Do You Have a Marketing Strategy or Just Marketing Automation
By Scott Hornstein
Corporate decision-making is messy, confounded by perceptions, expectations, and personalities, with individual and professional motivations that often conflict. And, depending on who you listen to, 60% to 70% of the b2b sales process now occurs before the prospect engages in sales.
Marketing must stretch its intellectual tools to find and nurture prospects through more of the realization and qualification process until we have created a sense of preference.
Said differently, if your strategy is marketing automation, all you are doing is pumping out stuff, only a tiny fraction of which may actually be relevant. It is unlikely that a prospect will engage based on the sheer tonnage of communications.
If, however, your strategy is to align your marketing with the needs and preferences of your prospect, as they express them, then you are providing true value, and it is that value that will tip the scales.
Let me tell you a story about a really smart technology company with disruptive technology for the enterprise. They have come up with a longer lasting, more powerful, smaller, cleaner way to store and retrieve energy, in counterpoint to batteries, which can be noxious, are large and occasionally fail. Did I mention that this technology is new and thus has not been tested over time? And, because we are early in its lifecycle, it’s also expensive.
The impact on the industry could be huge. Think of a company’s data center. In case of an outage, most rely on lead-acid batteries, which cost a lot of money to maintain and have a shorter life expectancy.
To get real-world input to the marketing plan, this company engaged targeted executives in purposeful conversation, or an evolved form of prospect persona research designed to bring clarity to prospecting. The goals:
- Identify high-potential prospects and low-potential prospects
- Understand their information behavior – how they learn or don’t learn
- Assemble the information into human form, to drive messaging and focus sales and marketing
Here’s what the research revealed – the decision making process in all its beauty:
- The CEO only cares that he has a signed agreement regarding how many micro-seconds it will take for all of his critical data to be back online if there’s an outage. Doesn’t care how it gets done. Has a say in the final purchase decision.
- The CFO is open to the concept of buying an expensive, superior technology to decrease the cost of ownership, but is under short-term pressure to push down costs. She is wary of being on the bleeding edge of technology. Get the vendor info through purchasing. She signs the check.
- The CIO is very experienced. He lives and breathes data recovery. Losing power is his worst nightmare, and he’s survived a few. Batteries have always saved him. This makes him unlikely to “cross the chasm”. His peer network is his primary source of information on innovation (the engineers are his second). He also learns online, at executive-level events and from the trades, which he skims online in the office and reads at home on paper. If interested, he assigns indepth research to his assistant. He’s involved with key vendors, leery of others. He makes the purchase recommendation.
- When exposed to the technology, his remark was “unproven”. He was specific about the testing and results that might eventually get him to try the technology, if not change his mind.
- Engineers are voracious, gobbling bits of information from their favored websites, communities and social media. Always curious, looking for new ideas, innovative technologies that do things more elegantly – better, cleaner and faster. If an idea intrigue, they research (and they were very specific regarding the information they require), valuing anonymity until convinced. They feel a responsibility is to champion such innovation to the CIO.
- When exposed to the technology they were impressed but cautioned that the data center’s batteries were unlikely to be ousted anytime soon. Instead, they brainstormed, what about use in remote installations, like switching stations on top of mountains, where they are critical to operations and maintenance is almost impossible.
- Purchasing is responsible for vendor evaluation – both initially and ongoing – and their recommendation is part of the decision making process. They get their information from trade shows, vendor presentations, and online research. They have an uneasy relationship with Engineering.
These results, to me, are a beautiful thing, an intellectual and technological road map for marketing and sales to sit side by side and combine their energies. Marketing to sell.
Why marketing automation systems underperform
And what to do about it.
When both my girls lived at home I had a wonderful idea – let’s have a family calendar.
We’re all bumping knees – I didn’t know you had a swim meet; your aunt’s birthday is
next week; yes, Mom’s working Saturday. This would be a the week at a glance, a sketch of the month to keep us on track and off each others’ nerves. And if we put it on the computer, everyone has instant access.
Didn’t work. So I tried printing a blank calendar and putting it on the refrigerator. Everyone could just write stuff. Didn’t work. For a very basic reason – it can’t work unless everyone contributes.
Same with marketing automation. Without the participation of each individual, you’re not going to get its “calendar” – a window into your prospecting detailing the touch points, in sequence, and the outcome of each. A fantastic tool to ratchet up effectiveness and efficiency.
There’s a catch: sales and marketing barely speak, which is a bit more than just a speed bump. Per recent Forrester research, 50% of marketing initiatives under perform because of lack of organizational cooperation. As Pogo says, ‘we are confronted by insurmountable opportunity’. Moreover, “we have met the enemy and he is us.”
This river of organizational discontent, separating sales and marketing, runs deep. It’s called culture. Culture is tradition and history, is deeply ingrained, passed along and eats change for lunch. Do not underestimate its power.
Realizing the incredible potential of marketing automation requires a working partnership between marketing and sales, trust and respect driving cooperation and dedication, which is, unmistakenly, a change process. Successful change requires persistence and imagination. I’d like to suggest three strategies that will set the table for a banquet that all will attend.
- 1. Sales must be meaningfully integrated into the marketing process now and forever more.
Sales has perspective you’re not going to get anywhere else. They’re talking to the marketplace every day. If sales has the opportunity to contribute to each phase of the process, from planning to analysis, everyone benefits. Here are two critical areas:
Prospect Persona development to gain insight into the people that make the business decisions. We need sales’ contribution to goals, questioning, potential offers, and analysis.
Lead definition – when is a lead worth the time and effort of a sales person. Everyone in the room gets a vote, but the only vote that counts comes from sales.
Remember – sales integration is a process, not an event.
- 2. There must be shared measurement and reward.
Measurement and reward must be consistent with the goal. If our goal is shared work for a better outcome, measurement and reward must be in lockstep. Both departments must be measured, and rewarded, by contribution to the sale. Corporate initiatives that are neither measured nor rewarded happen only once.
Marketing can’t get away with generating leads and tossing them over the wall. Sales must have measurable contribution to generating, and thus ensuring, a high quality lead. Then marketing automation can be accepted as an enabler, and not a hammer.
- 3. Change only happens from the top down.
Management needs to walk the talk, and provide both the carrot and the stick consistently and over time. They must make it clear that the train has left the station, and that if you’re not on board, well, you’re not on board. Occassionally, they may need to give change a good hard shove.
I would point to Asigra, a developer of backup and recovery software, as having implemented a best-in-class, real-world solution. Tracy Staniland, then-Vice President, Corporate Marketing, provides an overview,
“We are huge supporters of and believers in marketing automation. Sales and marketing have agreed on a Service Level Agreement, including the lead score threshold for when MQLs (Marketing Qualified Leads) can be relabled as SALs (Sales Accepted Leads). We regularly check the system and continuously improve.”
Now, with all that said, will these same principles work with my daughters? Not a chance. (Can you say “Dad” with a world-weary sigh?)
The Achille’s Heel of Your Marketing Automation Dream: Sales Integration
Automation offers a window into the ultimate effectiveness of your marketing efforts. However, there are two underlying levers which can make this dream come true, or completely undermine your efforts. This post will address the first – the achille’s heel of sales integration.
No matter which marketing automation platform we’re talking about, we’ve got to have the buy-in, dedication and full participation of each individual sales person to make it work. This may be news to you, but sales and marketing barely speak. They are each in their own silo.
The epicenter of this disconnect is as much measurement as a culture. The long tradition of otherness, of an entrenched distrust between the departments, is underscored by hard metrics for sales – did you close? How big? – and the relative softness of marketing’s metrics – awareness, inquiries, leads.
This disconnect is most evident in lead follow-up. Marketing generates a quality lead (in their opinion) and tosses it over the wall to sales, who immediately assign it second-tier status. Our experience, across industries, is that sales follow up between 30% and 34% of the leads marketing produces. For this automation to be effective, we need 100% follow-up and sales’ dedication to updating the automation with quality data. Which kind of casts a pall on all that “window into the ultimate effectiveness” stuff.
Sales must engage – here’s how.
Here are what to do – our 7 steps to success.
Step One: Sales must have a seat at the marketing table, for two reasons:
- They have broad experience and expertise that would otherwise be unavailable
- If they participate in the planning, they have “skin in the game” and will be held co-responsible for results
A strong, respected representative of sales must be involved from day one in the marketing planning process. Sales must contribute to analyzing the results of previous efforts and planning new ones, strategy development, setting goals and objectives and the co-responsibility for achieving those goals and objectives. Then automation is an enabler, not the demon.
Step Two: Sales contributes to Prospect Persona research.
Personas bring clarity to prospecting, providing actionable insights that may not come out in quantitative research. Personas bring sales and marketing together with their audience by turning percentages into people with whom they can relate. Personas shine a light on prospects’ information behavior.
It’s critical that Sales be involved in determining: the goals and objectives; selection of interviewees; the areas of questioning; and, of course, potential offers and/or events to be pre-tested. Which leads us to Step Three.
Step Three: Sales contributes to offer development.
Sales are talking to customers all day long about their needs, your products and services and the competitive environment. This gives them unique perspective when it comes to offer development. Marketing may propose that a low-level offer is desirable because it attracts many inquiries. Sales may feel that the many include competitors, students, and dead people. It’s a good discussion to have – if sales’ doesn’t support an offer, it isn’t likely to succeed.
Step Four: Sales reviews connected content.
The content that we generate must be connected to our prospects – it must satisfy, entertain and convert.
We are not advocating that sales assume the responsibilities of Creative Director, graphic designer or copywriter. We are, however, asking for their street-smart input and feedback. Sharpening our creative focus due to sales’ input will result in better content that connects and converts.
Step Five: Sales contributes to database development.
Who are we going to send these prospect promotions to? Field Sales has unique access to the most current prospect information. Their own database, whether it’s on the computer, a smartphone, 3 x 5 cards or in their heads, is likely to be deeper, more up-to-date and accurate than anything Marketing can access.
This is gospel, if sales does not have confidence in the list you are using for prospect promotions, they will not have confidence in the results.
Step Six: Sales defines lead criteria.
Look, everyone gets a vote on “what is a lead”, however, sales has the only vote that counts. When does it make sense for them to get involved – is it an event, a point score or key information? With a map of what sales wants, marketing can tee up the leads for sales to hit out of the park. This will go a long way to improving the usage of the automation and lead follow-up.
Step Seven: Shared metrics for marketing and sales.
Both marketing and sales must be measured and rewarded by their contribution to the sale. Which means the heads of the two departments will have to figure this out and agree. Which has an extra benefit, because change only happens from the top down. The rank and file need to see their bosses’ active cooperation.
Realizing the incredible potential of marketing automation requires more than an outlet and a training module. It requires a working partnership between marketing and sales, trusts and respect driving cooperation and dedication. It’s the only way to make the automation work, and by the way, the business, too.
Personas with Punch
By now we believe that any competent marketer should use personas, but we still face a crucial question:
Do those personas help us go to market any better? Do they improve our targeting, differentiation, message delivery, message response, prospect conversion, or shorten the sales cycle?
In sum, do personas really matter? The answer, of course, is… it depends. I’m going to tell you what it depends on and how you can learn the stories about six real personas that packed a punch for their managers – well, marketers.
Eight Places Personas Have Made a Difference
We have applied Prospect Personas to improve the impact of ongoing marketing efforts as well as to prepare marketers to enter markets that are new or evolving. We have applied them to these eight specific scenarios:
Increasing your market impact:
1. Marketing Effectiveness – to increase the impact of the marketing you are already doing through better targeting, messaging, and differentiation.
2. Purchase Cycle Acceleration – to simplify and speed your sales cycle by better aligning your sales process with your prospects’ buying process.
3. Differentiation – to increase and sharpen communication of the points of difference most important to your prospects.
4. Sales Engagement – to better equip the sales team with insights about who to target and how to help them buy more effectively.
Empowering expansion / evolution:
5. Market Introduction – for the effective launch of a new product or disruptive technology.
6. Market Expansion – for an existing product entering a new market.
7. Market Evolution – for an existing product competing in a market changed by a new technology, competitor, or buying process.
8. Vertical Marketing – for an existing product looking to penetrate a particular industry more effectively.
Six Persona Examples
All this is nice theory without real-life examples of personas in action. That is why we have gathered a half-dozen examples of personas we have created that have made a big difference in the life of the companies that commissioned them (the second half-dozen is in the oven for release soon).
Each of these companies already knew a lot about their product and their markets before they decided to invest in understanding their prospect better. Each would claim to have reaped a high “return on insight” (a particular kind of ROI) from their investment of time and money to understand their prospects and the prospect journey.
In fact, I believe the goal of all persona development work is to create a competitive marketing advantage. Accordingly, to protect their confidentiality, we have not identified the clients in these case. However, included are stories from a wide range of companies and industries:
- Some of the largest multinationals on the planet for whom not succeeding was not acceptable.
- Some remarkably small companies who really wanted to get the most impact from their limited resources.
- Some mid-tier companies looking to compete smarter against large competitors with greater resources.
- Some huge, but stagnant markets along with some small, fast-growth industries.
How they did it
One small but large point about this story… the impact on the business came not from simply “doing” a persona, but from how they did it… and did with it.
- They conducted real research with real prospects – they did not sit in a conference room and “make up” a persona from their assumptions.
- They explored how prospects thought in an open-ended manner – they did not survey pre-identified questions on how many people said X or Y.
- They made sure to understand the context and process for buying any security software, not just what they liked about this version.
- They challenged their assumptions – even though they seemed well-founded – and applied new learning to yield new outcomes.
- They applied what they learned to their targeting, messaging, go-to-market strategy, and sales enablement… and built on those key insights as their continuing strategy, not just a transient campaign idea.
What’s Your Story?
Want to know more? I am happy to send you e-book if you let me know here – it’s being published this month. Be the first on your block to make your mark!
Marketing illuminates the path to solving a problem. Not just any path – your path. This is somewhat academic in low-consideration consumer products, but lifeblood to high-consideration B2B products and services. To get these prospects to follow your path, you must lead.
These high-consideration products and services are often are mission- and career-critical and so there is an element of trust that sits on prospects’ shoulders during the consideration journey. To earn that trust you must do more than mark the trail with colored stones and leave treats along the way. Demonstrate authority, leadership, and humanity to prove your competitive advantage is differentiating. It gives prospects a strong reason to believe.
Teach them to fish: 5 qualities of B2B prospecting leadership.
What does this have to do with selling B2B services and products? Well, more than you might think. At the heart of the B2P mantra are two fundamental truths:
- Humanity. The B2B marketing leader takes the time to understand prospects as both executives and people, with both personal and corporate goals and responsibilities, which sometimes conflict. The prospect persona process provides remarkable insight, and how these individuals come together to make a decision. This quality is essential. Recognizing and embracing humanity leads to empathy, which is the basis of all effective communication. Everything starts here. Or stops.
- Honesty. “Speak”, whether in print or in person, with ethics, morality, and a crystal clear vision of what is and what isn’t. A key component of honesty is respect for your prospects and their corporate culture. Don’t embellish your capabilities or denigrate the competition. Layout, in terminology that prospects can understand, how your product or service can address their concerns, that success is a journey and not a slam dunk, and how you, as a leader, can bring a value added.
- Commitment. It is critically important that your prospect knows that you are committed to their success, and not just to sell your product. Your commitment to the marketplace emits the confidence that your solution is not just viable, but superlative. Let your prospects see you with your sleeves rolled up and your fingernails dirty. Admit problems and setbacks, and if an aspect is particularly gnarly, fess up. Bring your team of leaders into the conversation.
- Partnership. You are here for the long-haul, and provide the tools and insights necessary for success, which may include ongoing training, troubleshooting, and the installation of positive energy. The consideration journey is rarely straight and narrow. Put your arm around your prospect. Show authority and guidance. Use creativity, and sometimes humor, to make your point.
- Measurement. Your prospect is very serious about the steps they must take and the answers they must find while considering potential solutions. A leader must understand how the prospect measures success and configures their own measurement system to coincide and complement. It may be uncomfortable, but it communicates seriousness, underscores the other qualities and provides the basis for continuous improvement.
Moving from reactive to proactive leadership.
We are all aware of the conclusion of various studies that the “sales process” is disappearing. Depending on which study you reference, about 60% – 70% of the consideration process takes place prior to engagement with the selling entity. Placidly accepting these results breeds reactive positioning. They don’t want to talk with our reps, so we can hide behind the curtain. That is the definition of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Once you take the first step with the prospect persona process you are on your own road to leadership, which by definition is proactive. Which not only gives prospects a reason to believe, it gives them a reason to engage.
Originally posted to the AMA Executive Circle blog.