How B2B CMOs Can Give Panicked Salespeople Answers Instead of Discounts

Seasoned CMOs have all experienced it. A downturn in business happens, the sales team is flailing and not hitting their numbers, and the sales EVP comes to the CMO and asks for one or more items.

Seasoned CMOs have all experienced it. A downturn in business happens, the sales team is flailing and not hitting their numbers, and the sales EVP comes to the CMO and asks for one or more items.

  • Some immediate lead generation campaigns offering specific discounts, or new discounted product bundles or free service offers to serve as door openers
  • Inexpensive customer upgrades or similar offers at a lower than normal prices
  • Mega-incentive offers for referrals or partner-sourced deals

The right response to these drop-everything-else-and-focus-on-these requests is “No … but … ”

Before we review the counter-offers to the sales VP, let’s quickly review why immediately saying “yes” is a bad idea.

Why ‘Yes’ Is a Bad Idea

If your customer value proposition rests heavily on product leadership, you will do your brand, and all future average selling price (ASP) values, a terrible disservice if you suddenly decide to offer discounts or temporary product and service bundles at lower prices.

You will be assuring the market that you are not in fact a product leader and your value proposition is more about prices. You open the door to being compared to the inferior product that owns the low-price part of the market.

There is nothing wrong with Wal-Mart’s “Save Money. Live Better.” Or its older slogan “Always Low Prices.” If that represents your primary value proposition and you have designed your firm to operate that way profitably, carry on. However, if you designed your firm to focus on product leadership, attempting to switch strategy to meet a short-term sales shortfall will fail in the long run.

In the short term, it might stimulate some deals to come in sooner at lower margins than they would have later. In the long term, you will have undermined your brand attributions and you’ll be forced to discount more often.

The same logic applies to firms whose value proposition rests heavily on customer intimacy. If you switch value propositions in a crunch, people will question your commitment. Four Seasons’ slogan “Experience Four Seasons” is never threatened by surprise discounts because hotel occupancy is low.  Nordstrom Inc. created the sub-brand “Nordstrom Rack” to address this issue: “Nordstrom Rack is the off-price retail division of Nordstrom Inc.”

Discounting a price is a sales tactic, not a marketing tactic. In B2B, it is best used in one-to-one settings with clients. When you ask marketing to broadcast it to many prospects, it becomes a strategy. Be ready.

A second major issue to saying “yes” to the sales team for these requests is that it leads them to believe that it will result in enough good deals to see you through the downturn. If, for the past three years, you have been trying to educate Sales on the idea that the buyer is in control of the buying journey, and we need to plan and nurture a pipeline of early opportunities, why would you suddenly capitulate, set aside nurturing campaigns in mid-flight, and launch a Hail Mary campaign? Don’t say “yes” to appease the sales team, if you know it will damage the business.

Why ‘No, But’ Is the Right Answer

So how do you respond? First, take the customer perspective. What is causing the downturn? Is it industrywide, or just your firm? Is it the economy? Is it in multiple regions and affecting multiple product lines? What are the customers telling you by delaying their purchases? Or are they simply buying elsewhere? In the event it is a downturn experienced by you and your competitors, there are things you can do to stimulate sales.

Assuming the customers are still buying something and simply not spending at the same level as usual, the new value proposition to the customers in the downturn must be based on why their shrinking budget is best allocated to your products and services in the downturn — that the benefits you bring will help them more in the downturn and stimulate the topline of their business more than anything else. It somehow readies them for the economic recovery and will help them outpace their competitors when the recovery starts.

Perhaps their reduction in spending is tied to their business slowing down, in which case they may have plenty of staff bandwidth to handle change, re-tool and learn new skills. This could be the perfect time to implement new products, services and processes.

Marketing does more than help the sales team sell more. We help prospects and customers buy more. We take the sales request to help them sell more and turn it into the question: “In these circumstances, how can I message customers to help them buy more?”

“No … but … ” can mean “I really don’t want to support a campaign that simply offers discounts, as that will cost us in the long run. But how about we run a campaign that highlights why our products and services have an even stronger value proposition in an economic downturn and list the benefits thereof?”

There are other times when the business is best served by demand generation marketing saying “no … but … ” For instance, when Sales wants to expand into a new market or go down market with no research or planning to determine if that is a good idea. In that case, a great CMO response is, “No, we really shouldn’t launch demand generation efforts for that market yet, but what we can do is some market research and competitive research and determine if we should put a focus there, how much it will cost to break in, do we have suitable products and services, and will it impact our current positioning and messaging, etc.”

So, under what circumstances have you said “no … but … ” to Sales? How did that work out for you?

PPC Shockers and Secrets

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales. I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now. Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

Pay per click (PPC), particularly Google AdWords, is a marketing channel that can produce profitable results for your business, whether your goal is lead generation or sales.

I have been managing PPC for businesses, as an in-house marketing leader as well as marketing consultant, for over a decade now.

Though the years, I have noticed many secrets to success that I wanted to share—especially with business owners and marketers that haven’t tried PPC yet.

First, I’d like to clear the air about a big shocker … or actually a fallacy … that you need a big budget to run an effective PPC campaign.

You don’t. If you happen to have a large budget, your ads will be shown more and you can spread out your ad groups and test different types. With a smaller budget, you do need to be more judicious with your efforts. But if you market smarter, not broader, your campaigns can still produce positive results.

I have run PPC campaigns with total monthly budgets of $1,000. I have run campaigns with total daily maximum budgets ranging from $25 to $50. These campaigns brought in both sales and leads, despite their limited spending. But they do require active management, strategic thinking, deep PPC knowledge and refinement/optimization.

The PPC Tri-Pod
What is going to determine the cost and return of your campaign are three simple things I call the “PPC Tri-pod”, as it supports your entire PPC efforts:

  1. Keywords
  2. Creative (or banner ad, if it’s running on the display network)
  3. Redirect URL

So in order for you to get the most bang for your buck with PPC, you should be aware of a few things regarding the PPC Tri-pod:

Keywords. The more popular the keyword, the more cost per click (CPC) it’s going to have. So it’s very important to do your keyword research before you start selecting your keywords as you’re setting up your campaign.

I like to use The “lite” version is free, but you can also upgrade to the full version and see more results and have more capabilities for a monthly fee. Google used to have its Keyword External Tool, which has since morphed into Google AdWords Keyword Planner. You need a Gmail account to access this free tool.

Either of these tools will allow you to enter keywords or keyword phrases and then view popularity (actual search results), as well as what the average CPCs are. This is important for your keyword selection and bidding. You can also type in your “core” or focus keywords and get additional ad group/keyword ideas. To help refine your search terms, you can also choose broad match, broad match modifier, phrase match, exact match and negative match.

If you pick a word that is too vague or too under-searched, your ad will not see much (or any) action. Impressions will either not be served, or if they are served (in the case of a vague word), it may cost you a high CPC. In addition, a vague keyword may not be relevant enough to get you a good conversion rate. Because you pay by the click, your goal is to monetize that click by getting an instant conversion. And conversions, my friends, will be the role of the landing page. I’ll talk about that more in a moment.

Creative. This is your text ad (or banner ad, if you’re running in AdWords’ display network). For Google to rank your ad favorably, and more importantly, for you to get the best conversion results possible—there needs to be a relevancy and synergy between your keyword, text ad and landing page. Google will let you know if you’re not passing muster by your ad’s page position and quality score. Once you’ve carefully researched and selected your ad group keywords, you’ll want to make sure those keywords are consistent across the board with your ad and landing page. Your text ad has four visible lines with limited character count:

  1. Headline (25 Characters)
  2. Description Line 1 (35 Characters)
  3. Description Line 2 (35 Characters)
  4. Display URL (35 Characters)

Your keyword must appear in your text ad, as well as follow through and appear in the content of your landing page.

This will give you a good quality rank with Google, but also help qualify the prospect and carry the relevancy of the ad through to the landing page. Why is this important? It helps maintain consistency of the message and also set expectations with the end user. You don’t want to present one ad, and then have a completely different landing page come up.

Not only is that a “bait and switch,” but it’s costly. Because you’re paying for clicks, a great ad that is compelling and keyword rich, but not cohesive to your landing page, will not convert as well as one that is. And your campaign will actually lose conversions.

Redirect URL. This is your landing page. Different goals and different industries will have different formats. A lead generation campaign, which is just looking to collect email addresses to build an opt-in email list, will be a “squeeze page.” This is simply a landing page with a form asking for first name and email address in return for giving something away for free—albeit a bonus report, free newsletter subscription or similar. It got its name because it’s “squeezing” an email address from the prospect. Some retail campaigns will direct prospects directly to e-commerce sites or catalog pages (as opposed to a sales page). Direct response online marketers will drive their traffic to a targeted promotional landing page where it’s not typically a Web page where there’s other navigation or distractions that will take the prospect away from the main goal. It’s more streamlined and focused. The copy is not technical, it’s compelling and emotional, like promotional copy you would see in a sales letter. The anatomy of your redirect URL will vary on your goal and offer. It will take optimization and testing to see what’s working and what’s not. And that’s par for the course. If you’re testing, I suggest elements that scream and not whisper, such as long copy vs. short copy, or headlines and leads that are different themes. However, no matter what your goal, whether it’s going for the sale or the email address, you still need keyword consistency between all creative elements.

Tips And Tricks For Maximum ROI
Whether you have a big or small budget, there are a few things I’ve learned during the years that help the overall performance of a PPC campaign. Some of these are anecdotal, so if you’ve seen otherwise, I suggest testing to see if it makes a difference to your particular industry.

Ad and Landing Page. In general, I have noticed that shorter, to the point, landing pages produce better results. And the rationale is quite obvious. People searching the Web are looking for quick solutions to a problem. This means your creatives have to not only be keyword rich, but compelling and eye-caching. You have seconds to grab a Web surfer’s attention and get them to click. In the same sense, the landing page has to be equally relevant and persuasive, and typically shorter in copy. Keep in mind Google has many rules surrounding ad copy development. So write your text ads in accordance to its advertising policy.

Price Point. Again, in my personal experience, most Web surfers have a price threshold. And that’s items under about $79. When running a PPC campaign, think about price points that are more tolerable to “cold” prospects; that is, people who haven’t built a relationship with you or know anything about you. They have no brand loyalty. They don’t know you from Adam. So getting a sale at a lower price point is an easier sell than a product you have that costs hundreds of dollars. Luxury items or items with strong recognition and brand loyalty are the exception to that rule. As a direct response marketer, I urge you to price test and see for yourself.

Campaign Set-up. There are a few tactics I notice that help with ad exposure, clicks and saving money. When you’re setting up your campaign you can day-part, frequency cap and run ad extensions. Day parting allows you to select the hours of the day you’d like your campaign to run; ad extensions allow you to add components to your text ad to help visibility and call to action—such as location, site links, reviews and more; And frequency capping lets you set a threshold on how many times you’d like a given person to see your ad (based on impressions).

PPC Networks. It’s smart not to put all your eggs in one basket. In addition to Google AdWords, try running campaigns on other PPC networks, such as Bing/Yahoo, Adroll (retargeting through Facebook),, (formerly, and Then see where you get the best cost per click, cost per conversion and overall results.

I’ve only touched the surface here. There are more tactics and features that can help a PPC campaign’s performance. So get yourself familiar with it, read up on the best practices, and don’t be afraid to put your toe in the water. As with any marketing tactic, some channels will work for your business, and some won’t. But you won’t know unless you test. Just remember the foundation of success hinges on the PPC Tri-Pod. The possibilities are endless.