Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: July 2008

If I Were New to Marketing

A see a lot of questions from high-tech marketers that find themselves in the role of marketing without a background in the profession. Usually it is someone who succeeded at something else within the organization and has been asked to play the position.

Sometimes it is someone who did not succeed at what they were doing, usually sales, but that management does not want to fire or one reason or another. Let’s put them in charge of marketing! For heaven’s sake, marketing is so simple. Anybody can do it, right?

I worked with a sales manager once who proposed hiring people straight out of college because the enthusiasm they had was far more important than the knowledge. All though I won’t go so far as to say that he was right, there is a kernel of truth to this. I will take someone with enthusiasm, a natural and intense curiosity, and a willingness to learn over someone who already “knows it all.”

So, for those of you with the drive to succeed but with no background in marketing, here’s a list of the things I would do, knowing what I know now, if I were in your shoes.

1. Skip the formal education such as the MBA. If you are looking to succeed in your current role, you don’t have time for it. Of course, if you are getting an MBA for future advancement, by all means do so. I’m only referring to getting an MBA to help you in the short-term.

2. Sign up for MarketingProfs and watch every single webinar they offer. With rare exceptions they are well worth the time spent. You can sign up as an individual for about $250/year and get access to all of their premium content free.

You should see if your company will pay for your subscription. If they won’t cough up even $250 for your professional development, consider that a powerful omen.

3. Attend a marketing conference every year. I admit that I have been so busy attending IT conferences that it has been awhile since I attended a marketing conference. I have made it a personal goal to start attending these again. The knowledge transfer, even for old-timers, is thought-provoking and reinvigorating. You’ll realize you are not alone as you talk with others who have been in your shoes.

4. If you don’t know ask. If you have a question about marketing ask someone who has been there. There are many forums filled with marketing people who are happily sharing their expertise. Marketingprofs and LinkedIn are the two I am on most often.

5. Hire outside help. I worked with a guy once who was very reluctant to hire outside help. When I asked why, he said it was because he was afraid people would think he couldn’t do it himself. If the truth hurts, just tell your boss that outside help will help the team move faster.

Use this time with outside experts to learn from them. SEO, PR, branding, e-marketing are all areas filled with consultants who are ready and willing to help you and educate you at the same time.

6. If you are a Product Manager or Product Marketer attend Pragmatic Marketing. I was thrown into Product Marketing from sales many years ago and I credit them (and a great mentor) for turning me into a professional.

7. Read practical books. Skip the motivational and flashy stuff – for now. Read the how to books. There are many “Idiots” and “Dummies” guides in specific areas of marketing. When I first got into blogging, SEO and Google Adwords, I bought one of these guides for each of these areas. I like them because they are written at an entry-level and the advice is practical and of immediate value.

8. Save the advanced initiatives for later. Blogging isn’t going to help you if you are not doing the basics like targeting your market, creating messages that resonate, driving opportunities and creating supporting sales materials. Save the social media stuff and other breakthrough initiatives for after you have the foundation built.

9. Know what you are accountable for. To a certain extent it doesn’t matter what marketing is if your boss is only evaluating you on your ability to drive opportunities. As you learn and grow you’ll realize there is so much more value you can add, but you’ll never get a chance to if you don’t meet the metric the company holds you accountable for.

10. Breathe
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Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing - An Illustration

I’ve written a lot about the process for connecting marketing goals to sales goals. I hope you are all familiar with the steps by now:

1. Work with sales to define the difference between a lead and an opportunity. See Leads Are For Marketing, Sales Wants Opportunities for more on this.

2. Work with sales to determine their close ratio of qualified opportunities.

3. Work backward from this determine the number of qualified opportunities that marketing needs to produce.

4. Create a good nurture program to keep churning the opportunities that marketing produces but don’t meet the standards of a qualified opportunity.

5. Evaluate.

Here’s an example to illustrate. Let’s say that I am a marketer for a company that does consulting on lean manufacturing practices. (This one came up in a forum a couple days ago and lean manufacturing is an interest of mine.)

Step 1
My sales team could spend a lot of time talking to “prospects” that are intrigued and willing to engage in a discussion, but not likely to buy my services. Therefore, to focus their selling efforts on only those prospects that are likely to buy, I would want to narrow the criteria further.

In this example, we agree that a qualified opportunity meets these criteria:

Within our target market. To increase our chances of success, we’ve decided to focus only on companies that are single site and in North America or Asia. Our key industries are electronics, high-tech and industrial equipment manufacturers. Later, we may branch out into different industrial sectors or continents, but for now this allows us to focus our efforts.

By the way, this narrowing of the target market is one of the hardest disciplines for most companies to stick to. But, when you take the time to define your target market you can target your marketing investments much better. Plus, your sales team is spending their time on opportunities that they are more likely to close.

Has an identified project leader. This means that someone within the company is responsible for the success of the initiative.

Has executive support. The initiative is not a skunk works project started by a guy who is passionate about it, but hasn’t convinced the rest of the organization.

Depending on your circumstances you could select other criteria. I’d recommend that you don’t define it so tightly that nothing but the “perfect opportunity” slips through. It needs to be just tight enough that you are not wasting the time of the sales team, but give them some benefit of the doubt. They can sell.

Step 2
Work with sales to determine what percent of qualified opportunities they think they can close. You can specify a specific time period, such as six months, if it helps you come to an agreement on a reasonable close ratio. In this case, the sales team thinks that a 30% close ratio of these qualified opportunities within six months is reasonable.

Step 3
Work backwards to determine marketing’s goal. If my goal is 10 new deals per quarter, that means that marketing has to deliver 34 qualified opportunities.

There is a time dimension to this as well. If it takes an average of 3 months to close a deal then marketing has to deliver the needed number of opportunities 3 months in advance.

Another common question is, “What if we focus more on revenue that number of deals?” If you have consistent revenue per deal, the conversion is easy. It’s a little more challenging when your revenue per deal is all over the board.

If you have different products with different target markets, you could set goals per market. However, in many cases I’ve seen you don’t know which offering is going to be the right one for the prospect until you are fairly far into the process.

It’s easy to over think this and get lost in the analysis. I recommend trying to estimate an average revenue per deal and converting that so you can still use the number of new deals figure as the goal. If you are producing the required number of opportunities, and sales is closing their agreed on percentage, but you still are not meeting revenue goals then you didn’t get your average revenue per deal figured accurately.

Step 4
Create a nurture program. As already mentioned, you are going to uncover leads that are almost opportunities, but not quite right. For example, you speak to a person who is passionately trying to convince the rest of his organization to start a project. You can see the company can use your services and they are in the right target market. However, he doesn’t have executive support. In fact, his executives are against the idea.

Turning this over to the sales team will just waste their time. On the other hand, this lead could turn into a great opportunity if your contact can make it happen.

You need a nurture program for opportunities like these. But, not just any nurture program. You need one that adds value.

I talk to many companies that say, “Yes, we have a nurture program.” What they really mean to say is that we toss unqualified leads back into the database and then have Joe, the intern, call them every month to see if they are ready yet. Not good.

I could go into detail on how to structure a nurture program, but I’ll save that for another post. For now, you should know there are three essential components of a good nurture program.

1. It’s educational – It gives the prospect information that they can use. This lean example is a great one because you can continue to deliver educational information on lean practices and their benefits to the prospect through webinars, white papers, and newsletters.

2. It’s prospect focused – A monthly newsletter about what is happening within your company and the customers you closed is not a nurture program. It’s a turn off.

3. It’s opt in – Whomever is in charge of the qualification of the prospect during first contact needs to ask them if they would like to continue to receive information on lean through webinars, white papers and such as they become available. If you have a newsletter, ask them if they would like to subscribe and then send out a confirmation. If they say that they do not want to receive more information, you must honor that.

Step 5 Evaluate
Did you meet sales goals? If not, this is where the finger-pointing between sales and marketing normally starts. However, by following this approach you can remove the emotion and take a logical look at why goals were not met.

Did marketing meet the qualified opportunity goals? If not, marketing tactics need to be reevaluated.

Are the criteria for qualified opportunity set too tightly? It is sometimes better to loosen up the criteria and adjust the close ratio than to make sure nothing but the perfect opportunity gets through.

Are unqualified opportunities slipping through? Is marketing still wasting sales’ time by giving them leads that don’t meet the criteria? Sometimes, sales is actually the problem because they uncomfortable not having the numbers that they are used to and they raid the database looking for leads they might be able to convert.

Is sales following up on 100% of the opportunities passed to them?

Is sales meeting their close ratios? If not, were they set too high? Does sales need more training or a more disciplined approach? Do they have the materials, such as case studies, that they need to close these opportunities?

Successful marketing is as much of a science as it is an art. Demand creation is one of those areas where it helps to unleash your inner analytical personality. If you work diligently through the process you can remove much of the emotion that separates the sales and marketing teams. And, you can deliver what the business needs to meet its objectives.
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Keyword Selection Forcing a Marketing Best Practice?

Has it occurred to anyone else that SEO projects that including selecting keywords are forcing a basic marketing “best practice”?

For years, poor marketers have written content that resonated internally in the company and not with prospects. No amount of “feature/benefits” lists could get these internally focused marketing teams to speak in the language of their customer. Even when they did try to write content in the words of the customer, the engineers or the executives would come along and change the wording.

Now, keyword analysis can give the marketer concrete evidence to use when creating content that will resonate. If your CEO or product engineer suggests changing the words that you use, keywords analysis can be used to show them that these are the words that prospects use to describe products or services like yours.

This is basic market research that companies formerly spent thousands of dollars, or more, to conduct. The web has made it so easy that we take it for granted now.

In addition, this keyword analysis can be useful for creating far more than just websites that get picked up by the search engines. These keywords should be shared with anyone who will be creating customer or prospect facing content. That includes brochures, press releases, presentations, sales communications, upgrade announcements and anything else that your company creates that a prospect or customer will see.

These keywords should become part of your formal (or informal) corporate style guide. They should be reanalyzed periodically as markets change. Words and phrases come and go, but the core is likely to remain consistent.

Even if you don’t have a formal SEO initiative, I recommend educating yourself on keyword analysis and incorporating it as part of the foundation for everything you do in marketing.

Don’t forget to vote in the SEO Poll on the top right hand side of my blog. Just a few days left!
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MarketingProfs Has a LinkedIn Group

Yeah! MarketingProfs has added a LinkedIn Group!

For those of you who are also avid fans of the site, it’s easy to join the group. LinkedIn doesn’t yet have a functional group directory, so the easiest way to join is to go to the profile of someone else who is already a member of the group. Ann Handley is the group’s organizer so you can click on her profile or you can go to mine.

Scroll down the profile page till you find the list of groups that she or I belong to and click on the MarketingProfs icon. You will see the icon added to your list of groups. Note that next to the icon it says that your membership is pending approval and that you should send a note to the organizer of the group. I sent this note but while I was writing it I received a notice that I was approved so I’m not sure that notification was completely necessary.

Remember to vote in my SEO poll this week. You can find that at the top of the right hand side of this page. If you'd like to add comments, add them to Tuesday's post New Poll - How Do You Handle SEO? Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

When Dancing With the Gorilla, Better Wear Steel-Toed Boots

My industry, business software, is undergoing a dramatic shift in delivery model as more and more on-premise providers add Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions to their mix or replace their on-premise solutions entirely. In addition, SaaS provides a window of opportunity for small start-up companies to challenge the established leadership of companies like Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

I have no doubt that all three of these well established players will do just fine. However, the ones who could get stepped on in the battles ahead are the channel partners of these big players – especially SAP and Microsoft who work with thousands of small (by comparison) VARs and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs).

This is nothing new. While Microsoft and SAP have strong partner programs and a commitment to the channel, there is always room for day-to-day skirmishes over individual opportunities. In addition, if you are an ISV or VAR who develops your own intellectual property (a.k.a. add-on software applications) you never know when your “partner” will suddenly decide to enter that space and become your competitor.

In the SaaS battle the channel partners with the most to fear are those who make their money off the license revenues or off recurring revenues. There is an opportunity for annuity revenue that is attractive, assuming your partner doesn’t limit this by lowering your percentages, but you are foregoing sales revenue up-front for the promise of future revenues. If you are a publicly held company, good luck selling that one to investors.

For those who do implementations, there is some question over whether your livelihood is in danger. Service providers have always had to fight for turf with the big guys. Now they have to fight against the expectations being set in the minds of the prospects. Just because you can implement a solution remotely does not mean that it will be implemented correctly. For example, there is still a logic behind the way a manufacturing operation is set up that is hard to pin down without spending time with the customers operations.

Certainly there will be opportunities created by this change. Channel partners with the IT knowledge and bandwidth to support applications in a cloud could see their business take off. But, that’s not the business that many of the entrepreneurs focusing on traditional apps such as ERP and CRM signed up for.

If you are one of these traditional partners you are going to have to do some fancy dancing in the days ahead. The gorillas are leading this dance, but it will help if you can anticipate their moves and make sure you are in the right position. It may not be pretty for awhile, but least you can avoid getting knocked off your feet.

I’ve helped both Microsoft and SAP channel partners with their channel strategies for many years. My LinkedIn profile will give you some idea of where I am coming from. I have to say that I don’t know what “the answer” is yet, but I am certain of one thing. This change will come, and probably sooner than many of you expect.
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New Poll - How do you handle SEO?

I've been involved in several conversations recently about outsourcing Search Engine Optimization (SEO). In June, I wrote a post on The Perils of Outsourcing SEO. In spite of the perils, however, I am a big fan of outsourcing. It's not a simple project and you can learn a lot by working with the experts.

Today's poll is focused on finding out how you approach SEO projects. Are you working with an outside firm or have you decided to do it yourself? If your SEO project is an in-house job, do you have a focused effort or is it more hit or miss? Or, did you need to click on SEO above to find out what it is?

In addition to voting in the poll, please let us know why you chose the path you are following.

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Why I Hate the Purple Cow

A friend of mine recently asked me if I read Seth Godin, author of the book Purple Cow, as well as probably a dozen other books that most of you would recognize.

Of course, I read Seth Godin. Could I call myself a marketing professional if I didn’t? I find his writing and his presentations thought provoking and inspiring. However, I have to admit that I also find concepts like the Purple Cow a little bit irritating. OK, a lot irritating on some days.

For those of you who haven’t read Purple Cow, it’s about standing out from your competition by being “remarkable.” This means remarkable in the literal sense, as in “something that is worth remarking on.” Hopefully, in a good way.

The problem is that while many marketers are trying to create purple cows they are neglecting the rest of the herd. Their websites are nothing more that static brochures. Their marketing goals are disconnected from sales goals. Their messages don’t resonate. They are spending good money on campaigns that just don’t work. To use the analogy, their current herd is in shambles. It’s sickly and getting worse everyday because they are not taking care of it.

If these marketers manage to actually create a purple cow, they'll grab onto it's neck and hold on for all it's worth. They can feel their careers slipping down the drain and they are just praying that cows can swim. (I think cows can swim, but purple ones are usually too burdened down by the hopes and aspirations of the marketer. They sink like lead weights.)

Purple cows can separate you from the rest of the crowd, but until you’ve got the basics down, they won’t do you much good. And, those who are good at the basics stand a much greater chance of succeeding even if they never manage to create a purple cow.

Please read Seth’s book. As much as it may sound like it, hating the purple cow doesn’t actually have as much to do with his book as being irritated by those who blindly follow the concepts of any book. If you are a marketing professional I think you will enjoy it. Plus, it’s hard not to have it come up in conversation and you don’t want to be the only one who hasn’t read it.

But, beware of the purple cow, at least until you have the rest of your herd in order.
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15 Tips for Creating a Successful Advisory Board

With so much going on in the social media world, I don’t get a chance to talk about the basics much. Today I want to touch on the old fashioned, but oh-so-useful, advisory council.

Chances are if you are in a role that needs to gather input from the marketplace you have needed to create or be involved in an advisory board. These groups can help you create product roadmaps, figure out what messages resonate, get buy-in on new product launches, vet your channel programs and 100 other things that will keep you from falling on your face when you roll your ideas out to the world at large.

But, creating and maintaining a successful and sustainable advisory board is a difficult undertaking. I’ve managed a number of them over the course of my career. I have also served as a member on others. Here’s a quick “brain dump” on some of the tips I have for creating and managing groups that work.

Keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler. If this is your first time creating and managing an advisory board, don’t over complicate it. For example creating an advisory board with twelve separate tasks forces and a 20-page rule book probably doesn’t make sense. You want to create a plan for your advisory board, of course, but a simpler plan will help you get off the ground faster. You can always make course corrections as you go. In fact, tweaking the advisory board plan as you get input from the members can help you get them to accept ownership of the board.

Have an objective and make sure it is clear to everyone. Even if you are organizing the advisory council you may not be the “consumer” of the information that you gather. For example, if you are in marketing and you have been asked to put together a customer advisory council, it’s important to establish what kinds of advice you are looking for from the council. Not settling this up-front means that sales will think the council is for one purpose, product development for another, and the executive team may have a completely different objective. It is a lose/lose/lose situation with marketing (and the council members) caught squarely in the middle.

Keep it small. Like all meetings, more than twelve people in the room and you are not going to be able to solve much. Discussions quickly become presentations to larger groups. Less vocal people stay quiet. It almost seems as though a mob mentality takes over in larger groups because the group is always in agreement with the most vocal members. Take a few of them aside at break and you’ll quickly discover there is a difference of opinion, but because they thought everyone else agreed, they didn’t speak up.

Think about time zones. If you want a global advisory board, it is possible but tough to do if you have members from the Americas, Europe, and Asia all on the same call. It may be advisable to have submeetings by region but then get together once or twice a year for a global meeting.

Assign a note taker. Every meeting needs someone taking notes. As the organizer, and probably the host, you have other tasks that will keep you occupied. Make sure you select a reliable colleague ahead of time that you know will do the job right. You will want to create your own report after the meeting, but these notes will be an invaluable reference—especially if you don’t get to that report right away.

Member Participation

Select the right members. You have to know why you are creating an advisory board. For example, if you want product feedback, you will want to be sure to select product specialists from your customer or reseller channel. This is not the same group of people you would select if you were looking for feedback on marketing programs. A “one size fits all” approach to advisory councils will only ensure the fit is a poor one.

Get the members involved in the nominations. If you are creating a partner/channel advisory council (PAC) chances are that you are working within a community that knows each other. Try selecting a few core members that you know you want on the PAC and then let them nominate other members. You’ll get to meet channel members that you may not have otherwise, and you’ll be less likely to be accused of loading up the PAC with only people whose opinion is the same as your own.

Require participation. If you have an advisory council made up of twelve members you can’t afford to have a member who only attends half of the meetings. Depending on the purpose of the council and how you selected the members, it may be fine for the member to send a colleague in his or her stead. At other times, such as when the membership is made up of owners of the businesses, only one person will do.

Make sure the participation rules are clearly understood, but cut them some slack. Everyone misses a meeting every now and then.

The best group I ever belonged to had a three-consecutive strikes and you are out rule. If a member didn’t show up for three meetings in a row, the other members would nominate a replacement. The company who ran the advisory council would then contact the errant member thanking them for their participation but, respectfully, letting them know they had been replaced.

Regular meetings are critical. Nothing kills an advisory board faster than not having a meeting for several months. Meetings can be via conference call or over the internet, but they should be regular.

Have at least one face-to-face meeting per year. For most organizations, monthly face-to-face meetings are not possible if their customers or channel are spread around the globe. However, you should try to hold at least one face-to-face meeting a year. As much as I would like to deny it, you just can’t make the same connections over the internet or phone that you can when you meet someone face-to-face.

Take advantage of events. Whenever the members of your task force are likely to be together, such as at a conference, take advantage of the opportunity to have a face-to-face get-together. This doesn’t count as your annual face-to-face meeting because, depending on the event, you may only be able to carve out an hour or two in everyone’s schedule. You need a couple of days of “together-time” to create close and lasting connections between members.

Have a printed agenda. Know what you are going to talk about in each of your meetings including the phone based meetings. It will be much easier to keep everyone on task. If you share the agenda ahead of time, it will give them a chance to frame their opinions ahead of time and improve the quality of the input you gather.

Make it fun. Be sure to include a bonding event in your schedule. This may be even more important than the meeting itself because the purpose of the face-to-face event is to establish the connections that will carry through the rest of the year. Renting a bowling alley is always fun – or is it just me that likes that? A golf scramble also works great. Make sure it is a scramble so you don’t discourage nongolfers from taking part in the outing. I’ve also been on some great dinner cruises at advisory council meetings.

Keep it balanced and two-way. Try to avoid anyone from dominating the advisory council. That includes the highly priced executive who likes to hear himself talk, the partner or customer who has the energy to sustain a two-day rant, the marketing communications person who is a walking press release, the genius who normally sits behind a computer screen all-day but suddenly discovers he’s a people person, and any number of other characters who can monopolize the conversation.

Take the executive aside, or have someone else whose career is not on the line speak to him or her. Have one of the technical specialists hold a private meeting with the “ranter” so you can get their personal issues solved while the rest of the advisory council works on the bigger picture. Don’t let the marketing communications team own the agenda. (Side note: I have been on PACs where marketing did a great job, so this is just for when you have a problem with marketing.) Send the genius back to his cubicle or let him be the one to work with the ranter. And, above all else, make sure you are inviting opinions from the entire group. If someone isn’t speaking up, ask them what they think.

Get professional help. Now and then, it can be educational to hire an outside expert to run your advisory council. Market research firms are a great choice, but there are other choices as well. I attended one meeting where the company hired a business professor from the Kellogg School of Management to run the group. The information she helped elicit from the group wasn’t typical but it was helpful, and the meetings were some of the best I ever attended. We were all able to learn about holding effective meetings just from watching her style.

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Corporate Blogging Made Easy

In my post a couple days ago, Social Media - Start Here!, I mentioned that two obstacles to successful corporate blogging were fear and time. Today I want to focus on the time issue.

I first got into blogging because of our corporate blog. I know for many of you it was probably the other way around.

The team was hounding me to let them start a corporate blog. I wasn’t opposed to it, but I knew it was going to a time intensive effort. I couldn’t afford to add a full-time person to the team so we were going to have to make-do with the people we had – and they had other responsibilities they still had to meet.

I made them work for it by telling me how a corporate blog would help us meet our goals. Eventually, they won me out by showing me how we could increase our media exposure and increase our search engine rankings.

I started my own blog as a “sandbox” for the corporate blog. I wanted to understand blogging and, in my estimation, the best way to do that would be to roll up my sleeves and try it out.

Of course, like my team, I suffer from not having enough time to write. (Note: I’ve since gone independent so I am now blogging with a purpose. This helps me find the time in the early morning, middle of the night, or whenever my muse decided to pay me a visit.)

My goal was one post per business day. For companies, I recommend slightly less as it gives your audience a chance to participate in the conversation before the topic changes. But, to be effective, you still need to be doing two to three posts a week. And that can be tough when you have a day job and a fickle muse. So, how do you find easy ideas?

Read other blogs and create links from your blog! I read blogs like others read the morning paper. I love it when blog authors allow me to have the blog content sent to my inbox, but even if they don’t, I have my favorite blogs set up on my Google homepage. Just by reading the blogs I get great ideas for the business, but I also find blog entries that I think are ideas my own readers would also appreciate.

For example, just this morning I ran across this blog post from Chris Brogan, a blogger who writes extensively about social media. 50 Blog Topics Marketers Could Write For Their Companies. Chris manages to come up with fifty great ideas for corporate blog topics that most marketers could write about in their sleep.

I could write my own blog post linking back to his blog post. Which I am doing right now, of course, but the point is that his blog post could be the main topic of my post. I could add my own ideas to his ideas. For example, his ideas are inwardly company focused. I also recommend writing about best practices whenever possible to add another dimension of value for your reader.

In fact, most of the blogs I read are best practices blogs focused on my profession –marketing. I also read sales blogs since the sales teams are my main customer. If I were in a technical field such as selling and implementing software for healthcare providers, and this was the audience I was trying to reach with my blog, I would try to find other blogs about the industry and read them daily. Whenever something happens in the industry or you find a best practice advocated by someone, create your own post, link back to the original post, and add your own thoughts and ideas. Clearly, this works best if you are not only reading your competitors blogs, as you may not want to create link backs to their blogs.

This benefits me because I can find an easy topic to write about when my energy and ideas are flagging. In the case above, it also benefits Chris because I have promoted his name and blog and potentially increased his readership. By creating the link back I’ve also potentially increased his search engine ranking.

This is clearly a win/win and makes regular blogging much less difficult than trying to think up fresh ideas several times a week.
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Adjusting Marketing Spend in an Economic Downturn

My blog poll closed yesterday with 4 votes. Certainly not enough for a representative sample. No where to go but up, I suppose!

However irrelevant the results are, they are still interesting. When I asked the question on LinkedIn, most of the responses suggested companies were spending the same but altering the marketing mix. A few were scaling back. See Monday’s post for a synopsis of the LinkedIn Q&A or visit my LinkedIn profile where you can actually view the responses.(click on the Q&A tab on my profile)
In the blog poll, 2 votes were for spending more, 1 for spending less, and one for spending the same. Again, hardly scientific, but it would have been interesting to hear more from the two marketers who said they were spending more.

I am curious to know if they are in markets that are doing better than average or if they see this as an opportunity get an advantage over competitors who are scaling back. Or maybe, they are selling a product that is attractive during a downturn.

Everyone thinks of the Great Depression as a time of overwhelming misery (and I am certain it was), but remember, companies like Wrigley may not be what they are today had it not happened. By selling chewing gum, a simple pleasure that many could still afford, they endured and went on to become a multi-billion dollar powerhouse in their segment.
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Social Media - Start Here!

This isn’t a blog about social media—there are enough of those already. However, I find myself writing about social media more often than not.

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of power in social media and corporations are undergoing a transition in the way they communicate with the world. Marketing managers had better figure out how they can leverage social media now or they’ll find that they’ll soon have to play catch up with their competition.

So where do you start? As a marketing manager focused on the big picture, I’ll share my perspectives. I am sure that any of the experts in social media could make convincing arguments about why you should focus on a specific area – usually whatever they specialize in. However, as a marketing manager, you have to make a call based on your own assessment.
Here’s my take:

Your Corporate Website - Websites are not usually considered part of social media, per se, since there isn’t typically a two-way dialogue happening on the site. However, if you still have a one-way, static website, I’d say that’s the first thing to fix.

You need to give your prospects (and customers) ways to interact with you. e.g. useful materials they can download, newsletters they can sign up for, links to others sites such as a blog as soon as you have them. And, you need to give them fresh content.

Customer Portals – If you are a technology marketer, you probably have one of these portals already. It’s probably some sort of knowledge base and/or support center that customers can access.

Again, this is not social media in itself. The conversation can be two-way (sort-of) but the dialogue is prescriptive and automated. It’s not a “real” conversation between a company and the customer. Any real conversation usually happens off-line in an e-mail or by phone.

You need to have these sites to communicate with your customer, but don’t confuse these sites with social media.

Corporate Blog – Here’s where the fun starts. Ideally, the conversation is two-way and you are starting to have a real conversation with the marketplace. Many of the companies I work with have been reluctant to get into blogging because they are concerned about two things:

Time – No doubt good blogging takes time. You have to post regularly and the content should add value and elicit comment. Plus, you have to market the blog! It’s hard to have a two-way conversation if no one shows up. Tomorrow, I am going to write a post on some ideas I have for making Corporate Blogging easier so stay tuned for that.

Fear – No company wants negative comments made about them, especially on the web! I have news for you. You are no longer in control.

Social media took control of public perception out of the hands of the corporate communications people and put it into the hands of the independent bloggers, people who comment on other blogs, forum participants, Facebook users, Twitter users, and any of the other people that use the myriad of tools to take part in online conversations.

A corporate blog can give you some balance against any potential negative publicity. For example, if you find a misperception being spread on the web, you could certainly blog about it. Then when responding in other places you can point back to the corporate blog. Just make sure your blog post isn’t spin or you stand a good chance of compounding the negative view.

As the saying goes – If You Can’t Beat ‘Em, Join ‘Em.

Customer Community Platform – The next step, which most companies have yet to reach, is to set up a company specific social networking platform. It’s a fairly new idea with lots of vendors popping up. Like with all things new, the best advice I can give you here is to do your homework.

What about Twitter?
Twitter is a tool that many marketers, including me, like to play with. My advice to you is play around with it if it fits your style. But, unless your market is made up of other Twitter users, it’s not very useful as a corporate social media tool.

I did a Twitter search once on a company name that sold IT training services and certifications. Many interesting comments on Twitter, but that’s a good example of an exception where the audience they targeted was already there. Actually, it was their end users and not the people who paid for their services, so for prospect reach the value was still suspect.

Even if these end users had significant influence, I would not have recommended this company work Twitter into their social networking plan anytime soon. It would be useful to hang out (lurk) on Twitter so they could get closer to the people using their product, but this company was too traditional to Twitter about anything that would be well received by the audience.

Same goes for personal social networking tools like Facebook. Many of these sites are set up for specific target audiences and lend themselves better to personal social networking. Some consumer goods companies have started using tools like Facebook (semi-successfully), but if your audience is businesses there’s a good chance you won’t be able to deliver the right message on a platform like Facebook - yet.
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The Hard Questions

Geoffrey James has another great article on BNET – Can You Handle the Truth? I love Geoffrey’s writing because he is so unvarnished. I’d rather have him berate me and my profession than one of the people I work with. When it’s not a personal attack, you can take a step back and really think through the merits of his points. There are many.

This particular article is about salespeople who ask the hard questions – of the clients and of themselves. While he is a writer that focuses mostly on the sales profession, he has written on many occasions about marketing, and not usually in a good way. His recent article called Should He Lie About Sales Experience? takes to task the highly-paid marketing executive who can’t articulate why a customer would buy his product over a competitor.

Having read both of these articles back to back this morning, let me offer up a few hard questions that marketers should be asking themselves. See how many you can answer – honestly!

• Why is your product better for your customers than your competitors? Would your customers agree with your answer?
• How has your work in the last year helped drive sales? Would the sales team agree? Have you asked them?
• Are you accountable for metrics that really mean anything to the business? Or, are you just keeping busy?
• Do you treat marketing as a profession that requires continuous learning? Or, is it just a job that you do the same way year after year?
• When is the last time you had a conversation with a customer? I am not talking about a presentation, but a real two way exchange of ideas.

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Have You Adjusted Your Marketing Spend?

(Reminder: Just a couple more days to answer the poll)

As well as posting the poll question on this blog, I asked the following question on the LinkedIn Sales and Marketing Q&A forum.

Have you adjusted your marketing spend up or down in response to the current economy?

So far, the responses have leaned toward “spending the same” however, many of the marketers are taking a close look at their marketing mix. They know the only way they will be able to make intelligent decisions about where to spend is by measuring results.

Here is a paraphrased selection of some of the comments. You can read all the comments here. The comments are well thought out and suggest several interesting ideas for how to adjust marketing spend without killing the business.

• Branding initiatives, and other hard to quantify activities, are being scaled back.
• In an effort to justify activities, we are measuring more than just marketing’s impact at the top of the funnel.
• Scaling back in some of the harder hit target markets, but increasing spend in more profitable ones.
• Scaling back in more mature markets but increasing spend in emerging markets.

Realistically, not all marketers have complete control over their budgets. In many organizations the purse strings are held by someone not in marketing. Marketing is one of the first places nonmarketing executives may look to slash budgets. We can’t stop development. We can’t stop sales. We can’t stop supporting customers. But maybe we can scale back marketing, just a bit, for a quarter or two.

Yes, it will have an impact, but when quarterly numbers or the company’s immediate survival are on the line, you can’t blame the average executive for looking at marketing for immediate cuts.

And, marketers themselves are not without blame. Many marketers are uncomfortable with being measured or are not sure how to do it. When pressed to identify their most effective initiatives or to justify the investments, they just can’t do it.

So maybe, just maybe, an economic downturn can have a positive impact on our profession. It can help us improve our own skills by understanding which metrics impact the bottomline. It can make us better at evaluating the mix. And, it gives marketers a chance to improve our communication skills at the executive level when we are called on to justify the investments.

It is hard to get through times like this, but we can come out stronger.
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Plan Bs Are For Wimps!

I had a boss who actually said this me once when I suggested that he needed a safety net for the risky strategy he was proposing. I wasn’t suggesting that he not follow his strategy, after all, the pay off could have been tremendous. However, there was a good chance it wouldn’t work and a solid Plan B could save the division if Plan A didn’t pan out.

What I wanted to say after he essentially called me a “wimp” was that not having a Plan B is for “failures.” However, name-calling in business is never a good idea, especially when it is your boss you’re talking to. So I shut my mouth and went along with Plan A. Which, incidentally, still has yet to yield anywhere close to the results he was looking for. I’ve long since left the company, but I do still follow them so I have a good idea of how things are working.

Let me just say here that I think this guy was a bright and talented individual. I think my pragmatic nature balanced his enthusiasm well. This was just one of those areas where we didn’t see eye to eye.

Call it Plan B, contingency planning, or even an exit strategy, everyone has a plan B whether they know it or not. In the situation I outlined above, there was a plan B. It was called “fail and then try to scramble to find something that can bring the numbers up.”

You don’t need to publicize Plan B to the rest of the company. That could easily make it look like you are planning to fail. However, pretending you are sinking everything into this make or break strategy and actually doing it are two different things.

I have a pretty high tolerance for risk and I’ve developed lots of strategies that didn’t quite work out the way I had originally planned. Sometimes the changes that I made were minor, but sometimes they were complete reversals in strategy. Thinking through the “what ifs” ahead of time helped me turn things around in short-order and get everything back on track.

So do you agree with my old boss, that Plan Bs are for wimps? Or, like me, do you have several plans up your sleeve that you can pull out in times of crisis?
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Delusions of Grandeur or Reaching for the Stars?

Leading market share

• Segment domination

• Billion dollar company

• #1 in our industry

Do any of these sound like your company mission? Many companies aspire to these heights but few actually achieve them. After all, there is only one #1 in any given segment. But, does that mean everyone else is an “also-ran”? And, is this kind of goal setting good for the company?

Typically the far-reaching goals are set in corporate boardrooms by executives that have self-motivated to the point where they believe the goal is attainable, if not “within reach.” There may be one or two in the group who are a bit concerned about setting such a high goal, but in many corporate cultures, dissenting would be career suicide. So, the goal is set.

In an effort to galvanize the troops, the goal is shared with the rest of the organization along with admonishments to “execute, execute, execute!” Unfortunately, while the execs were goal setting, the rest of the organization was slogging through the details of the day-to-day business. When they hear about the new grand vision, they may start to wonder what was in the coffee in the boardroom. It’s like being told you have to eat an elephant when you thought you were coming for sushi.

It’s great for companies to have BHAGS (Big Harry Audacious Goals), but I see a couple of problems with the way they are carried out in many organizations.

Set interim goals that are achievable. Let’s say you are a small software company competing in a segment with companies many, many, many times your size. Does it make sense to define your market in the same way they define theirs?

Start with defining a market that you can win. Usually these means focusing more tightly on a subsegment within the broader target market that you want to dominate. For example, instead of just focusing on “manufacturers”, focus on food manufacturers. If that space would still be tough to own, look for something even smaller within that segment, such as meat packers, that isn’t well served by your competitors.

Companies that think big often have challenges with this segmentation. When the marketing department shows the market analysis findings there is a collective gasp when they see the small numbers associated with the segment.

Don’t let that scare you. It is more profitable to own a small segment than it is to flounder around aimlessly in a larger one. It costs less to develop products for a specific segment. It costs less to sell into that segment. It costs less to market to that segment. And, it costs less to support that segment.

I once knew of a small software company that defined their target market as “flexible packaging manufacturers in the US.” Flexible packaging is all the paper, tin foil, plastic and other types of wrappers that manufacturers and distributors use to package their products. At the time I worked with them, they had fewer than 400 target customers in their market as I recall. But they owned this segment. Everyone in this space knew who they were and no other competitor could even touch them.

In the end, this company was acquired by a larger company, and, unfortunately, I haven’t seen the same segment domination carried on within the larger company. But, it could have been. And, this segment could have launched ownership of other similar segments.

For more on segmentation in the high technology market, read Geoffrey Moore’s series of books starting with Crossing the Chasm. Moore's books should be required reading for anyone in technology marketing.

Interim goals should be actionable. Just like individual goal setting, corporate goals should be actionable. Everyone within the organization should feel like they can understand how they can help achieve that goal.

Becoming a billion dollar company, especially if you are sitting somewhere far south of that, won’t feel actionable to most of organization. It feels like a sales goal.

Focusing on a specific industry segment feels more actionable because everyone in the organization understands that they can help achieve the goal by better understanding the segment. It is no longer sale’s goal. It is owned by the entire organization.

The sledgehammer approach. If, after communicating the goal to the rest of the organization, the executives start to talk about who “gets it” and who “doesn’t get it” you know you have problems. It may be true that you have some folks who can buy-into the big picture and others who can’t, but the fault doesn’t necessarily lie on the shoulders of the rank-and-file.

The executive team may have spent several days holed away in an off-site meeting coming up with this goal. Chances are there were many smaller meetings leading up to this one as well where the ideas were tossed about. The “sales process” that they put themselves through may have taken months. Is it any wonder that an hour-long company-wide meeting isn’t enough to bring everybody on board?

The only cure for this is old fashioned hard work. You hired smart people. Or, at least, I hope you did. Have some faith in them. If you are open to their questions and patiently work through them, and if you did a good job goal setting, they will buy-in. If you treat them with respect and like the talented professionals they are, you will find many in the group who will anoint themselves “champions for the cause.”

But this is hard work. This is where real executive talent starts to shine. Executives who can create a decent plan are, frankly, common. Those who can communicate a plan and effectively get buy-in are a much rarer breed.
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Making the Most of a Bad Situation - Trade Shows

There was a interesting and useful post a couple of days ago on written by Glenn D. Porter on How to Work a Trade Show. If you know me you know that I think trade shows are usually a monumental waste of money. They are one of the most common marketing investment mistakes that I see software companies continue to make year after year. The justifications usually come in one of three flavors:

“We need to be there because our competitors are.” (That’s great. You and your competitors can keep each other company because your prospects don’t feel a need to be there.)

“We’re building awareness.” (Yeah? How’s that working for you? Is the awareness paying the bills yet?)

“We get lots of leads.” (And, how many of those leads have turned into sales? Most of the time you get lots of names of people who want whatever trinket you’re giving away. They give you their name because they feel guilty for taking it without at least pretending they are interested.)

Of course, there are some times when you just can’t get out of doing a trade show. No matter how bleak the profit analysis looks from trade shows past, everyone finds themselves standing on the show floor twiddling their thumbs once in awhile. Glenn suggests that you use your time at trade shows to accomplish three objectives:

- Expand your industry knowledge
- Do some personal networking
- Schmooze the press

I’d add that you can also use the time to do some prospect research. For example, one of the marketing firms I have worked with, GrowthPoint, uses the time to efficiently organize face to face focus groups. If you think you have the right buyers at the show, you can quickly prequalify them and invite them to a focus group session held during show hours. A small incentive, such as a gift certificate, is usually enough to get them to show up. The size of the incentive typically corresponds to the level of individual you are trying to attract. A $25 – 50 gift certificate to Amazon is often enough for your average professional for a one hour session. You might need to go up to $100 - 200 for C-level executives. I have even heard of incentives between $800 and $1000 to entice doctors to participate.

Make sure these are actually focus groups and not sales pitches. You’ll lose your audience quickly because you will have lost their trust as soon as they realize your real purpose. It helps to have a professional firm conduct the focus groups to make sure that the line is not crossed.

You could also do keyword research to help your ongoing SEO and SEM initiatives. Many companies have drawings at their booth for various giveaways as a way to collect names. The quality of these leads is usually not high. By adding their name to the drawing they are showing that they are interested in what you are giving away, not necessarily your product or service.

However, you can turn these drawing entries into a mini keyword research project. On the slip of paper, ask the attendee to write down up to three keywords they might use to search for your type of product or service. They should not use proper names since the purpose of SEO/SEM is to attract prospects that don’t already know you well.

The entries should give you some interesting insights into how your target market sees your product or service. If the answers don’t correspond at all to your actual offerings, there’s an obvious sign that you aren’t well positioned in the market. If the answers are related to what you offer, it will give you some idea of what terms you should be optimizing for.

So, next time you find yourself facing trade show agony develop a strategy for making the most of your investment – and then figure out how you can get out of it next year.
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New Poll! Adjusting Marketing Spend

I added a new poll this week on marketing spend in response to an economic downturn. I suspect that the most common response is going to be that marketing spend is holding steady (for now) or that budgets have been decreased. However, you never know!

Be sure to respond to the poll on the right. And, if you have more to say, please leave a comment on this post. I would really like to hear how other marketing professionals are responding. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Happy 4th of July!

To all my friends in the USA, Happy 4th of July. If you're reading this on the 4th, close your computer and go out into the real world. You need to get a life. Rest assured, I wrote this post on the 3rd and scheduled it to post today.

To the rest of the world, I hope your day is absolutely fabulous as well! Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Making Face to Face Networking Easier

Here’s a nice little video from BNET and Executive Coach, Leila Bulling Towne, on how to make networking easier. Actually, it’s nice to see a post focusing on the basics of old fashioned face to face networking again!

Leila does mention LinkedIn at the end of the short clip. To her comments I would add that you should be sure to send requests to connect to the people you meet at the live event. Hopefully, you had a chance to jot down a few notes about your conversation on the back of their business card so you can help them recall who you are. Of course, don’t do this if they are Asian! If you are meeting with people from countries like China and Japan, and your memory is bad, you can excuse yourself and run off to the bathroom every now and then so you can jot down a few notes in a notebook Your colleagues might wonder if you’re feeling well, but at least you won’t inadvertently insult anyone.

I had a special technique that I used when I was younger and less sure of myself at these types of events. I would follow Leila’s advice and get to know a bit about someone. But, instead of wracking my brain for small talk, I would think about who else in the room they might like to know and make the introduction. Introducing customers to each other at company events is a great way to make them feel comfortable and to take the heat off of yourself. It worked so well that I still do this at events whenever I feel my energy lagging and I’m not up to a full blown conversation. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

A Childhood Hero

Strange and unexpected events can have a positive impact on a person’s life or career. A few words of encouragement from a teacher or mentor. A character building experience that builds a strong foundation for future success. Or, we work with people that we admire and can emulate until we become sure enough of who we are to forge our own identity.

One of my childhood heroes was a young man that taught me the meaning of “marching on” in the face of adversity. I have no idea what his name is or where he is today. If you recognize yourself in this story let me know. I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I admired your courage.

When I was in high school I was in the marching band. Not a great image building experience, but to be in the regular band, you had to be in the marching band as well. Every year our band competed with other schools from around the state. Just think, a full day of watching marching band half time shows performed by high school kids – not all of them talented.

One of the rules of marching is that you absolutely have to stay in formation. Worst case scenario, you drop your instrument and you have to march on pretending to play an imaginary instrument. Trust me, air piccolo is not as cool as air guitar. I always thought that was the worst possible thing that could happen until one day I saw something worse.

Marching band uniforms, at least in rural IL, came in a couple of different size options – fat or skinny and short or tall. Inevitably, there was always some scrawny kid who got the short end of the deal and ended up with a uniform a couple of sizes too big. There is a reason those uniforms come with suspenders, but they are not always foolproof.

One day, we were watching the competition with the usual lack of attention of a bunch of high school kids who would rather be somewhere else on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Suddenly everyone started pointing to one of the coronet players. (At least I think it was coronet. It’s been awhile.) Was it our imagination or were his pants riding low on his hips? Remember, this was way before letting your underwear show out of the top of your pants was fashionable. Back then, doing this meant you were in for a major wedgie.

As his band continued to play his pants got lower and lower. We kept expecting him to stop playing and fix them. But no, this kid took competition seriously and he wasn’t about to cost his school points. Eventually his pants ended up around his ankles and he just marched out of them while continuing to play. In case you are wondering, you wear shorts under your uniform, so it’s not as bad as it sounds.

I don’t know if the judges take away points for losing your pants and continuing to march. If I were a judge, I would have awarded points to this school and given a special award to the student. I can only imagine how mortified he was. I know I would have been! But now and then, when something embarrassing happens to me in my career, I think to myself, “at least I still have my pants.”

To the young man, who is no longer young, your courage was an inspiration. I hope you recovered from the incident and that your friends didn’t razz you too much. You were an inspiration! Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

Poor e-Networking Etiquette

I am writing a lot about LinkedIn these days. I guess it is no secret that my appreciation for LinkedIn has reached the point of fanaticism. It is a cool tool that has made me a better marketer and has helped me do more networking in one year than I did in the previous twenty. Many people use LinkedIn effectively, but there are some that just don’t get it. A perfect example of poor networking happened to me about a year ago.

As everyone probably knows by now, you can request an introduction to someone else on your network through LinkedIn. I had a business opportunity for an old colleague of mine (let’s call her Jill) that I thought she would be perfect for. Jill is an event management contractor and one of my colleagues needed help. Unfortunately, I had lost Jill’s card and her e-mail address.

I decided to use one of my available “introduction credits” to ask a mutual friend to connect us. Since she knew that Jill and I already knew each other I suppose I didn’t have to tell her why I wanted to be connected. The fact that I lost Jill’s e-mail address should have been good enough. But, I’m pretty open so I said I had an opportunity that I thought our mutual friend might want to consider.

The friend I contacted decided that she would not pass along the introduction because Jill was “happy where she was at” and she was “sure she would not be interested.”

I didn’t respond to the response, but I am still floored that this person declined to pass along an opportunity for business to a mutual friend. Granted, Jill was a contractor for her and the opportunity I had was with a competitor. Would anyone be so spiteful against the competition that they would withhold a potential business opportunity from someone? Especially someone who was a friend. It wasn’t like this person worked for the company and I was trying to steal them away. Contractors work for competing companies all the time.

Maybe I am just being na├»ve but, if I know who you are, I can’t imagine turning down a request for an introduction. Even if I don’t know you, I’m likely to pass along the intro because who am I to judge what my contacts will be interested in? Isn’t that what the six degrees of separation is all about? She was within her rights to turn down my request but was it the right thing for her to do?

I’ve seen many other, far worse, abuses of LinkedIn that I’ll try to share in upcoming posts, but this one is stuck uppermost in my brain. By blogging about it I am hoping I can just move on.

If you have any other examples of bad e-networking etiquette, I’d love to hear about them. The rules for e-Networking are still evolving. Those of us who are on the forefront have a great opportunity to lead by example.
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