database marketing and email.

There’ll be more on the “how to” of marketing in a later section.

Stat 2: To gain a customer’s attention in B2B marketing we typically need to reach out to them 7 and 12 times.

Why? Because our B2B marketing is boring – there’s no compelling and emotionally-engaging narrative. We have to keep bludgeoning people’s heads with frequent dumb messages before they’ll even notice us.

It’s like being in a club and trying to pull. The really cool way to score is to go up to your intended amour and say something devastatingly witty, intriguing or memorable. You pique his or her interest with minimum effort but with maximum impact.

The alternative is to be persistent over the entire night to the point of irritation – the attritional approach. You may win points for effort, but you’re equally as likely to become an annoying pest and possibly be thrown out of the club.

This persistence approach takes a lot of effort and lot of your resources. In marketing terms, you should have deep pockets to bombard people with dull-but-persistent messaging over a long period.

People don’t like being sold to; but they do like buying things. Do you really want your brand to be the one that people buy from almost grudgingly, just to get you of their backs, or the brand people enjoy engaging with?

The bludgeon approach isn’t likely to blossom into a long-term relationship, is it?

Stat 3: 21 people are typically involved in a £20,000 B2B purchase

There are a lot of people involved in the buying process – a lot of hoops to jump through before you get to the sale. But what we marketers tend to do is leap to the sales part of the buying funnel too soon. It’s the equivalent of our amorous clubber, a la Donald Trump style, saying: “Get your coat love, you’ve pulled” before he’s even bought his intended a drink, engaged in conversation or had a bit of a boogie.

That kind of approach just ain’t going to work.

When someone is ready to buy, you can see it in their behaviour, most obviously when they come to your website and fill in a form to find out more information, say, or they click on a banner ad or replay to an email. The details can then be plugged into our marketing automation, customer relationship management or database marketing. And even if you don’t capture their details you can still measure how long they spend on your site and in which sections. All useful stuff.

But the real indicator of when people are beginning to engage with you is when they start sharing your content. They can do this on social networking, of course, but this isn’t necessarily a signal that they’re ready to purchase. The sharing I’m talking about is within the four walls of their organisation – a shared conversation around the water-cooler, in a conference call, or by email.

What we need to do is identify that person who has begun to engage, then provide them with the tools to enable them to share our content with other people. The instinct at this stage is often to retain control of that process and track every stage, capturing every bit of data we can in a kind of quid quo pro – we’ll give you more information if you tell us a little more about yourself first.

But in this sharing, networked age, I think we need to be more generous in spirit than that. We shouldn’t always expect something in return. Give away your content. Don’t be afraid to cede some control.

It’s at this stage – quite a way down the buying funnel – that we should start talking to sales people. Using all the tools at our disposal – IP tracking, social networks – we can identify the organisation and the relevant people within that organisation our sales people should be talking to. This is where we need co-operation between marketing and sales. It’s not like a hard lead at this stage; it’s something softer than that – a human, investigative layer.

Which brings me on to my next stat…

Stat 4: Only 12% of leads are sales ready

Historically, we’ve given our leads over to sales too soon. It often turns out that the prospective buyer isn’t as ready to buy as the sales person was led to believe. Cue dark mutterings about incompetent marketing departments and friction and distrust between sales and marketing where there should be harmony and co-operation.

We B2B marketers are jumping the gun in a rather fundamental way.

As a result of this, sales people often decide to go it alone and use their own research techniques, causing duplication and inefficiency all round. And this leads to…

Stat 5: 87% of opportunities are left behind by sales

Disillusioned sales teams fail to follow-up on leads because they didn’t believe they were promising enough in the first place. Yet research by SiriusDecisions has shown that around 70% of those supposedly unpromising leads actually do go on to make a purchase within 18 months of first being contacted. That’s a lot of missed business.

Sirius also claims that top-notch organisations that combine their sales and marketing operations achieve average revenue growth as much as 24% higher than rivals that don’t.

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