B-to-B Marketing Is Falling Down on the Job

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

I heard a horror story the other day—a consumer packaged goods executive ranting about a meeting with a vendor. “I gave the guy an appointment, and he spent the whole time presenting his product,” she said. “Never asked me a thing about my situation, and what I needed.” Another exec chimed in, “Yeah, when I hear about an interesting new solution, what I need most is to sell it internally. I’m not getting the help I need from the vendors these days.” I am cringing. What is going wrong here?

Of course, my first thought was sales training. Clearly the reps in these situations need a training refresher—and stronger management, and possibly an improved incentive compensation plan—to handle the engagement more effectively.

But I also cringed at the marketing failure. We marketers should be helping with these sales opportunities, to increase their chance of success.

So, herewith, I set down a list of oft-forgotten B-to-B marketing imperatives.

  1. Marketing’s Role Is to Provide Sales Support
    Unlike consumer-facing companies (where marketing owns the P&L and sales is one of its levers) in B-to-B, sales typically owns revenue responsibility. Our job in marketing is to make sales more productive. It’s a mindset that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. And some would debate this interpretation of marketing’s role. But when a sales rep goes in to a meeting without the tools needed to close, it’s marketing’s failure as much as anyone’s.
  2. Provide Sales With the Tools They Need
    This means presentations that can be easily tailored to target industries, and particular target accounts. It means pre-call preparation documents—company history, personnel backgrounders, installed technology analyses. And a library of content assets the sales rep can choose from, filled with white papers, research reports, case studies, infographics, videos and e-books.
  3. Prove the ROI on Your Solution
    Marketing must gather the data—and the stories—to prove the value of the product or service to the prospect. This might mean independent third-party research. It also means case studies, ROI calculators—whatever points can help the internal advocate represent the project inside the firm.
  4. Resist the Plea From Sales to Pass Unqualified Leads
    I’ve made this point before. But it bears repeating. Some sales people will claim that everything going on in their territory is their business, and there’s logic to that. But if you let them know that a mere inquiry came in from an account in their territory, and they pounce, only to find it unworkable, you know darn well what you’ll hear from sales: “The leads marketing gives me are useless.” A legitimate complaint. But the even more important consequence here: Marketing has failed to enhance sales productivity.
  5. Be Careful How You Promote Marketing Success
    If marketing is heard in meetings to claim responsibility for a certain level of revenue, watch out. Sales is making the same claim. So you might want to couch it in ice hockey terms, like an “assist.” And take full responsibility for interim metrics like cost per lead, and lead-to-sales conversion rates, which are more in the direct control of marketing.

I hope readers will comment on other imperatives for successful B-to-B marketing today.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

It’s Time to Move On

Until now, you’ve been happy with your email-automation vendor, but lately you feel as though perhaps something is missing … Email automation is a wondrous thing and I’d be lost without it—as would all of my clients—but like most relationships, both parties must maintain dialogue, work together and compromise when necessary or you may find you’ll drift apart. What may have started out as your dream partner, over the months or years has become less ideal

Until now, you’ve been happy with your email-automation vendor, but lately you feel as though perhaps something is missing …

Email automation is a wondrous thing and I’d be lost without it—as would all of my clients—but like most relationships, both parties must maintain dialogue, work together and compromise when necessary or you may find you’ll drift apart.

What may have started out as your dream partner, over the months or years has become less ideal. And because you dread restarting the vendor search, you continue to work with a solution that no longer meets your needs and thus hinders your progress.

Customers and vendors should be fired when the relationship no longer brings the same value to the table it did when the engagement began. Not every company is a great fit for your business, be that one who buys from you or one who sells to you.

Many of us started out with the bare minimum—iContact, Constant Contact, or the like—but as our companies grow, so must our software. Sometimes the software company will continue to develop new features, but those are not released at the speed your demand develops, or the features they release are not in the direction you need. It’s okay to want for more, and when working with email automation, we all want more.

Spider Trainers recently outgrew our email-automation application. We had been with our vendor since they were a mere upstart, and we watched them grow to become a fine solution and start challenging the industry leaders, but they weren’t developing the features we needed. So, despite the gargantuan effort it would take to convert all of our lead-capture forms, update all of our inbound content, port our lists, and recreate our campaign workflows, in the end, we felt those efforts would be worth what we would gain in features that aligned more closely with our needs.

When I say gargantuan, it truly was—and a month in, we’re still nowhere near finished making the transition. What’s more, as an agency, it’s not just our content and assets, it’s also that of the clients we have moved with us.

Today, marketers have hundreds (yes, it really is hundreds) of vendors from whom to choose and features numbering in nothing less than thousands. It’s not likely you would be looking for a vendor having the most features, just the vendor offering the features on which you place the most importance. That’s why hundreds of options can exist; each of us has our own set of priorities. Companies aligned with your priorities narrow the field substantially, and companies aligned with your budget narrow it even more.

Our most important feature requirements might mean less to you, but we needed a solution providing more in-depth visibility pre-engagement, engagement depth (how were our prospects and leads using our website and content), and post-engagement. In order to get these things, we had to give up some things, and that’s the relationship compromise.

Although we vetted more than a dozen new vendors, we did finally make a choice and one that I’m happy with. I’ve had a few fearful moments, but the new software is—for the moment—what we need, and one with a roadmap aligned with our planned growth. I know there’s a good chance someday I may need to move on from this relationship too, but as in life, I’m going to get while the getting’s good.

Oh, and because I know you’re wondering, our new vendor is SharpSpring.

Beware of Dubious Data Providers: A 9-Point Checklist

Are you hounded by email pitches offering access to all kinds of prospective business targets? I am, and I hate it. As a B-to-B marketer, I am always interested in new customer data sources, so I feel compelled to at least give them a listen. So, over time, I have come up with a nine-point assessment strategy to help marketers determine the likely legitimacy of a potential vendor, using approaches that can be replicated by anyone, at arm’s length.

Are you hounded by email pitches offering access to all kinds of prospective business targets? I am, and I hate it. As a B-to-B marketer, I am always interested in new customer data sources, so I feel compelled to at least give them a listen. But when I ask a few questions—like where their data comes from—answers come back like “A variety of sources” or “Sorry, that’s our intellectual property.” So, over time, I have come up with a nine-point assessment strategy to help marketers determine the likely legitimacy of a potential vendor, using approaches that can be replicated by anyone, at arm’s length.

Of course a lot of these emails are simply fraudulent. Early on, I stumbled upon an anonymous blog that reports on the most egregious of these emailers and connects them to unscrupulous spammers tracked by Spamhaus. It’s pretty hilarious to learn that many of these data sellers are complete fakes, sending identical emails from fake companies and fake addresses.

If you want to just delete them all as a matter of course, that’s a reasonable strategy. Myself, I’ve been throwing them in a folder called “suspicious data providers,” and every so often, I dig in to see if there’s any wheat among the chaff. And that is where this checklist was born.

I got some ideas from two colleagues who have written helpfully on this problem. Tim Slevin provides a nice 3-point assessment approach in the SLMA blog, where he recommends checking out the vendors’ physical address, researching them on LinkedIn, and asking them for a data sample so specific that you can tell whether their product is any good. All terrific ideas, which I have gladly incorporated in my approach.

Ken Magill, who writes an amusing and informative publication on email marketing, tackled this subject on behalf of one of his readers, who had unhappily prepaid for an email list that didn’t arrive. “You’re never going to see that $3000 again,” says Ken to the sucker. Ken offers a dozen or so red flags to look for when considering buying email addresses—and I have picked up some of his ideas, too. Magill wraps up his discussion with: “If you suspect you’d have trouble serving them with court papers, do not do business with them.”

So, to get to the point, here is my list of yes/no questions, which can be examined fairly easily, without any direct contact with the vendor.

  1. Do they have a website you can visit?
  2. Do they provide a physical business address?
  3. Do they have a company page on LinkedIn?
  4. Are the names of the management team provided on the website?
  5. Is there a client list on the website?
  6. Is there a testimonial on the website with a real name attached?
  7. Do they claim some kind of guaranteed level of accuracy for their data?
  8. Do they require 100 percent pre-payment?
  9. Is the sales rep using a Gmail or other email address unrelated to the company name?

For question Nos. 7, 8 and 9, a “no” is the right answer. For the first six, “yes” is what you’re looking for. I’d say that any vendor who gets more than one or two wrong answers should be avoided. Any other ideas out there?

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

B-to-B Prospecting Data Just Keeps Getting Better

The most reliable and scalable approach to finding new B-to-B customers is outbound communications, whether by mail, phone or email, to potential prospects, using rented or purchased lists. B-to-B marketers typically select targets from prospecting lists based on such traditional variables as industry, company size and job role, or title. But new research indicates that B-to-B prospecting data is much more detailed these days, and includes a plethora of variables to choose from

The most reliable and scalable approach to finding new B-to-B customers is outbound communications, whether by mail, phone or email, to potential prospects, using rented or purchased lists. B-to-B marketers typically select targets from prospecting lists based on such traditional variables as industry, company size, and job role or title. But new research (opens as a pdf) indicates that B-to-B prospecting data is much more detailed these days, and includes a plethora of variables to choose from—for refining your targeting, or for building predictive models—to pick your targets even more effectively.

My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently conducted a new study (opens as a pdf) indicating that B-to-B marketers now have the opportunity to target prospects more efficiently than ever before. In fact, you might say that business marketers now have access to prospecting data as rich and varied as that available in consumer markets.

To get an understanding of the depth of data available to B-to-B marketers for prospecting, we invited a set of reputable vendors to open their vaults and share details about the nature and quantity of the fields they offer. Seven vendors participated, giving us a nice range of data sources, including both compiled lists and response lists.

We provided each vendor with a set of 30 variables that B-to-B marketers often use, including not only company size and industry, but also elements like the year the company was established, fiscal year end, Fortune Magazine ranking, SOHO (small office/home office) business indicator, growing/shrinking indicator, and other useful variables that can give marketers insight into the relative likelihood of a prospect’s conversion to a customer. We learned that some vendors provide all these data elements on most of the accounts on their files, while others offer only a few.

We also asked the participating vendors to tell us what other fields they make available, and this is where things got interesting. In response to our request for sample records on five well-known firms, the reported results included as many as 100 lines per firm. Furthermore, two of the vendors, Harte-Hanks and HG Data, supply details about installed technology, and their fields thus run into the thousands. The quantity was so vast that we published it in a supplementary spreadsheet, so that our research report itself would be kept to a readable size.

Some of the more intriguing fields now available to marketers include:

  • Spending levels on legal services, insurance, advertising, accounting services, utilities and office equipment (Infogroup)
  • Self-identifying keywords used on the company website (ALC)
  • Technology usage “intensity” score, by product (HG Data)
  • Out-of-business indicator, plus credit rating and parent/subsidiary linkages (Salesforce.com)
  • Company SWOT analysis (OneSource)
  • Whether the company conducts e-commerce (ALC)
  • List of company competitors (OneSource)
  • Biographies of company contacts (OneSource)
  • Employees who travel internationally (Harte-Hanks)
  • Employees who use mobile technology (Harte-Hanks)
  • Links to LinkedIn profiles of company managers (Stirista)
  • Executive race, religion, country of origin and second language (Stirista)

Imagine what marketers could do with a treasure trove of data elements like these to help identify high-potential prospects.

Matter of fact, we asked the vendors to tell us the fields that their clients find most valuable for predictive purposes. Several fresh and interesting ideas surfaced:

  • A venture capital trigger, from OneSource, indicating that a firm has received fresh funding and thus has budget to spend.
  • Tech purchase likelihood scores from Harte-Hanks, built from internal models and appended to enhance the profile of each account.
  • A “prospectability” score custom-modeled by OneSource to match target accounts with specific sales efforts.
  • PRISM-like business clusters offered by Salesforce.com (appended from D&B), which provide a simple profile for gaining customer insights and finding look-alikes.
  • “Call status code,” Infogroup’s assessment of the authenticity of the company record, based on Infogroup’s ongoing phone-based data verification program.

We conclude from this study that B-to-B prospecting data is richer and more varied than most marketers would have thought. We recommend that marketers test several vendors, to see which best suit their needs, and conduct a comparative test before you buy.

Readers who would like to see our past studies on the quality and quantity of prospecting data available in business markets can access them here. Bernice and I are always open to ideas for future studies. We welcome your feedback and suggestions.

A version of this article appeared in Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

Prospecting to IT Buyers: How Nine Data Vendors Stack Up

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

Buyers of information technology (IT) are one of the most valued audiences targeted by business marketers. Globally, these professionals spend $3.6 trillion on hardware, software and technology services. My colleague Bernice Grossman and I recently investigated the availability of prospecting data available to tech marketers for reaching this desirable group, and we found some surprises.

We asked twenty companies who supply prospecting data to business marketers to share with us statistics about the quantity and quality of the data they have on IT buyers in the U.S. Nine vendors graciously participated in our study-specifically, Data.com, D&B, Harte-Hanks, Infogroup, Mardev-DM2, NetProspex, Stirista, Worldata and ZoomInfo. Our thanks to them for letting us poke around under their hoods.

We asked each participating vendor to report to us on the number of companies on their databases in ten industries, by SIC code. We also asked for the numbers of contacts with IT titles in a sampling of twenty firms in those SICs, ten large enterprises and ten small businesses. Finally, we sent them the names and addresses of ten actual IT professionals (people whom Bernice and I happen to know, and were able to persuade to let us submit their names), and we asked the vendors to share with us the exact record they have on those individuals. The results of our study can be downloaded here.

This is the same methodology we have used in past studies on prospecting data available to business marketers—although this was the first study we have done on a particular industry vertical. Our objective is, first, to get at the question of coverage, meaning, the extent to which a business marketer can gain access to all the companies and contacts in the target market. And second, we want to show marketers the level of accuracy in the data available for prospecting-for example, is Joe Schmoe still the CIO at Acme Widgets, and can I get his correct phone number and email address?

The answers to these questions, in general, was YES. The data reported was surprisingly accurate, especially given how much business marketers complain about the data they get from vendors. And the coverage was wide, meaning there seem to be plenty of IT names in a variety of industries for us to contact.

But the data also revealed some interesting trends in business marketing in general and tech marketing in specific.

  • Prospecting data is being sold these days out of massive databases, which makes it far easier for marketers to select exactly the targets they want, by such criteria as title, company size and industry, irrespective of whether a “compiled” or a “response” name.
  • Company counts by SIC varied widely among the vendors, reminding us that data providers may have their own proprietary systems for flagging a company by industry code.
  • Job titles are getting fuzzier than ever. We found real IT professionals using titles such as Platform Manager and Reporting Manager-which makes it tough to know what they really do.

Given these developments, we urge our fellow marketers to probe carefully on data sourcing and categorizing practices, and to specify in great detail exactly what targets you’re going after, when buying data for new customer acquisition. And we suggest that you source from multiple vendors, in order to expand your market coverage potential. Happy prospecting to all.

Stephanie Miller’s Engagement Matters: Why Good Email Gets Blocked as Bad

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

Our first step in email marketing return on investment is to reach the inbox. Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, I’m always amazed at how many email marketers either don’t appreciate the negative impact of blocked messages or don’t know what they don’t know.

There’s no shame here. Every email marketer gets blocked occasionally, even if you have permission or generally follow best practices. The best defense is good offense: Be knowledgeable on the root causes of blocking, respect subscribers and measure inbox deliverability.

This is no tree in the proverbial forest. If your messages don’t reach the inbox, they won’t earn a response. It’s not something that happens to “that other guy.” In fact, about 20 percent of legitimate, permission-based email marketing messages and newsletters never make it to the inbox, according to a study by Return Path earlier this year. (Full disclosure, I work for Return Path).

Any lift in inbox placement goes right to the bottom line. All your metrics (e.g., opens, clicks, page views, conversions, ad revenues, etc.) will rise concurrently. The good news is that marketers can absolutely impact how messages are treated by ISPs like Hotmail, Yahoo and Gmail, and corporate system administrators.

Do not delegate inbox deliverability — a very important step to ROI — even if you delegate delivery. Your email broadcast vendor or ESP can’t do this for you. It’s a shared responsibility. A good broadcast vendor will operate an efficient delivery system, give you full reporting that includes actual inbox placement (Note: this is NOT your bounce rate) and help you follow best practices. However, no vendor can control your message content, frequency and acquisition practices. The buck stops with the marketer or sender.

You need the following four things to reach the inbox consistently and earn a response:

1. A solid infrastructure. For either an in-house system or a vendor, check frequently to be sure you know that your infrastructure is sound (e.g., proper reverse DNS, MX records, authentication and volume throttling) and your bounces are managed properly. Make sure you fully understand the metrics used in reporting as well.

2. Low complaints. There’s a penalty for irrelevancy in email marketing that doesn’t exist in other channels. It’s called “complaints.” A complaint is registered every time a subscriber clicks the “Report Spam” button. It only takes a few complaints to get all your messages blocked at Yahoo, Gmail or corporations (which use many of the same data sources). Subscribers complain when they’re not happy or interested in your messages, even if they’re customers and gave you permission. They complain even when they claim to love your brand.

Yikes! Imagine what would happen if Yahoo or another major ISP blocked all your messages for the next 30 days (the length of time many deliverability failures take to correct). Revenue would drop like a brick and you’d be under the spotlight to explain why your mailing practices earned such a wallop.

Relevant messages have low complaint scores. It’s the single most powerful factor in a good sender reputation, which dictates if your messages reach the inbox and earn a high response. It’s up to marketers and publishers to engage subscribers with every message rather than assume an opt-in gives you license to send whatever you want whenever you want.

Increase relevancy by developing a subscriber-focused content strategy. Address the editorial needs, buying cycles and life stages of your subscribers. New subscribers may welcome more email than long-time subscribers — or the opposite may be true. Tailor messages for subscribers who are up for product or service renewal, have recently purchased, visited a particular section of your website, abandoned their shopping cart, clicked but didn’t convert, downloaded a whitepaper, or haven’t opened or clicked in the last quarter.

3. A clean file. Keep a clean list by doing the following:

  • Be sure everyone on your email marketing file really wants to be there. Offer choices and make it easy to unsubscribe and change preferences.
  • Try to win back fatigued subscribers who are ignoring you early in the relationship. If you see a customer hasn’t opened or clicked in the past 90 days, you may have an opportunity to re-engage.
  • If someone hasn’t opened or clicked in 12 months, take them off your file.
  • Only accept subscribers from legitimate sources — e.g., your own website, partners you vet carefully and publishers with high sender reputations. It may be nice to have a large file, but it’s always better to have a file that’s more responsive and engaged.

4. Good reporting. You can’t manage or optimize what you don’t know. Track complaint data by signing up for all ISP feedback loops, and quickly remove those subscribers who complain. (Detailed instructions can be found here.) Be sure you actually know your inbox deliverability rate, by campaign and message type. This is not your bounce rate (typically 1 percent to 5 percent), but the actual number of messages that reach the inbox. You must seed your campaigns to get this data. If your email broadcast system or vendor isn’t reporting this to you, ask them for it.

What are you doing to better manage inbox placement as part of your response metrics? Let me know what you think by sharing any ideas or comments below.

How to Find the Right Mobile Marketing Vendor

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

With growing interest in the mobile marketing channel — particularly in the retail, charitable giving and other commerce-related sectors — it’s important to understand how to find the right vendor partner for your brand, campaign or cause. Many companies choose to partner with a vendor who offers licensed mobile marketing technologies. If you choose to go this route, here are the two key questions to consider: One, what type of vendor do you want? And two, how will you qualify your vendor?

Question 1: What type of vendor do you want?
Mobile marketing vendors come in all shapes and sizes. Some specialize in particular solutions, while others offer a wide range of capabilities. From application platforms to service providers, vendors may focus on any or many of eight basic pathways to mobile marketing: SMS, MMS, email, voice/IVR, proximity (Bluetooth, WiFi), mobile internet, apps and content.

Think about what type of mobile capabilities you need to create the user experience you’re seeking. Is it couponing, loyalty programs, customer care or something else? What about enabling services, like location or contactless payment? Finally, consider both short- and long-term factors surrounding the longevity of your campaign and future reinventions of it. These factors will certainly play into your decision to work with a multiservice or specialized vendor.

A resourceful place to start your search is the Mobile Marketing Association’s (MMA) online directory of members who offer mobile marketing services. These vendors are certainly up-to-speed on mobile advertising guidelines and consumer best practices. For SMS campaigns, you should also check out the Common Short Codes Administration’s “Partners” page.

Question 2: How will you qualify your vendor?
Whether you’re searching for a full-service vendor or for support to help you build it in-house, be sure to consider the following:

  • Experience. How extensive is the vendor’s mobile experience and relationships within the industry? Ask for current references and review their past campaigns.
  • Industry leadership. Make sure the vendor is a member of MMA, or at least following the industry’s best practices and standards of care. Check if it belongs to related trade associations that are unique to your business. Membership in industry organizations demonstrates that the provider is continually learning and adapting to changes.
  • Expertise. Confirm that the vendor has expertise in your desired platform, along with analytics, strategy, creative and execution. If the provider says it’s an expert in “all of them,” drill down and find out who they work with or who they’ve recently acquired — no one firm can be an expert in everything!
  • Capabilities. Does the provider already have the capabilities to deliver on what you need, or will it have to develop something special for you? If it already has the capabilities, it can show you immediately.
  • Capacity. Consider the scope and reach of your campaign. How many text messages per second/per hour can the platform handle, for example? If you’re a national brand running a national SMS campaign and it’s really successful, you better make sure the platform can handle millions of messages an hour. Ask to see reports that prove it can support your messaging traffic. Beyond total/average volume alone, be sure to ask about peak spikes, meaning the maximum number of messages supported during a specific time.
  • Disaster recovery. Is the vendor prepared for a catastrophe? What will it do if its data center loses power or if a server fails? Ask how quickly it can get back into service. If they’re industry leaders, they’ll have a redundant data center and can be back up in minutes with no loss of data.
  • Pricing. As one of the last criteria considered, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. If you pay a little amount for your platform, don’t expect a lot of service or support.

To learn more, visit the MMA online, follow it on Twitter and don’t miss our upcoming MMA Forum series in New York, June 8-9.