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?

McKinsey Thinks Bland, Generic Loyalty Programs Are Killing Business – And They May Be Right!

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

A recent Forbes article by McKinsey, “Making Loyalty Pay: Six Lessons From the Innovators,” showed loyalty program participation has steadily increased during the past five years (a 10 percent annual rate of growth), with the average household now having almost 25 memberships. For all of that growing popularity, there are huge questions for marketers: Are the programs contributing to increased sales? And what is the impact of loyalty programs on enterprise profitability?

Overall, companies with loyalty programs have grown at about the same rate as companies without them; but there is variance in performance value among industries. These programs produce positive sales increases for hotels, for example, but negative sales impact on car rental, airlines and food retail. And, companies with higher loyalty program spend had lower margins than companies in the same sector which do not spend on high-visibility loyalty programs.

McKinsey has noted that, “Despite relative underperformance in terms of revenue growth and profitability, over the past five years, market capitalization for companies that greatly emphasize loyalty programs has outpaced that of companies that don’t.” This, as they see it, may be indicative of hope among companies with programs that long-term customer value can be generated.

Within the McKinsey report, several strategies are offered for helping businesses overcome the negatives often associated with loyalty programs. Key among these are:

  • Integrate Loyalty Into the Full Experience
    Companies can link the loyalty program into the overall purchase and use experience. An example cited in the article is Starbucks, which has created its program to reflect the uniqueness of its café experience. Loyalty is built into the program by integrating payments and mobile technology, which appeals to its target audience.
  • Use the Data
    This may be the most important opportunity represented by loyalty programs. Data collected from the programs can offer competitive opportunities. Tesco, the largest supermarket chain on the planet, has been doing loyalty program member number-crunching for years through DunnHumby. Similarly, Caesars Entertainment has rich databases on its high-rolling program members. One retailer has combined its loyalty program with a 5 percent point-of-sale discount, building volume from its highest-value customers. In another well-documented example, a retailer has used its loyalty program data to identify future mothers before other chains, thus targeting offers to capture both their regular spend and new category purchases as buying habits evolve.
  • Build Partnerships
    As stated on so many occasions, organizations that build trust generate stronger, more bonded, customer behavior. This applies to loyalty programs as well, where there is ample opportunity to build cross-promotion for customers with non-competing products and services. In the U.K., Sainsbury, the major supermarket competitor of Tesco, has partnered with Nectar, a major loyalty coalition. Nectar has more members than Tesco, and participants can collect rewards across a large number of non-competing retailers. Through partnership, Sainsbury’s offers customers a broader and deeper value proposition; and Nectar also generates data from coalition partners, which it uses to better target promotions to customers.
  • Solve Customer and Industry Pain Points
    Numerous customer behavior studies have shown that people will gravitate to, and pay more for, better service. A perfect example of this is Amazon Prime, where additional payment gets customers faster delivery and digital tracking. This is good for Amazon (estimates are that members spend more than four times more with Amazon than non-members), its customers, and its suppliers, who also get access to Prime customers and the positive rub-off of affiliating with a trusted brand.
  • Maximize Difference Between Perceived Value and Real Cost
    Often, program elements can represent high perceived value without adding much in the way of bottom-line cost to the sponsor. The example cited is Starwood Hotels and Resorts where, through its Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) program, there is a focus on personal leisure travel rewards for high-spending frequent guests.
  • Allocate Loyalty Reinvestment to the Most Valuable Customers
    Many companies have only recently come to the realization that some customers are more valuable than others; and, to be successful, loyalty programs need to target the higher revenue customers. In 2010, Southwest Airlines revamped its loyalty program to make rewards more proportional to ticket price; and this has better targeted the most profitable customers, as well as enabled the airline to adopt a loyalty behavior metric that is closely tied to actual revenue generation.

Loyalty programs continue to grow, but they are also tending to become more closely integrated with brand-building and multichannel customer experience optimization. But, there is also lots of commoditization and passivity were these programs are concerned—sort of the “If You Build It, They Will Come” syndrome at work. And, of course, there’s a mini contra movement among some retail chains, where they have removed established loyalty programs—or never initiated them in the first place—in favor of everyday low prices and more efficient performance.

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.

The Connected Consumer is Changing The Face of Marketing: Understanding the Importance of Trust

In January, I wrote about marketing’s “meeting of waters” and how mobile is acting as the connective tissue that’s tying together digital and traditional marketing practices. The meeting of waters analogy holds true because we live in an age where people are increasingly becoming connected and these connections are forever changing marketing and how we engage our customers. Today people are connected to each other, to organizations, to machines. Moreover, machines are connected to other machines and working on behalf of the consumer.

In January, I wrote about marketing’s “meeting of waters” and how mobile is acting as the connective tissue that’s tying together digital and traditional marketing practices. The meeting of waters analogy holds true because we live in an age where people are increasingly becoming connected and these connections are forever changing marketing and how marketers engage consumers. People are connected to each other, to organizations, to machines and more. Moreover, machines are connected to other machines and working on behalf of consumers. Consider the following:

  • Over 28 percent of the global population uses the internet, and in most developed countries this number exceeds 75 percent.
  • There are 5.3 billion mobile connections — over 54 percent of the global population — and 3.7 billion people carry and use a mobile device of some kind. Within the next few years more people will access the internet via a mobile device than any other means.
  • There were 6.1 trillion text messages exchanged around the globe in 2010. Nearly 6 billion text messages are exchanged every day in the U.S.
  • Over 500 million people are active Facebook users, each having an average of 130 friends, spending an average of 700 billion minutes on the site and sharing over 30 billion pieces of information each and every month.
  • There are 175 million Twitter users, creating 95 million tweets per day.
  • Programs offered by retailers that reward shoppers for purchasing are on the rise due to locally relevant marketing and merchandising.
  • The number of smartmeter installations are increasing (a smartmeter monitors utility consumption, such as electricity and water). This data is accessible online.
  • Sensors are being placed in plants so that they can tweet us when they need to be watered; in carpets so that they can tell us when they need to be cleaned; and in pills so that they can transmit through a Band-Aid and to phone biometric readings as the pill travels through our bodies. Moreover, in some parts of the world, you’ll even find sensors on produce and a wide range of consumer goods. For example, a shopper can immediately discern what farm a head of lettuce came from, the route it took to get to the store and how long it’s been sitting on the shelf by simply waving their phone.

The above online and offline activities are just small subsets of what’s happening as people go through their daily lives. Consumers always have their mobile device with them, and they’re using them to fulfill their needs.

An important undercurrent to the meeting of waters analogy and the trend toward the ever-increasing connectedness is that people are also creating and sharing more information than ever before. Eric Schmidt, Google’s former CEO, notes more information is created every two days than from the dawn of civilization up to 2003 combined. This information can be used to create new services like personalized search and consumer engagement.

In the age of the connected consumer, Schmidt proposes that the next generation of mobile devices may be capable of tracking an individual’s actions, movements and purchases, and over time learn their interests and preferences. Later, using location and similar tracking tools, companies like Google can alert an individual not just based on their stated or shared preferences but on system inferred and predicted preferences.

This is a very powerful value proposition, one that has the opportunity to enrich the lives of consumers. Marketers have the ability to deliver value at the time of consumer expressed and inherent need. However, you must remember that key success factors to engaging consumers in this ever-connected world include your ability to be transparent in your actions and provide consumers with control over the relationships they have with marketers.

As an industry, we have the opportunity to embrace our future and maintain the course of responsible behavior. The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) along with its partners is doing just that. The company recently announced its Consumer Best Practices for Messaging v6.0. The MMA has also announced an applications committee and a Privacy Initiative Task Force in coordination with its members and other organizations like the Digital Advertising Alliance to work on expanding the industry’s best practices and guidelines around how marketers and consumers are to engage each other. The outcome of this work will allow all of us in the industry to focus on sustainable growth while ensuring that we achieve this growth responsibly.