Digital marketing, from friend to foe of complex Business-to-Business marketing.

Today technology providers broadcast the digital transformation message as a necessity to act and change every aspect of their operations to prolong their business lives. Furthermore, there is an urgent need felt by tech companies to get the word out on how their innovative solutions will contribute to this transformation. Marketing folks took this digitization trend with great enthusiasm as it relieved them of many tedious execution tasks.

Undoubtedly, use of digital techniques is raising awareness and thus effectiveness of business to consumer marketing and the front-end process of business marketing, but when it comes to complex business-to-business (B2B) solutions, effectiveness wanes.

Right at the start I am going to let the cat out of the bag and be bold to state that over reliance on digital marketing contributes little to complex B2B marketing effectiveness, but a lot of improvement in its process execution.

Impole provides investigative services that promote the B2B marketing efficacy to market facing sales teams. Naturally, as a participant, I want to learn what other experts, and direct or indirect competitors, say about any technique or technology aiding B2B marketing, so I read articles and often peruse websites.

My daily inbox is flooded, either with thought leadership articles, or a visited company’s website digital ping on their solutions’ value and urging me to contact them.

One of them, on the benefits of a solution to my company, which omitted mentioning subsequent complex and costly integration services, indicating that they knew nothing about Impole operations, prompted me to write this blog.

For propagators of digital marketing, the best illustration can be to look at the flow of digital responses through a prism of sales funnel stages of a complex solution. This produces a glimpse where non-customized digital marketing stops being effective, and other techniques with the human touch must be used.

Let us call any go-to-market audience as undifferentiated prospects, Stage 0. Then we expose the market to our solution through some digital tools, website, white paper availability, success story, or even a webinar and social media postings to get some kind of response; let’s call it Stage 1.

If we have an inflow of random responses, we now decide how to process them to uncover most effectively which have sales potential. In this stage, we have two processing choices as we have no knowledge what the purpose of each response was: first to qualify the response through some internal or external resources calling or sending some generic info but refrain from giving them to the sales arm.

Unfortunately, most companies pass them on without further analysis or qualification to sales as a bonified lead. This action partially explains the ever-existing chasm between marketing and sales departments in complex solutions sales pursuits.

The second aggregates responses until a larger volume is collected and is then given to data scientists for sorting and looking at existence of key words/phrases to predict which response offers a potential and should be contacted for a sales opportunity. In this case we have to realize the danger of waiting for a larger dataset to scientifically predict each response quality, a competing solution may be presented to the account before yours, and thus gain the advantage at the prospect.

In all stages following Stage 1, we have to combine digital activities with human analysis before we can feel confident of a reasonable chance of which account response to pursue actively.

Hence, at the later stages of the sales funnel flow we lean more on analytics by human and thus the effectiveness of digital marketing starts to produce minimal contribution to complex B2B sales.

Therefore, while digital marketing helps to identifies new business opportunities in the early stages of the buy cycle. In later stages deep account-insight by primary investigative research methods performed over time become necessary addition to successfully conclude a complex solutions sale.

Perhaps the age-old adage “Good wine takes Time” reflects what is most valuable in complex B2B marketing. Smart business to business companies know how to commingle appropriately digital marketing with human input to produce new revenue.

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Mapping the B2B Decision Journey, Is Marketing Enlightened or Handicapped by Digital Tactics?

Today’s business marketing is vying for high stake complex solutions and must be modified accordingly for each supplier to stay competitive and relevant.
When looking deeper and studying how new technology giants became untouchable, one will find that they deluge prospects with horizontally consumer-oriented marketing techniques. Their enterprise offerings utilize the same horizontal marketing strategy and rely on other suppliers to provide solutions’ differentiation needed by vertical markets so they do not have to alter their strategy.
Many business-to-business technology companies saw that success and applied the same strategy of digital bombardment rather than adding relevant insight, on customer needs, to their go-to-market tactics.
Success in vertical markets doesn’t mean abandoning horizontal digital marketing messaging as they contribute significantly to brand equity. But for reaching meaningfully vertical market prospects, the over usage of the digital highway is becoming ineffective as it becomes overcrowded and one’s vertical market messaging being lost.
Alone digital marketing tactics do not identify the needs of an enterprise, where sales and marketers have been much more insightful on prevailing internal dynamics at a target company before approaching.
In fact, one may hypothesize that the ease of digital marketing execution has spoiled a number of business marketers and handicapped their company sales personnel by relying too much on surface (light touch) data.
In larger businesses, operational dynamics are complex and it is too difficult to uncover easily prospects’ true demand potential by relying on light touch responses produced by digital marketing. Often a big factor in B2B marketing is overreliance on the prospect’s financial standings in measuring sales viability, but not sufficient in itself to indicate whether a match of business needs with one’s offerings exists.
As competition in all market sectors relentlessly increases, mounting stress on cutting business costs’ and developing successful innovation, sales and marketing teams must understand digital information limitations. More important than ever is investigative research that produces realistic insight into a prospective customer’s needs throughout the decision-making process to make timely contact.
Most prospective accounts readily admit that they lack time or skilled staff to look for the right vendor and its solutions. Often, in order to undertake steps to solve and operate more efficiently, accounts require a nudge or solicitation that meets and understands their true business operational needs.
Accounts with mild business pains and legacy technology that serves them well delay progressive decisions, and accounts with serious pains simply reach out to their incumbent technology vendors who may not be best equipped to solve their problems.
Examining the revenue growth of many technology companies, one will often find that what they identify as organic growth really comes from their current customer base, not new accounts. In that passive way both parties may lose heavily, kind of Pyrrhic victory: the best solution seller will not win the account and the account will not find the best solution.
Furthermore, many new technologies allow easier sharing of solution with another new vendor, such reliance spells oblivion. It’s critical for technology suppliers to step outside of their comfort zone and work on acquiring real time primary intelligence (insight) that maps the enterprise’ decision journey for acquiring new solution.
Despite lackluster results in winning new anchor accounts and the expected revenue growth many technology and industrial companies continue practicing digital marketing techniques because they are being easy and less costly. The result is the uncertainty of how to land a new diamond-type of business account.

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Is over reliance on marketing automation stifling your marketing innovation?

No one will deny that the last few years have seen huge advances in Marketing Automation and while this automation has allowed Business to Consumer marketing companies to thrive it has regressed Business Marketing innovation in certain ways.

Business marketers are all talking about “Big Data” and its benefits but in the meantime marketing data is flooding the enterprise and marketers are realizing that besides static analytics they need something else to help them take advantage of all of this data. Most experienced marketers know how to get, manage and analyze data, but only a handful know how to “turn data into winning insight”.

Undoubtedly analyzing clean data will help achieve business goals, but without the addition of impactful insight about the state of accounts or market segments it will be only partially effective.

To acquire this important insight in spite of all of the obstacles to reach people live, you need to speak directly and meaningfully with your target (new) prospects (not customers as they are already in your camp) and here is where the Marketing Innovation steps come in.

To really understand the demand for your products or services in an account or market segment today you have to apply an innovative approach. Furthermore, your approach must be modularized into workable segments as neither too high level nor too detailed information works since the great majority of the prospects are already in somebody else’s camp and overwhelmed by the flood of information.

Most business marketers seem to borrow tactics from their consumer brethren and flood the market with millions of messages singing praises for their products and prices. The slightest prospect reaction, such as a website visit, triggers an instantaneous onslaught by often lower skilled market facing personnel, which just annoys the visitor.

In the end the business marketer rarely obtains the insight they need to prosper in ever increasingly competitive markets – which is why so many marketing campaigns fail.

So how do you get this impactful insight? By executing an organized “insight gathering campaign” with realistic objectives and to which your entire market facing team is committed.  Perfect insight is too expensive so your campaign must be deigned to have “just right” value and be relatively straight forward to implement.

If you want to be an effective marketing leader you will blend the needed account insight into your marketing mix because incorporating innovative tactics helps clarify and refine the best path to winning new accounts – which is a business marketers overarching measure of success.

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The Ryder Cup 2014 and Business Marketing

What the Ryder Cup 2014 tells us about Business Marketing

Business Managers often describe their actions in terms of metaphors drawn from sporting events outcomes. In this blog, I’d like to discourse on the parallels between the recently completed 2014 Ryder Cup and business management (and/or marketing) success.

In most American team sports coaches have a stack of charts or set plays (observe football). But golf is an individual sport – until the Ryder Cup where national pride and team pride is at stake.
So what business lessons we can derive from this Ryder Cup in particular?
The Ryder Cup is an interesting mixture of team and individual performances with team play preceding the singles and more often than not, an accurate predictor of the final outcome.

In this edition of the Cup it quickly became obvious that Europe’s captain’s strategy and tactics were superior to the USA’s, although, on paper, he had a shallower talent pool (based on players‘ world rankings).
As you observed the contest it became obvious that Europe’s captain had much better insight into not only his players’ ranking but also their psyche, their personal backgrounds and their environments, while the USA, by my observations, relied more on traditional measures and ad-hoc adjustment.
One other key difference was that Europe’s Captain urged his players to play with intensity, whether winning or not. The coach of the Europe team had much better insight how the players would play off each other, based upon personal histories, inter-relationships and backgrounds.
In short, he had much better vision how to drive the best performance from his players. He trusted a player who was much lower in ranking than his other stars to go first because he knew how he would face whatever USA opponent turned out to be. Nota bene – this player did not disappoint him turning initial adversity into a win, and no doubt added confidence to his teammates.

Drawing similarities to business marketing and/or management – how many business marketers have this kind of insight into their own sales team capabilities, which is their power domain.
Then can they equip them with the right insight to face unexpected market vagaries?

Touching upon the subject of external insight (i.e., insight on the US Team) one does and should not seek perfect intelligence as it is too volatile and too expensive to obtain, even with looming Big Data benefits.
When wins as important as The Ryder Cup are at stake to gain competitive advantage you need to have better insight in at least one key area of your business play.

Losing a business opportunity in this competitive world more often than not results in having to wait a considerable amount of time for another such opportunity. The Americans will have to wait another two years.

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Is digital marketing impersonalizing your business market touch?

In some ways the spread of digital marketing spread has had a Doctor Hyde and Mister Jekyll effect on today’s business marketing. On the good side, it is easy and economical to send thousands of messages to increase awareness and brand your service, product or company. On the other hand, it can overwhelm the recipients with irrelevant messages.

Recently, a study by Accenture™ stated that Big Data provides astronomical gains in data in terms of revenue and many other attributes. Carefully analyzing the impact of Big Data, one could conclude that the beneficiaries are predominantly large B2C companies with the ability to spread the message via M2M. This new future with the right message going to the right contacts based upon their past behavior has been touted as revolutionizing B2C relationships.

But while digital marketing is good for the business to consumer markets, I maintain that it is not as effective for complex business-business markets. I personally believe that companies in business markets simply do not have enough human touch with the customer base with digital media alone.

My experience tells me that business marketing professionals can quickly become out of touch with their market if using primarily digital media. Often I wonder why many of us are even needed – to develop content for an email or glorified press release? What has happened to real market understanding and account insight? Who listens to the customer? Is this why many old established powers are in impending trouble or diminished in relevancy?

If you truly poll business marketers about the source of the leads moving through the pipeline, you will conclude that a large proportion of business sales leads are derived from events and personal connections. That personal touch is the difference because you uncover what your customer base is really thinking.
Bombarding your customers with seemingly customized web messages or standard BANT questions can only tell part of the story, and often annoy them, as well.

To supplement your “big data” findings, however you define it, you need to have a methodology to gather objective personal insight (even if it is not flattering). And when you apply that insight/intelligence customers know that you truly want to partner and work with them.

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Is your business marketing mimicking consumer marketing

A recent interview with Jeff Bezos on CBS's 60 minutes alluded to today's
prevailing trends in business marketing.

The implied message was ominous for business marketing.  As Amazon and the
like are more mass marketing than enterprise type businesses, they thrive
with the new paradigm.  In the world of business marketing this plentiful
arsenal of "go to market" consumer methods are causing overreliance on brand
building, rather than applying agile tactical marketing.

While these branding techniques revolutionized the marketing of simple to
use products and services, they did not significantly increase the
efficiency of complex solutions and services marketing, that is partly why
almost every industrial or technology giant is posting revenue declines.

The still valid fundamentals of building trust and relationships in business
marketing are shoved to the background.  While in the consumer, household
and micro-business we can reliably determine the traits which will cause
demand in larger businesses, their operational dynamics are too complex and
difficult to uncover with the same methods in business marketing.

Additional factors in businesses marketing are over reliance on historical
financial performance metrics, which, while still a key measure, is not
sufficient in itself to indicate longer term growth.  As market competition
in all sectors is relentlessly increasing with stress on the cost of doing
business, enterprise companies need effective methods more than ever.

This new vast business battleground will be won by companies with the best
trained (special force type) troops armed with relevant tools (insight)
practicing agile marketing. They will win new business and thrive long term.

You do not have to alter core business marketing tactics as they are the
same for every business and can be illustrated as a highway where most
businesses choose to send large volume of their branding messages.  They
rely on the fact that some of the accounts will always contact them without

However, most accounts have too limited time and amount of money to properly
evaluate this high speed marketing highway's traffic in order to identify
the right vehicle to solve their problem. So accounts with mild cost pains
delay the decision.  The ones with high cost pressures simply reach out to
the incumbent vendor, maybe a big name brand, or a rival which happen to be
closest to their entrance.  Even if perfect matches are rarity, in this way
both better matched parties may lose heavily, kind of Pyrrhic victory: a
better suited seller by not winning new account and the account by not
getting a better solution.

Despite not winning new business accounts at the needed rate we continue
driving on this highway because it is easy and less costly, but we remain
unsure where to land a new business accounts and continue to miss many good
and viable opportunities.

My next blog will explore ways of acquiring more new business accounts.
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Why aren’t there more Analytics in Marketing?

A recent issue of Information Week carried a factoid that 500 million users generate 340 Million tweets, daily!  It also commented that in this deluge it’s hard to identify the real experts in any discipline, and in this case they referenced Business Analytics.

Because we are particularly interested in the linkage between integrated marketing and sales enablement, I reviewed the LinkedIn skills of Integrated Marketers and the skills listed in their biographies which enable sales.  When we compiled the data on 100 Marketing Executives, or Integrated Marketing (those more extensively describing their duties) at technology companies (but relevant to all industries) what was absent in a huge majority of biographies was the phrase “I am skilled in use of analytics”.

The dominating skills mentioned were branding, social media, social media marketing, events, webinars, speaking, white papers, success stories and other soft skills.  No-one disputes that  these skills play a very important role in one’s job, but when a company buys a technological solution it is most interested in the solution’s impact on costs, ease of use, price vs. performance and maintenance costs – all requiring quantitative analysis.

My conclusion is that marketing (and also sales), in addition to the soft skills, must also be able to utilize analytics to produce data for such things as productivity gains, cost reduction, environmental improvement, low rate of failures, etc. and how their solution compares to competition in important attributes.  [By the way, how many marketing managers in technology or manufacturing companies know the term “MBTF”?]  There is lack of evidence that analytical techniques are used by marketing folks in the execution of educational, branding or sales enabling campaigns.  By the way, on a personal level, I dislike the word “demand generation”. A much better term would be “awareness creation”. At least one could sleep a little bit better knowing that they are differentiating themselves from the deluge of 340 million tweets!

Not every marketer has the luxury of working with a highly recognizable brand.  So analytical skills (not only with data but also market or account/product/service insight) about both the seller and buyer side will allow us to better identify and assess where and when our products and services a solid winning chance.

And let us not forget that in the end we all operate on a “shoe-string” budget as the Global Fiscal Crisis has shown.

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