Google+ The Marketing Survivalist: April 2013

Should I hire a marketer within my industry?

Like all really interesting questions, there is no one right answer to this question. There are lots of opinions, though, and I’m happy to share mine. (As always!)

The first inclination of marketing managers is to hire within their industry. After all, it significantly decreases the learning curve. When the role is one where knowledge of the product or market is critical, e.g., product management, it makes sense to look within the industry.

However, for most other roles, there’s a strong case to be made for looking outside your industry.

The downside of in-industry hires
In my experience, employees hired away from a competitor rarely live up to expectations. It’s not so much the fault of the employee as it is the tendency to assume that the competitor is so much better than we are. One organization I worked with was prone to hiring competitors.  The employees had a standing joke about the superman cape new employees got to wear for all of about three months before it got handed off to the next “awesome hire.”

You should also consider whether marketers forged in your industry have the breadth of skills you need to help you innovate and not just imitate.

For example, a lot of B2B marketing companies are truly horrible at social media marketing. Better to get ahead of that curve while there’s still time. You might consider hiring an employee from the B2C world. Marketers (of any age) with consumer brand experience are often much better with social media.

If you’re not sure this is the right approach, consider hiring a freelancer to put together a social media plan for you. (Sorry, but my experience is strictly B2B.)

A case in point
Before I started freelancing, my entire career was spent working in the software industry. Granted, I held positions that touched on a lot of different industries, but it was all software, all the time.

I got my start in freelancing when an agency working with clients in the energy sector recognized they needed someone comfortable with working with highly technical people. Someone who could quickly pick up on the jargon. Someone not easily intimidated.  Someone not afraid to ask questions.

A marketer from that industry would be too easily led by the subject matter experts (SMEs) because their experiences would be the same. They’d be too busy bonding over things they agreed on to come up with anything new. They’d be too busy using the same buzzwords to notice it wasn’t the same language used by their target audience - utility executives.

My relative inexperience in the industry gave me the leeway I needed to ask the “stupid questions” that got the subject matter experts rethinking their own assumptions. That two-week project turned into almost four years of work, and the relationship is still going strong.

Have you hired someone from outside your industry that turned out to be just what you needed? Or do you firmly believe that industry experience is a must have?
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How Can I Convince My Boss That My Qualified Lead Quota is Too High?

Let me paraphrase an email I got last night from a young marketer:

I recently joined a company as a sales development specialist, and I have a quota for developing qualified leads set by the marketing director and marketing VP. This month I need to generate 45, next month 50, and the month after 60. 

From everything I have researched and every marketing and sales director I've talked to, it’s not possible for one person to generate this many qualified leads. Can you tell me the same thing so I can convince my management that my quota is unattainable?

First of all, I feel for this guy. We’ve all been there. New to a company. Eager to succeed. Facing a daunting quota.

But that’s about where my compassion ends.

For all I know, his quota may be unattainable, but I certainly can’t tell him that.  First of all, I don’t have nearly enough information. But more than that, I’d just be contributing to his problem.

My guess is that those other sales and marketing directors he spoke to thought they were being kind. Unfortunately for him, they are making bad situation worse by agreeing with him. “Yes, your quota is too high, and you’ll never hit it.”

What a way to mentor a junior marketer!

My advice to him was to swallow his complaints. They will come across as whining, and that is never a good way to start out your career or a new role at a company.

Then go to your marketing director and marketing VP (or your own manager if you don’t report directly to either of these two people) and ask for their help in putting together a plan that will help you achieve the goal. You’ll be showing initiative and a desire to succeed.

If they are worth their salt, they’ll have some ideas for how you can get there. You’ll also get a feel for how they arrived at that number. It’s actually a good sign that you have a quota for qualified leads. It means marketing management is paying at least some attention to what works.

It’s a simplistic answer, but given the lack of information, it’s the best I could do. It’s a whole lot better approach than the path he was headed down!

Please add your comments! How would you have advised this young man?
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The Race is On! - Google+ vs Facebook Business Pages

Now that Google+ has opened pages up to businesses and brands, I’ve set up my business page for The Marketing Survivalist. Since I just got around to setting up my business page on Facebook last week, this should be an interesting test to see which page gains more traction.  

My Facebook page has a head start because I have more contacts on Facebook, and I already have a few posts. However, I’m still betting on Google+. Given the importance of Google’s search engine, Google+ is already mainstream in a lot of circles. (no pun intended) If you’re a marketer, especially a freelancer like me, you’d be nuts not to be on Google+. If nothing else, you need to be keeping an eye on it.

I’m really just beginning to explore Google+ but one of the things I really like is the groups. It seems similar to LinkedIn, another favorite site of mine, because it provides a platform for discussions with people with similar interests. I don’t think facebook has anything similar or at least not as sophisticated.

The one drawback to Google+ I’ve found so far is that you don’t have the ability to customize your url – yet. According to everything I’ve heard, they’re working on it though.

I invite you to visit my page, plus if you have your own business page on either Facebook or Google+, let us know about it. And be sure to let us know which horse you’re betting on!

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5 Ways to Know Thy Customer

As a former product manager, I love working with clients who want to understand their customers better before they put together messaging and develop a content program.

Here are 5 ways to get closer to your customers. The more methods you use, the more your messaging and content will resonate.

#1 Talk to your customer-facing employees
This could be sales, consulting, or customer service, and it’s a logical place to start. After all, these are the folks who spend the most time with your customers.

However, these discussions only form a foundation for your research, and they carry some inherent flaws.

Feedback from sales is often based on the last deal they lost, and that “one missing feature” becomes the most important issue – until they lose the next deal. Of course, it may not be a missing feature. Almost every salesperson I’ve ever worked with thinks they have a pricing problem.

On the other hand, customer service conversations are almost always focused on product problems. While your customers are clamoring for new features, customer service wants to make the product “bulletproof.” Feedback from customer service is essential, but it should be treated as one data point. Unless you have critical customer satisfaction issues, it should share roughly equal weight with feedback from other roles, despite what customer service may tell you.

Since consulting is measured on billable hours, most companies don’t involve them in direct customer negotiations. They may be asked to give an estimate of their time, but then they lose sight of the project until it shows up on their schedule. Needless to say, they don’t spend a lot of time thinking of ways the product could be improved if it can impact their hours.

#2 Site visits
There is nothing like getting out to a customer’s site. Sometimes it’s to study the way they use your product, but at other times, it’s helpful to put the product aside and study how they do business. Marketing can and should participate in ride-alongs with sales, but you can also gain unique insights by leaving the salesperson at home.

#3 Focus Groups
These are helpful if you want to study a particular aspect of an issue. You might gather a group of customers (or even non-customers) to better understand industry trends, daily challenges, their biggest concerns, or their plans for the future.

A few quick tips on conducting focus groups:
  • If your market isn’t local, a great time to conduct a focus group is at an event or tradeshow.
  • Be prepared to offer an incentive such as a $50 or $100 gift card to an establishment like Amazon or Best Buy.
  • For a good discussion that involves everyone, 10 - 12 participants is optimal.
  • Make sure you get enough people signed up so that you cover the attrition. Like all events, only 75-80 percent will show up, even with the incentive.
  • As tempting as it is to capture comments, you’ll get better responses if you do not record the discussions. Hiring a court reporter is an excellent option as they can capture the discussion without recording client names.

#4 Surveys
With tools like Survey Monkey, online surveys are incredibly easy to do. If you have several departments who share customer contacts, you need to be careful about over-surveying customers, but other than that potential pitfall, I don’t understand why any company wouldn’t do them on a regular basis.

Surveys also make a great follow up to a focus group when you want quantitative data to go with your qualitative responses. In addition, the focus group will give you the foundation you need to ask better survey questions.

Quick survey tips:
  • An incentive such as a $5 - 10 Amazon gift card helps overcome survey fatigue. It can be higher, but thanks to ebooks, $5 Amazon cards are much more acceptable these days.
  • Have several people test your survey. This will help you uncover common pitfalls such as missing answer options or poorly worded questions. It’s even better if you have a customer or two review the survey.

#5 Win/Loss reviews
Remember when I mentioned that sales almost always thinks they have a pricing issue? Win/loss reviews can help you prove or disprove that claim.

Quick win/loss review tips:
  • Choose both losses and wins. You'd be surprised how often sales doesn't have a clear idea of why they won certain opportunities. 
  • Pick recent sales. Anything older than two or three months and your contacts may not remember why they they made certain decisions.
  • Sales can sometimes be helpful in providing contacts, but for obvious reasons, they should not be the ones making the calls.
  • Some companies have management make the calls, but I find that customers are often intimidated by calls from management. Even if the rapport with the salesperson was not good, they may be reluctant to provide honest feedback if they think they are getting them into hot water.
  • I've often found that product managers make the best internal resource for making these calls. If you’re not confident that your PMs can gather the info or that they have time for the project, invest in an outside resource.
  • Try to get multiple contacts per customer, but don’t interview them together. In complex B2B sales, there is usually more than one buyer and usually more than one opinion on why the purchase decision ended up the way it did.

Obviously, site visits and talking to sales are something that need to be done “in-house” but focus groups, surveys, and win/loss reviews usually benefit from some outside involvement. If you’d like to discuss how you can make these happen, reach out to me here.

For those of you who already have programs in place, what’s working for you? Any lessons earned over the years that can help others who are just getting started?

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The Marketing Survivalist on Facebook

My social sites are the perfect example of the cobbler’s kids – always the last to get shoes. I imagine a lot of freelancers are like that. If we’re worth our salt, we’re so busy creating for others that we have little time (or need) to work on our own presence.

I finally decided I really should have a Facebook business page. If nothing else, it allows me to keep my personal page personal. Although I’m not overly reserved – nor a candidate for Writer’s Gone Wild - I’m often hesitant to connect with clients on the same site I use to connect with old friends. My clients are global. Do they really want to know about my kid’s latest track meet or my latest neighborhood project?

Plus a Facebook business page allows me to reach out to potential clients in new ways. Always a plus.

Anyway, stop on by, and let me know what you think – TheMarketing Survivalist on Facebook.
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