Category Archives for "Communications"

Face-to-Face Meetings – 6 Great Reasons to Have Them


Don’t get me wrong, I love social media and fully embrace all forms of electronic communications. They are woven into the very fabrics of our business and personal lives, and it’s an exciting ride.

But, these days of hyper-digital interactions and an utter reliance on technology, come at a price. it’s easy to forget the impact that good old-fashioned, in-person meetings can have in growing a business.

For most of us, and especially those in direct sales, face-to-face meetings are still by far the most powerful form of engagement. This fact seems intuitive, yet many salespeople continue to ignore them. They often use email or a social channel in situations that would be better served by “pressing the flesh.”

Every dialogue requires us to select the most appropriate vehicle. Sometimes email is best. In other situations, a phone call or web-conferencing makes sense. That said, there are times when sitting across the table from a prospect, client or partner, is the absolute best choice.

My rule of thumb when deciding what to do is to think about the purpose, complexity, impact, and sensitivity of any given situation. Sounds like a lot of decision-making here, but the process becomes fairly automatic if you make it a habit of considering your options.

We all strive to save precious time, so meeting in person has to be for a valid reason with a planned agenda and outcome. If you go prepared, it will be time well spent.

Face-time is of particular importance in B2B sales with high-ticket items or long cycles. In these situations, building credibility and trust is critical.

Key Benefits of Face-to-Face Meetings

#1 – Higher Impact:

Let’s say you just got handed a pre-qualified lead for a significant opportunity. Wouldn’t pushing for a meeting with the prospect be a better first step than a long phone conversation or multiple emails? You should assume the prospect has done their online and other research because chances are they have.

#2 – Leverage Non-Verbal Queues:

You can’t read body language over the phone or from behind a keyboard. Experts say that roughly 93% of communication in meetings comes from body language and tonal queues. Getting to know people, and helping them get to know you, is much easier when you have the whole picture.

#3 – Build Better Relationships:

It’s a fact that people buy more often from those they know, like and trust. I’ll concede that relationships can get built to a surprising extent in the virtual world, but you can’t beat the personal touch! Often you gain an advantage just because your competitors won’t bother to make the effort. And if you’re first in, that’s usually a definite plus.

#5 – Gain Valuable Insight:

Being in the lobby, on a plant floor, in a boardroom, or a prospect’s office can provide valuable insight if you look, listen and learn. The attitude of the employees, signs on walls, pictures on desks, and other clues can tell you a great deal about the company, culture, and its people. These nuances can provide essential inputs for your sales strategy and how you should engage moving forward.

#6 – Personal Fulfillment:

Forget closing deals for a moment – OK that’s long enough! If you like people, and you should if you’re in a job dealing with them all day, a meeting can be a very satisfying experience. If your interpersonal skills are reasonably well-honed, you can turn your face-time into real personal connections that can be rewarding and energizing for all.

Digital technology has enabled us to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever imagined even a few decades ago. But the next time you have a significant opportunity, or need to take care of a delicate issue, I urge you to stop and ask yourself a simple question, “would this situation be handled better with a face-to-face meeting?”

5 Steps to Better Business Communications

Better Business Communications
Better Business Communications

In a previous post entitled “6 Great Reasons for Face-to-Face Meetings” I wrote about the importance of connecting in-person when the situation warrants it and how sales people and others often miss great opportunities by opting not to have them.

That started me thinking about communications in a broader sense and how little we think about it in our day-to-day work. Every time we communicate, it’s a unique situation that happens only once. Most of the time we decide how to deliver the message almost unconsciously and I suspect that comes from years of practice and pattern recognition. Although this is undeniably efficient, there is also risk.

There are many factors that need to be considered when communicating. To keep it simple, I think along the lines of complexity and importance. Where “complexity” is about the nature of the information itself and “importance” is why it matters and how much impact it has. At one end of the spectrum are short “near-binary” snippets of fact – the “simple and usually unimportant.” At the other end, is when we need to express complex ideas and thoughts, or emotion – the “complex and usually important.” If a communication is more on the impactful end, I would suggest the following approach:

#1. Define Your Goals

Before pressing a button, picking up the phone, or grabbing your jacket – take a moment to think first about the purpose and objectives of your communication. Also, define what success will look like afterwards. Be clear about your intention. Are you trying to educate, persuade, smooth over an issue, share, or simply nurture a relationship? Don’t just go through the motions – have a goal in mind.

#2. Know Your Audience

Always the cornerstone of any effective communication, think about who you are reaching out to before you do. If you don’t know them, do whatever research you can ahead of time. If you have some history together, reflect on what they respond well to and what their preferred style of communication seems to be. You will be more effective if you can align with what works for them.

The age group of your audience may also play a role. In an interesting article by Ayaz Nanji called B2B Buying: Millennials vs. Gen X and Baby Boomers, he cites some IBM research that shows the changing communication style preferences between generations. The results illustrate how business people of different ages prefer different modes of communicating. It’s worth a read and you might be surprised by some of the findings.

#3. Choose Your Vehicle

Next comes the mode of communication. Whether you use a text, social media, phone, teleconference, web meeting, or an in-person meeting, decide on the vehicle that’s most appropriate. Make sure whatever you choose will deliver your message in a way that helps achieve your goals. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Never use email for topics that are emotionally charged – ever!
  • If an email takes 1/2 hour to write or has 30 revisions, pick up the phone
  • Use proper email etiquette – estimates are that we spend 1/4 of our time sifting through them
  • If you’re writing, remember your personal brand is at stake – sloppiness doesn’t reflect well on anyone
  • If using teleconferencing or a web meeting – have the technology figured out before the call, not during the first 15 minutes of it – can you relate?

#4. Get Prepared

If your communication is important, prepare some form of “call planning guide” first and with the right amount of detail. If it’s a crucial conversation of some sort, consider rehearsing out loud before you engage. It may sound silly, but it works. If you have ever done this before giving a presentation (if not, you really should), you will understand the benefits. Also, try to visualize how the flow of the communication might go and if you anticipate any possible objections, prepare your responses in advance.

#5. Execute Well

If you have gone through the first 4 steps, you should be feeling confident and well-prepared – now it’s time to deliver. This should be the easy part if you’re ready and relaxed, and you just be yourself.

I realize some of this may seem a bit obvious and certainly for the large majority of our daily touch-points, we don’t require this much structure. However, if you get in the habit of thinking this way about your communications, they will improve and you will be more effective. Every time you connect with a prospect, client, or anyone else who impacts your business, you have an opportunity to drive an outcome – make it count!

Sales and Marketing Alignment Made Easy

Marketing Alignment
Marketing Alignment

In a previous post entitled “Why Can’t Sales and Marketing Play Nice?” I pointed out some humorous observations about how sales and marketing people often see each other and how this can be counter-productive.

In this article I will focus on some ideas that may help you build better sales and marketing alignment if needed. You may have your own thoughts, but for me, much of this simply comes down to empathy. Sales people and marketing people generally don’t understand what the other really does, or the challenges they struggle with. Below are a few suggestions that should help get your two teams working better together.

#1 Leadership Alignment

Sales and marketing alignment usually starts when their respective team leaders support each other. If you have progressed to run these functions, hopefully you’ve figured this out by now and lead by example. Together, you need to foster a “one team” culture. If they’re not already, get your teams working closely together – I mean physically in the office, in sales meetings and kickoffs, in the pub afterwards, etc. The more the teams interact and get to know each other, the better!

#2 Marketing Perspective

Marketing people need to understand the sales role and the inherent pressure, vulnerability and issues that come with it. When performing well, sales people can (and should) make lots of money and be recognized accordingly. Accept the simple fact that it’s the most critical part of a business and without it, nothing else matters. If you think the grass is greener, maybe it’s time to carry a bag and try it yourself? It’s not easy and the reward does comes with some risk.

#3 Sales Perspective

Sales people need to understand and appreciate the time, energy, and creativity that goes into the work marketing does. Nothing drives a marketer crazier than a sales rep (or sales manager) saying “can‘t you just whip this up?” That message completely diminishing the role and the recipient. Things take time and the processes and detail in marketing are never as simple as they may appear on the surface.

#4 Communications

Focus on continually sharing and exchanging information. Marketing should know what’s going on in the pipeline and what’s happening with leads. Sales should know what the quarterly marketing plan looks like and the results from past activities. A steady stream of communication will go a long way in creating understanding and positive feedback.

#5 Help Each Other

Sales people should make a habit of following up on marketing leads immediately and providing constructive feedback about lead quality. Keep in mind, every lead is not going to be a “winner” so think “big picture.” Marketing needs to hear the feedback and work with their sales counterparts to improve the qualification process if the lead quality is weak. This area tends to be one of the more contentious between sales and marketing. Working closely together to improve the process on both sides is a far better option than finger-pointing and blame.

#6 Recognition

Share in your success as a team and make sure the marketing efforts are recognized as well as closed deals. Celebrate new leads and opportunities created by marketing. Talk about how deals started and progressed and be sure to acknowledge the people in marketing who helped support deals along the way. If your marketing staff is on some sort of bonus program, you may want to consider allocating a portion of it based on total sales results. This really helps keep marketers focused on the end-game.

I have tremendous admiration for both sales and marketing as disciplines. I’ve also worked with many wonderful and talented people from both camps. Yes, a little friction and competition can be healthy – but too much can lead to a toxic environment. This is somewhat ironic since everyone on both teams should ultimately be driving towards the same goal. When I’ve seen the “one team” approach work, the atmosphere turned from “us against them” to “us against the competition.” The results were always significantly better, and the morale was much higher.

Communication Briefs – What Are They? Why Should I Bother?

Communication Briefs
Communication Briefs

Communication briefs have been around since the very early days of Marketing. There are many variations on the theme depending who uses them and for what purpose.

For example, the inputs for designing a logo are different from those needed to write a whitepaper. You will also see the term itself used interchangeably as a “creative brief,” “marketing brief,” or simply, a “brief.” I prefer the word “communication” in it because that’s what it ends up being all about.

Call it what you will, the purpose is the same. A communication brief is a document that’s coupled with a formal process. The intent is to provide whoever creates some form of content, with the context and specific information needed to convey a message to the right target audience – in the most impactful way possible. It also provides the client or internal stakeholders a view of what will take place.

Communication briefs are used between clients and agencies, or other service providers. They are often used within larger marketing departments in some form or other. Personally, I believe they should always be done because it forces you to think carefully about the project. That leads to a higher quality product and better results.

We have provided a template of our communication brief here if you want to modify and use it for your purposes. This version is used with existing clients where we already know the background – the company, products, customer insights, competitors, and so on. You will certainly want to add this additional information on a first project.

Advantages of Using Communication Briefs

Yes, they take time, and who likes documentation right? However, when you invest the time up front, the job will be far easier, the client will be happier, and you will create a superior deliverable. I’ve cited some of the high-level benefits already, but some of the other advantages that communication briefs offer are as follows:

Better Alignment:

  • goals and objectives have been discussed and clearly understood by all involved
  • the timing and process for completing the content have been established and agreed to by everyone – this makes sure reasonable expectations have been set on both sides
  • everybody working on the project knows exactly what their respective roles will be during the process

Better Process:

  • makes sure you have the transfer of knowledge needed to do the work – you can’t create anything useful without this!
  • there is an explicit approval process – this always ends up being shorter and easier with a communication brief
  • You build a repository that can be drawn upon for similar work – this saves a good deal of time later

Better Quality:

  • regardless of the medium, the most important reason to use a communication brief is to create the strongest messaging for the target audience you can
  • going through the process in a collaborative way brings more perspective and ideas to the table
  • allows for more consistent messaging since you have previous briefs from similar projects to reference – you may end up making adjustments though based on previous results

Unacceptable, Lame and Over-Used Excuses!

Assuming the CRM “house” is in order, no salesperson worth the title should have a reason to make any of the following claims. If they are, I suspect it’s part of a larger issue. As you will see, I’m being a bit playful with this. But I know sales managers continue to get these excuses because I occasionally still hear them in my travels.

I hope some of this has been helpful. If you are so inclined, please share any thoughts or experiences you have on this topic. Contact us if we can help in any way, or offer some quick advice. Subscribe? If you want to receive notification of future Think2Grow blogs, fill in the subscribe section on the sidebar above. To follow us on your favorite social feed, select it below.

Document Important Things or Pay The Price!


Think about how many times you communicate in a given day or week. Between email, phone calls, meetings, texting, and hallway chats, it’s a wonder any of us remember anything.

I was recently doing a “media buy” for a client and although the process was well managed and on track, there was a problem. At the last minute, we found out that the launch date and even the publication itself were different than what was originally proposed. Without going into painful detail, it was a communication breakdown that caused a great deal of confusion and stress for all parties involved and it could have been avoided with a simple email. Unfortunately, nobody took a few minutes to document any of the conversation and as it turned out, the information was important.

The root cause of the situation was a conference call that took place nearly 8 weeks before the proposed launch date. I don’t remember having that conversation, but apparently we talked about changing the original plan for more impact. A week following that call, I was given an insertion order to sign and a creative deadline that aligned with the initial plan. I signed it and never gave it a second thought. The process moved forward but when we started revising the final design and copy, it became clear something was wrong.

It’s not impossible we discussed the change and I was either not paying close enough attention, or I misunderstood. But that’s not how I remember it. In my mind, there was no reason to suspect anything was amiss. In a perfect world, the meeting organizer or vendor in this case, would have simply documented the highlights of the conversation and send it to us so everyone was clear.

This situation worked out fine in the end, but the lesson was a good reminder for us all. People don’t have perfect memories and information, especially on phone calls, can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. When you have a call or meeting to discuss key milestones, action items, or other information that has significance – get it in writing and make sure it’s fully clarified!

If you’re leading a process in a situation like this, document the key points immediately after the call while it’s still fresh in your mind. It only takes a few minutes and you will save a lot of time and grief later on.

Better Business Meetings: “The Basics”

better business meetings T2G
better business meetings T2G

In a recent post called “6 Great Reasons for Face-to-Face Meetings” I pointed out the virtues of sitting across the table more often with prospects, clients and partners.

In this blog I will walk through some ideas to help run better business meetings when the situation requires one. Before we get to that though, you first need a commitment to meet from your host or guest. Sometimes getting a meeting scheduled is simple. Other times it takes effort. For our purposes, let’s assume the meeting is worth the time for both parties and the date has been set. Now the focus is on maximizing impact and that really boils down to thought, preparation, execution and follow-up. It’s easy to overlook details and that’s why the following tips may come in handy.

#1 The Preparation

  • Once confirmed, book the meeting in your calendar system right away and send an invite to all participants so they can add it to theirs. It’s a nice courtesy, plus it’s more binding than a “verbal.”
  • Create a call plan. This is very important if the discussion has complexity and there will be more than just two of you at the meeting. It’s always a great idea as it helps you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • If you want better business meetings, prepare your presentations and other materials well before the meeting – not 11:30 pm the night before. You only have one shot to make this a great meeting, so make it count!
  • If you have materials you want to hand out, print them on a high-quality printer (preferably colour). Unless you need to, don’t hand out your hard-copy at the beginning of the meeting. It will be distracting. I prefer to say “I’ll email the materials following the meeting.” This saves you the time of printing and gives you another chance to connect and summarize.
  • Confirm the meeting date and time a couple days in advance by email to all stakeholders. Make the tone assumptive so you don’t open the door for a cancellation or rescheduling.
    Pay attention to your housekeeping – bring business cards, plan your route on Google Maps (if you are going to them), plan the appropriate attire, etc. Sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how when you’re busy these simple things can go by the wayside.
  • Practice your talk-track. Also, think about any possible objections and your responses. The more thought you put into it, the better the results.

#2 Just Before the Meeting

  • When you are visiting:
    • Arrive early, but ask not to be announced until 5 minutes before the meeting time. I like getting there 10-15 minutes early for the reasons outlined in the next few points.
    • If it’s your first visit, take time to learn something about the company. Look around, read signs on the wall, talk to people and get a “feel” for the environment.
    • Think through your talk-track once again and get yourself in the right frame of mind.
    • One of the most important things I do before walking into any high-stakes situation is a short breathing exercise. Take 10 deep and slow breathes. This will clear your mind and get you relaxed. Trust me – it works!
  • When you are hosting:
    • Make sure the office, halls and meeting room are all thoroughly clean. This includes any other areas your guests might walk into such as the kitchen or bathrooms. First impressions matter.
    • Arrange to have some drinks, small snacks, or lunch on hand. Whether they partake or not, it’s a nice touch. As small a token as it is, people appreciate it.
    • Let the staff in your office know you will have guests and to keep the noise in check. Let reception know and if you have a security desk, let them know as well. If badges are required, it’s better to have them ready when your guests arrive.
    • Another thoughtful idea is a welcome sign if you have one – let people know you appreciate the visit and value their time by making them feel special.
    • Set up your technology and make sure it works. This includes web or conference call services if you’re using them. Also, have your title slide on the screen if using a projector and be ready to go.

#3 During the Meeting

  • Need I say it after all these years? Turn your phone off or to vibrate and make sure others on your team do the same.
  • Start with an agenda or verbal walk-through of what you will cover. Ask if they agree with the flow and what they want to focus on. Be sure to help them achieve their objectives as well as yours.
  • Be personable and always professional. Better sales meetings happen when you and the people on your team come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant; and confident, but humble. Usually this is just a case of being yourself.
  • Try to keep it as interactive as possible. Get feedback, ask questions and make sure you are listening and not just talking at them during the entire meeting.
  • Make sure you or someone on your team takes notes. This is important for obvious reasons, but especially to clarify the key issues and actions.
  • Keep track of time and stay on it. Plan your materials accordingly and stay away from “death by PowerPoint.”
  • Get feedback at the end of the meeting. Leave time for questions, comments, discussion and be sure to get agreement on the next steps.
  • Thank them for their time and personally escort them out. If you have an office inside a multi-tenant building, never let your guests figure out how to find you when entering or leaving. The walk also allows for more conversation.

#4 Follow Up

  • Send a “thank you” email later that day or first thing the next morning. Summarize the action items, who owns them and the due dates.
  • Most important of all! Do the things you said you would do and when you said you would do them.

Having better business meetings takes time and energy. You must do the work and pay attention to detail. But, if it’s worth having a meeting, then it’s worth the investment. Hopefully, having a simple checklist such as this will be a good reminder.

Content and Delivery: Build Them Both or Don’t Bother!

Content and Delivery
Content and Delivery

What’s more important – content or delivery? The reality is you can’t have one without the other. It takes content and delivery together to make your efforts pay off.

In this article, we’ll take a look at why content is such an important part of the marketing mix, and the vital role delivery plays in getting it out there. I will also mix in a few points to think about for those starting out.

Why Content is so Important

Content marketing is a strategy used to attract and engage prospects by sharing information they will value. It all starts with at least one clearly defined target audience, and most companies will have more. The materials you create must be relevant to those who receive it. Finally, the production and distribution of your content must be an on-going process.

In a recent article called a Definition of Marketing Even a Child Can Understand, I talked about awareness, attraction, and action. In today’s marketing world, getting people to know you, relate to you and eventually buy from you, relies heavily on content – especially with B2B.

Research by Smart Insights earlier this year estimated that content marketing was the activity having the most commercial impact on business in 2016. Leading with a total of 21% of those surveyed, content marketing was ahead of marketing automation at 15%, and conversion rate optimization at 11%. As you scroll down the list of the other categories such as paid advertising, online PR, and social media – content plays a critical role in these as well.

Content such as blogs, white papers, and infographics, can have a long shelf life. This means people can discover it months or years later and in some cases the same content can be reintroduced. The value of content and its ability to engage and persuade is hard to argue. But, only if it connects with the recipient. Yes, content marketing takes a great deal of investment. But, it continues to prove itself in driving brand awareness, sales leads, and customer satisfaction.

Direct Delivery Challenges

Once you have content worth sharing, it needs to get in front of the right people. This can be just as big a challenge as keeping up with content. Choosing the best vehicles to distribute your message is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s use the example of building out social media networks. This is not trivial, and it takes strategy, time and focus. You can’t build every network at once so it’s wise to pick three or four that best suit your needs and work them hard. To choose between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and all the others will be far easier if you learn the social media preferences of your target audience.

Email is another strong distribution channel. Whether you use a simple email service or sophisticated marketing automation tool – the challenge is always the list! CASL and other privacy laws now force marketers to build lists that only include opt-in subscribers. This again takes a long time and your content has to be stellar to cut through the clutter. Also, once you have a growing list, you need to keep up the good work so people don’t unsubscribe.

Delivery Option Alternatives

If your networks and lists are early-stage, a more immediate way to distribute content is through publishing platforms such as LinkedIn and Medium. These are easy to use, free and can attract a good number of prospects to your brand. There is also a long list of other powerful, but less direct ways to get your message out. Examples include:

  • Advertising on Google AdWords or any of the popular social media networks
  • Advertising in online news outlets or industry publications
  • Remarketing using Google or services such as AdRoll
  • Online press releases through services such as PRweb and Newswire

These options can help you reach large audiences quickly and affordably. Because it’s digital, most systems offer strong analytics so you can see the results. In all these examples, there is high value in terms of brand building and awareness. But, if your goal is to drive people to a piece of content, these options typically require a stop at a web, or landing page first.

So far, we have been referring only to digital marketing. It’s important to note that print, direct mail, and other channels are still widely used and viable. If you re-purpose the same content across a variety of different online and offline channels, the impact is even stronger.

Content and Delivery – You Need Both!

Content and delivery go hand in hand. A car without gas won’t run and gasoline sitting in a can, just smells bad. I’ve run across clients spending tens of thousands of dollars a year on high-end marketing automation platforms and barely using them. I’ve also seen great content, that sadly no one will ever see. Both scenarios are inefficient and wasteful.

Ideally, content and delivery should be in the same, relative state of readiness. At the beginning, it’s great to write blogs and articles. You also need to focus on building up your social media channels and your lists of relevant contacts and prospects. Until then, and even afterwards, self-publishing and paid advertising can bridge the delivery gap. Of course, for both content and delivery, there is always outsourcing as an option. If you keep up the effort and provide consistent value to your target audience over time, you will be rewarded!

Sales and Marketing – Why Can’t we be Friends?

Sales and Marketing
Sales and Marketing

By this point in time, wouldn’t you think that the age-old rift between Sales and Marketing would have completely disappeared? I was certainly leaning that way.

But in recent travels, the same old rhetoric used in both camps about people in the other, appears to be alive and kicking. I’m not saying it’s this way in every organization because I have seen some very good alignment out there. But the fact remains that in many companies, there is still an “us” and “them” undertone between these two functions that rely so heavily upon on each. After all, we do typically group them together as “Sales and Marketing” right?

So let’s have a bit of fun now. I have listed actual direct quotes from sales and marketing people about each other and their respective teams. Mind you, I have toned down the language in spots to be polite. I have served in both areas for years and heard many more comments like these in the past. I must reluctantly admit, I may have thought (even said) some of these things long ago depending on which side of the fence I was on at the time (come on, be honest – you probably have too.) It’s even trickier when you manage both functions – then you have no one to blame but yourself when sales take a dip! So here are my all-time personal favorites. 

Sales people’s quotes about their Marketing colleagues:

  • “What do those guys do all day? If we don’t get some more shirts and giveaways soon, I’m not going to close any deals this quarter.”
  • “Why do I waste time following up on leads from Marketing? they’re all garbage anyhow!”
  • “I don’t get why I have to go and stand around at these events – what a total waste of time.”
  • “Next to Finance, Marketing seems like our biggest sales prevention department.”
  • “Almost everything that comes out of Marketing sucks!”
  • “I would be making my numbers if the people in Marketing were doing their jobs right.”

Marketers quotes about their Sales colleagues: 

  • “We work our butts off, but Sales never bothers to follow up on the great leads we create.”
  • “We basically do all the work on these deals – I should be making commission on them!”
  • “What do Salespeople do all day? It’s a joke, they’re never around the office.”
  • “Why should I have to put together sales decks and help with proposals? That’s not my job!”
  • “I might as well go into Sales, half the work for twice the pay.”
  • “When we’re doing well, it’s because of Sales. When the numbers are down, it’s all our fault.”

I’m sure these quotes are bringing smiles to at least a few faces out there. Let’s be perfectly honest though – to much lesser degrees, there are grains of truth in some of these gripes because not all sales or marketing people are created equally. Sure, there are times when Sales drops the ball on leads and times when Marketing doesn’t qualify properly. However, there are usually reasons or constraints, and hey, mistakes do happen. Like any form of ignorance, when these comments become broad-stroked and reinforced until they form attitudes, the environment can become one of frustration, resentment and even hostility. The simple truth is that without marketing, selling would be even tougher and in some cases, nearly impossible. Without sales, there is no need for Marketing, or many other functions in the company for that matter. This all comes down to the crux of all healthy human interaction – empathy! Come on sales and marketing people – let’s start to understand, appreciate, support and respect one another! Who knows, we could even become friends someday!

CASL and B2B Marketing – What You Need to Know!

CASL and B2B Marketing
CASL and B2B Marketing

Ever since Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation or CASL came into effect, it has been a source of fear and loathing for Canadian marketers relying on email to help fuel growth.

A common fallacy is that CASL applies mainly to Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies.
Some believe the rules are more relaxed in a Business-to-Business (B2B) context, but this is not the case! With the risk of hefty fines, tarnished brand reputations, and future civil suits expected to increase, Canadian business operators cannot afford to ignore the rules.

CASL Basics

CASL (Bill C-28) passed into law in late 2010, to replace the Electronic Commerce Protection Act. The Law is Canada’s attempt to follow in the footsteps of similar European regulations and the far less rigid CAN-SP​​​​AM law in the US. All are meant to cut down on irrelevant or offensive commercial emails filling personal and business inboxes.

Automated website scraping programs make it easy to harvest huge numbers of email addresses without consent from their owners. CASL was meant to crack down on this, along with other related forms of intrusive and misleading marketing practices. The law is a direct response to Canadians fed up with spam. A 2015 survey by itracMARKETER found 54.5% of Canadians would consider legal suits under CASL for spam violations. Since it’s inception, CASL has been a phased-in approach. Enforcement began on July 1, 2014 and the final provisions went into effect on July 1, 2017.

Governing Bodies

The three agencies overseeing CASL include the Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC), the Competition Bureau, and the Office of the Privacy Commission. Each jointly enforces different aspects of the law regarding Commercialized Electronic Messages (CEMs). A CEM, according to the CRTC, is any email or SMS message delivering text, images, voice or sound that promotes a product, service, property or person for the purpose of sales or subscriptions.

The rules for CEMs, according to the CRTC, apply to “all communications sent by Canadian companies to other Canadian businesses or messages routed through Canadian Servers.” In other words, CASL applies to any organization sending CEMs within Canada or from elsewhere but through servers located on Canadian soil. Canadian companies sending CEMs to the US or other countries will need to comply with privacy laws in those respective jurisdictions.

Legal Impact

Violating CASL is not good for business. Penalties start at $200 per violation and scale to a maximum of $1 million a day for individuals and $10 million a day for organizations. Given that online marketing campaigns can contain thousands of emails, CASL fines can rack up very quickly. Regulators have already levied hefty fines on several Canadian businesses for non-compliance. The biggest penalty to date was a $1.1 million fine handed down to Compu-Finder, a Quebec-based B2B company which at that time had accrued a quarter of the spam complaints received by the CRTC’s Spam Reporting Centre. The law also imposes liability on those who “permit” spam. So if you’re a CEO or manager, you may be responsible for any employee-related CASL violations that occur under your watch.

The CRTC and Privacy Commission ultimately faulted Compu-Finder for: being negligent in its record-keeping; not using an adequate unsubscribe process, and sending promotions unrelated to the work of numerous recipients. For instance, Compu-Finder, which delivers lessons mostly in French in two Quebec cities, sent promotional CEMs to people thousands of miles away. One complainant reportedly included a government scientist receiving Compu-Finder emails about lessons on improving business profits.

The CASL Chill Effect

A key point of controversy over CASL concerns how it differs from its US counterpart CAN-SPAM – the latter is an “opt-out” system where users must indicate they no longer want to receive promotional emails. In contrast, CASL is “opt-in”, where marketers must acquire proper consent from potential recipients before clicking that send button. The onus is then on the sender to prove consent is granted or inferred.

CASL critics, including many marketing firms, consider this opt-in feature to be highly restrictive, putting Canadian business at a disadvantage. A major issue is that CASL contains few mechanisms for dealing with foreign parties sending spam into Canada from countries with weaker anti-spam laws, including the US. Critics also claim CASL’s severity creates a “chill effect” that especially hurts small-to-medium-sized companies who rely on eMail marketing as a cost-effective channel for lead generation.

The law has proven to be double-edged. Research published by the network security firm Cloudmark, for example, found that a year after CASL went into effect, Canadians received two-fifths (39%) less spam and over a quarter (29%) less email. This is a good thing when it concerns workplace productivity.

However, of the Canadian businesses surveyed, almost half said CASL had hampered their promotion efforts (39%) or had impeded their ability to compete with US companies (48%). Ten percent said they had stopped sending commercial emails entirely – while another 30% stated they had significantly paired down their email lists.

B2B Boundaries of CASL

CASL does contain several intentional caveats meant to lessen the burden for B2B marketers. These include exceptions for family members, friends, and a few other groups. The most salient of these exceptions are conditions regulators lump into a category called “implied consent.” In brief, implied consent includes conditions when:

  • Conspicuous Publication – email addresses are publically available in online directories, websites or trade magazines as examples.
  • Disclosure – an email address was provided – i.e. someone gave you their business card or email address.
  • Existing Business Relationship – there has been a transaction, inquiry, application or written contract for the purchase or barter of products, goods or services.
  • Non-Business Relationship – the recipients are members of your organization, or they provided volunteer work, a donation or gift.

These exceptions provide B2B eMail marketers a few situations exempt from CASL’s opt-in consent requirements. But they’re still open to some interpretation. In a January 2014 Privacy Bulletin, the Canadian law firm McMillan concluded a B2B business could use these exceptions as a rationale for cold emailing possible clients. The same bulletin also warned CASL’s implied consent rules contained many fuzzy spots that will take time for courts and regulators to iron out. In the interim, the firm recommended caution – a message many businesses have taken to heart in cutting back their email lists and campaigns.

Key CASL Take-Aways

  • CASL is just as important for B2B as it is for B2C.
  • The laws are here to stay and in another year they will be even more stringent.
  • On July 1, 2017, individuals and businesses will have the right to sue for CASL violations. Also, B2B email lists containing contacts with “implied consent” status will need review as some will no longer be eligible. Between now and then, companies need to clean up their email lists.
  • Canadian B2B marketers should familiarize themselves with CASL’s exceptions. An excellent resource about this is available on the CRTC website. It’s also worth visiting the Canadian Government’s page and Deloitte’s FAQ.
  • Carefully documented opt-in lists and record-keeping are also important aspects of CASL compliance.
  • B2B marketers must understand what the law considers “implied” vs. “expressed” consent (reference the links above for more information)

As bad as it may seem, there may be a bright spot with CASL. Adapting your B2B digital marketing strategy to CASL means moving away from mass mailing tactics towards highly personalized email campaigns focused on providing value. In other words, providing education and thought-leadership content to people who want it. With the right customized content, you generate better results more efficiently, because readers are more likely to be interested in what you have to say. At the end of the day, this all drives towards one of the most important tenets of marketing – relevance!

Disclaimer: Nothing stated in this article can, or should be considered as legal advice. The research and ideas presented come with interpretation and are intended to be purely informational.