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September 25, 2008

Scrub Your Leads For Job Security

Email list hygiene - and the specific practice of scrubbing out bad email addresses - should be of the utmost concern for any of you out there who actively distribute marketing materials via email messages or enewsletters. When sending your marketing materials to huge lists that have not been scrubbed for junk, you run the risk of destroying your company's reputation and losing business along the way. And while it would be easy to sit here and cite statistics about email bounce rates, blacklisting and silent deletes done by ISPs, I think the issue of list hygiene can best be explained by putting yourself in your clients' shoes.

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If you are a third-party email marketer, your clients have placed their trust (and their money) in your business model - they provide you with content, you market their content with a variety of email messaging tools, and you send them a list of names (or leads) who have responded to their content. This method of generating leads is used by all kinds of companies (both consumer and B2B-based), and helps all of the involved parties in achieving their business goals. The client is presented with a list of high-quality, (hopefully) sales-ready leads, and the lead generation company is well-compensated for their efforts.

While mutually beneficial however, this relationship relies on the lead generation company's maintenance of their email lists. When working with a reputable lead generation organization, you should feel confident that the leads they deliver not only meet your specific requirements (such as being from certain geographical locations, or from companies of particular sizes), but that they also come with correct contact information. It's easy to generate 1000 leads, what's more difficult is generating 1000 qualified leads!

At the Web Buyer's Guide, we have developed a lead management system that allows us to scrub out junk leads on the back-end, and therefore remove junk from our lead databases. Before this system was in place, we would unintentionally sell those tricky-to-spot, but poisonous leads with titles like "None of Your Business," and names like, "Mickey Mouse." Since gaining the capability to scrub lists of new subscribers before they even become potential leads however, our rate of delivering junk leads has plummeted.

When we do occasionally deliver a random junk lead, I always feel bad, and worry about how our clients might respond. And while we never charge for junk leads, I also fear that some clients won't bother reporting their findings (and receiving a refund), and will instead simply choose to stop doing business with our company. After all, if a client purchases 100 leads and 5 are junk, they've potentially been gypped out of a couple hundred dollars worth of leads!

From years of experience in delivering leads, I've learned that it's easier to scrub lists when you're not under immediate pressure to deliver your product. By building some sort of system into your business practices that allows you to clean your lists before you're faced with the pressure of generating leads, you are more likely to remove junk that's both obvious (Mickey Mouse) and less obvious (Bart Simpson). Personally, I would much rather ditch the leads on the back-end than lose business by delivering junk.

August 29, 2008

Pushing Prospects through the Pipeline

A recent Marketing Sherpa report addresses lead nurturing best practices, and is a helpful update on how to best reach prospects once they've engaged with your content, but not independently returned to your site. By applying the practices outlined in Lead Nurturing Best Practices: New Data, Charts, Tips to Put More Punch in Your Cultivation Tactics, you can align your lead nurturing program with what's shown to be working industry-wide. In compiling this report, Marketing Sherpa partnered with Eloqua (a lead management & demand generation powerhouse) and On24 (a leader in the virtual event and webinar space), to survey over 1000 marketing professionals to learn about their lead nurturing methods.

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According to the report, lead generation isn't what's difficult - with the general thinking being that most lead generating companies already have plenty of leads, they just don't have plenty of sales ready leads. In order to deliver high-quality, sales-ready prospects to your sales team, you need to put your energies into nurturing your existing leads over the long term, and expect that it will take up to 24 months for some of your leads to turn into sales. To effectively nurture leads over the long term, your lead nurturing programs need to be elevated within your organization, and given the same kind of time and energy that's put into generating leads.

The Marketing Sherpa report touches on a few key concepts that I've examined and explained in further detail below:

Best Practice #1. Use multi-media touches to nurture leads

In order to effectively reach your prospects, you need to use more than email newsletters or triggered email messages to move leads through your sales pipeline. While email marketing is a tried-and-true method of nurturing leads, you need to do more. According to the report, a combination of email messages, direct mail, and telemarketing efforts works best when trying to segment your leads.

If you really want to reach people where it counts, you can look to telemarketing as a tool to help increase your brand awareness, determine where in the buying cycle prospects are, and offer educational materials to help further their awareness of your company, products and services. Direct mail is a great way to invite people to virtual and face-to-face events, and remind users of new content or marketing materials they might want to check out on your site. Email marketing is a good tool for drip-nurturing, and can be employed when you have a group of prospects that are actively involved in researching solutions, and want to nudged along with new content or new information related to your offerings.

Best Practice #2. Quick response to Web leads can maximize conversions

With our always-on world, it's no longer good enough to wait 24-hours before making contact with a new prospect. With so many competitors vying for the same sets of eyes, it's crucial that you cement your relationship with new leads inside of an hour (!). And according to the Marketing Sherpa data, "calls placed within five minutes of receiving a Web lead have the highest likelihood of making contact."

To achieve this kind of real-time responsiveness, you need to move toward automating your lead generation and reporting processes, so that leads land in your CRM system as soon as they're generated. And while moving from weekly lead reports to automated reporting processes might require an overhaul of your entire lead management practices, doing so may also significantly improve your overall sales.

Best Practice #3. Use a lead scoring system

Lead scoring is a great way to segment your leads and determine how best each prospect should be nurtured through the pipeline. By rating leads based on a series of filters, such as their location, their time frame for implementing a solution, or their role in the IT decision making process, you can place your leads in separate silos, and nurture each group according to their specific needs.

Scoring is also an effective way to separate the "wheat from the chaff," and figure out how long any given lead should require nurturing before they reach sales readiness. While some leads may enter your sales pipeline with low scores, you can develop strategies for nurturing those prospects and keep your pipeline full as each group of leads receives your messages and moves through the buying process.

By scoring leads, automating reporting so that leads are contacted immediately upon entering your CRM system, and nurturing your scored and segmented prospects with a variety of tools, you should be able to accelerate your sales as you continuously move leads through the pipeline.

You can learn more about Lead Nurturing by listening to this podcast from The Innovative Marketer, What is lead nurturing and why should you care?

July 17, 2008

Saying Hello Sets the Stage

welcome_revised.jpgEmail marketers are constantly working to attract new subscribers, but maintaining lists, developing relationships with new members, and retaining users is equally, if not more important when it comes to creating high-value, sales-ready leads. To determine how companies welcome new members, Return Path, an email services company, signed up for 61 email programs and examined how they were treated once they expressed interest in a company's offerings by handing over their personal information.

In their recently published research study, Creating Great Subscriber Experiences: Are Marketers Relationship Worthy?, Return Path analyzed their email subscription experiences, and concluded that most email marketers don't appreciate the timeliness and value of welcoming new members to their sites.

While best practices suggest that marketers should send a welcome email to new subscribers (preferably within 24-hours of attaining the new member), Return Path found that 60% of the companies they tested failed to send a welcome message, and 30% failed to send new members any messages within the first 30 days of the subscriber's registration.

By ignoring these new members, companies lose the opportunity to engage prospects early in their buying process, and immediately after expressing interest in the company. The fact that someone has taken the time to register for an email program is indicative of a high level of interest, and suggests that they would be receptive to starting a dialog or relationship. Ideally, you want to strike while the iron is hot and send a confirmation/welcome message to new subscribers within the first 24-hours of receiving their data.

Sending welcome messages so quickly benefits both parties too. New members will know that their information was properly submitted and received, will have their subscription data (or a link to their subscription data) for future reference, and will know that their interest in your company has not gone unnoticed. At the same time, email marketers benefit by confirming that their new users have entered deliverable email addresses, by increasing their brand awareness with a branded email message, and by giving the new member an opportunity to immediately engage with additional marketing materials.

According to the Return Path study however, it took an average of 9 days for companies to send their first messages after obtaining new subscribers. Once a new member has hit the "submit" button on your site, you have basically been invited to send them a message and welcome them to your site. When you overlook this crucial step, you lose out on quickly segmenting, qualifying and engaging some of the most interested prospects on your email lists. You also fall behind in keeping your brand first-and-foremost in front of these already-engaged eyes, and could lose the lead altogether if they're more effectively courted by your competition.

So the time is now to put in place an automated email message welcoming all new members to your site.
To learn more about crafting effective email marketing welcome messages, check out this compilation of articles and best practice guides from Email Marketing Reports. While implementing a process to welcome new members may seem simple, remember that the first message most of your users receive may be the only one they ever read.

July 09, 2008

Nurture Leads by Segmenting your Subscribers

email_nurture_revised.jpgA recent MediaPost Email Insider article, Elongated Sales Cycles Require Stronger Segmentation by Stephanie Miller talks about the ever-lengthening sales cycle and suggests that the way to handle this is by segmenting users and marketing targeted messages to small groups. In the article, Miller states the need to pay attention to subscriber behaviors, and direct messages to small groups as they reach different points in the buying process.

To develop a segmentation strategy for your organization, first consider how often users are visiting your site. Miller suggests sending segmented messages to first-time visitors, active prospects and lapsed members, but you can break up your member groups in any way that works for your sales cycle. With IT marketing, you may want to segment according to the number of, or the kinds of engagements members have had with your content. If a group of users downloads two related pieces of content - regardless of the products being offered - you might develop specific category-based marketing messages that provide education on specific technologies.

When segmenting your subscribers, it's essential that you understand user behavior throughout the buying process. By knowing, for example, that users are more likely to purchase a product if they've checked out a trial download, you can respond to user behaviors with the right kind of messaging. For basic insight into B2B marketing guidelines, industry reports such as Marketing Sherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark provide a host of insight into user behavior during the B2B sales cycle.

Once you've determined what your users' behaviors mean in relation to their place in the sales cycle, you can develop lead scoring that examines engagements and assigns a score to each lead. Once your users have been assigned scores, you can start marketing to small groups that have shared scores. In using this kind of approach, you are able to automate the process of segmenting users according to their online behaviors, and create messages that meet their targeted needs.

By sending highly targeted messages to small groups of users, it may seem as if you're wasting your time (clicks = revenue), but you actually increase your changes of catching users when they're in need of technical data, a compelling case study or an interactive presentation. Buyers want their buying processes to run according to their own schedules. By paying attention to where your leads are in their buying processes, you come across as being responsive and mindful of your buyers' needs. This kind of responsiveness is highly valued, and users will trust those sending the emails when they feel they aren't being bombarded with ill-timed and inappropriate messages.

Once you've gained the trust of the user, you can continue to nurture them through the buying process, and hopefully turn your prospect into an actual buyer.

June 13, 2008

Content Delivery Methods Matter

mobile_rewvised.jpgAs the digital world changes to incorporate social communities, mobile devices, rich media, and user-generated content into the mainstream, marketers must evolve to meet the ever-changing needs of their users. While many B2B marketers have already heard this call and responded - consider how many podcasts, webinars, eSeminars and even Virtual Tradeshows exist that were unthinkable several years ago - there are advances that still need to be made, especially in how content is created and delivered.

1. Think Niche. Instead of reaching out to mammoth groups of users who may be interested in the topics you're presenting, give your users the change to sort themselves into small, category-specific groups that can be targeted with highly relevant content. Instead of letting users select from a few general categories related to your offerings, give them sub-choices within those categories. Once you know that a user is interested in learning about highly specific solutions within a larger category, they become highly qualified prospects when it's time to really promote your solutions. Users want to personalize their online experience, and offering them the option to define their interests in-depth allows them do this while giving you insight into their needs.

2. Mobile devices will as important as computers for content delivery. As it already stands, 64% of IT decision makers use their mobile devices to access electronic content. This number is only expected to go up as mobile networks become faster and are able to deliver content quickly and to a range of devices. If you're not already developing mobile versions of your website, landing page and marketing materials (enewsletters, email marketing messages), you need to start doing so now. When users try to access your website or open your enewsletter on their mobile devices, do you really want to lose them as a lead because their platform doesn't support your message?

3. Content needs to be convertible. Buzz Marketing (also known as word-of-mouth marketing or viral marketing) is how people are increasingly finding out about your content. People gather data from trusted sources, and their friends and co-workers fall into that category. Because of this, content needs to be packaged so it can be easily passed from person-to-person, regardless of the device they're using. While forwarding a white paper or emailing a URL that points to a video is easy, users will eventually need to be able to pass webinars, podcasts and product demos from device to device without considering that the file won't transfer. If you want your podcasts, webinars and other rich media to play, regardless of the device it's being accessed from, you need to develop these kinds of content with that goal in mind.

As a B2B marketer, one of your goals should be to make content as accessible to as many people, and with as little ease on their part as is humanly possible. This may mean re-tooling your product offerings to include mobile content delivery options, offering instant updates via micro-blog messages, or developing content that is accessible regardless of the device on which it's played. You may need to refine your focus when it comes to building eNewsletters, and consider sending more newsletters to fewer people so you get a smaller pool of more highly-qualified leads at the end of the day.

Developing new strategies for delivering content is challenging, but is essential to staying current in this evolving digital marketplace. When you do develop new products, you'll be better suited to meet your users needs and you may even attract new users when they see the cutting-edge content-delivery options that your company offers.

May 12, 2008

Presidential Campaigns and the B2B Buying Process

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The Presidential candidates seem to have adopted the same marketing techniques used by online marketers, specifically B2B marketers. As strange as it sounds, it's possible to compare the Presidential electoral cycle to the complex sales cycle.

While the Presidential election is a high-stakes race for control of this country's government, candidates still have to rely on marketing techniques to get their voices heard and their faces in front of the masses. The Presidential campaigns are lengthy - lasting from 6-18 months - are education-intensive, and involve long-term nurturing of their target audience (voters). With so many people tuning into the race this year, B2B marketers may want to pay attention to how candidates have attracted, retained and nurtured their supporters, and how they plan on keeping them engaged from now until November.

Branding
To be a viable Presidential candidate, contenders have to create recognizable brands that appeal to potential supporters all over the country. In building their brands, candidates have a limited period of time to introduce themselves, educate the public on their policies, and prove that they can be trusted. By reaching out to voters with consistent messaging (signs, literature, buttons, commercials), providing a steady stream of high-quality educational materials (issue statements, press releases, online content, literature), and repeating their campaign's key themes at every opportunity(Change You Can Believe In; Straight Talk Express, Making History Together), the candidates have effectively created recognizable brands that seem to appeal to voters.

Building recognizable brands is also an essential component to running a successful B2B marketing campaign. When sending out marketing materials, B2B marketers work to establish themselves as trusted advisers that can be relied upon and turned to over the course of the buying cycle. To do this, marketers reach out to prospects with educational materials that are meant to facilitate the research phase of the buying cycle. By sending these kinds of materials early in the buying process, marketers build brand awareness, provide valuable research materials and hopefully establish themselves as trusted advisers.

Research & Education
With so much riding on the outcome of the Presidential Election, voters are increasingly educating themselves on the policies, backgrounds and beliefs of the Presidential candidates. To help voters learn about their issues, candidates have developed content that outlines their policies, highlights their voting records, and explains how they plan to proceed if elected. Voters can download issue statements, read press releases, watch videos and study the text of speeches on candidate websites. Campaigns also send out eNewsletters and text message updates to blast their supporters with information about the candidates.

With lengthy sales cycles involving expensive, and often highly technical products, B2B marketers have to provide a stream of educational materials to their prospects that will answer their questions as they progress through the buying process. And because different prospects have different requirements (the technical decision maker vs. the financial decision maker, for example), marketers need to develop content that will reach each kind of buyer at the appropriate point in their buying process. To do this, B2B marketers create white papers, case studies, webinars, product demos and podcasts that users can acces with ease when they're ready.

Nurturing
With an election cycle that started in early 2007 and will end in November of this year, Presidential campaigns have to nurture voters throughout the entire process. By reaching out to users with eNewsletters, text messages, events, and editorial content, Presidential candidates continuously strive to connect with and engage voters. Adding to this difficulty is the need for candidates to raise money from their supporters and motivate their base to volunteer their time, organize events and make phone calls on their behalf. So while candidates nurture voters through the process, they also have to engage people with Calls to Action.

Research on lead nurturing shows us that prospects are most likely to respond to your marketing message after you've engaged them with multiple touches (email messages, phone calls, eNewsletters, etc), and that 95% of initial leads are "green bananas" that need to be nurtured and ripened over time (with thanks to Brian Carroll). Because of this B2B marketers engage in "drip marketing" techniques that allow them to engage and re-engage prospects by reaching out to them over time and building their brand and their image as a trusted adviser. B2B marketers continuously reach out to prospects with eNewsletters, email marketing messages, engaging content and Calls to Action - though these Calls to Action generally invite users to participate in events, download trial versions of their products or watch multimedia content.

Content
Both Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns lean heavily on the use of content to get their views across- specifically audio, video and informational articles. There seems to be an overall recognition that eNewsletters and email marketing messages are effective tools for getting a message across to large numbers of people at once. And while B2B marketers are still somewhat lagging in their use of social media, Presidential campaigns seem to understand that the way to engage users is to let them participate in the process, and have widely implemented blogs, social communities, and user-generated content.

By comparing Presidential campaigns and B2B marketing campaigns, we can see how large, well-funded organizations are using the same tools to achieve very different goals. In looking at the similarities of the processes required to attain their goals however, it's clear that we can all learn from each other, and consider how some of the candidates' tactics could work in the B2B arena.

April 17, 2008

What Can Micro-blogging do for Marketing?

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Micro-blogging is a growing phenomenon and may be one of the waves of the future when it comes to reaching out and connecting with plugged-in website subscribers, members and users. Because of the ability to send short, highly targeted messages to users via their cell phones, IM clients or desktops, micro-blogging may be the next best way to deliver content quickly.

According to Wikipedia,

Micro-blogging is a form of blogging that allows users to write brief text updates (usually less than 200 characters) and publish them, either to be viewed by anyone or by a restricted group which can be chosen by the user. These messages can be submitted by a variety of means, including text messaging, instant messaging, email, MP3 or the web.

The most popular of the micro-blogging platforms is Twitter - the social networking service that allows users to send brief messages (140 characters maximum) to their network of "friends." When you use Twitter, you have the ability to let your network in on what you're doing at any given time, and follow what your friends are doing as well. Twitter has gained a large and loyal following of people who constantly answer Twitter's defining question, "What are you doing?"

Pownce is another micro-blogging platform, but this one allows people to send messages, links, files and event invitations to their network of friends. Pownce has developed a range of tools and applications that allow you to send and receive messages on your cell phone, IM client, and even as notes sent straight to your desktop.

Other micro-blogging platforms include Jaiku, Dodgeball and Loopnote.

Micro-blogging's potential as a marketing tool comes from the potential to sign users up for niche-content updates, and send links (to white papers, case studies, podcasts) using a micro-blogging platform. Instead of relying on a general topic eNewsletter when sending out a white paper, you can send a micro-blog message to a self-selected group of highly targeted users. The New York Times, the BBC and Al Jazeera are already using micro-blogging to send headlines and links to stories.

While setting up micro-blog updates for your content may not be at the top of your priority list right now, it's important to start considering where technology is taking online marketing. We already know that 64% of IT decision makers are reading your eNewsletters on their mobile devices. Of these people, how many are already using micro-blogs, and would they be interested in skipping eNewsletters altogether and moving on to white papers delivered via micro-blogs?

For more information about Micro-blogging, check out Mark Glaser's MediaShift post Your Guide to Micro-Blogging and Twitter, Melissa Chang's 16th Letter post, What is Twitter, or this highly informative article, Why We Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities.

March 18, 2008

Engage and Re-Engage Users via Behavioral Targeting

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Behavioral targeting has a bad reputation - there is a common perception that once marketers have your personal information, they know everything there is to know about you, and will use it to intrude upon your privacy. For reputable online marketers however, the use of personal data for marketing purposes is much more focused, and, when applied correctly, actually respects user privacy by only sending messages targeted to their needs.

By signing up for or subscribing to an eNewsletter or website, users "opt-in" to receive marketing materials and thereby give marketers permission to send communications directly to their inboxes. When marketers take this data a step further, and analyze their users' engagement with their content, they are looking at information to which they already have access. Once user behaviors have been analyzed, marketers are able to send targeted messages to those users who have expressed an interest in very specific topics, instead of marketing the same materials to their entire subscriber lists.

When marketers have the capability to track how, and how often, their users are engaging with their content, they can use that data to segment, and further segment their users into niche groups. This kind of data - how often a user has downloaded a white paper, whether they've participated in an online forum, or the fact that they only watch the first 20 minutes of webinars - is useless when taken out of context. But by examining this kind of data to anticipate their users' needs, it becomes a powerful tool in determining which materials will help users move through their buying processes quickly.

According to Phil Leggiere's post, BT and Lead Generation, in the MediaPost's Behavioral Insider blog, this kind of targeting can bring real value to users. He cites the Amazon and Netflix implementation of behavior targeting as examples of behavioral targeting done well. When looked at from this perspective, it seems logical to think that when marketers start paying attention to their users' movements online, they are better able to respond to their users' needs in real-time and give their users what they want.

February 08, 2008

Maintain Your Online Reputation

junk_email_resize.jpg Email marketing via eNewsletters is a highly effective way to generate online leads and promote your company's offerings. With the popularity and relative ease of sending eNewsletters, it is important to remember that each time you send an eNewsletter, your organization's reputation is on-the-line. If you want to maintain a good reputation, maintain your subscribers and deliver valuable products that drive clicks, you may want to consider the following checks on your eNewsletter processes:

1. Do you have permission to email your subscribers? Are you sending your subscribers only those messages for which they have requested and opted-in? Make sure your subscribers have all opted-in to your eNewsletters and have access to functional, easy-to-use unsubscribe links (in each eNewsletter) if they change their minds.

2. Are you considered a spammer? Do you send so many emails that your subscribers hit the unsubscribe list just to stop the deluge? Do you have a list full of undeliverable email addresses? To stay off black lists, limit how many emails your organization is sending each day, and honor all unsubscribe requests. Implement "list hygiene" practices and scrub out junk email addresses before they are added to your lists.

3. Are your subscribers able to read your eNewsletters once they're received? Have you tested each of your messages to make sure the images, links and text render properly in different email clients? Testing eNewsletters is essential to make sure that graphics and links render properly once delivered. By sending test messages to the big email clients (Hotmail, Yahoo, AOL), you also ensure that your eNewsletter images aren't getting blocked for security reasons.

4. Does your eNewsletter design work for your users? Do you deliver a product that inspires people to open, read and click through your content? A/B testing is helpful in determining what works for eNewsletters. When implementing changes, make sure you test out new ideas on your users, and let the metrics help you decide which designs best suit your users.

5. Do you deliver value in each eNewsletter you send? Do you send updated, timely and relevant content that matches your users needs? The greatest eNewsletter ever created will fall short if you are unable to provide your subscribers with interesting content. Make sure that you are sending new material with each eNewsletter, and look at the click-through rates and metrics to determine if your efforts are working.

By staying on top of these kinds of eNewsletter issues, your organization will be better suited to build a positive online reputation and protect their brand. By respecting opt-in and unsubscribe requests, maintaining clean lists, testing your products and always sending relevant content, you are better able to retain both the trust of your subscribers and an online reputation that keeps you out of spam filters.

January 29, 2008

The Nuts and Bolts of Mobile Marketing

iphonescreenshot.jpgWith more and more IT buyers accessing content on mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberries and Palms, IT marketers need to turn their eyes toward the future and figure out how to run mobile marketing lead generation campaigns. Already, 64% of IT decision makers view electronic content on mobile devices - that means that 2 out of 3 people that are reading your eNewsletters and email marketing messages are potentially doing so on their mobile screens.

According to the Mobile Marketing Association's white paper, Understanding Mobile Marketing: Technology & Research (May, 2007), there are several factors that need to be considered when launching a mobile marketing campaign that are not relevant when launching traditional email marketing campaigns.

1. How large is your audience - how many people have handsets that support the technology used in your campaign?

2. Have other companies in your market used mobile technology in their marketing campaigns? What worked and what didn't work at all?

3. What kinds of limitations do you face in implementing your campaign? Are there technical limitations? Is the average mobile screen large enough for your creative content to be effective?

4. Do you have partners that can assist you with a mobile marketing campaign? Are there new partnerships you will need to establish for your campaign to be a success?

5. What is your projected Return-on-Investment? Does the cost justify the benefits of running a mobile campaign?

These are just a few of the key points that the Mobile Marketing Association suggests you consider before you place all of your resources into a mobile marketing campaign. Find out more by downloading their white paper here, and make sure you consider the ins and outs of this quickly emerging market before you launch a mobile marketing campaign.

-BH

January 18, 2008

Score a Lead, Build a Relationship

Recently I have been stressing the importance of becoming a "trusted partner" to your leads by providing them with a steady stream of informative and educational content that matches their needs according to their place in the IT buying process. If you can reach your users without using sales pitches (especially once they've become a lead), than you can appeal to their needs, on their terms and build your relationships with potential buyers over time.

Relationship building is crucial to cultivating leads, especially those that are relatively "cold." By reaching out to your C and D leads, you start to build brand-recognition and integrate yourself into your leads' research processes. By approaching your A and B leads in a more aggressive manner, you recognize that they are closer to making decisions and may be swayed according to the content you can provide.

There are different ways to nurture leads once they've been scored, and automated lead scoring systems can help you define your parameters and set your lead nurturing strategies in to motion. Perhaps you can program your lead nurturing efforts to automatically deliver new messages to leads that fit certain criteria and have been in your sales pipeline for longer than x months. Or consider that when scoring leads you could design your system to automatically move leads up or down levels according to their age, the number of times they have engaged with your content, and the types of content they have accessed.

Lead scoring does more than let your sales team know which leads are ready to make sales and which leads are cold. By combining a well-developed lead scoring system with an automated and carefully tailored lead nurturing program, you can use technology to help you reach out to your leads and start building relationships. It's crucial that you build and nurture relationships with all of your prospects, and the process of scoring leads before you start building those relationships can help you understand the needs of your leads before you try to satisfy them.

-BH

January 15, 2008

Innovate for Change

If you want to remain competitive in the IT lead generation industry, you have to go beyond your current lead generation practices and develop new tools that help you do your job. Approach your business with an open mind and consider what new medias and technologies can be leveraged to market enterprise technology on the Internet.

In the past few years we have increased the kinds of content that are acceptable in IT lead generation campaigns, as well as the types of media that can be used when creating content. While white papers have been used for years to generate leads, it's only been relatively recently that you could download a podcast of that white paper, or watch the same information presented as a webinar.

How do you want to receive your online research? It's easy enough to think that eNewsletters and email marketing messages are the cheapest, most efficient ways to generate leads - but do users still want their content delivered in that manner? Is it possible to create a site where your marketing messages could be tailored to each user (according to how they fill out your registration forms) and delivered via text message, instant message, RSS feed, blog entries or via email? And if content could be delivered in these ways, are there as-of-yet undiscovered methods that will work better?

It's time to take a hard look at the products you use in your lead generation campaigns and determine if there's more that could be done to optimize your lead generation. Be an agent of change within your organization and look outside of your current policies towards new medias, new content types and new content delivery methods.

-BH

December 21, 2007

Improve Branding with Keyword Consistency

If you want to create consistent branding on your Website, throughout your marketing materials and as your organization appears to search engines, try using consistent keywords in all aspects of your marketing efforts. While much of branding is visual (think logos, home pages and eNewsletter designs), word choice, tone and keyword selection also play a role in creating a consistent brand.

One way to accomplish this kind of organization-wide consistency is to encourage collaboration between your editors and copywriters, your Search specialists and your Lead Generation team. Develop a process by which the keywords used by your Search specialists make their way to your Editorial and Lead Generation teams. When creating titles, descriptions and summaries for marketing materials, make sure that keywords are included in high-traffic spots (which can be determined using Eye Tracking studies) and are consistent across all of your marketing materials.

By repeating key words and phrases on your home page and Website, in your metadata, in eNewsletters and email marketing messages, and within your content, you will subtly build and enforce your company's brand. And while your site visitors and subscribers might not consciously notice the consistency, chances are good that search engines will.

-BH

December 17, 2007

Go Further With Your Content

As technology buyers are taking more and more control over the IT buying process, IT marketers need to develop new options that let their users have more choice in how they consume marketing materials. By designing campaigns to appeal to users' preferences in the kind of content they want to consume (white papers, case studies, articles, interviews), the type of media they want to use to consume it (PDFs. videos, webinars, podcasts), and the method by which the content is delivered (eNewsletters/Email, RSS Feeds, Text Messages), you can appeal to a broader range of users and build brand loyalty.

In running campaigns, many companies select one asset - such as a webcast - and use that as the only content for their entire campaigns. By limiting a user's choice like this, companies lose out on generating leads that might otherwise be interested in their message. While webcasts (or videos, or podcasts, etc) appeal to some technology buyers, some people will never watch a webcast, even if they might be interested in the message it delivers.

Rather than risk losing potential buyers before they even see your message, why not deliver your message using a variety of media? Using the same content, you can craft marketing materials that appeal to the ardent podcast listener, the PDF-only user, and the video maven. To take your message a step further, you can deliver your content in emails/eNewsletters, to mobile devices, via RSS Feeds, and on blogs set-up to deliver daily marketing content.

As technology evolves, the ways in which we deliver technology marketing messages to our users must change too. Keep the user experience in mind when you're crafting content, and realize that the more choices you give the user as to HOW they receive your messages, the more likely you will be in reaching the greatest number of users possible.

-BH

December 13, 2007

Do You Web 2.0?

For the B2B technology sector, the implementation of Web 2.0 tools and features on your websites seems ideal. With a long buying cycle, multiple parties involved in making purchasing decisions, and the need to do enough research on purchases to understand the technical aspects and be able to justify the expense, any tools that allow the users to take control over their process should be welcomed with open arms.

By opening up your website and allowing users to interact with your offerings, you essentially allow your users to nurture themselves through their own buying process. Tools and site features that let users tag and bookmark content, create profiles and personalized pages (think MySpace for technology buyers), and build their own research libraries are all excellent ways to entice users to return to your site without being promoted via eNewsletters or other marketing materials.

Once you give users a reason to organically return to your site, you can track their behaviors over the course of their buying cycle and use that information to qualify their lead status. When users take control over their buying process, their interactions with your content become more meaningful - when the user reaches for an asset saved to their "favorites," they have made an independent decision to view that material. So even if it's been several weeks since you originally promoted that content and captured the user's lead data, the fact that the user has returned to your site and re-engaged with the asset on their own schedule makes them a more valuable lead.

While landing pages allow IT marketers to capture similar information, most traffic to such pages tends to be driven by the marketing department - through eNewsletter or email promotions - through lead nurturing efforts, or through organic searches. Convincing users to "hang out" on an enterprise technology website is tricky - but adding Web 2.0 tools might just be a good way to keeping coming back to your site.

-BH

December 03, 2007

Building Trust with Drip Marketing

dripmarketingsmall.jpg Drip Marketing is defined as: a direct marketing strategy that involves sending out a number of promotional pieces over a period of time to a subset of sales leads (from wordspy.com).

One way to cultivate and nurture leads as they move through their buying process is to employ a 'drip marketing' strategy whereby you reach out to prospects with various marketing and promotional materials over a period of time. Each time you engage your leads with new content or offers, you reintroduce your prospects to your offerings, reinforce your brand, and gain credibility as a reliable source of information.

One key way to gain the trust of your prospects is by providing educational information without pitching your offerings outright or pressing your prospects to buy. According to Brian Carroll in Lead Nurturing - Ripening the Right Bananas, multi-touch lead nurturing strategies inspire trust in your prospects and helps build a relationships, and building trusted relationships is one of the most effective ways to turn prospects into buyers.

By setting up a drip marketing strategy where, over a period of time, you send emails that contain increasingly more specialized content (such as webcasts, research reports or podcasts), special offers (such as invitations to events), and links to Landing Pages and Microsites, you continuously (yet gently) nudge your leads until they trust your brand, engage with your content, and eventually respond to your offers.

-BH

November 28, 2007

How Do You Serve Up Your Bacn?

For those of us engaged in e-mail marketing, what happens once our thoughtfully crafted eNewsletters and e-mail nurturing messages are sent is of the utmost importance. Optimally, subscribers receive our materials and read through them immediately - clicking on offers along the way. This scenario isn't always possible however, so the next best thing is that they become "bacn," and our users set them aside to read later in their day or week.

Bacn, for those of you who haven't been following the somewhat silly debate (though not too silly for NPR to chime in on in: Move Over, Spam: 'Bacn' Is the E-Mail Dish du Jour), is a recently coined term defined as "e-mail you want, but not right now." Where spam is e-mail you never want (think Viagra offers and anything with XXX in the title), bacn is e-mail that you've signed up to receive, but don't always have time to read.

By tagging e-mails as worthy, just not right now, users have established another tool by which they can take control over their buying process. As users save and file bacn, they are building their own mini research libraries that they can go back to and mine for gems once they're ready. Because of this, vendors (especially those who rely on 3rd-party marketers for their lead generation) need to recognize that a lead who responds to an offer a month after that offer has been sent is still a valuable lead.

Keep the concept of bacn in your mind as you send out your marketing materials, and remember that a lead deferred is still a lead.

-BH

November 26, 2007

Copywriting with Keywords for Improved Search Results

Adding SEO (search engine optimization) practices to your Web site is a multi-step process that can involve making changes to your site's architecture, who you link to and how (for credibility's sake), and how you market your site and site materials. While implementing some of these processes take time and the cooperation of most of your company's departments, there are quick and easy ways you can improve your search results.

One site you can send your copywriters to is Wordtracker.com, where they have set up free Keyword Suggestion tool. With this keyword suggestion tool, you can enter a keyword, find out how many times that keyword was searched (according to Wordtracker's formula), and see 100 related keywords that are being searched.

When writing headlines, titles, and abstracts or summaries, your copywriters can see which terms are generating the most searches online and use the more popular terms to describe your marketing materials. Using this tool, I typed in "virtualization," and found it to be the most popular of 1614 searches related to virtualization - this didn't surprise me. What I did find surprising, was that the 3rd most popular related search term - "virtualization software" was only searched 29 times.

Search algorithms are still somewhat a mystery, but this free keyword suggestion tool can take some of the guesswork out of writing copy for optimal searches. Check out a list of 12 keyword suggestion tools at The SEO Company.

-BH

November 19, 2007

Unify Your Campaign with a Strong Content Strategy

When you create materials to launch a lead generation campaign, ask yourself the following:

1. Is there a unified theme that runs through your promotional content? Can a user tell that each piece of content is part of a greater whole?

2. If your content is meant to be viewed in one place - such as on a Microsite or Branded Landing Zone - have you created it so that each asset tells a part of the "story" of your product or offering?

3. Have you created content that fulfills user needs regardless of where they are in their buying process? Does your content include varying degrees of technical and practical information for your users?

Your content is the engine that drives your campaign - and when marketing B2B technology, you need to provide users with a comprehensive array of assets that explain what you have to offer, what problems your offer solves, and why the user needs your offer.

While it may be difficult to create content that reaches Evaluators looking at the technical side of products, Recommendors looking at lots of different products, and Decision Makers looking at the fiscal side of products, you have to reach them all - and their coworkers!

Map out your content strategy before you begin creating white papers, podcasts and case studies. Start with the story of your product or offer and than decide who needs to hear it and how each player in the IT buying process is best reached, and when.

Remember, the IT buying process is long and involves multiple people for a reason - your users are looking to purchase expensive solutions that will solve their long-term business needs. At the end of the day, your content plays a tremendous role in getting your products and offerings sold - the least you can do is make sure it meets your users' needs.

-BH

November 14, 2007

Add a "Refer a Colleague" Link to Generate More Leads

If you can make one change to your eNewsletters and e-mail marketing materials this year, add a button that allows your users to "Refer a Colleague." According to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Guide 2007-08, tech buyers are most likely to find out about white papers (and other marketing collateral) from colleagues or through e-mail invitations.

Your eNewsletter subscribers can't all be Decision Makers or C-Level executives with purchasing power (and if they are, congratulations). Rather, your subscribers are made up of professionals who occupy varying roles in the IT buying process. By adding a "refer a colleague" button to your marketing materials, you open up your chances of getting the Evaluators, Recommendors, and Gatekeepers who read your materials to deliver the message for you to Decision Makers and Purchasers.

While it's always possible that your subscribers will pass your marketing materials along without needing a "refer a colleague" button, why take that chance? By making it easy for your users to send their colleagues your materials, you do your best to ensure that any referred users will see your branding, your contact information (including the opportunity to become members), and any other details you include in your "refer a colleague" e-mail messages.

Think of your referral program as another step in lead nurturing - only this time you get the chance to nurture prospects before they become true leads.

-BH

November 01, 2007

Have You Considered the "E-mail Insecurity Factor?"

If you spend most of your time generating leads by e-mail, chances are excellent that some of your recipients have stopped opening - or never started opening - your messages. According to a recently published study from Habeas Inc. - an e-mail Reputation Services Provider, the growing lack of trust in e-mail correspondences is having an increasingly negative impact on businesses. Sixty-two percent of study respondents are concerned about being victimized online, and 60% believe that spam is getting worse.

The study results suggest that users are taking this "e-mail insecurity" into their own hands by setting up multiple e-mail accounts (using personal - not work - e-mail addresses) to receive e-mail offers. Habeas Inc. CEO, Des Cahill, describes how users are managing their e-mail accounts, "Given the ease with which individuals can open e-mail accounts, sending and receiving e-mails has become an issue of navigating a landscape of inboxes set up on the basis of trust."

Maintaining a trusted e-mail reputation is integral to maintaining your overall online reputation, and is difficult to repair once sullied. In his article, "Mind Your Email Reputation," iMedia Connection's Spenser Kollas offers basic tips for making sure your messages stay out of the spam filters. You can also learn more about the Habeas Inc. study at their upcoming webinar - How Web 2.0 and Online Reputation Changes Strategy and Results.

-BH

October 12, 2007

Lead Nurturing Revisited

In creating lead nurturing messages, it's important to gently remind your users of their visit to your site before you start your sales pitch. With more and more tech buyers doing research online, information overload has taken hold - and people are simply too overwhelmed to remember every site they visit and every piece of content they download.

A good strategy in creating lead nurturing messages is to pull your users in by jogging their memories. Use personalization if possible - it's always good to address your users by name, but what's even better is to reference what they read on your site and when they read it. Offering additional, relevant content is also an excellent way to compel users to return to your site and re-engage with your offerings.

While it may be tempting to provide links to product downloads or demos, keep your users' buying process in mind. If this is the first time they've engaged with your content, a better offer might be a case study that highlights your products in the real world, or a research report that compares your offering to the competitors and claims yours as the winner. Downloads and demos are effective, but only after a user has gathered research from a variety of sources first.

-BH

September 28, 2007

Using Complex Online Tools for Marketing, Sales and Service

A September 2007 survey from The McKinsey Quarterly, titled "How Companies are Marketing Online: A McKinsey Global Survey," discusses the importance of complex online tools in our increasingly digitized word.

The survey details not only how companies are using complex online tools in their marketing efforts, but also how organizations have started to digitize other aspects of their business - such as in their sales efforts and customer service programs. According to the survey, some online tools are already widely in use - such as the placement of service information on company Web sites (86% of respondents have this in place), and the use of personalized e-mails for reaching out to customers (78% have in place). In terms of managing sales, most of the respondents do so via their company Web site (79%), while 42% of respondents turn to external eCommerce sites for this purpose.

Less widely employed complex online tools include a Click-to-Call option on Web sites (29%), the sponsorship of User Forums for the sharing of information among customers (22%) and availability of Online Text Chat for customer service assistance (18%). The survey notes that the more an organization has integrated online tools into their marketing strategy, the more likely the organization is to have implemented complex online tools in their sales and service efforts. In terms of online sales efforts, 8% of respondents have a "store" in a virtualized world, and 6% of respondents sell via external auction sites.

Sign up for the report here and see where your company stacks up in terms of complex online tool usage.

-BH

September 17, 2007

E-mail Marketing on the "Third Screen"

Mobile e-mail delivery is going to be a force to reckon with over the next year. C-Level executives – the sweet spot for most technology marketers – are increasingly accessing both e-mail and Web sites via mobile devices such as Blackberries and Palms. In a recent study, Marketing Sherpa found that a full 64% of decision makers view electronic content on mobile devices – a staggering number considering how few technology marketers are explicitly gearing their content for mobile distribution.

ExactTarget, an on-demand e-mail marketing software company, writes about the importance of scaling your e-mail marketing messages and newsletters for the "Third Screen." In its white paper, Email Marketing for the Third Screen: The Adoption of Mobile Email and its Impact on Email Marketing Deployment, ExactTarget outlines the rapid deployment of smartphones and PDAs for accessing electronic content, and what e-mail marketers can do to stay ahead of the trend.

In the past, e-mail marketers worried about text vs.HTML e-newsletter delivery – today however, e-mail marketers need to take the next step and begin designing e-newsletters and e-mail marketing messages for mobile devices. If we want to continue to reach the most influential sect of technology buyers and decision makers, we need to adjust to how they view the world – and our content.

-BH

May 07, 2007

What does Tahiti have to do with IT security?

Beware of contests, premiums, giveaways and other types of "Trojan Horses" that are irrelevant to the business case for your product. Sure, if you offer people the chance to win an expensive all-inclusive trip to a remote location, you will increase the response to your marketing offer, but that will not translate into more highly-qualified sales ready leads. In fact, in my experience the opposite is true. You will, in fact, attract more non-qualified individuals who are interested only in your incentive. These additional responses will frustrate your sales team, reduce the productivity of your sales follow-up programs and otherwise become a burden [not an asset] to your company.

Twenty-five years ago, I ran the marketing for an International travel firm, and at that time, as today, the correct incentive was Tahiti. That incentive would lift the response rates and identify many adventure travelers with lots of disposable income. But, that incentive would not produce the same results for an IT security vendor. For IT security, consider a more relevant incentive -- for example, a free copy of your anti-virus product or free registration to a security event. Such giveaways aren't nearly as sexy as a trip to Tahiti, but they better support your security business case, they are relevant to the buyer's journey and the lift in response rates won't dissapoint your sales team.

Choose your incentives very carefully...

- BH

January 05, 2007

Online Lead Nurturing: E-mail is the Key

Call me impatient, but I want to launch my lead nurturing strategy while I have a client engaged with my offers. Two excellent ways to execute your online lead nurturing campaigns are through "link maps" and automated and triggered e-mail messages.

A link map provides a helpful navigation tool that directs the user to take additional, logical next steps along the buying process. So, for example, once you've made your business case through the download of a white paper, consider creating a 'link map' to the next logical options. This may include links to your Web site, to case studies, product literature or even a product demonstration.

Triggered e-mail messages are effective and welcome if they are executed directly after a content download. In additon to directing customers to additional content, consider directing them to your sales person for an immediate discussion. Nothing gets your sales staff more excited than clients who e-mail and call in-bound based on your lead generation strategies. Score inbound inquires very high on your lead spectrum.

BH

September 06, 2006

The New Direct Marketing - Structured Online Sales Pitching

An IT research revolution is upon us and it's a burden to both buyer and seller. IT buyers are seeking a more structured research process. And IT sellers must quickly adapt their online strategies [i.e. 'sales pitches'] to accelerate their selling cycles.

IT management is increasingly overworked, under staffed and under resourced. As buyers, they face, [1] the pressure to vet each purchase decision, [2] an increasingly unstructured network of information sources, and [3] a sense of information overload. The Web has provided a wonderful tool to facilitate research during the IT buying process. But, a senior IT executive at a Fortune 50 company recently summed up his new research challenge, "The Internet has opened up an enormous set of information options, but I don't run a research group, I run an IT group. The abundance of research is paralyzing our decision-making process."

Sellers are likewise challenged. Tom Rousseau, my Ziff Davis colleague who spends his days as marketing and media counsel to some of the world's most successful technology firms, sums up the current dilemma facing IT sellers, "We are a nation founded by lawyers - so we require evidence and data before making a buying decision. But we are also a nation of 'clickers' that seek instant gratification. Today's marketing solutions must appeal to both constituencies."

Today I announced a watershed marketing program that I call Branded Landing Zones. The program powers a new online direct marketing strategy that is designed to serve the most complex enterprise technology sales processes - where a comprehensive educational and information exchange is required by both buyer and seller to facilitate the transaction.

I have much more to share with you about Branded Landing Zones, structured sales pitching online and about the future of direct marketing as its being re-shaped by the Internet. So please stay tuned to my blog. Until then - Scot Brinker's September 5 article - Stuck in Traffic? Search Mode vs. Pitch Mode in Web Marketing - is prerequisite reading.

BH

Building Credibility, Boosting Leads with White Papers

White papers that provide clear, concise and accurate information about enterprise technology products and services are tops in the leading sources of information that technology decision makers use to make purchases. When written well, white papers provide important benefits in educating your prospects and building a business case for your solutions. When disseminated to the right people, they are valuable tools to generate highly qualified [and educated] prospects. In addition, white papers provide real business benefits by reinforcing your company’s credibility and demonstrating your role as a thought leader within your market segment.

White papers serve to build mindshare for your brand and your product. To make a positive impact, white papers must be up-to-date, relevant and compelling. Avoid an overly wordy and academic writing style for your white paper. Instead of using industry lingo, select language that all readers will understand. Also, review your competitor's white papers before writing yours - so the position you choose gives you a competitive advantage.

Writing the white paper is only the first step. Getting key prospects to read it after its written is critical to meeting your business communication objectives.

There are several easy ways to disseminate your white papers to the right audience:

• E-Newsletters – Promote your white papers in your own e-newsletter or buy sponsorships in media that allow you to reach your target market

• Directories - Syndicate your white papers to technology directories and white paper libraries where you will find a robust network of highly respected web sites that are trafficked by technology buyers

• Lead Generation Programs – Subscribe to lead generation programs that allow you to use your white papers as the ‘trojan horse’ to qualify your prospects who are interested to learn about your solutions.

• Press Releases - Issue a press release about each white paper.

• SEO/SEM – Post the white paper to you web site and use the key words from your white papers to promote them through your SEM.

BH

August 06, 2006

Buying technology is a process

The sales cycle for Information Technology is getting longer.

From 2005 to 2006, IT sales executives overwhelmingly indicated that their sales cycles were increasing, according to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2006.

That is a very disturbing trend. Setting aside the macro impact on our national and global economies, the micro affect is even more curious to me. When you consider the inherent company benefits that are promised by the implementation of new technologies (i.e. increased productivity, speed and cost efficiencies) - I wonder why we aren't in more of a hurry to make technology purchases which can offer real gains for our companies.

The truth is, we are in a hurry - both as buyers and sellers

As buyers, we want all the benefits of the purchase - but the decision process 'pre-purchase' is getting more complicated, powered by online tools, flowing information and a more collaborative work environment. Companies (both large and small) report more people than ever are involved in the decision process.

As sellers, we are even more impetuous. Rather than recognizing a new dynamic selling environment - we are using our powerful new online tools to drive dated 'targeting' techniques - a wishful strategy that presumes that there is a single purchase influencer, neatly organized by job title, function and size of firm, who will immediately approve an order (so we can play more golf). We are, in effect, guilty of skipping the necessary steps, people and dialogues in today's buying process. And, by leapfrogging the natural order, we are actually slowing down a sales process that is ripe to accelerate.

Doing this blog is labor of love. For more than 25 years I've been a student of the buying process and a self-professed 'speed freak'. I've always used my analysis of the buying process to guide my marketing and sales strategies. And, with this blog, I'll be using that same approach.

I hope that my simple observations and the analysis of our many contributors will help you unlock the buying process for your products and accelerate your sales process.

Let's get started!

Barry