925.270.9400 info@b2ppartners.com
B2B Marketing to The Son of Man

B2B Marketing to The Son of Man

As the median age of b2b decision makers goes down, the perceived difficulty of reaching and persuading them through marketing goes up. Many marketers raise their eyes to the skies looking for divine inspiration. Do the processes and concepts that have driven success up to now no longer matter? Is it now just an investment in marketing automation that makes the difference?

The world is old and it is new

It’s still marketing’s job to create sales by delivering messaging and benefits that are:
– Valuable and relevant
– Distinctive from the competition
– Compelling, and create the urgency that propels the prospect through the consideration journey

However, there is one element that is brand new – these new decision makers only subscribe to one channel of distribution, and that is the network of me.

What’s new is the network of me

The network of me is an electronic channel that encompasses several overlapping media: for instance, social (both textual and visual, still and video), SMS, traditional internet, industry news, and more, both ephemeral and lasting. The information that gets through is a carefully curated subset that is specific to the individual, where the lines between personal and corporate are blurred.

Each individual is much like the famous Magritte painting that hides a gentleman’s face behind a large green apple. It’s called The Son of Man and was intended as a self-portrait. If you look closely you can see his eyes peeking out between the apple and its leaves.

Now, substitute a cell for the apple and voila, your prospect.

You must be so tall to get on the network of me

Your place on the network of me “dial” is earned, and is never secure. However, there are two secrets. The first is that b2b marketing is, and always has been personal. To put your faith in marketing automation as the secret sauce is folly. GIGO is the operative acronym.

The second secret is an understanding the individual both as an individual and as a contributor to the corporate decision making process.

So how do you understand the individual who is hiding in plain sight?

Jumping up and down and yelling may not have the desired effect. Intelligence is the only path to success.

Intelligence comes in 3 flavors

1. Data Analysis. What has the company done before, what have other decision makers in the organization found valuable, what actions has this decision maker taken? An examination of the data brings a critical aspect to our understanding of the whole person, but it’s just them peeking out. We need to know the who and the why of the behavior.

2. Internal Intelligence. Sales has a knowledge of the industry, the players, and the personalities that can’t be found anywhere else. They actually talk to these prospects all day long. BTW (another acronym) when was the last time you or any of the marketing staff spoke directly to and in depth with a prospect? Consider going on sales calls with your sales brethren.

3. Persona Research. There is absolutely no substitute for a carefully choreographed dance with your targeted prospect. Create a prospect persona(s), with sales’ participation, based on new qualitative research. This will validate the data analysis, personalize the internal intelligence, and add motivation to the mix. It’s only this professional and personalized methodology that will yield the human insights into the individuals who comprise the buying center, their responsibilities, preferences and foibles.

This is a quiet and intricate pursuit, but what you get at the end is compelling competitive differentiator, which is called understanding. Perhaps it’s like the process of building a fine painting.

Of The Son of Man, Magritte said, “…you have the apparent face, the apple, hiding the visible but hidden, the face of the person. It’s something that happens constantly.” It is access to the individual peeking out from behind that we seek. And, recognizing the individuality, The Son of Man is within a series: Man in the Bowler Hat, where the face is obscured by a passing bird; and The Great War of the Facades, where a blossoming flowers hide the face of an elegantly dressed woman.

A healthy dose of understanding will land you on the network of me.


The Looming Martech Consolidation, and the Cure for B2B

The Looming Martech Consolidation, and the Cure for B2B

The advances in marketing technology are awesome, as are the sheer number of marketing technology providers.

ChiefMartec began tracking this space in 2011, identified about 150 players, and presciently started their eponymous infographic. Their 2017 chart is above, and it encompasses almost 5,000 companies. It’s as if the 2011 chart exploded.

Yet, the question looms – is this growth sustainable? Interviews we’ve conducted with martech executives, and our own experiences, indicate that the “demand” side of the equation may not be able to uphold its end of the bargain.

Inherent in the business model of, I’d guess, each one of these martech companies is the assumption that a profitable customer is one with a long and deep lifetime. To make this wish come true, their customers, especially B2B, must have complete and effective marketing strategies whose impact would be profitably multiplied by the power of the marketing technology.

The reality is that many B2B companies lack this strategic readiness to truly benefit from much of these advances. As one martech executive said,

“This doesn’t surprise me one bit, as it is the immediate pattern we saw as we began. Based on all the brouhaha around content, content-driven experiences, marketing automation and lead nurturing, we assumed there were many orgs out there who could take advantage of what we’d created. We were wrong.”

Everybody Loses

Interviews we’ve had with martech executives indicate that their biggest business problem is that many clients are awed by the power of the platform and adopt it as the strategy going forward – that this will provide the framework for success, a seat on the rocketship. This “new” marketing would have us think that strategy is dead and we can A/B test our way to nirvana. This platform is automated growth hacking, and agility trumps plodding preparation.

However, when you’re a B2B company, all those sub-optimal B tests means that you are putting out sub-optimal messaging to your finite market. You may be A/B testing to oblivion.

Then, when programs underachieve, customers blame the martech platform and do not renew.

When a Drip Campaign Becomes Chinese Torture

In my first test drive of a major MarTech platform, I was shown the ability to orchestrate, to automate every aspect of a campaign. If we take a very simple example, a drip campaign, communications are sent to qualified prospects delivering specific value at specific points in their consideration journey (or certain time intervals). The object is to move that prospect from tire kicking to conversation. The platform tracks results of the individual and aggregate effort, and adjusts the lead grade of each prospect accordingly.

The technology is the tool, but if the strategy is off, it persistently delivers perhaps the wrong message at the wrong time to the wrong person, until the campaign has indelibly convinced the prospect that they do not appreciate your brand and do not want to do business with you.

For B2B marketers this can be a hurricane’s worth of damage.

Everybody Wins

Companies, especially B2B, must bring come to the martech table with the prospect integrated into the marketing planning process. Information from 3 sources must be combined to enable marketing to begin to provide value as the prospect defines value:

  1. Data Analysis. What has this executive done before, what have other decision makers in the organization found valuable, what actions has they taken? Analysis of the data brings a critical aspect to our understanding of the person and the organization.
  2. Internal Intelligence. Sales has feet-on-the-street knowledge of the industry, the players, and the personalities that can’t be found anywhere else. They must contribute or they will never agree.
  3. Persona Research. Prospect personas, when created from new, independent qualitative research, validate the data analysis, personalize the internal intelligence, and provide insight into motivation. We need to understand the confluence of personal and professional responsibilities to be able to effectively communicate from a unified marketing and sales perspective.

Then, and only then, will the martech platforms provide the magic carpet ride to success, for everyone.


A/B Test Nirvana and the Death of Marketing Strategy

A/B Test Nirvana and the Death of Marketing Strategy

One of the great benefits of the new digital marketing world is the opportunity to monitor and respond to actual prospect behavior. No longer are we hamstrung by clumsy tactics that prevent us from fine-tuning our response to prospect behavior.

No longer are we tossing all our ideas into focus groups where people tell us what they think we want to hear. We now can adjust our marketing nurturing process to what prospects actually do, not just what they say.
There is much that is efficient, intelligent, and creative about A/B testing to optimize expression of relevant ideas. This is a beautiful and happening thing.

But there is a growing tendency to misapply it, which can lead us to marketing oblivion (or as I like to call it, “ablivion”).

There is a brave new world in marketing. And the thinking goes that it is smarter and faster to circumvent understanding your prospect persona and what messages are relevant to them simply by setting up a series of A/B tests to automatically optimize your way to nirvana. Kind of like an army of monkeys eventually typing out the collected works of Shakespeare.

In fact, a CMO recently told me that before he arrived at his new company, the marketing strategy was to simply implement a series of A/B tests to slowly optimize their responses to their marketing communications.

While I believe that all learning should be agile (like A/B testing), I want to point out two overlooked consequences that this overreliance on A/B testing can cause — misinterpreting behavior and turning away prospects.

What Sudoku taught me about A/B Testing

I never waste time playing games on my iPhone.

OK, hardly ever. Like maybe I’ll reward myself with a mindless game after I finish this post. Anyway, I do it as “research”.

You see, I am fascinated by the variety of ads someone paid to show me after I finish a game of Sudoku or whatever. In particular, I am fascinated by a new series of ads that cannot be skipped for several seconds. It’s annoying. Not only because it’s a longer interruption than usual, but also because the ads are irrelevant to me.

And here’s my point – I bet the agency that created the ads is telling their client that they have increased ad viewing time – “engagement” — by 50%! The behavioral metrics (viewing time) look fantastic!

But here is what that metric is missing – while it’s running longer on my screen, I’m not looking at it. I hate it. While this “B” campaign LOOKS like it’s outperforming the “A” campaign, it’s actually having no positive impact and starting a negative one.

This is a simplistic example, but you get my point. A behavioral measure (like viewing time) is never more than an indicator of what we think is going on (brand engagement).

Behavioral measures have face-validity, but if we don’t check in with the humans on the other side, we can be quite misled. Digital intelligence without human intelligence is no prospect intelligence at all. Game over.

Strategic spaghetti on the wall

The other cost of “extreme” A/B testing without some “prospect intelligence” to start is paid by your prospects… and then by you.

Think about what A/B testing means in terms of prospect experience (I call “PX” the “CX” or “customer experience” of marketing). That messaging “spaghetti” you are throwing against the wall is actually being “thrown” at your prospects who are looking for a solution they think you could provide.

But you are tossing out a lot of “sub optimal” messaging as you A/B test your way to relevance… which is teaching them that your brand is, in fact, not relevant to them.

This can be very costly, not just in the present, but even more in the future. By not starting with some persona-based prospect intelligence, your pre-optimized messaging may be desensitizing your limited number of prospects (perhaps as few as 10,000 in some B2B industries), to dismiss you as a brand… forever!

Marketing strategy is dead. Long live strategy.

So what to do? As in most things in life, balance is beautiful. From our experience, the most efficient path to prospecting perfection combines both sources of prospect intelligence.

It starts with personas that provide the fundamental understanding of what prospects are seeking, thinking, and feeling. This learning does not rely on focus group or massive surveys, but rather, in-depth conversations about how and why your prospects choose you… or not.

Those insights are the basis of creating messages that A/B testing then can efficiently optimize. Without wasting or budget. Or spaghetti.


5 Surprising Stories of Failure-Fueled Marketing Success

5 Surprising Stories of Failure-Fueled Marketing Success

It’s 2017. Do you know where your marketing opportunities are?

Welcome to the anniversary of the sub-prime mortgage crisis that brought us the Great Recession a decade ago. Good times, eh?
As a fitting tribute to the pain we all endured, I’d like to bring a fresh – and encouraging – perspective to our thinking back to that time.

Thinking the Unthinkable

The Great Recession forced us to think about the unthinkable. Even successful companies had to face the possibility of failure. And several unbelievably successful companies turned out to be just that.

We were in a moment of really having to question, well, everything. And that’s not just past history. Any follower of the world economy knows that at any moment we are all just a hiccup away from the chain reaction of cascading events that turn our planetary system upside down.

As we approach the possible end of a recovery cycle stretching to historical lengths, we are reminded that The Great Recession was neither the last marketplace crisis… nor was it the first.

That last fact led me to wonder, how did other successful companies manage through prior major crises (like the Great Depression) while others did not?

Too Big to (have) Failed

Of all the companies on earth, one would think that the global Fortune 1000 — the behemoths that have been successful enough to rule the economy on the planet — would be among the best examples of companies that had steered their way through trying economic times without tripping.

But we unearthed stories that tell a very different tale about several of those leading companies. It is a surprising narrative of failure – and not just speed bumps, but cataclysmic wall crashes!

Each of them faced a string of massive existential challenges that threatened the very life of the company. And somehow, they escaped to become the world leaders we know them to be today.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger

What we found – and what surprised us – was that these companies were not lucky enough to skirt the jaws of defeat, but that they had marched right through this hellish crucible and emerged from the forge stronger, sharper, and more passionate about their future than when they went in! In a phrase, they succeeded not despite the challenges they faced, but because of them.

There is a great diversity in the settings of these stories — from photocopiers to diamonds to ice cream – but there are two themes that connect them all.

  • One is their realizing their existential need to understand and serve their customers better than ever before.
  • The second theme is their complete unflinching dedication to do whatever it takes to make that vision a reality.

As marketers, this is a message that we have been preaching for years… which is both encouraging and discouraging.

But what really arrested me was the power – actually, the opportunity — of harnessing a life-threatening crisis as a change agent for adopting a customer/marketing focus that transforms the entire corporation. As the economist, Paul Romer observed, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste”.

Stories that change History

As a result, we compiled stories of four major corporations that, at one time in their history, have faced life-threatening economic crises. And that is capped with a very different perspective on crisis — the human tale of the birth of a business that became a national tradition also as a response to a crisis.

These five stories are available upon request in an implications-rich e-book. Our hope is that we all can learn from these histories to make ourselves and our companies more successful in the marketplace, even if we are not facing an existential crisis:

  • DeBeers caught a glimpse of what made their prospects tick in the middle of the Depression, redefined the meaning of their commodity to fit the times, and thus created a brand as strong as their product.
  • Xerox was saved from billions in debt and a looming chapter 11 filing by not just talking to their customers, but truly listening and then growing to actually meet their needs.
  • IBM pulled out of 70% stock price plunge by breaking outside its walls and hiring an outsider – a customer – who had such a fresh baked perspective that he was nicknamed the “Cookie Man” (there were more reasons).
  • Continental Airlines steered themselves away from a third Chapter 11 filing and ten straight years of losses by finding out what the customer actually cared about and then committing themselves to delivering it!
  • And on a much smaller scale, immigrant Arnold Fornachou turned an operational disaster into something so completely novel that you’ll just have to read what he invented.

The Inspiration of Perspiration

The purpose of these stories, of course, is not just to entertain, but to inspire. They demonstrate with verifiable historical certainty that even if your company is on the brink of extinction, it can still not only survive but thrive.

The keys are simple, but not easy. There are key facts and implications from each turnaround. Find the ones that are most appropriate to your situation. We would love to hear what you find most helpful.

But these true tales are meant to have a much broader application – to companies that are NOT about to go under but who can implement the change before their life depends on it!

Hopefully, that applies to you.

Ask for our 38-page e-book of five surprising success stories. There is no better way to celebrate this anniversary.


How a Real Persona Made a Real Difference

How a Real Persona Made a Real Difference

In the past few years “buyer personas” have become a standard marketing tool or concept. Unfortunately for many, they have become another “box to check” on the ever-growing list of things marketers must do… often without much to show for the effort. So… are personas a real asset to marketers or just another faux marketing fad? 

 Are personas real or fake?

This makes us wonder if there are any examples of personas that really have made a difference. Are there personas that have unveiled new insights or explained prospect behavior beyond the obvious or redirected marketingactivities in a way that would not have otherwise happened?

Let me share a story about real marketer managing a real product where you would not think a persona would add anything useful, but… well, let’s read on…

Tell me a real persona story!

It was a dark and stormy meeting… at least for the marketing director at this large, well-known (unnamed) security software company. You see, this marketer was just given the assignment to launch the latest version of enterprise-level security software specifically designed for small and medium businesses (SMB).

Naturally, she and her team had just identified all the new features of Version 11 and highlighted how this would solve problems that Version 10 couldn’t touch. Thank God for Version 11! So now it was time to gear up for the launch…

Except that incremental growth for new versions had pretty much stalled in recent years. And growth was needed for this flagship product!

So they considered checking with their persona to see how their messaging resonated before they put the big bucks (and their reputations) behind it.  

1 Persona


3 critical surprises

On the surface, this seemed like an unnecessary delay. This company had practically invented the category, they had been selling to SMB for years, and OMG this is Version ELEVEN!! 

Seriously – what did they need to “figure out” about this? Why not just identify the top three new features, tell them it’s enterprise-grade, and get going?!?

But… that’s exactly what the marketing managers for the previous versions had done and results had not been stellar. It was decided to do a little persona research to find out how SMB decision-makers actually made decisions about security software. 

So they conducted about a dozen (not a hundred!) in-depth exploratory interviews (not quantitative surveys) with carefully-selected individual prospects (not focus groups). This approach yielded lots of insights from relatively quick and inexpensive research effort. (Contact me if you want to know more about this approach).

And what was the real story?

First, they discovered that the last thing their prospects really wanted to know about was the cool new features of Version 11! The more they heard about features they did not really understand – or want to understand – the more FUD they felt. All they needed – or wanted — to know was that this software had been updated and improved nearly a dozen times, so it was certainly good enough for them. 

In fact, they were not excited about getting enterprise-level security for their SMB. Instead, they were worried that something that large and complex would overwhelm their small IT infrastructure. They wanted reassurance that the software would let them operate as usual. More was not more… less was more! 

In sum, the persona research revealed that the original, logical, and even obvious marketing strategy would have actually suppressed response! And applying this persona insight had the impact of greatly improving marketplace response … and their careers! Now that’s real! 

So why did this persona make a difference?

One small but large point about this story… notice that the impact on the business came not from simply “doing” a persona, but from how they did it.

  • First, they challenged their assumptions – even though they seemed well-founded – and applied new learningto yield new outcomes.
  • Then 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. 

Got more?

It turns out, this isn’t the only story about personas that pack a punch. There are lots more. In fact, we are putting together a series of a dozen difference makers… just in case you (or your team) needs some fact-based inspiration.

Let me know HERE if you’d like more examples. I hope they will make a difference for you!