How has B2B Lead Flow Changed?

Recently I have had the opportunity, more than once,  to consider and explain what’s different about today’s B2B marketing.  It seems the standard that exists in the mind of many outside of the marketing discipline is a lead flow where marketing played a much smaller role.  In that mindset, marketing found leads and sent them all off to sales.  Aside from the occasional last-ditch follow up campaign most of those leads fall dormant.

Now, that mode of operation helped grow a number of great companies, some would say.  The time-honored tradition of following up on leads became a B2B pastime.  So did complaining about lead quality and executing poor follow up.

For example, in the “old days” marketing would set up a trade show, do a promotion or devise a game that brought booth traffic, and then sales interacted with prospects in the booth.  Out of a show came a small number of “hot leads” and a larger number of lesser quality “scanned leads”  Of course the “hot leads” got entered in the system and followed up on quite quickly.  The larger number of “scanned leads,” not so much.  Really, marketing’s role was to instantly hand off all leads to sales.

Marketing Funnel

Enter the 21st century marketer, armed with advanced marketing automation and lead nurturing tools, carefully-created content and end-to-end CRM visibility.  These tools have changed the nature of the game for B2B marketing forever.  Now a “lead” stays in marketing for long periods of time, being nurtured by steady and consistently-applied campaign rules dictate each email, call and question.  This is the middle section of the chart.

Marketing then can “watch” the digital body language of leads and, in a lead scoring environment, can automatically move these to the sales process when they are ready.  The systems can also dictate and advise when a potential customer should be called in the process.  In that manner they can also feed the exact right content for the prospect’s stage of the purchase process.

Within a campaign executed by an automated marketing system, you take different paths based on feedback from the prospect; did they open the email?  Did they click on any links?  Have they visited the website?  All of these actions can be input the lead nurturing campaign and each result can dictate different reactions.

Back in the stone ages of marketing “sales” did these tasks.  Often poorly or inconsistently.  Using a process that was basically untrackable.  But we’re over that now.  Take a deep breath.  We can move on now!

Using one of these systems also allows the marketing team to work on new and creative campaigns rather than executing repetitive marketing execution tasks. It’s all good!  Consider bringing it into your world!

What is the state of your marketing lead engine?  Are you nurturing your leads properly?

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The Top 4 Reasons CEOs Don’t Get Social Media

Social media is no longer something new.  It’s not the cool thing we all should look into any more.  It’s a live, breathing world where fortunes have been made and marketing professionals have been focused. Small companies have become large companies based on the strength of their social media reach.  Even Mom and Pop restaurants know the importance and power of social media.

Why is it then, that CEOs and other smart industry leaders often totally miss the facts?  Completely oblivious to the trends going on around them.  Yes, they know it’s happening, they just think it has no relation to their business or they recognize the importance, have “put their best people on it,” but don’t understand any of it from a personal level.  Social media is in fact “for somebody else.”

5 Reasons CEOs Don't Use Social Media and Domo conduct research annually on Fortune 500 CEOs and where they sit on social media.  This year’s report shows an interesting state of affairs.   Here are some findings from the report, as well as descriptions of some other forces involved.

  1. Most Fortune 500 CEOs do not have a single social media presence.  Yup, you read that right.  In this example “most” is 68% as in two-thirds.  It’s real hard to understand social media if you do not participate in any way. If  a company used television advertising, the execs would watch television, wouldn’t they?  Kind of shows how important social is to them.  After all is it quite easy and simple to, for example, sign up for twitter, get an app for your phone, follow a few folks you know and like.
  2. Of the CEOs that are engaged, most are only on LinkedIn.  The report found that 2/3 of them are on one network only and 74% are on LinkedIn.  Now that’s good in the sense that it is an excellent social network that a CEO could find useful, etc.  It’s not a full view of social media, however.
  3. These trends trickle down.  In smaller companies, my impression is that age is a better determinant of social engagement company size.  In the study, there is obviously a lack of younger folks in the sample.  (Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was the only F500 CEO on all five major social networks.)  While there are certainly companies headed up by 20-somethings; it’s just not the norm.
  4. Social networks are a challenge for anyone trained traditionally.  The way you extract value form a market via traditional “interruption marketing” tools is much different in today’s “in-bound marketing” world where companies seek to educate the target market and bring valuable tools and content.   I’ve also noticed that the more traditional among us (a group over-represented at the top of all size companies) are not comfortable with the lack of in-your-face “Buy Now!” signals in social media.

I guess it isn’t that this is this particular state of affairs that is the bad news.  No, the bad news is that it’s not changing very fast and is not likely to anytime soon.

What is your CEO’s level of knowledge on social media?  Is it an active part of their personal brand?


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Productize Everything Now!

I’m going to admit it up front; I really like both the word and the concept of “productization.”  Love to “productize” things.  To me, it speaks to making something the best that it can, using the core techniques of product management.  These techniques can be applied to (almost) anything and used to manage and enhance that “thing.”

My thesis applies to your daughter’s annual Girl Scout cookie sale, your corporate staff department or your book club.  It can be applied to every service your company offers.  Marissa Mayer, Yahoo! CEO and one of the Silicon Valley’s breed of new talent, did just that in her 13-year career at Google; methodically productizing Google’s portfolio of services into industry leaders and building that company into a powerhouse.  Maybe you can do this at your company?

Productize definition

Still not convinced?  Let’s go a little deeper.  Here are some specific elements of basic product management techniques that can help in a wide range of situations.

Finding what and where the opportunity is.  Product managers might refer to this as “market assessment.” Does the market have a need for what we are providing?  Is there an opportunity to differentiate the product or go to market with a superior design and gain market share? While these concepts sound like “business buzzwords” to the layman, they are real questions that should be addressed about every outgoing entity.

Create a product roadmap.  A product roadmap for a 4-person accounting department might sound crazy to some, but it’s not.  It’s a good way to set goals for improvement and upgrade of skills to meet customer’s needs better, etc..  Even the Girl Scout Cookie example can use a roadmap; looking at the sales as a three-year project that you want to get better at each year likely yields a whole different mindset and strategy than just getting it done and off your plate ASAP.  What if your daughter is the one who maintains and grows an email list of interested customers and communicates with them regularly with attractive emails or accepts credit cards and PayPal as payment.  It’s all quite easy to do.

Understanding requirements.  The product manager is the customer’s advocate within a business. They need to understand the needs of the customer inside and out.  Every product, service, business or institution can gain by understanding their customers’ requirements better than their competitors.  How do your Girl Scout Cookie customers want to order, pay for and receive their Thin Mints?

Monitor product performance to goal.  Metrics and analyzing results are a big part of what product managers do. It’s an important part of this concept as well.  How do you determine the success or failure of a venture or project?  You create ways to monitor performance and create goals for the resulting performance gauges, then compare.  As you drill down from there, the numbers show you where to spend your time improving the product for maximum positive effect.

As I like to say, there is “some there there” on this productization  idea.  I hope it turns into a movement; long live those who productize.  Each of us can learn from watching what product managers do and applying the same techniques to your world.  Start now!

What aspects of product management do you already use in your world?  What unique situations can you see product management techniques being helpful?

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How to Keep Your Content Short!

There is a study recently released from Pardot that covers a number of content related issues.  One of the most reported, retweeted and rehashed findings from the study was that 70% of the 400 B2B buyers in the survey thought that content should be less than 5 pages. Frankly, I am kind of surprised that anyone is surprised. If we could get the same information in 1 or 2 pages, why would we want 5?


Some of the popular social media tools have us looking at ways to spread more gospel with less characters. There is a whole science of distilling your message down to the right number of words or characters for different media. These are all good trends taken from the tactics newspaper writers have used for years.

But it’s not just Tweets and Facebook postings that could use an eye toward brevity; nearly all our communications can benefit from the trend. I went to a business school that had an across-the-board maximum size for all written assignments. The theory was, if you can’t distill it down to a page or page and a half, then no one will ever read or understand it. The training served me well!

Here are then, some tips to keep your writing short, sweet and to the point!

  • Start with an outline.  It seems obvious but if you start by distilling your message down to three points, communicating the three points in a concise fashion now becomes an easier task. This works for blogs like this one all the way to voice mails. Detail the things that must be communicated and start from there.
  • Decide on the tone of the communications.  Determine the level of background to be presented along with the main points. Make it the same for all points. Don’t go in to great depth on the first point and less and less for each one.  How deep you can go will be determined by the overall length of your piece and the number of points you must make.
  • Use visual tools.  You can make a shorter communication more clear with bullets, numbering and the like. These tools make it easier for the brain to absorb the content.  Pictures, chart and graphs also make the data easier to embrace. New content choices like “infographics” have taken the task even further by providing tools that are not limited to just words on a white background.
  • Remove unnecessary words.  The old litmus test was that if the sentence/paragraph meant the same if you removed a given word, then the word should be removed. Many communications can benefit from this type of review and end up shorter with no loss of clarity.

One of the good things is that there is much good content in the world that you can look at and emulate to make your content even better. Note the way others get to the point quickly and completely without a lot of extra words. This style of writing gets read and gets the message across.  Adapt the style as your own!

Have you ever tried to reduce the size of your content? What techniques have you used?

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Are You a Victim of Sales Lead Leakage? Here are 4 Ways to Tell.

Everyone who takes a new position or gets hired on as a consultant looks for the “low hanging fruit” in order to make some quick wins.  In my experience as the head of marketing, the quick win is often finding leaks in the sales process and fixing them.  It always seems a bit crazy to me to increase lead flow through the expenditure of money if 10%-20% of the leads we have are just plain getting lost.

leaky bucket

What then, are the signs that your company has sales leakage? Here are 4 important things to look at in order to find and stop the leakage of your hard-earned leads.

  1. The handoff between sales and marketing is not clear.  This is often the first place to look.  The rules of lead qualification need to be clear and well-understood by both sides to be effective.  If you find that some of the sales team feel empowered to not follow up on leads without first working issues with the marketing team, you have a problem.  If the marketing team is unresponsive to valid issues raised by sales, you have a worse problem.
  2. Poor lead flow visibility.  There are some really great CRM and pipeline management tools available that allow both sales and marketing to see exactly where every lead is, cradle to grave.  However, in my experience, these systems are often poorly implemented, the staff poorly trained and the result not nearly being up to the full extent of the capabilities.  In one situation on my watch, we acquired and merged with three firms within a year.  During negotiations and due diligence, it was thought a positive that everyone used as their CRM.  However, none of the other three firms had anywhere near the quality and sophistication of our implementation and in fact, generally were not really using the system as intended.  Disaster was ultimately averted, but with much pain and cost.
  3. Some salespeople use their own tracking system.  A major red flag here.  If you scratch beneath the surface and find that any salesperson or sales region “has their own spreadsheet” to track the pipeline, you can bet there are issues.  The tools and conventions of tracking the pipeline need to be provided by sales management and salespeople need to get on board or frankly, get out.
  4. Perform a quick audit and get the real story.  If you think there are issues, there probably are. Pick up the phone and call upon some dormant leads and ask them what contact they have had. Gauge where they should be placed in the sales funnel based on that conversation.  Many times the results will be illuminating. Sometimes shocking.

This is a topic that always makes for interesting findings in all but the most sophisticated situations.  Almost every company can improve upon the way things are handled.  Be sure to take a look at it and find any areas that need attention.

Lastly, I want to note that I didn’t think up the phrase “sales leakage” nor can I claim credit for shining a light on it.  That goes to my friend Jim Obermayer, who founded the Sales Lead Management Association.  You can visit the association’s website here:

Do you have “sales leakage” in your sales process? Does your company have cradle-to-grave lead metrics?

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The Trouble With “Appointment Setting” Firms

Recently, I revisited a contract with an appointment setting firm as a lead generation activity.  Not that I had ever had resounding success with these type of programs in the past, but it is kind of a pure lead-gen activity and sometimes that is called for.  It’s also seductively turnkey. Without much real work you can get one of these firms up and running and starting to produce leads in a couple weeks.  At least that’s the promise.

Appointment Setting

But is that seduction justified? Is it really that easy?  Sign up with one of these firms and leads and appointments magically appear.  Let’s take a look at the potential shortfalls of these programs.

  • Who provides the list?  The calling campaigns these firms do need a list to fuel them.  These firms tend to get very basic (read “cheap”) lists and call around for the titles they seek.  Since they focus on calling efficiently, they bridge the gap themselves.  But this approach makes for lousy targeting and gives the client little in the way of real targeting tools.  The real problem here is that by the time you realize the list is bad, you’ve  already called into it for weeks.
  • Goals not 100% aligned.  The client wants leads that go down the funnel quickly and turn into sales.  The appointment setting firms wants to set up appointments with the correct type of person from the target accounts.  These are not the same goals and it’s actually hard at the end of the day to make them the same.   Despite great attempts to avoid it, leads that are off-target will come in and will erode the program’s effectiveness.
  • Focus is on the appointment, not the interest.  As these campaigns roll out, sometimes they get behind. After management catches on, additional pressure (always) and resources (sometimes) are added to the game.  That pressure forces the phone reps to push even harder for the appointment, leading to less-than qualified or uninterested prospects,
  • Some firms use incentives  Some appointment setting firms offer a fairly large incentive for the prospect to get on the phone.  It seems logical that a prospect that is getting an iPad mini for taking the appointment is almost analogous to the folks that sit through long vacation time-share presentations for a questionable quality gift afterwards. These folks will take the call and sit politely through the pitch and may even admit to the caller “I just wanted the Big Bertha they offered for taking this call.  Sorry.”
  • A certain type of person responds.  Obviously, someone who answers their phone.  Not everybody does.  Already it’s a biased group.  If they answer their phone they may get a number of sales calls and not differentiate yours from others.  Who agrees to an appointment if they don’t want the product?  Many folks who likely didn’t understand what they were getting into or are easily persuaded.

It’s also a fact that many firms find great value in these lead generation programs and some clients work into 7 figures with appointment setting firms.  These are the ones that worked out the bugs, improved the process until it worked.  That takes a while.  Those firms persevered through the start-up issues and eventually developed what they needed at a good-enough price.   Moral of the story; it’s harder than it looks to do it right.

Have you used outside appointment setting firms for lead generation?  What has worked or not for you?


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5 Reasons You Absolutely Must Have a Marketing Plan!

I am always amazed when I become involved in new business situations and learn there is no marketing plan in place.  Even a brief or ultra high level plan is better than no plan, yet many businesses live without a plan at all.

I’ve had all the conversations and heard all the “explanations”  of why there is no marketing plan in place.  These explanations soon start to sound redundant and point to the same recurring fears that executives have about marketing plans.  Now, in talking to these folks, I believe these fears are real to the executive, they just don’t hold water upon an inspection of the facts.

Marketing Plans

Marketing Plans are very important!

Here then, are my Top 5 Reasons You Must Have a Written Marketing Plan:

  1. It really doesn’t need to take long.  Developing a marketing plan can take a long time and often does. There may even be reasons to take more time and gather data, talk to customers, etc.  However, there are techniques that can create a viable marketing plan in a day or two.  Many businesses need this type of quick plan and execution to capitalize on market opportunities or to refocus the marketing effort immediately.
  2. No business is too small.  Many folks think that a formal marketing plan is the domain of the large multinational firms and not for a very small business.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If your business needs customers to survive, then you need a plan to get them.
  3. It’s more than a just a document.  The process of putting together a plan will include many stakeholders who gradually understand and buy in to the plan as it’s developed and aspects are discussed.  Getting the team in alignment is an important goal of a marketing planning process.
  4. Planning is the only time you focus on the big picture.  Growing a business is often an exercise in firefighting.  Solving this morning’s problems.  No time to worry about the big picture.  All the more reason that periodically you step back and chart a course for the future.  Otherwise you may find yourself with a rudderless ship you cannot control.
  5. “Failing to plan is planning to fail”  I hate to roll out this old cliché, but in this case it fits.  Your likelihood of any success is much higher if you set the goal and create a plan to get there.  Hope is not a strategy.  Without a plan you will waste resources, be forced to make panic decisions and, since you have no clear goal to reach, will ultimately fail.

Looks like I have presented a pretty poor prognosis for anyone who does not use a marketing plan.  I do so because it is the largely the case.  Marketing is one area of business that needs to be carefully planned and results examined and the plan continually adjusted.  Don’t wait!  Begin today!

Do you have a written marketing plan in place?  Do the points above address the reasons why not?

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