Is Marketing a Luxury?

I’ve had some amazing conversations over the last few weeks, covering the whole range of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The one that sticks in my mind the most was with the CEO of a midsize software company, who told me “When times are tight, we can’t afford luxuries – and marketing is a luxury”. I was stunned. This CEO, who will go un-named to protect the guilty, went on to explain how he arrived at this conclusion. “I once worked for Oracle, and while there, Larry Ellison told me that there are only two kinds of people. Those who build products, and those who sell them”. As you might expect, I tried to present an opposing view – but I might as well have been talking to a statue. His mind was made up, and his marketing team was about to become a part of our country’s growing unemployment statistics.

I recognize that Larry Ellison is regarded in business circles as something of a deity, and as such people will take his words to be as meaningful as anything written in a religious text (pick your favorite). Like the deities of those texts, however, I tend to think that Mr. Ellison was to some degree speaking in parables. He didn’t say, “there are only two kinds of people – product developers and sales reps”. He said “people who build” and “people who sell”.

I’m pretty certain that if I go back and look at the annual reports of Oracle over the period of time that they’ve existed as a public company, I’ll never find a year in which the marketing expenses were zeroed out. Is that because Larry Ellison is accustomed to a life of luxury? Doubt it. More likely, he understands that selling doesn’t begin when the salesperson gets engaged – it begins when we start marketing. And the downstream job of the quota carrying salesperson becomes a lot harder without the “air cover” that marketing provides in establishing the reputation of the company and its products, enabling the sales teams with content, and engaging with buyers without pressure throughout the sales process.

So CEO’s beware – Eliminating, or drastically cutting marketing is effectively cutting off the wide end of your sales funnel, and making it harder for what’s left to flow through to revenue. Marketers are people who sell. Ignore that, and you’re likely to find yourself trying to feed thousands of people with 5 loaves and 2 fishes. Not even Larry Ellison can do that…



When Lead Scoring Becomes Bad Medicine

Marketing metrics are important to me, but a recent blog post entitled, “Medical Symptoms and B2B Marketing Processes” from Steve Woods of Eloqua on one particular metric hit a nerve with me.  Steve states, “The natural flow of scoring leads, qualifying them, and then handing them off to sales is disrupted when a sales team is allowed to grab the best leads from the funnel regardless of where the scoring system has placed them.” This idea is pestering me like a buzzing insect that I can’t seem to get rid of.

For the record, I have no doubt that Steve is a brilliant and knowledgeable guy and I follow both his tweets and his blog.  But this post bothered me, mostly because I’ve heard the same discussion amongst some of my team members.  The embedded logic in his post, and in the minds of some of my team, is that leads are to be protected from the scary people in Sales until such time as Marketing deems that they can handle the interaction.  In fact, I’ve even heard it suggested that allowing Sales to interact with leads before they have met the appropriate scoring threshold will interfere with Marketing’s ability to measure and refine the scoring process.

I won’t disagree with the statement, but I will vehemently disagree with the thinking.  What is the point of demand generation? It’s not to maximize the number of leads.  It’s not to improve on the qualification process.  It is simply to generate revenue.  This is the only relevant metric that will show up on your company’s annual report, and while it’s not the only one that marketers need to track, it is the one that we must keep in mind in everything we do.

I absolutely agree with the idea and practice of lead scoring, but my fundamental disagreement with Steve’s statement is on how you use the lead scores.  I’ve worked for B2B software companies for 14 years now, and I actually have a healthy respect for sales reps and account managers.  I know that they are intelligent enough to back off when prospects aren’t ready to buy, and shrewd enough to spend their time and energy only on those leads that give them a chance to earn a commission in the near future.  Because of this respect, I don’t feel a need to protect prospects from sales – in fact quite the opposite.  So long as the interaction is professional, every customer I’ve ever met actually appreciates that we take the time to call them and ask, “how can we help you?”.  The bottom line for me is that I don’t believe in using lead scoring to help marketing to filter lead information from sales.

What I do believe in is using lead scoring to drive marketing interactions with the prospects.  We should absolutely be nurturing leads to help advance leads in the sales process with marketing “touches”, and that’s where Eloqua can help tremendously.  Tracking what prospects are interested in, offering them additional (relevant) content, and ensuring that we are educating them on our unique selling propositions in a way that is aligned to their current knowledge and level of interest is how I would propose we take utilize lead scoring.  Using it to become the “lead police” is not.


You Talking To Me?

My last post highlighted the need to be relentlessly focused on your message.  I also noted that your message needs to speak directly to your target audience, and I’ve just spent the last two days being reminded of the importance of that.  Many thanks to Adele Revella from Pragmatic Marketing who helped me in driving that point home with my product marketing team.  It’s critical to identify the persona of the target buyers we are marketing to, to understand them, and to speak directly to their concerns and needs. Sounds basic, right?

Every marketer I know will tell me that’s obvious, but in practice almost none of us do it.  We think about our product – its cool features, it’s slick interface, it’s SOA architecture, and the unparalleled value of it’s features to customers.  We write about that, make presentations about it, create demos that show it, and then to make it really compelling, we bundle it up in some buzzwords from our customer’s industry so that it is clear that it fits their needs perfectly!  Targeted messaging?  Probably not.

The problem lies in the fact that we’re still thinking about our product or our company, rather than thinking about our buyer and what drives him or her to action.  Often we compound the problem by mistaking empathy for credibility. Here’s an example from a real company:

The Web is an agent of change and growth. Each day expectations rise, placing greater demands on increasingly complex sites, and businesses are staking their survival on the Web’s continued ability to evolve. From the start, we have been there, leading the way in Web content management innovation.

This company sells web content management systems, so their target buyer is probably a webmaster (technical buyer) or an IT/IS executive (financial buyer).  If I’m one of those guys, do I really need someone to tell me that expectations are rising and placing greater demands on my website?  The buyer is already rolling his eyes at the first sentence, and asking, “are you talking to me?”.

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver:  "You talking to me?"

Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver: "You talking to me?"

Let’s move on to the next paragraph.

Web content management must be focused on improving operational agility, individual empowerment and organizational growth. All enterprises know that customers, partners, suppliers and employees require efficient access to the most current information. We understand that to deliver the most superior online experience possible, Web content management software must support the effective creation and management of Web content, automate Web-related processes, deliver the right content in the right context, and continually analyze Web presence efficacy.

So who among you reading this isn’t thinking “blah blah blah” by now?  This would also be a fine time for me to direct you to David Meerman Scott’s Gobbledygook Manifesto.  gobbledygook_manifesto

Unless we think our buyer woke up this morning thinking, “I want to be empowered with web efficacy today”, the message isn’t getting through.  To be fair, they eventually get it right.  Five paragraphs down, well below the fold, they make a simple statement that says everything they needed from the start.

We provide a simple way for business users to create, edit, manage and publish content to Web sites, connected devices and even offline media.

Simple, to the point, and targeted directly at the buyer:  a webmaster or IS executive looking to simplify how they get content onto their information platforms and keep it current.  Not a single mention of a product feature.  Not a single mention of the explosion of traffic and data on the web.  In one sentence, they’ve captured the buyer’s interest and have him ready to learn more.  As a Brit friend of mine likes to say, “bing, bang, done”.  Unfortunately for them, they’ve probably lost a lot of readers before they get 5 paragraphs in, and the hook wasn’t even visible without scrolling down a long way.

The moral of the story is to really know who you are speaking to.  Know how they think, what they read, and what problem they’re trying to solve before you start writing.  Write about how you solve that problem, in the buyer’s words, and then…stop.  Bing, bang, done.


What your Franklin Planner knows about messaging…

The Franklin Covey planning system isn’t really associated with marketing, but with personal organization and time management. I’ve used their planners for years, attended one of their time management courses long ago, and employed the “system” with varying levels of commitment for what seems like forever. Anybody who’s bought one of their kits or a refill of the annual pages probably knows that the system is based on Stephen Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. There’s one habit in particular that I think makes for highly successful marketers – the 2nd habit, entitled “begin with the end in mind”.

To develop this habit, FranklinCovey provides a sort of “thought framework” that helps you to put real clarity on the things that matter most to you, and ultimately use those to develop a personal mission statement. This is really the single most important aspect of the system (my opinion) because it encourages you to consider your decisions, your actions, and your priorities in the context of your mission statement. For me it means defining who it is I want to be;  in their words, it provides a personal compass for everything you do. Effective messaging, at the corporate level for PR and communications, at the product marketing level, and at the personal level, requires that we employ exactly the same approach. Done right, it establishes what I like to call a messaging platform. When a good messaging platform is adhered to rigorously it results in what most marketers today like to call “authenticity”.

In my experience it is product marketers who most struggle with messaging. The siren call of a new feature or the diversion of what a competitor is saying makes us lose sight of the messaging platform. Worse yet is that many product marketers never take the time to develop a messaging platform – they simply start writing collaterals and web copy, designing demonstrations, and talking to the world about their products with nothing more than a list of key features in mind. So with Stephen Covey’s Habit #2 in mind, here’s how I propose product marketers go about creating a messaging platform:

  1. With the “end in mind”, write down the core values of your company. Not things like, “deliver value to shareholders”, but the things that define what the company wants to be when it grows up. You should be able to narrow this down to 2 or 3 fundamentals.
  2. Repeat the same exercise for your product. If these don’t align with your company values, either your company or product values need to be better defined.
  3. write down 3 things your product does better than the competition. Not features – customer issues you solve or customer benefits you deliver better than anyone else. The unique selling points, or USPs.  Most important, make sure you’ve considered who you are communicating to (persona), and keep in mind that you may be targeting multiple personas.  The USPs should be what they care about, not what you think they should care about.
  4. Evaluate the gap between step 2 and step 3. If today’s version is too far away from the vision, redefine the vision more modestly. Instead of what it wants to be when it grows up, consider what it wants to be a year from now.
  5. Now make a list of your key features. Evaluate each one to see if it really helps to deliver the unique selling points to customers. If they don’t align naturally, take the feature off your list.
  6. With what’s left of your feature list, form the absolute most concise sentence possible that ties each feature to USPs. For example, “the superior weight of our anvil distracts the most roadrunners per coyote in the industry”.
  7. Commit yourself to talking about these things, and only these things, in everything that communicates about your product. Web copy, collaterals, demo talking points, interviews, presentations, everything.

If your company values are clear and correct and your USPs are the right ones, anything else is a divergence from your messaging platform and your “compass”. Stay true to your compass and you’ll be authentic.


Getting Started With Twitter in B2B Marketing

Twitter was at first a complete mystery to me. Do I really want to read meaningless banter from celebrities to their fans? Mundane chatter between my friends and their other friends? It seemed to me that of the first hundred or so Tweets that I saw, about 98 of them were what I like to call driveltweets.  Endless variations on “Going to get coffee – need caffeine!” and “Reading Twilight – cool!”  Or my favorite example from a B2B marketer, “I love (company named removed) PLM Software!! Let it be known…we are fantastic :)”.

But then one day I found an application called TweetDeck that changed the way I thought about Twitter. What I discovered is that I could use Twitter & Tweetdeck to find people, organizations, and companies that were involved in things that I’m actually interested in – and that they pointed me to relevant information on those topics. It was like arriving at a cocktail party filled with people talking about whatever I’m interested in at that moment – and everyone had at least one piece of information to offer that I had yet to discover. Sometimes they discuss a magazine article they’ve read, sometimes they tell me about a related project they are working on, and other times they introduce me to someone new who also has something to say on the topic. And sometimes they would find what I had to say so interesting that they would tell their friends about my own point of view. Great party, right? Well, Twitter can actually be a lot like that.

When first confronted with Twitter, the reaction of most people I know is some variation on “What the…”, but marketers as a subset are usually a little more enthusiastic. For us the first reaction is more typically “Bwaa Haa Haa! I can exploit this to tell lots of people about my product!” While this is, of course, our ultimate objective, I’m suggesting that before you start using Twitter to redundantly broadcast press release headlines, take a minute to think about who you want to reach, and what they want to hear. I think my own experience is representative of lots of people in the business world.  They’re telling us that they use apps like TweetDeck and Seesmic to make Twitter very efficient at finding people who have a contribution to make to the things they’re interested in. Not to be talked at, and not to hear “driveltweets”, but to find the information they want and get answers. Twitter may be new, and using it requires new thinking, but some of the “old” rules still apply. First, know the persona of the people you hope to reach. And second, content is king- so we need to make it all of it, including our Tweets, relevant for our target audience. For a great example of a company that I think does it well, check out BreakingPoint on Twitter. They’re not cool, they’re not funny, and there’s almost no threat of them “going viral”.  But they do know exactly who they’re trying to reach, talk in their language, and lead them to answers. That’s good marketing, and I bet Twitter is helping them to connect with their customers, and new prospects pretty effectively.