For a recent Forrester report on the B2B digital transformation, the team interviewed senior execs from global corporation giants GE, IBM and Cisco Systems. The report highlights key themes arising from the move to align sales teams with the new reality of the digital world.
Why B2B Digital Transformation?
B2B digital transformation is driven from the buyer’s side as companies seek to attract digital buyers. Previous articles suggest that the root cause of sales and marketing misalignment is a lack of understanding of the buyer. Some practitioners explain that closer alignment between sales and marketing could even shorten sales cycles.
Therefore, global leaders like GE, Cisco and IBM have taken steps to reevaluate sales and marketing strategies and to enable new ways of empowering direct sales teams. Part of the reevaluation is a digital transformation. According to the Forrester report, key areas of best practices are experimentation, collaboration and innovation. Similar practices apply to any change management programme including social media and technology adoption.
In this blog post, I will summarise the three case studies: GE, Cisco and IBM to draw out key insights.
Cisco: B2B Digital Transformation through Collaborative Innovation
Cisco aims to tie innovation to business outcomes and to de-fragment pockets of innovation throughout the business. The goals are:
- Meet customers where they are
- Reach new markets more efficiently
- Give sales teams more time for actual selling activities
Focusing on innovation and collaboration, Cisco executed its B2B digital transformation as follows:
- They built and piloted new tools, managing the innovation from incubation to scale. The new tools were based on increased efficiency and higher quality interactions with potential and existing buyers.
- They established collaboration and shared goals between sales and marketing. For instance, they paired marketing’s sentiment data with sales data. These create insights that tie to opportunities for the organisation.
GE: B2B Digital Transformation through Centralised Innovation
GE is a complex, matrix organisation with several products being sold across different divisions. Therefore, the emphasis for the industrial giant are:
- Centralise new technologies
- Form new collaboration partnerships across the divisions
- Reduce sales cycles by 50%
Some of the positive benefits of executing the initiative were that:
- Centralising enables scaling of technology. For instance, it allows the reuse and recycling of successful tools and processes. It also provides a 360 degree view of interactions at all levels across the organisation, hence increasing collaboration on opportunities.
- Collaboration enables sales to respond to customers 50% faster. For instance, GE built an app to reduce time that sales teams spend addressing forecast questions. Salespeople can input information on the fly through voice text solutions. Overall, GE’s sales teams are spending more time on customer-facing selling activities.
IBM: B2B Digital Transformation through Data-Driven Sales Innovation
IBM saw significant incremental sales revenue from putting data scientists in sales teams rather than at corporate level. The success from leveraging data science can be attributed to:
- Making data scientists part of the sales team. The organisation developed deeper understanding of buyers due to a more scientific approach. For instance, salespeople could differentiate between a motivated buyer and a latent buyer. Also, the teams could more accurately assign sales cycles and measure the impact of new tools and tactics.
- Identify pockets of innovation in the sales team then empower salespeople who already have digital affinity to test new approaches. This drives a culture of innovation starting with early adopters.
- Seek out tools that increase efficiency in the sales team, enable more personalised engagement and provide rich buyer/seller/relationship analytics.
- Have at least one data scientist that aligns with sales.
To read the full report, contact Mary Shea, PhD or visit Forrester.com
Feature Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Guide Your Buyer’s Journey Through Inbound Content Marketing
Content marketing has become an ongoing business process and a crucial part of B2B marketing strategy according to 73% of B2B marketers.
While content creation and distribution are top factors for success, 72% of marketers agree that a strategy for development and adjustment contributes enormously to success.
In creating a strategy, you must consider your target buyer’s journey. One reason that they might not engage with your content is because you provide it at the wrong time. That is, your target buyer is not yet ready to engage with or act on the content you provide. It is crucial that you understand a typical buyer’s journey as this will guide your strategy.
The buyer’s journey was the main topic of the HubSpot Inbound Certification training that I recently did. Rich with actionable tips, the course focused on how creating the right content drives sales by being relevant to the buyer’s journey.
Now, what are the stages of a typical buyer’s journey? They are:
Stages of a Buyer’s Journey
Let’s take these in turn.
Awareness is the stage where your potential buyer identifies that they have a problem. They might sense that something isn’t right, but they are not sure what it is. At this stage, your goal as a vendor is to help the potential buyer become aware of the problem such that they can define it.
Thereafter, they might start to look for possible solutions. They will want to know how they can solve the problem. Therefore, your goal at this stage is to identify potential solutions to the identified problem.
Now that the buyer knows the problem, and has considered a range of solutions, your goal is to give them the information they need to decide which solution to go for.
Do not try to sell your products or services at the Awareness and Conversion stages. In fact, try not to mention your company at all. Your role at these stages is the role of an educator.
Let’s look at examples of the kind of content you could create at each stage.
At the Awareness stage
Share content that outline best practice for instance, The Ultimate Guide to Writing Persuasive Landing Page Copy. This gives the target customer an overview of what an ideal landing page copy looks like. They then realise how they might not have been following best practices and hence, not getting optimal result. In this example, the target customer probably knows that their landing pages aren’t great but doesn’t know what they are doing wrong. Your Ultimate Guide helps to identify the problem.
At the Conversion stage
Your target buyer is looking for ideas to solve their problem. Let’s say the buyer has identified that they are struggling to generate content within their engineering business. They might come across 12 Engaging Content Ideas for Engineering Companies, which is packed with ideas for content formats that they could implement in their business. You offer solutions to an already identified problem.
At the Decision stage
The possible solutions are known but your target buyer is comparing options to decide. Testimonials, case studies and price comparison content are ideal at this stage of the buyer’s journey. A case study about how employee advocacy worked well in a technical setting might be the key to deciding to go with the vendor that implemented the programme or delivered the tools. Absolutely write about your business’ products and services.
You can also offer free trials and consultative meetings. Do you see how the awareness and conversion stages might not be the right time to offer these? I’d love to know your thoughts and experiences. Comment below 🙂
Photo by Freddy Castro on Unsplash
This blog is written by Gillian Thomson, Director of GT Limited. With a background in engineering and almost 20 years’ experience across a variety of industries, Gillian helps businesses to get the best out of their people. She specialises in leadership development, team effectiveness, conflict resolution and HR strategy & support. You can get in touch with Gillian by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @GTLimitedUK on Twitter
Leadership and the magic weekend
Whilst not unique to technology industries, the “magic weekend” is a phenomenon that’s common in this field. Excellent technical specialists are promoted to positions of leadership because they are great at being technical specialists. Not necessarily because they have great leadership skills. On Friday, you are part of the team. Then by Monday, you are leading it. You often get very little support for the transition, and are just expected to know how to deal with all the challenges that come with being a leader. This can be even more difficult when you are friends with the people you are now responsible for leading. So how can you ease the transition and become the leader you know you can be?
Get to know your team
You may think you already know your team, especially if you were peers before now. But do you really know them? Take time to understand their aspirations, their strengths, what they need support with, what they are looking for from you as their leader. Consider using a tool such as Emergenetics® to understand thinking and behaviour preferences and help the team work more effectively together.
One of the hardest challenges for new managers is letting go of the detail. They need to delegate that to others, trusting others to do the work that you consider yourself the expert in. Be clear on the desired outcome, but allow the team to get there in their own way. It may be different to yours, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong! I often use a tool called ‘setting the waterline’. Consider if you were the captain of a ship. If the ship’s engineer discovered a hole the size of a penny at the top of the hull above the waterline, and he was perfectly capable of fixing it. There’s really no need for you be involved. If, on the other hand he discovered a hole that was letting in gallons of sea water under the water line, then you probably need to know. Talk to your team about where your waterlines are. What are the things they can just get on and do, what are the things that you really need to be involved in?
What do you think? How does success look like? Which barriers do you see right now? What would you do next if time/resources/money were not a constraint? The questions you can ask as a leader are limitless. Effective questions unlock the potential of our people. Allow them to figure out the answer’s themselves and give them confidence that they can deal with new situations that they face. Be careful of “Why” questions such as “Why did you do it like that?” as they can come across as judgemental. Don’t feel like you always have to have the answer.
Learn to Listen
Effective listening is one of this most important skills a leader can have. Usually we’re not actively listening, but waiting for our chance to speak and thinking about what we’re going to say next. Or mulling over that important email that came in just before you sat down for a catch up with your team member. Take the time to properly listen when you are having conversations with your team
Give feedback well
Giving effective feedback is an art. And all too often leaders save it up for the end of year appraisal when it is overwhelming and the individual will likely only focus on the 1 negative thing you told them, and not the 20 great things. Give feedback (both positive and constructive) in the moment, as soon as possible after the event. Be specific about the situation or the behaviour, make it future focused and make it factual – avoid assumptions
Managing conflict and difficult conversations are the top two things that leaders say they find difficult to do, according to research from the CIPD. But we need conflict and disagreement to drive innovation and creativity within the team. As leaders, it’s important that we know how to manage conflict constructively. Invest some time in learning these skills and you’ll reap the dividends, not just with your team and potentially across all areas of your life!
This blog post is by Annika Rautakoura, Content Manager at Smarp. Smarp provides an employee communication, advocacy and engagement tool for building influence and engaging employees through content.
With digital and social media mowing the content landscape, content marketing has become the core of building up brand awareness and an online presence that drives business. The importance of content marketing has not gone unnoticed. Currently, 73% of B2B marketers include a plan to operate content marketing as an ongoing business process. It is not simply a campaign (Content Marketing Institute). The focus of content marketing investments have shifted from just content production to content promotion. It’s a combination of these both that ultimately determines the success of content efforts.
What is content marketing?
Content marketing is a long-term strategy based on building a strong relationship with your target audience by giving them high quality content relevant to them on a consistent basis. “Eventually, when customers make a purchase decision, their loyalty already lies with you. And they will purchase your product and prefer it over competitors’ products”, says Neil Patel. Why is this? Let’s look at some of the reasons.
Content is a way to increase brand awareness by building a voice and authority online. It’s about creating an image of honesty and expertise in your respective field. How does this happen? Certainly not overnight. It takes consistency; being accurate and not misleading your audience. Posting on a regular basis keeps you visible to your audience, and posting consistently helps your audience form habits around the consumption of your content. In other words, audiences can expect you to provide certain types of content in a timely fashion. Trust also calls for grabbing the attention of your audience in the right way. You can do this by encouraging employees to participate in content production, connecting with the right influencers and giving shout-outs to brands and people with engaged audiences. When audiences spot your content through familiar or influential people, they are more likely to take that next step towards purchasing.
Content marketing is a way to start discussions around topics that are important for your business and attract the interest of people and organisations tackling with issues your services can provide solutions to. Researching your audience and targeting this audience based on what they’re looking for is the key to get leads. By having the right lead qualification processes in place and having different types of content to provide for leads at different stages of the purchase funnel, you can turn your leads into business. A well-established content strategy means that you need to work less to find leads, when leads will find you through the content path that you have laid out.
You can measure and adjust
Not investing in the right technology and tracking system for managing and measuring the performance of your content marketing efforts is like trying to hit a moving target in the dark. There is little point in producing or sharing content with no means to adjust any setbacks or build on successes. Here are some tips on with content. Tip: focusing on conversions is valuable for witnessing the actual effects of your content, i.e. action taken after consuming it, whether this means subscribing to a newsletter or downloading an e-book.
Boosting thought leadership through content marketing
Investing in content marketing supports your efforts to get messages across to your target audience. You can also build up a brand image through stories that provide readers with something they can relate to. Content that showcases the company’s achievements. For instance, case studies and user testimonials focused on the client are valuable for highlighting the results of your business. Content that brands the company as an employer allows for more personal material, such as behind-the-scenes articles. If you’re not yet convinced on the importance of employer branding, remember that your current or former employees have as much power in sharing the word about your brand.
What type of content works?
Blogging – B2B marketers with using blogs generate 67% more leads (TechClient). The amount and intensity of blog posts is dependent on resources and strategy. More is more, but quality should always be kept in mind.
Social media – A foolproof way to drive traffic to your site and the content you produce. It’s also an easy way to showcase your industry by linking to relevant third-party content that you consider to be of value to your followers. Social media efforts should always be tied to your overall content strategy, so that they have a maximum impact for your marketing goals.
Visual content is gaining in importance. The use of visual content in articles published by marketers increased by 130% between 2015 and 2016. Social media tools like Instagram and Snapchat are alive and well, and increasingly investing in features for companies. Especially in the B2B industry, people wish to see products in practice.
What’s it all about?
Everything boils down to having a strategy and executing efforts with the goals in mind that they contribute to. It’s about experimenting and learning from your efforts, doing your best to educate and attract readers, and raising their interest with your expertise.
Even in so-called boring industries, there is great content. But finding new content ideas can be a real problem for marketing teams. Particularly in engineering companies, getting fresh content often means being creative.
Photo credit: unsplash.com
For instance, any content must be technically sound and easily digestible on online platforms. But as engineers usually don’t like to create content, it is often up to the marketing person or team to do it. I have found a camera phone and a listening ear could be all you need to develop great content. Take notes as your engineer discusses his product. Record a one to two minute video about the launch of a new product feature. Ask your customer support team to answer one frequently asked question by customers and expand on it in an online blog. These are just some of the ways to generate content. Here are 12 content ideas – one a month for 2017!
1. Primary research on topical issues in your industry.
Have you done a survey? Do you have data that you could use to show preliminary findings? If confidentiality is a concern, strip out client names and anything that can identify them. Ensure your client knows they’ll have anonymity
2. Video interviews with experts.
Ask your Chief Engineer or technical expert to discuss an engineering challenge he is solving. These days, a camera phone is enough to record short, great content at work
3. Secondary research for various sources.
An article that collates multiple viewpoints could be powerful. It allows you to look outside your company for other research and perspectives on the same issue. Don’t worry if you find conflicting opinions – that’s actually a good thing. Put out thoughts for your customers to engage with and respond
4. How-to articles.
Your customers probably struggle with a gazillion things. Create an article that teaches how to do something in a step-by-step guide. Point to additional resources on your website such as a video, case study or white paper.
5. Price comparison.
Think about how grateful you are when you find a price comparison article when you are trying to make a decision on a purchase. Your customers will appreciate this too. Write an article that compares the overall costs of a technical solution across similar products. Review the cost of a bespoke solution versus off-the-shelf options, for instance.
6. Ways to complete a task.
Show your customers a number of ways to complete a complex task. Highlight the pros and cons of each approach. Link to more resources and offer to answer further questions via an email address or discussion thread.
7. Podcast series.
You can build a strong audience with a regular podcast series. People listen to podcasts at work, more so than video because they can keep working, with earphones in. It could be the same guests each time (discussing a different topic) or you could ask different people to feature each time. Consider bringing in partners, suppliers and even customers to feature
These can be downloaded from your website or made into hard copies for your customers to take away. Use e-books to provide more detailed guidance on a complex subject, product or service
9. Case studies.
Showing who else you have done work for, and the outcome is a good idea in B2B sectors such as industrial engineering and manufacturing. Case studies are one way of advertising your success on a past customer project. You can describe the situation, benefits and outcome of your solution to the customer.
10. Photo with quote.
We can’t always develop elaborate content. Photos are a good way to be brief and still have impact. They also work well across all social media channels. But photos need to be meaningful. Capture what it is like to work at your organisation. Pick a great quote from your CEO or Product Engineer and put it on a great photo. Avoid stock photos as they appear unauthentic. Take your own.
11. Article inviting opinion.
People love to be asked what they think. Write an article that raises key issues around an emerging trend or technology. Ask for opinions and other viewpoints. Then watch the magic happen.
12. Slides explaining an idea.
A slide deck is a great way to distil complex information. This style of presenting information forces you to focus on simplicity and conciseness. Use platforms like Slideshare to showcase your content or create a document that customers can download from your website. Remember to put your company logo, website and contact details. This way, your brand follows the content wherever it goes, signposting all that read it back to you.
Here are some of my favourite articles of 2016 about the likely future of marketing.
Written on the THINK Marketing IBM blog, this article discusses how analytics could give marketers deeper understanding of their customer’s path to purchase. Here’s a summary of the three steps:
- Have a clear vision of the path you are tracking
- Identify trends and key metrics, online and in-store
- Create key customer groups based on trends and data
Read the article here
This article is for CEOs but it is also for marketers who want to gain the confidence of their CEO by clarifying the role of marketing within the organisation. It is not enough for the CEO to understand the product and services. The issue of brand story is crucial too. [pb_blockquote]Is the brand story being perceived positively and accurately by customers?[/pb_blockquote] The article bursts these four myths that CEOs believe about marketing:
- Marketing is responsible for a company’s brand
- It’s not necessary for execs to be involved with social media
- Good marketing means sales leads will close by themselves
- Marketing alone can fix a damaged brand
Read the article here
One of the best pieces I read this year, this article discusses the conflict that many marketing face – the balance between being a good citizen and being a good marketer. Marketing helped create a number of societal ills ranging from debt, body image issues and even smoking. It is no wonder that consumers don’t trust advertising. Marketing lies at the bottom of the trust spectrum with politicians and civil servants. [pb_blockquote]A 2012 Adobe survey showed that 68% of people found advertising to be “annoying and distracting,” with 53% reporting “most marketing is a bunch of bullshit[/pb_blockquote] We struggle with the balance to maintain good citizenship and still be amazing at our jobs. But the future of marketing might depend on us finding this balance. The article describes a movie, Deep Impact, where the earth will be hit by an asteroid. Doctors, scientists and engineers are amongst the saved, sheltered inside a mountain but no marketers… How do we work as marketers to be one of the saved? Thought-provoking indeed. Read the article here
Inspired by the annual Stackies awards, Andrew Nguyen discusses the most common types of marketing technology stacks that companies use as part of their go-to market strategies and revenue generation. Here are four martech stacks which he outlines:
- one direction martech stack – Strictly adheres to the sales and marketing funnel e.g. awareness/discovery, lead generation, opportunities and success/advocacy
- core thinker martech stack – Revolves around a single entity e.g. the customer, content or revenue
- data flow martech stack – Focuses on the flow of data for creating analytical processes that support decision making
- tetris style stack – Resembles the one direction stack but considers that a single marketing technology spans into multiple parts of the funnel
Read the article here
Interviews with experts provide great insight. This interview with John Lilly, a partner at Greylock Partners is no exception. When asked about the lessons he learned early on in leadership, he cites simplicity and messaging. I believe this is every marketer’s goal. Make the message clear and simple. John also emphasises the need to repeat the message, “say it the same way over and over.” He gives more career advice:
- Find your tribe, identify those teams you want to be part of and build a relationship with them
- Stay close to professions that create and make things, as they are becoming increasingly powerful in our society
Read the article here
Digital technology caused a reduction in the cost of search and communication. This led to more search, more communication and more of its associated activities. This article describes a similar revolution with machine intelligence, an area that is bound to influence the future of marketing. Simply put, machine learning is prediction technology and it is likely to cause an economic shift in the cost of prediction as well as the cost of goods and services. The article makes the following predictions about the future of machine intelligence:
- Lots of tasks will be reframed as prediction problems
- Judgement will become more valuable
Read the article here
Account-based marketing has been around for a while and appears to be in the future of marketing, particularly for B2B. Those that use it swear by it, and those that don’t really should consider it. Lena Robinson of Kiwi Gray, an agency for agencies writes about the disconnect between marketing strategy and business strategy in marketing agencies.
This disconnect appears in many industries, not just in agencies. Therefore, this article is useful for any marketer or business developer that seeks to create stronger ties between business growth aspirations and marketing. This often leads to more effective, focused sales efforts.
Enter Account-based marketing (ABM). This approach to marketing requires companies to be more selective about the accounts they go after, and more deliberate. Collaboration is key, and a stronger brand reputation. This article has an extensive list of steps to make ABM work in the B2B space. A great read to begin the new year’s account planning.
Read the article here
Agile in marketing refers to using data analytics to continuously find opportunities or solutions to problems in real time. Marketing teams do this by experimenting and testing ideas, evaluating the results and pivoting as necessary. This article explains agile marketing clearly, providing a detailed step-by-step guide for marketing teams. In summary, the article outlines these steps for how an agile marketing team works:
- Aligns with leadership
- Sets team expectations
- Analyses the data
- Identifies opportunities
- Designs tests
- Prioritises tests
- Runs tests
- Iterates the idea based on test results
- Scale across the organisation
Read the article here
Nearly six in 10 CEOs think that within the next five years, companies will need to compete in the artificial intelligence (AI) space to succeed. Yet, people’s understanding of AI is that it is something to worry about. Think robots and self-aware computers. In this article, Leslie Hancock, Founder & CEO of CreativeCafeHQ.com explains the role of AI in marketing. AI are cognitive computing systems that learn at scale and reason for a purpose. They make predictive and anticipatory modelling possible using large amounts of customer information and other inputs. These inputs help intelligent systems to make educated guesses about what customers are likely to do, and want next based on their past behaviours and the decisions of other buyers similar to them. In B2B marketing, these systems take massive amounts of customer data:
- To identify and target companies entering different product and business life cycle stages
- Predict buying behaviours
- Monitor and react to social media chatter
- Look for patterns
Yet, the article explains that the role of human marketers is still important – but requires a different mindset. As to whether AI is friend or foe to the future of marketing, you can make up your own mind. Read the article here
Another article discussing likely customer behaviours, but with an interesting twist. This article predicts the end of function-based targeting, and suggests that mobiliser targeting is the future of marketing.
Mobilisers are customers or stakeholders who are especially good at driving change and building consensus within their organisations. Until now, B2B marketers target certain functions e.g. IT or Procurement or job titles e.g. “Director” or “VP”. These efforts often come to nothing in closing the deal.
This article describes a new marketing technology where marketers can use psychographic “signatures” of potential customers who are likely to mobilise and not just talk. This exciting idea involves examining social profiles, language, phrases etc to identify prospects who are likely to be mobilisers based on subtleties in their online/social media activities. Such technology combined with content created to help these mobilisers drive change, could really transform B2B demand generation – and the future of marketing. Read this article here
YO! Marketing is a progressive strategic marketing consultancy. We work mainly with technology companies to align marketing activities with business growth aspirations. Contact us here to learn more about how we might be able to add value to your organisation.