Your best brand storyteller? Ask the expert!

Your business might be telling an exciting, captivating and helpful story… but is the right person telling it?

 

Successful companies already know that people buy people.  In my experience, professional buyers seeking product and service solutions will look at the people providing it and make subjective decisions based on how assured they are by the specialism and specialist knowledge they exhibit.

Specialist knowledge comes from an in-depth understanding only built up from previous experience of facing up to and conquering similar challenges.

So, thinking about how businesses marketers brand their companies in a bid to commercialise their offering, isn’t it a good idea to actually put that brand offer in the hands of the people who have created it? The people who are best placed to build strong credibility because of their inherent capability?

There is a commercial benefit to going down this route too; experts with highly prized knowledge can demonstrate value and attract a potential premium.

USE YOUR expert

But who is the real expert in your business? Who’s expertise brings in the money?

Many company owners know where the revenue sits, and who creates the products and services that are successfully monetised. Yet many companies keep these people at arm’s length from customers and clients.

I wonder why.

  • Is it because they are somehow not competent or not credible with customers?
  • Is it that we don’t trust them to stick to the script? 
  • Is it that we would rather they focus on the solutions despite the fact those solutions are best informed by direct customer feedback?

The reality is that the model most companies use to manage customer relationships is broken and the experience we are delivering is actually risking the relationship long term.

Fine margins

Long term success in the modern consultative sell means understanding that many B2B buying decisions often come down to fine margins. Whilst, the primary driver may well be for products that deliver improvement, save time, reduce waste, use sustainable materials and more, the value add and interpersonal chemistry matter.

There has been a strong track record of companies using key people in their marketing (as heroes) and this, depending on the type of company you are, can be a real winner. Prominent examples in the UK include Boeing, Halifax and B&Q.  

A little bit more contact with the ‘brains’ of your operation is increasingly being seen as a more viable option to to the usual Chinese walls created by armies of call centre workers, field sales representatives, account handlers and other people designed to help traffic process.

Replace selling with serving

My advice: Be daring and place the experts in your business in a position to engage in customer dialogue. Adopt a model where you tap into their expertise and begin to demonstrate the value you profess to bring by replacing selling with serving.

And, for your next marketing campaign, regardless of whether you are setting acquisition, retention or engagement KPIs, think about what is going to resonate most with the audience you’re targeting.

Think about telling stories. Think about having your people who do amazing things day in day out, bring that story to life – and in doing so, begin to place them right at the heart of the narrative.

**Also, check out this post on watering holes and establishing where your customers hang out.**

Image: Ollie Heath

 

 

Watering holes

Do you know where your customers hang out and what keeps them awake at night?

One of the phrases I use the most when I’m consulting, training or speaking is “watering hole”.

For me, watering holes are one of the most important, yet frequently overlooked elements of any marketing or content marketing program.

Watering holes are the places online and off-line where our customers, prospects and influencers go to satisfy a number of needs.

It might be where they reside, hangout, go for advice, information, ask questions, seek conversation, engage in dialogue, and look for anything from reassurance, help, support or guidance.

Not just for PR

For the most part, it has been savvy PR consultants and agents looking to carefully place PR in front of the right people that have been the most successful at identifying watering holes. Watering holes have tended to be sector press, business press, industry and member associations, websites, conferences and exhibitions, online groups and forums to name a few.

Good publicity and public relations will, however, only get you so far.

Increasingly, working your way into the watering hole, being accepted by the community there and putting credit in the bank is less about disrupting the conversations already taking place.

Nobody likes the loud, self absorbed person at a party. With conversations and discussions already taking place between people who have given permission and earned the right to do so, arriving and seeking to divert attention is just plain rude.

People, especially Brits, are generally suspicious of companies and their motives in communities. Just think about ‘the rules’ prescribed by Linkedin group owners to prevent spamming. Brand owners need to take the time to study and listen to what is going on before ploughing in.

Lead with your experts

Participating in community discussion and becoming one of the trusted counsellors can be a challenge for companies where sales and marketing professionals represent the company publicly. For this reason I think it is better to use your experts.

Think about it. Every company has them. Positioning on expertise and being able to discuss and solve customer problems is the ethos that underpins the modern explosion in ‘content marketing’. Only experts have the credibility to achieve this, as people (not brands) solve problems.

The best way, I think, to join any watering hole community is to first listen, ask questions, offer advice, offer recommendations across the community and build a facilitator profile.

Don’t ever try to sell straight away. Trust always comes before transaction.

[More on marketing with expertise to follow...]

 

On commitment and habits…

In my first post of 2015 I talked about the tangible differences between resolutions, goals and objectives. Hopefully, you’re sticking with whatever you set out to achieve. Hopefully, you’re committing.

Commitment is the secret sauce in achieving success. Commitment is the way we can turn a hope or a desire into a regular habit.

If you’re lucky (or unlucky) enough to follow me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook you’ll know that I have created my own 30 day “run 5k every day” challenge for this month.

This goal has been deliberately conceived to exercise every day, achieve a distance over the course of a month and force myself to get out and achieve it.

And, very publicly committing myself to this very specific goal is having an incredible effect on my efforts to achieve it. I’m getting engagement from people close to me as well as people far removed.

It is forcing me to lace up and run when I really don’t feel like it in the knowledge that I will need to be posting the update later in the day. I’ve also gone from doing little running in the previous two months to completing a minimum of 35k a week.

I’m using the brilliant and free Nike+ app for iPhone which tracks my achievement over time. I’m able to see and share incremental increases. 

The data tracks my commitment and the improvement over time acts as a terrific incentive and what this has shown me is the importance of setting daily targets.

What is clear from this experiment is that only by doing something on a daily basis can it become a habit – and when you extrapolate forward, this can help transform bad habits become good habits.

This is a personal account. But it’s relevant at a time of year when there is lot of the talk about New Year’s resolutions and how we are often setting ourselves up to fail.

One of the biggest barriers to achieving goals in life – whether it is conquering the fear of writing the first book, keeping a blog going, hitting the stage, starting up a business or any other type of the stressful situation – is keeping it to yourself.

By sharing and asking for help, asking for feedback, drawing on your friends and family and support network to help you, you’re much more likely to set out on a path to success.

How can you start making big changes by taking small daily steps?

What does it take to be ‘better’ than last year?

There are a number of seasoned business and marketing experts making money out of positioning themselves to help us have a better year than last year.

Selling products and services to help us upgrade challenging and unrealistic resolutions we’ve already failed at to more quantifiable objectives – and those objectives to action oriented goals.

Working through their processes will provide, they say, more meaning and more focus and allow us to really concentrate on small steps that get us closer to bigger achievements.

I had planned to write my own first post of 2015 on how I go about it. I still might, but the point to observe in most advice about goal setting is that it often fails to address two elements. Specificity and commitment.

Any plan needs to be have a long term win, a detailed approach and an understanding of the commitment required to achieve it.

All this is backed up by current published research I read from Forbes.com and the University of Scranton which suggests 92% of New Year’s resolutions fail.

So, what does it take to better than last year?

Most new year plans cover areas like work, personal finance and health. So, consider these scenarios:

1. You want to deliver A SET AMOUNT OF new business to your company.

There are lots of ways to start. Create more engaging content and serve it up to people where they want it. Set up more landing pages to secure their contact details and to start a conversation. Run pay per click campaigns with time sensitive offers. Speak at events and again make exclusive offers.

But starting isn’t enough. What do these new customers look like? Where are they? What are they in the business of? What problems do they have? Why should they buy from you? What is it going to take to convince them to give you a shot?

Winning new clients takes diligence and commitment to that fixed end point ensuring every task you undertake along the way gets you closer to where you want to be.

2. You want a new job.

You could register with recruitment agents. Apply for positions you see advertised. Ask your connections for referrals.

But that will only get you so far too. Think about what you enjoy, what you’re good at, what you have demonstrable experience in and look to match. Identify companies you want to work for and approach them.

Remember, your honed and relevant CV sent direct offers a 20% saving in recruitment fees to the potential hirer and could well get you through the door.

3. You want to lose weight this year.

Joining the gym is one way. Going regularly is another. You could go further by disrupting your training by doing different things every day. Stepping away from the biscuit tin or the liquor shelf another.

So when setting goals for the long term, think through the incremental steps, the why, when and how? Break your progress down into achievable steps.

Being better than last year means taking a leap of faith today, and everyday. It starts right here, right now. Are you with me?

Two new b2b marketing webinars

The Marketing Assassin blog needs some love. And it’s coming. But right now, I’ve got a couple of new webinars coming up 19th and 20th November that I wanted to share with you.

Webinar’s are a great way to get a message out to a hard to reach and diverse group as well as being an enduring content asset. I’ve been using them with great success through 2014.

19th November, 2014: (12:00 GMT and on demand afterwards) Six ways to turbocharge your b2b marketing.

Are you looking to raise profile, create traffic or drive engagement? In this free webinar in conjunction with Dave Chaffey and SmartInsights, I’m going to reveal, using examples, how to apply six of the critical elements of the modern B2B marketing toolkit. Secure your place here.

20th November, 2014: (16:00 GMT and on demand afterwards) The Advocate Factor – Ensuring your customers become your best salespeople in b2b.

In this all new webinar, I’ll be talking about how to build sector leading customer advocacy programmes in the b2b sector, exploring do’s and don’ts and shining a light on best practice. Webinar attendees will leave equipped with a stepped process to creating their own customer advocacy programmes. Book your free spot here.

If you’re joining one or both of these free sessions, use the comment function below to ask questions in advance.

Ten ways specialist European b2b companies are winning with content

I’m delighted to report that I’m preparing the next (of several webinars) that I’m going to be giving on the BrightTalk channel in August and September, 2014.

Coming up as part of a day long content marketing summit on Wednesday 13th August, I’ll be talking at 2pm GMT on the thorny issue of content marketing in b2b.

To me there is no doubt that the most pressing imperative facing modern marketers is engaging the business as a whole in the practice of marketing. Businesses trade in expertise which is locked in people that are not always customer facing.

People ultimately buy people. This webinar sheds light on how to use content to build a robust customer focused marketing platform – that itself positions your experts right at the forefront.

In this webinar, that will run live and be available for on demand viewing afterwards, I’ll be looking at how ten major European b2b businesses have successfully traded in expertise. I’ll take you through what they did and how their experience can be applied to your business.

Spoiler: These b2b companies aren’t the usual b2c-b2b hybrid or b2b service companies. These are nuts and bolts, engineering, building and manufacturing companies that need to use content marketing to tell a benefit story before selling a functional product.

I hope you can join me. Registration is open here. If you have questions or observations on what you would like covered in the webinar, leave a comment on this blog post.

Is your marketing like a World Cup penalty shoot out?

The world has been gripped by the spectacle of Fifa’s World Cup 2014 taking place in Brazil over recent weeks. As we enter the knock out stages of the competition, months of meticulous preparation for most of the remaining teams will actually come down to successfully navigating a football past a goalkeeper from twelve yards.

But it’s ok, isn’t it? After all, every guy picked to the squad is there because he is one of the best footballers from his country. Kicking a ball into a 8 x 24ft net should be a piece of cake for all of them.

Some players thrive in high pressure situations like this. Most, however, don’t. [Some teams and their coaches even see the randomness of a penalty shoot out as their best opportunity to progress.]

Planning replaced by randomness

The planning, strategy, tactics and playbook that got the team out of the group, through 120 minutes of football have, at this point gone out of the window. They have been replaced by the lottery of a penalty shoot out and a game of focus and nerve.

If this poorly played out metaphor resonates with you, maybe it is because you see a similar trend in your business marketing. Surrendering to randomness is a dangerous play at the World Cup, and so to in a business environment too. Why would you not do everything in your power to try and keep control of your own destiny?

Avoid an early exit with your potential customers by considering the following five steps:

  • Kick off – did you spend all that time planning, researching, drawing up plans, working out how to implement them to then not understand what success ultimately looks like for you? Have a very clear visual picture of what your success is going to look like. How does it taste, feel, sound, look? Qualify what success looks like with numbers that matter.
  • Putting your best foot forward – play to your strengths rather than worrying about the opposition [read competition]. If you spend all your time monitoring, analysing, obsessing over and reacting to them, you won’t achieve anything. Maybe, you can even give them a few things to think about. (Isn’t the best defence, offence?)


  • Playing for penalties – leaving things to chance by not making the most of your available resources means you won’t do your best work and won’t impact the people you want to influence most. Conversely, diligently executing a goal based plan increases the likelihood of that plan being successful.
  • Dealing with the fear factor – the human body deals with fear and stress with very recognisable physical conditions. Stepping up to take a penalty is a lot like making that difficult call or getting ready to make that important presentation. Take the sting out of it by keeping in mind all the successes you’ve had to this point, remember you’re an expert and how they played out.
  • Remember, you’ll miss some time – realise that you won’t hit the mark every time. Come back stronger. Ascertain why you missed and make sure you don’t miss again, for the same reason. Incidentally, missing over and over is fine as long as you continually learn. You might even get to a position where you never end up in another sudden death penalty shoot out!

In reality, you don’t want to leave your marketing to any kind of lottery, luck or chance. The analogy of the penalty shoot out is that of a randomised last chance saloon. Sure, some players are naturally very good at penalties, but you don’t really want to be relying on a single punt to assure you of success.

Better to plan carefully, construct messages and design products that solve problems and make customers lives better, more productive and less wastefully. Communicate value, offer education and information willingly. Plan to succeed. Avoid the lottery.

Have your say on the blog; A gratuitous topical mixed metaphor. Or a blog post with a message? 

New speaking event: Content marketing for SMEs

Thrilled to announce the first of several speaking events, where I’ll be previewing some new material.

Tues 15th April, 2014: 5:30 – 8.00pm

In conjunction with One Circle Communications, I’ll be taking up residence at Virgin Lounge, 92 King Street, Manchester to discuss Cost (and Time) Effective Content Marketing for SME’s.

Limited ticket availability. Booking link here.

Customers have got wise to interruption product led promotion. They don’t want to be sold to. They have problems that need resolving. All the experts say using content to position yourself as a problem solver for customers is the new best way to market. But with time, budget and resource limitations, how can you hope to do this effectively?

This event is ideal for small business owners, soloprenuers and those looking to build an effective business online using the latest digital marketing techniques.

I’ll take you through a number of ways to build profile, influence and reach online using some very specific and often overlooked tools and tricks.
It’s a capped event so book early to avoid missing out.

 

An A-Z of B2B marketing: B stands for… Budget

I’ve selected Budget as the B in my A-Z of B2B Marketing because financial implications have a much more heightened significance in B2B than B2C. This, I think, is for a number of reasons:

  1. B2B brands are often built on credibility rather than more emotional bonds
  2. B2B activity is usually less brand related and more lead generation and nurture focused
  3. B2B customers can’t easily be reached by advertising any more
  4. Budgets (outside technology and financial) are commonly considerably smaller in B2B.

From experience, I think the B2B sales pipeline requires a more integrated mix that blends PR, advertising, direct marketing, events, training, sales and distributor support and increasing consideration for customer experience online.

You don’t see B2B brands taking out pages in the weekend supplements, prime time commercial radio slots, splashes on the Yahoo! home page or half time Super Bowl or Oscars advertising for a reason. [As an aside, did you know that a 30-second spot in the Super Bowl was a cool $4m, with the Oscars priced at $1.8m]. That’s an awful lot of brand awareness.

Budget matters in B2B because we need to see conversion and a steady movement towards conversion in increasingly niche clusters of customers.  This in part explains to rise to dominance of Google in analytics – and the myriad of companies offering the same or similar in the area of analytics, web traffic tracking and conversion.

 

Managing a marketing budget and investing in the right activities, tools and technologies is one of the biggest challenges facing the modern B2B marketer. There are lots of ways to dump budget fast – that’s probably why big ticket items like advertising campaigns and trade shows are the first to go when budgets get cut.

You can make it easier for yourself if your business has a clear picture of

  1. Who your audience is
  2. Understanding their points of pain
  3. Understanding how what you offer resolves pain
  4. Understanding where they hang out and how to reach them

Try assessing your marketing spend in a way that fits more agreeably with how the boardroom plan for the business. Instead of a long shopping list of linked activities, try mapping spend across the following parameters. See if you are promoting the best bits of your offer to the right people by comparing where and how you currently invest.

Increasingly, marketers are mapping spend to retention, acquisition using simplified models like this:

  • 60% – Investing in service and expertise that adds value, retains and grows business with existing customers.
  • 30% – Investing in promotion to support new business customer acquisition goals (relative to the growth objectives in this area)
  • 10% – Risk taking: investing in new technologies, a new customer segment or geographical market. This is your safe playground to try different things. This spend is mapped out and ring fenced.

Anyway you look at it, whether you take a simplified or complicated view, money matters in when it comes to B2B marketing. And that puts budget at the heart of your strategy.

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What B2B marketing leaders think about brand, performance, team and personal reputation

This post originally appeared on the BDB blog but has been edited for the Marketing Assassin site.

The latest B2B Leaders report published by B2B Marketing at the end of 2013 provides some useful insights into the thoughts of senior marketers and their views on brand, performance, team and personal reputation management.

The B2B Leaders report, an online survey of 100 marketing leaders, involved marketing directors, heads of marketing and marketing with an average 15 years experience, reporting into board or leadership teams and controlling £188m of accumulated marketing spend.

Headline takeaways

1. Brand

Responding to questions around how they rate their rate their brand relative to the competition, 80% thought their organisational brand is clearly defined and 72% thought it was clearly differentiated from competitors. That said, less than 50% thought marketing gets the resource it needs

It seems brand is recognised as critical to long term business success from this survey. There are concerns about the support required to implement meaningful marketing though with more than half querying the resource and budget commitment.

2. Performance

Getting an uplift in budget means come delivering a tangible return. At the opposite ends of the spectrum, 6% said they could judge ROI all of the time and only 17% said rarely. So must could measure something.

But to be better respected, B2B marketers need to become more adept and more proficient in setting goal based objectives for every single activity and in evaluating achievement with appropriate tools.

3. Team

Commenting on how they ensure their team was comprised with the right set of skills, 79% of respondents said their team had skills gaps, but only 26% said all the team had a structured development training programme in place.

If marketers are not making time for training in the latest advances in marketing best practice, creativity and technology it is perhaps no surprise that teams are ill-equipped to master modern marketing. This then has an obvious knock-on effect to performance and marketing ROI.

4. Personal reputation 

Assessing their own personal reputation, 93% admitted they saw room for personal improvement.

Good B2B marketing leaders acknowledge areas for development of their teams and themselves, and recognise the importance of spending time on maximising harmony within teams towards the achievement of common goals. Reading between the lines, it’s undeniable that the skills and attributes of a modern B2B marketing leader are evolving, with facilitation, influencing and collaboration becoming ever more important.

Summary

As B2B Marketing editor-in-chief Joel Harrison comments, a perfect storm of the “post credit crunch economic strife of the last five years” coupled with a rising tide of technological advances and a need to return to true customer centric positioning has driven significant organisational change. This arguable affects the marketing function as much as any other area.

Understanding your operating environment, your customers and your ability to service them efficiently, profitably and knowledgably remain the underlying and enduring marketing challenges most businesses face.

Is this reflected in your business? How do you tackle some of the issues posed in this research?