Category Archives for "Marketing"

Market Segmentation: A Critical Ingredient of B2B Marketing

Market Segmentation
Market Segmentation

When it comes to factors that accelerate growth in a B2B business, one of the most powerful is having well-defined market segmentation.

Big consumer brands have known this for decades and have the process down to a science. They know their target audiences inside and out, and how to position their products for optimal success in any given market. By combining precise geographic, demographic, behavioral, and psychographic data, they understand who will buy their products, where, how, and why. With some focus and energy, you can too!

Many B2B companies don’t pay enough attention to this critical aspect of marketing. Some rely on intuition or "gut feel," which leads to missed opportunities and inefficiency.

Everything in sales and marketing revolves around increasing the probability of closing more deals in less time. Accurate segmentation has a dramatic impact because the more relevant you are to prospects – the better your chances of engaging with them.

What is Market Segmentation?

Investopia defines market segmentation as “the aggregating of prospective buyers into groups (segments) that have common needs and will respond similarly to a marketing action. Market segmentation enables companies to target different categories of prospects who perceive the value of your products and services differently from one another.

Generally, three criteria can be used to identify different market segments: 1) Homogeneity – common needs within a segment; 2) Distinction – unique from other groups; and 3) Reaction – similar responses to your marketing.”

It’s all about clearly defining your target audiences and then communicating in ways that will persuade them to consider your products or services.

Why is Market Segmentation Critical?

You may have heard the adage that people like to buy, but they hate being sold to. This is slightly paraphrased, but the idea is one we can all relate to. We become bitterly annoyed with marketing when what’s being pushed is not relevant.

Market segmentation is crucial because it helps make sure the people you contact can actually benefit from what you’re selling. Put another way – market segmentation ensures you are talking to the right people about the right things.

The Basic Building Blocks

When doing the research to build your segmentation strategy, the following essential ingredients should be included in your framework. Answering as many of these questions as possible will get you off to a great start.

  • The “Sandbox”
    What markets do you want to serve geographically? This can be local only, specific cities, provinces/states, regions, or countries. You need to make sure that if you plan to expand rapidly, you can provide the levels of sales coverage, delivery, and support required.
  • Addressable Market
    Often one of the toughest questions to answer is, "what is your overall market size by segment?" Fortunately, online government data and other industry research (free or paid) are often available online. Ultimately, you want to know if there is enough potential business accessible to support your sales goals.
  • Account Characteristics
    What industries are they in, and what clients do they serve? What type of organization aligns best with your offering – SMB, Enterprise, Government, Not-For-Profit?  What do these companies look like in terms of annual revenues, employee counts, etc.? How do they operate? 
  • Market Adjacencies
    Are there sub-segments within your target markets? How do you define them? Are there closely related industries in their ecosystems worth pursuing? Are there partners you work with that have access to customers you want to pursue?
  • Buyer Profiles
    Who are the buyers and influencers in the companies you are trying to sell to? What are their roles and titles? What problems could you solve for them? Where do they connect with peers? Where do they get sources of information related to your offerings? More sophisticated marketers will build “personas” as a way of describing the people in target audiences. Always remember - you may be trying to break into new accounts, but you are still selling to human beings!
  • Buying Behaviours
    What processes do they typically use to buy – formal procurement, informal? When do they buy – is it seasonal, based on specific events, or random? This will not be the same for every company you approach, but often there are discernable patterns in specific industries. Government procurement is an excellent example because it's typically rigid and based on a Request-for-Proposal (RFP) purchasing process.

Precise marketing segmentation helps build the foundation needed to develop your market positioning, messaging, and most everything else that follows. It’s also important to think about market segmentation in the context of your product capabilities and the competitive landscape.

Conclusion

Virtually everything in B2B marketing revolves around precisely defining your target audience and their sub-segments. Taking a shotgun approach to the market simply won’t work in the long-run. Investing in market segmentation upfront is guaranteed to improve results, save time, and reduce costs! Like most things, how you define your target market will evolve over time. It's a good idea to review and refresh your segmentation definitions during your strategic marketing planning cycles.

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

A Strategic Marketing Plan Needs 6 Essential Inputs

Strategic Marketing Plan
Strategic Marketing Plan

Creating a marketing plan is not easy. But, building an effective strategic marketing plan is even harder. It’s common for many marketers to think of their quarterly or yearly plan as a mere collection of activities, most of which carry over from previous periods. Many fail to consider the important context needed and only focus on tactics - this is not a strategic approach and seldom leads to great results.

In a recent post called "Marketing Plans – 5 Steps to Better Planning and Execution," we suggested a strategic planning framework to help organize your thoughts. Here we will focus on mapping out some key essential inputs to use when developing a strategic marketing plan. Ideally, this background information forms the underlying guideposts that shape your strategy and directly link to selecting an optimal mix of activities and messaging.

What are Essential Inputs?

At a high level, the essential inputs are a collection of your historical marketing results, what you do, what makes you different, your market segmentation, the competition, and how you are positioned in the marketplace. Regardless of industry, these inputs are quite universal and will be broken down in more detail below. This is not an all-inclusive list, but covers the most important elements.

If you have been in business a while, you likely have most of the essential inputs figured out. However, it’s surprising how many companies don’t have them documented, readily available, and current. If creating a marketing plan for the first time, you really can’t begin without them. It’s a good idea to create a “Marketing Playbook” document, so the information is all in one place. Also, be sure to review and validate them before starting any plan in the future.

#1 Historical Results

  • This first essential input is actually more of a process, and a critical one that is often ignored. Take time to analyze your previous marketing results and metrics to understand what they mean and how you can improve.
  • The help point out gaps in your marketing program, weak messaging, or ineffective call-to-actions. The data may suggest you stop doing things that aren’t working and start doing more of the activities that are having an impact.
  • Having a good handle on where you have been, should also help you think more creatively about marketing ideas you haven't tried that might work well.

#2 Product Definitions

  • To build a strategic marketing plan, you should start with a fresh look at what you sell, which of course is why you’re in business in the first place. Revisit the products and services you want to focus on – are they clearly defined? Have they changed, or improved since your last plan?
  • Make sure the product documents, collateral, and digital content you will use in your campaigns and selling efforts are up-to-date and clearly articulated.
  • Ensure that anything describing your offering promotes positive outcomes and value – not just features. Keep it customer-focused.

#3 Value Proposition

  • ​If you don’t have a formal Value Proposition or Unique Selling Proposition (USP) for your company, create one! If you have one already, pull it out and make sure it’s still relevant.
  • A Value Proposition is basically a definition of what your company does, for whom, and how it’s different - preferably better than alternatives available in your respective markets.
  • Your Value Proposition should always be on your mind when building the key themes and messaging you will use to communicate with your prospects and customers.

#4 Market Segmentation

  • One of the most crucial and fundamental elements of any strategic marketing plan is having a clear understanding of your market as a whole and the well-defined sub-segments within it.
  • Segmentation will vary depending on your industry but for most B2B companies, it makes sense to group target accounts by attributes such as industry, geographic location, company size, key buyers, the buying process, and the problems you help them solve. See our article "Market Segmentation: Starting Point of Effective B2B Marketing."
  • With B2C and Direct-to-Consumer marketing, segmentation is more personal and typically based on geographic, demographic (i.e. age, gender, occupation) psychographic (i.e lifestyle, values, personality) and behavioral factors.
  • When you tightly define your segments, the messages you create will be more relevant, which greatly increases your chances of getting noticed and generating leads.

#5 Competitive Landscape

  • Besides macro factors such as the economy, regulatory constraints, or market saturation, the strongest external force working against you is the competition.
  • You need to know who they are at all times within your segments. You also need to understand their strengths, weaknesses, and how to position against them to win.
  • Make a point of regularly conducting win-loss analyses to learn how you can compete more effectively.

#6 Themes and Messaging

  • With the information gathered and analyzed during the first four inputs, you are now ready to build the distinct themes and messages for the segments you want to pursue.
  • Take time to be creative and get outside help if you need it. Your messaging needs to break through the clutter and be compelling enough to create interest and opportunities.
  • If your company has core values that form important points of your differentiation, be sure to weave those in as well.
  • Use your messaging clearly and consistently throughout your marketing communications.

A Strategic Marketing Plan is Worth the Effort!

If you think this exercise is a lot of work – you are absolutely right. But building a strategic marketing plan and executing it takes, time and energy and comes at a price. When you do your “homework” upfront and have a strong foundation to draw upon, you significantly improve your probability of success!

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

Marketing Plans – 5 Steps to Better Planning and Execution

Marketing Plans Thumb
Marketing Plans

In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Most people understand that proper planning is a crucial ingredient of success, but creating and executing successful marketing plans is a real challenge for most companies. This principle also impacts sales, human resources, operations, and all other major business functions. Although few would argue against the merits of preparation, many companies don't step back and carve out the time needed to do it properly.

Numerous studies show a massive disconnect between their strategic marketing and business plans and the intended results. The statistics range from a dismal 3% to a paltry 33% success rate. Although there are many other specific factors, the following are key reasons why things usually go wrong from the planning perspective:

  • Lack of planning experience or a solid planning process.
  • Not enough research and data used in the decision-making.
  • Not enough detail put into the plan.
  • Unrealistic goals relative to the available resources.
  • Lack of buy-in from those who will execute the plan.
  • A weak or non-existent governance process.

5-Step Marketing Management Framework

To help make your planning more structured and effective – you might benefit from the following framework. The basic premise is that you start at the most strategic level of thinking. Then you continually break things down into more tactical activities. Everything should align closely with your key inputs and business goals. 

Marketing Plans

Building better marketing plans requires some Essential Inputs that form the foundation when selecting your activities and mapping out how you will achieve them. If you don't have these inputs or haven't revisited them lately, some homework should be done first.

Arguably, this is a one-time event, but things often change over a year and sometimes during a quarter. At the very least, it’s wise to re-validate your data and assumptions before the real planning begins

Basic Guidelines for Marketing Plans

#1 Business Goals

These are the goals you are planning to reach during an upcoming period. Marketing examples could include things like the number of leads created, website and social media engagement targets, or brand building metrics. There can also be important large-scale strategic goals, such as deploying a marketing automation tool or hiring for several key roles during a quarter.

During this phase, you also need to estimate the time, cost, and energy it will take to achieve your plan. Make sure the budget and resources are abundant enough to get the work done. Being unrealistic about your goals is a recipe for failure.


#2 Focus Areas

This step defines the major Focus Areas that need attention during the execution period. What are the most important “big buckets” of your plan, and how do they align with your Business Goals? If you look at the examples in the framework, you would be right in assuming that these stay relatively consistent. However, there will be varying degrees of effort put into these Focus Areas at any given time since you can’t do everything at once. Usually, there are 4-6 of these in total.


#3 Major Initiatives

Major Initiatives feed into and support your Focus Areas. For example, if you need to create more brand awareness this year, your Major Initiatives may include things such as SEO and content marketing, social media, digital advertising, public relations, or events.

These can also be more programmatic. Let’s say client retention is an issue for your company and a Focus Area this quarter. In this example, Major Initiatives might include creating programs to improve communications with your customers, such as a newsletter, or a rewards program to help increase loyalty.


#4 Project Plans

Specific project planning is the area where many fall short. There is often a good high-level plan with the right mix of Major Initiatives, but a lack of detailed thinking at the activity and resource levels. By not working through this concisely, it’s easy to underestimate the work needed to execute effectively and on schedule.

When you hear “it took longer than we thought,” – it typically means a lack of detail in the planning phase. Whether it’s MS-Excel, MS-Project, or an online tool such as Teamwork (a personal favorite), the marketing team needs to map out the many moving parts of each Major Initiative to clearly understand who will do what, and when. Contingencies also need to be considered since priorities can change over time.


#5 Execution

To keep your Project Plans on track and running smoothly, you need a good project management process and strong governance. As mentioned earlier, you should employ a tracking tool to measure progress.

You also need regularly scheduled checkpoint meetings. Weekly usually works best while executing a quarterly plan, plus a monthly touchpoint and a longer 1 to 2-day yearly session. I can hear the groaning, but investing in this process is where the rubber meets the road. A steady cadence helps you identify and resolve issues before they side-swipe your projects and allows for mid-stream adjustments.

The final and critical aspect of execution involves measuring results and outcomes, analyzing the data, and making improvements for the upcoming period. This step may also lead you to "stop, do more, or try something different" decisions.

Conclusion

When you use a disciplined approach to create and execute achievable marketing plans that align with your goals, you will get better results! Putting in the time and effort upfront reduces frustration and provides better clarity, resource management, predictability, and desired outcomes. 

Please share any ideas or thoughts you may have on this topic and contact us if we can assist in any way. To get notified when new articles are published, please hit the button!

Randy Fougere, President, Think2Grow Marketing
With a passion for building brand awareness and lead generation, I started Think2Grow for B2B clients looking to accelerate growth through better marketing strategy and execution - something I have been doing for more than 30 years now.

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.

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!

Turn Marketing Process into Your Competitive Advantage

Marketing Process
Marketing Process

I’m sure some people saw the words marketing process in the title and quickly hit the back button. But if you’re still here, it probably means you’re at least neutral on the subject, or better yet, a fan.

For many, process has gained the reputation of being boring, time-consuming, and overly administrative. If it’s not properly planned or managed, a process can indeed become those things. It can start to work against you instead of helping.

But when it’s done well, process can be brilliant, elegant and creative. When exceptional, process can differentiate companies in powerful ways. How businesses consistently do things can actually become as important as the products or services they sell. So why not take what many of your peers view as a “necessary evil”, and transform marketing process into your strategic advantage?

​“If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you’re doing.”
W. Edwards Deming

What is Process and Why Does it Matter?

​Most dictionaries will loosely define a process as “a series of actions that you take in order to achieve a result.” Imagine governments, hospitals, sports teams, or software developers without it. A sound process is the only way to get things done when managing high levels of complexity. So what value does reliable process bring to the table?

  • It’s predictable, repeatable and scalable
  • It defines how people work together
  • It provides a documented roadmap of how tasks should be executed
  • It helps you plan for contingencies and adapt
  • It can be continually refined and improved

Why Marketing Needs Reliable Processes

Every department in an organization relies on good process to operate efficiently. Like other areas of business, marketing has a unique set of characteristics that makes process particularly important. Marketing is complex, very subjective and the stakes are high.

It may seem simple on the surface to some, but there are many moving parts in a well-run program. Dozens if not hundreds of small details for any given project or campaign need to be well-planned and tightly managed. Your reputation is very public, and it’s on the line every time you communicate. Also, marketing tends to be more of a discretionary spend for most companies, so if it’s not showing ROI in reasonable timeframes, the outcome is usually not positive.

Why Marketing Needs Reliable Processes

Two distinct sets of advantages develop from improved marketing process. First, you end up producing higher quality work that has more impact. Secondly, you gain efficiencies that increase productivity. When combined, these benefits ultimately lead to better results for less cost and with less time invested. Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should consider embracing marketing process as a way to achieve more:

  • ​Important details don’t get overlooked – this improves quality and saves valuable time usually needed for re-work or fixing problems
  • You create consistency in the execution because you start doing things the same way every time meaning fewer mistakes – also, on-going projects become simpler to manage and they finish sooner
  • Everyone on the team knows what to do and how to do it – this alignment saves time and effort
  • When process is running smoothly, you free up more time for research and creative thinking – this always leads to better marketing
  • You learn to leverage previous work and ideas by staying organized – this frees up more time for learning and creativity
  • Contingencies will have been considered while planning your processes – if you need to re-adjust, there are backup plans

​Some people are highly structured by nature. I tend to naturally be more free-wheeling which means I absolutely need process to function. Over the years I have come to appreciate, respect and even admire process. The fact Moneyball is one of my “Top 5” movies of all time may be an indication of how far I’ve come.

I firmly hold to the notion that well-conceived marketing process is a key factor in making a good marketing team great. Further, in a function that is constantly struggling to break through the clutter externally while proving its worth internally, strong marketing process can make all the difference.

Marketing Process

Confessions of a B2B Social Media Hold-Out!

Social Media Holdout
Social Media Holdout

I’ve got a secret to share and I just have to get it off my chest! For most of my career, I have been in tech-related sales and marketing roles where communication activities filled up most hours of most days through the years.

Yet for a long time, I must admit, I just didn’t see the connection between B2B social media and real business value. I thought “social” was great for my kids, consumer brands and people with lots of time on their hands.

So why the delay in jumping on the bandwagon? It wasn’t because I’m shy about technology. In fact, I’m a geek when it comes down to it and it’s as much a personal passion as anything else. Some may argue the point, but I consider myself reasonably intelligent and open-minded – after all, I eventually did see the light – right? In hindsight, I think I had the same reservations of many others in the B2B world – “It’s not easy and it seems fluffy and vague.”

Social media can feel like a vortex that’s impossible to navigate and understand at first. Maybe if I had the right help early on, I would have been a convert years sooner. Indeed, it takes constant work and it’s not cheap. But, neither is advertising or any other important part of your marketing mix. To make it work, you also need to deal with some fundamental things that may seem counter-intuitive in traditional B2B marketing. Specifically, It takes a long time to build momentum and ROI – so you have to be committed for the long-haul, you have to be responsively engaged, and you have to operate in the spirit of giving without expectation.

Now that I’ve finally “arrived,” I still see a surprising number of B2B business owners and executives continuing to sit on the fence or doing the bare minimum with social media. For all those stubbornly holding out as I once did, I’m sure you have asked yourselves these questions at some point: will social media help grow my business?; is it here to stay?; are my competitors using it to steal my customers and prospects? The resounding answer is YES, YES, and YES!

What I want to do now is share a few things that have impacted me during the journey I’ve taken so far. I’m not trying to hard-sell here, but I thought this would be relevant coming from someone who resisted for quite some time.

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.


  • Social media for business absolutely works if done well! I’m not going to quote the thousands of statistics about how it has changed buying and selling. But, here’s some great data from HubSpot. Just Google “B2B social media statistics,” or better yet, invest 10 minutes on any social media network and you will find an avalanche of supporting data and use-cases about this new reality of marketing.
  • How does it work exactly? It helps strengthen bonds with your customers. It offers real and tangible benefits for other areas of your business such as Customer Service, Product Development, and Human Resources. And, it will help you create awareness and relationships with a potentially massive and relevant target audience. These virtual introductions will eventually produce leads, opportunities, and closed deals.
  • At the heart of it, social media is really about content. For a business, there are invaluable learning opportunities in the areas of industry and market research, competitive analysis, and sourcing potential suppliers or solutions that can help significantly improve your operation. The point is, with social media you have the aggregation of huge amounts of highly valuable content at your fingertips.
  • On a more personal note, I like the connectedness of it all. It’s incredibly fluid and exciting and it’s helped me realize how big (and small) the world really is. As I scan through the unending sea of blogs, videos, podcasts and other content, I always pick up something new I didn’t know before. I’ve also come to appreciate the engagement aspect and while there’s always the odd bad apple, the vast majority of people I’ve met in this “world beyond the keyboard” have been interesting, kind and helpful.

Although now a devout practitioner and evangelist for B2B social media and digital marketing in general, I’m still a novice and perpetual student, so don’t look for my best-selling book anytime soon. I’m sure like many others, I wish I had embraced social media for business from the very beginning – but, it wasn’t too late for me and if you haven’t started yet, it’s certainly not too late for you!

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about social media in B2B and any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.

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!

Competitive Analysis – The 3 Essential Building Blocks

Competitive Analysis
Competitive Analysis

An area of sales and marketing that often gets overlooked and underserved is developing a comprehensive competitive analysis.

Most times we know who we compete against on a regular basis, but it’s typically high level. The fact is that most companies don’t invest nearly enough time and energy understanding their competition deeply enough. They also neglect to create a process for feedback needed to keep the information current. In a study by the CMO Council, only 9% of companies surveyed had extensively analyzed their competitors. To make things worse, a surprising number of businesses don’t make it a priority to understand how they won or lost deals by doing formal reviews after the fact.

“Know your enemy and know yourself and you can fight a hundred battles without disaster.”  ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Knowing your competition inside and out will help you: learn what others in your industry are doing; what prospects want; and how to position and differentiate your company with more impact. All of which eventually leads to more sales! If this makes so much sense, why don’t companies do enough of it? Why can’t they sustain it once they have started? Great questions and a few simple answers come immediately to mind:

Competitive Profiles

​ 1. They have glossed through the exercise 5 years ago and feel they still have it covered
 2. They don’t make it a priority and it sits on a long to-do list somewhere
 3. There is no ownership or process to keep the information current
 4. They don’t know how to do it well or don’t have a disciplined process to manage it

#1 Competitive Profiles

The starting point for doing a competitive analysis is something I call competitive profiling. This process is the research conducted to get a complete view of who your competitors are, what they do, and their strengths and weaknesses. Think of this as your “pre-game preparation.” The output of this effort is a “Competitive Profile” – which is a detailed summary of each key competitor you face on a regular basis (usually a 2-page document, or small slide deck).

#2 Product Face-Offs

These usually involve creating tools such as feature-benefit checklists or side-by-side comparisons. Be sure to think about them from the buyer’s point of view since having product attributes that are not relevant from their perspective is a waste of time. It’s a good practice to think about your product comparisons in terms of:

  • Table-Stakes: The features that are minimum requirements. and
  • Differentiators: The features that add more value than competitive offerings

Other critical aspects of Product Face-Offs are quality, pricing, packaging and service and support levels. Going through this exercise will help you understand two important things:

  • The direction your product development needs to take, and
  • How to position more successfully against others with what you have today

#3 Win-Loss Analysis

Thoughtful forensic work on past sales opportunities will help you understand the reasons a buyer selected you, or your competitor. It provides key insights into the perceptions buyers have about your products, pricing, and approach. Even though we call it Win-Loss Analysis, people tend to focus much more on lost opportunities and often ignore the “win side” of the equation. Although it may have been a well run sales campaign (at least in the salesperson’s mind), there is still a great deal that can be learned when you ask people why they bought from you. For more information about the power of analyzing your “wins”, see Win Analysis: A Neglected Hero of Analytics.

How Much Detail is Enough?

Competitive Analysis can be as deep and detailed as you want. There is, of course, a rational balance between what you need to know versus the merely interesting. The level of depth you need for a Competitive Analysis and the types of information you gather, will be determined in large part by your industry and offering. For example, if you sell high-ticket products or services in multi-year contracts, or your products require a high degree of aftermarket support – then prospects will have more interest in factors such as the vendor’s stability, reputation, and service structure. In this scenario, your Competitive Profile will focus more heavily on those things. If the product is a one-time purchase with little post-sale interaction – an increased focus may be placed on factors such as the product specifications, pricing, return policies, etc. Before building a Competitive Profile template, you must decide what things will be most significant in your market.

Who Owns the Competitive Analysis Process?

Competitive Analysis is always a team effort, but typically Marketing drives the process and creates the frameworks and artifacts needed. If your organization is large enough to have a dedicated Product Marketing function, that group would normally be responsible. Sales will play the strongest supporting role in gathering the intelligence. After all, they are in the trenches day in and day out. Also, executives, customer support, service staff and anyone else who interacts with clients and prospects on a regular basis will be good sources of feedback. It’s important to make the process clearly understood and as simple as possible for those who contribute. A good practice it to use standardized templates and forms and make sure they get stored in a place that is easy to access – a folder on your company Intranet, or CRM as examples.

Using Competitive Analysis

Now that you have all this great information, how can it will it be used to help close more business? Marketing will use it for market positioning, messaging, and targeted competitive campaigns. Salespeople will rely on it to help them “position” and focus the prospect on the right factors in competitive sales cycles. The knowledge will also help your salespeople build credibility by showing they know their industry. It’s best to share Competitive Analysis through formal training sessions as new profiles are created. It’s also a good idea to make sharing competitive strategy and best-practices a formal and ongoing part of your sales meetings. There is some subtlety in leveraging competitive information. Sales must always be honest and tactful when contrasting with competitors, and they should never put a company, it’s product or people down! Those who blatantly “slam” competitors will seldom leave a good impression and at times it’s disastrous. Instead, sales should focus more on what’s most important to the prospect, how you positively differ from others, and how your offering will best satisfy the need.

Conclusion

Leads and opportunities are not easy or inexpensive to develop. The vast majority of sales cycles are tough battles fought against one or more adversaries. Competitive analysis will help you win more business if you invest the right amount of time, thought and energy into it. If you don’t have the bandwidth, resources or know-how, you may want to consider outsourcing. For a higher level view of industry analysis and competition, you may be interested in this good overview of Porter’s Five Forces Analysis.

I hope you have enjoyed this article and would love to hear your thoughts about Competitive Analysis or any experiences you can share. Please follow us on your favorite social feed and Contact us if we can help in any way.