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October 15, 2008

The Role of Social Media in B2B Marketing

For those of us who keep an eye on trends in social media, it seems as if EVERYONE is jumping on the social media bandwagon. From Barack Obama and John McCain's use of the technologies in their campaigns, to major IT companies like IBM and SAP's social efforts, one might easily get the impression that social media is everywhere.

world_background_v-.jpgSocial media isn't really everywhere - only 35% of B2B marketers participating in a Forrester Research teleconference currently use social media in their marketing efforts. With so few statistics available to those looking to learn more about social media's effectiveness, and no real way to test social media without investing time and money on pilot programs, B2B firms have little motivation to change how they do business and embrace potentially risky marketing methods.

In B2B Marketers Eye Social Media, Web 2.0 Tactics, , Forrester Research's Laura Ramos addresses the various difficulties faced by B2B marketers when considering whether or not they should incorporate social media tactics into traditional B2B marketing campaigns. Using data gathered from 300 B2B marketing professionals, Ramos outlines the 4 main components of social media that challenge B2B marketers and prevent them from embracing social media:

1. Social Media is still only emerging in the B2B marketing space.

2. B2B marketers don't know how to measure the success of social media.

3. Without an easy way to measure the impact of social media, B2B marketers are playing it safe and sticking with what they know.

4. B2B marketers don't understand how their customers are using social media, how their customers might want to use social media, or how to reach their customers and learn about their thoughts on social media.

Do you have these same issues in deciding whether to incorporate social media into your B2B marketing campaigns? Has your company embraced social media as an effective marketing tool? Have you determined how best to measure the impact of social media on your users, your ROI, your sales and conversions? Do you even know if your customers are already using social media in other areas of their lives, or if they would welcome the introduction of social media tools in their B2B decision making process?

It's certainly important to ask yourself these questions when thinking about how social media might fit into your marketing strategy. At the same time though, you may not be able to answer all of these questions until you take the leap and present your users with social media in your marketing efforts. When people are given the chance to participate in that which interests them, they seem to respond by getting involved.

Consider starting small - here are a few ways to get started with social media without completely overhauling your entire marketing strategy:

1. Add tagging or bookmarking capabilities to your website so users can tag, save and share your content.

2. Start a company blog and encourage user participation through comments.

3. Allows users to access your marketing content (new whitepapers, enewsletters) vis RSS feeds.

4. Create a presence on social networking sites and invite your users to add you to their networks.

5. Incorporate multimedia content (such as videos and podcasts) into your marketing efforts.

If you want to learn more about how companies are implementing social media into their marketing campaigns check out this Social Computing Magazine article, 130 Social Media Marketing Examples from Major Brands. You can also find useful information on social media marketing in SEOmoz's article Social Media Marketing Tactics, or in Marketing Pilgrim's Social Media Marketing Beginner's Guide.

October 02, 2008

Search and Google Aren't Synonymous

search.jpgThere has been quite a bit of disappointment over Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and their agreement in censoring search results as part of China's Golden Shield Project. According to Wikipedia the Golden Shield Policy is the censorship and surveillance project operated by the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) of the People's Republic of China. Because of this policy, some people have ceased their use of Google, Yahoo and Microsoft searches, and are looking for alternative search engines to fill the void.

In complying with the Chinese government's censorship policies, the following appears when a censored term is searched using the popular search engines: In accordance with local laws, regulations and policies, part of the search result is not shown. (translated). And while the search engines have been censoring their results for several years at this point, the censorship controversy has been in the news recently due to the recent Beijing Olympics and the heavy media presence in the country.

Even though the problem encountered by journalists covering the Olympics had more to do with IP addresses being blocked (for "controversial" sites like Amnesty International and BBC China), the renewed interest in China's Internet policies has served to push the search engine censorship issue back into the mainstream. You can read more about what exactly Google (and other search engines) censors in Google Censorship - How it all Works, an informative article on Narender, an Internet marketing and creation oriented blog.

I've compiled a list of search engine alternatives that can be used as an alternative to the big 3 who operate under Chinese regulations.


dogpile_revised.gifDogpile
is a search engine with a twist - instead of indexing the results for one search engine, it compiles and indexes results from 6 separate search engines to return a robust selection of results. Owned by InfoSpace, Dogpile has been around since 1996, and has won awards for customer satisfaction. Be warned however! The list of search engines that Dogpile uses to compile their results includes: Google, Yahoo! Search, and Live Search. I guess it's not a great alternative if you want to go totally Google-Yahoo-Microsoft free.

Ask.com is one of the larger search engines, and has been around since 1996. Formerly AskJeeves (home to the online butler who was supposed to answer your questions), the Ask.com algorithm provides relevant search results by identifying the most authoritative sites on the Web.

FactBites has an interesting take on returning search results - instead of simply returning a site's description, it presents real, meaningful sentences related to the topics you're searching about. So instead of simply directing users to the self-created descriptions about the websites they're searching, FactBites digs a little deeper and gives you a more informed look at their results.

Mahalo_revised.gifMahalo (which means thank you in Hawaiian), bills itself as "the world's first human-powered search engine," and prides itself on better organizing the information they compile so that searchers save time and find what interests them quickly and easily. Search terms are organized into pages (like Fashion or Gadgets), and sub-topics are further categorized into lists on each main page. This kind of search is great for looking for topics to blog on (something I spend plenty of time doing), or for researching specific products.

ChaCha is a potentially cutting-edge earch engine that allows users "to ask any question in conversational English and receive an accurate answer as a text message in just a few minutes." ChaCha is a cool mobile tool, as you send text messages to the engine, and receive responses on your mobile device. Once your question is received, it's routed to the most knowledgeable ChaCha Community Guides (real people!) who are required to pass tests before they're able to work answering queries.

cuil_revised_2.pngCuil is a brand new search engine (launched on July 28, 2008), and claims to be the biggest search engine on the Web. Based out of Menlo Park, California, and founded by a former Google executive, Cuil claims to have indexed 120 billion Web pages - three times more than any other search engine. I checked out Cuil, and while this blog didn't come up in the top 10 search results when I entered the name (Accelerating IT Sales), the user interface is a pleasure, and I could see myself overlooking the ranking issue and giving the engine a fair shake.

There are plenty of other search engines out there just waiting to be discovered by those who are tired of, or want something different from Google. You can find comprehensive lists of search engines in this Wikipedia article, including topic-specific and niche engines that you might otherwise never hear about. Happy Searching!

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.

September 22, 2008

BtoB Online Goes Interactive with the Lead Generation Guide 2008

bb-logo_revised.gifThe recently released the BtoB Online Lead Generation Guide 2008 provides a comprehensive overview of the B2B lead generation industry's recent innovations and upcoming trends, and is published in an interactive format that puts their own suggestions regarding content usage into action.

The interactive guide has a range of features that allow users to search, bookmark, customize, and generally manipulate their experience with the content within. To explain all of the features, the guide contains a narrated tutorial that points out and explains each of the features available.

The fact that BtoB Online published the guide as more an interactive tool than as a document is interesting, and could signify a change in how content is distributed online. In the past, most similar publications have been offered as PDFs, or made available via a website. In choosing to distribute this guide as a tool however, BtoB Online is signaling the need to produce and distribute content that users can tweak to meet their needs.

By selecting any number of navigation options from the top-of-page navigation bar, users can select exactly how they want to view and use the content. In addition to deciding how I want my pages to appear (thumbnails or full-size viewing, 1-or-2 pages visible), I can select the "Links" option and see a list of all of the URLs on the page or in the guide! The publication also contains a fairly in-depth search feature, the ability to bookmark pages and have the bookmarks appear in my browser bookmarks/favorites, and social networking functionalities.

The inclusion of a "Share" option in the navigation bar is a big step for the B2B crowd which has been slower than the consumer sect in the full adoption of social networking within the industry. By addressing social networking in the very make-up of this guide however, BtoB Online is acknowledging the momentum that social networking has gained in the past year, and invited the use of social networking across the industry.

The guide can be embedded into blogs as a custom widget, shared with friends via an easy-to-use message containing the URL, or submitted to social networking sites such as Stumbledupon, Newsvine, and digg, among others.

In addition to the new interactive format, the guide also contains a host of valuable information for anyone working in the B2B lead generation industry. From advice on lead scoring and lead nurturing to resources for those looking to find out more about lead management vendors or understand the industry through statistics, the guide is packed full of useful tools.

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?

August 22, 2008

Optimizing Organic Search Strategies

searching_revised.jpgWhile site subscribers are the bread-and-butter for all kinds of B2B organizations, building a strong subscriber base over time is essential to maintaining and growing your pool of leads over time. Organic Search, defined by SEO-Space is the "process by which web users find web sites by a keyword query and click on an unpaid search engine listing," and is increasingly being used by B2B marketers as an inexpensive and highly efficient method of building an audience using existing infrastructure (search tools like Google), and their own content.

When making a conscious effort to increase your search rankings and drive traffic to your site via organic search methods, it's important that you consider all of the different tactics required to create a successful strategy. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a relatively complex field, and implementing search tactics that work requires that you do more than simply tag your content with keywords. Search experts, such as the folks at Search Engine Land, have taken the time to compile a list of common mistakes made by marketers when attempting to optimize their sites to generate (unpaid) search traffic.

In their article, Six Mistakes B2B Marketers Continue To Make With Organic Search, Search Engine Land outlines the most common mistakes made in terms of getting a great organic search strategy up and running. With a focus on the mistakes of B2B marketers, Search Engine Land offers tips on how these generally tech-savvy organizations can get their organic search strategies straight. And while inadequate site architecture (which is difficult to correct if you don't have a site redesign planned) tops the list of errors, the other errors commonly associated with optimizing organic search can all be remedied without having to rip apart your entire site.

Inadequate Site Architecture - if you're trying to drive traffic to your website based on specific search terms, you need to make sure that there are landing pages on your site to increase traffic to your site, and "welcome" traffic once it lands. If you simply drive traffic to your site, without tagging specific pages for specific search terms, not only do you lose out on an opportunity to push your site up in the search rankings, but you also lose the ability to effectively track your visitors once they hit your site.

Lousy Meta Descriptions - according to the article, many B2B marketers fail to fill out their site meta descriptions, and when they do fill out meta tags, they often either leave the task to the IT department, or write tags that they understand, but which don't resonate with users. Instead of taking a casual attitude to crafting meta descriptions, it's important to consult with (or hire) someone who understands how to write meta descriptions and which descriptions will attract the most search traffic.

Not Analyzing Organic Landing Pages
- In order to successfully implement a search strategy, you need to make sure that your organic landing pages are attracting the appropriate traffic. It's important to analyze your organic landing pages for, "for all significant, ranking keywords," and ensure that any organic traffic is, in fact, landing on the pages you want them to land on!

Not Monitoring Analytics - While pay-per-click search results are generally analyzed at length, organic search results don't always get the same attention. To capture the effectiveness of organic search however, it's crucial that you look at all of the statistics related to your search campaign and analyze your traffic, where it originates from, its bounce rates and so on. By understanding the path that organic search traffic takes to your site, you gain a better understanding of how you can better attract more of it.

Failing to Optimize Printed Marketing Assets Before Converting them to the Web - Before starting a campaign that's heavy on white papers, case studies and technology briefs formated as PDFs, make sure you optimize those materials for search. While the casual web surfer might not click on a PDF link, a tech-savvy B2B buyer may be specifically searching for these types of materials, and will be more likely to click on them if they come up towards the top of their search.

Duplicate Title Tags and Meta Descriptions - If you haven't optimized your site content for search, chances are excellent that you have duplicate title tags and meta descriptions associated with your site. Because of this, your search rankings will be lower, and users won't necessarily be able to find your valuable content.

While these 6 common mistakes represent just the tip of the organic search iceberg, they present a good place to start when evaluating your organic search strategy. If you're interested in learning more about optimizing your site (and/or content) for search, you may want to visit Search Engine Guide, Search Engine Journal, SearchEngineWatch, or any of these other sites compiled by SearchRank.

August 13, 2008

Viral Video as a Brand Builder

I received an email recently with a link to a YouTube video that, once I'd checked it out, made me think differently about how viral video can be used to market or promote just about anything, regardless of its connection to the video's content.

In this video titled, "Where the Hell is Matt? (2008)," a young man named Matt dances in 42 countries on 7 continents, and with adults and children, various animals and even fish. He doesn't advertise anything in the video, conveys no obvious marketing messages, and is seemingly unconnected to anything other than himself. At the end of the video however, there is a brief message thanking Stride Gum for making the whole thing possible.

Wanting to know more, I went to both Matt's site, Where the Hell is Matt?, and to the Stride Gum site to find out how this gum company is connected to this dancing guy. It turns out that Matt made an initial dancing video several years ago, which was passed around the internet by friends and was eventually viewed by someone over at Stride Gum. According to Matt's website, Stride contacted Matt and asked if he wanted to travel around the world on their dime and make another dancing video.

From what I can tell, Matt isn't chewing gum in his videos, he doesn't talk about gum, and there's no pitch for viewers to go out and buy Stride Gum. Instead, Matt and Stride Gum have produced and released a really cool video that, according to the counter on YouTube, has been viewed 3,250,510 times! Of those 3 million plus viewers, there's no doubt that some of them watched the video and wanted to know how this dancing American and this gum company were connected.

By sponsoring this kind of video, Stride Gum took a leap of faith that the video would take on a life of its own on the internet, and that (at least in some instances), the company would gain some brand recognition once viewers got to the end and saw Stride listed as the sponsor. I'd never heard of Stride Gum until I watched the video; now I know the name, know what the company makes, and will look for the brand the next time I go to buy some gum.

Instead of trying to build their brand by forcing Matt to wear a Stride Gum tee-shirt, by making him chew gum and dance, or by having him shout the company's slogan (The Ridiculously Long Lasting Gum) at the end of the video, Stride Gum let Matt make a message-free video, and counted on the fact that people would want to know more about their company once they'd finished watching. In this instance, less is actually more, and Stride Gum wins by leaving the corporate message out of the viral video.

Other companies might try similar tactics in using video to promote their products. While it may seem risky to leave your message out of your marketing content, it could also pay off. If you're considering using viral video as a marketing tool, think about Stride Gum's strategy, and consider creating content that builds brand by making great videos that everyone wants to watch.

July 24, 2008

So What is a Widget Anyway?

By now, you've probably seen and heard of widgets (like the ones above), but do you actually know what they are, how they're used, and how you can use them to attract site visitors and build your brand? As users demand more customizable and interactive online experiences, web-based businesses have to meet that challenge by developing sticky tools, such as widgets, that allow their users to take their online experiences to the next level.

According to Wikipedia, a widget is:

...an element of a graphical user interface (GUI) that displays information that is changeable by the user, such as a window or a text box. The defining characteristic of a widget is to provide a single interaction point for the direct manipulation of a given kind of data. Widgets are basic visual building blocks which, combined in an application, hold all the data processed by the application and the available interactions on this data.

More simply, a widget is an online tool that can be embedded into websites, blogs, and social networking profile pages to share information - such as the weather or news, stream music or movies, display photos, play games, or set up quizzes, countdowns and other time wasters. You can find widgets that allow you to create yourself as a Simpson's character (The Simpsomaker), make your own Zen Fish Tank Aquarium, and even create your own Cyber Pets to hang out on your site.

Organizations can also use widgets as part of their marketing and branding efforts; a well-designed, easy-to-use widget can be implemented all over the web, but tracked back to your site and made recognizable with your corporate branding. Social bookmarking sites such as Furl and Multiply have their own widgets that can be embedded in blogs, you can subscribe to various RSS feeds using their respective widgets, and you can link to popular social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace using their widgets.

By creating these sticky tools, you make it possible to increase your web presence without having to do much actual work. When users have the ability to add your site to their blog with your widget, your branding is on their site, and you benefit by gaining access to your users' networks. These little icons are a good way to get your logo on your users' mobile devices too - as people use widgets to organize their online experiences. When you build a widget that links people back to your site, you are never more than a click away from your users.

And by building widgets, you also build the potential to engage and re-engage your users as they navigate away from your site and back to your site using your widgets. According to a BusinessWeek article, Building a Brand with Widgets, widgets are potentially better from engaging users than are more traditional online ads such as banners. By providing a tool that is actually helpful to people, you give them a way to accomplish their objectives and connect back with your brand.

If you do develop widgets that lead back to your site, you have to acknowledge that you will not have any control over where those widgets live on the web. People might place your widgets on websites that you would not necessarily want to be associated with, but at the end of the day, the traffic from that site might find its way back to yours and increase your overall audience. Just remember that the more sites your widgets live on all over the web, the more your brand will be recognized and the more traffic you will drive to your site.

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 24, 2008

Wireless Social Networking Poised to Take Over by 2020

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According to iSuppli - an applied market intelligence firm - a revolution in technology is afoot!! In a June 4 article titled, Wireless Social Networking Revolution Poised to Reshape Tech Industry, iSuppli indicates that wireless social networking technologies are poised to generate $2.5 trillion over the next 12 years, and that those companies who jump aboard the wireless social wave now stand to "lead in the technology business," while others may fall behind or become irrelevant.

In the article, iSuppli suggests that, as mobile devices become more embedded in our every day lives, their use as content delivery devices will skyrocket. At the same time, the availability of increased processing power, the expansion of wireless networks, and the ease and speed of wirelessly downloading content will turn the ever-present smart phones, PDAs and cell phones into our primary content viewing devices. And with so many people already turning to their iPhones to download videos from YouTube and following friends via Twitter and Pownce on their cell phones, it's no big leap to think that these devices will soon become central to downloading ALL of our electronic content.

According to iSuppli, the impact of wireless social networking will be felt across all areas of the industry - from semiconductors and processors to memory/storage capacities, devices and software. According to the article, as mobile devices are designed to better accommodate social networking needs, "...semiconductor companies will be compelled to deliver highly integrated processors that combine numerous high-performance, multi-threaded special purpose cores." This means that the expansion of social networking into the mainstream of society and business will generate new business opportunities as companies strive to meet the technological needs of this ever-evolving segment.

So how are businesses that haven't even integrated mobile content-delivery into their business models supposed to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to building wireless social networking into their organizations? The adoption of new technologies can be painstakingly slow, even among technologically-savvy industries; because of this, companies will have to develop a method that simultaneously incorporates mobile marketing and social networking into current business models.

In order to effectively implement wireless social networking, organizations that are currently dedicated to producing, managing and delivering online content need to take social media and social networking with the utmost seriousness. By ignoring the drumbeat of social networks, corporations signal a lack of understanding in regard to the future of technology. After all, social media and social networking are going to go away. The early adopters have already incorporated these technologies into their business models, and it's time for the rest of us to wake up and start letting our users connect to one another on their own terms and via whatever devices they so desire.

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 27, 2008

Users "Stick" Around with Interactive Tools

tools_revised.jpgIf you spend a lot of time moving around online, you've probably noticed an increase in the use of interactive tools on all kinds of websites. As people embrace the concept of interacting with online content, organizations are building more tools that engage users by encouraging their participation. In terms of usability, interactive tools pull users into an organization's offers and offer a kind of "stickiness" that is difficult to find otherwise. And from a marketing and lead generation standpoint, interactive tools have the potential to qualify users as high-level leads.

Users want control over their research and buying process, and it's crucial that their needs and behaviors are considered when designing marketing materials. Part of putting users in charge of this process is to provide interactive tools that spur user participation and help people feel engaged with your brand, your website and your offers.

In Redesigning Web Sites to Put Customers in Charge of Their Experience, from MarketingProfs, Jeannette Kocsis stresses the importance of designing websites with user behaviors as a guide. She lists the inclusion of intuitive and relevant tools as a key component to achieving a site that is based on user behaviors and needs. Interactive tools can also be used to convert users, and when implementing interactive tools, you have the ability to track deep, user-driven behaviors and use that data to qualify high-level leads.

Consumer marketers use interactive tools on all kinds of websites, and seem to have discovered the stickiness that comes when these kinds of tools are offered on their sites. MyShape is an online shopping site with a tool that lets users enter their physical dimensions in order to find out what "shape" they are and what clothes look best on that body type. They link their users to clothes that match their body types and allow them to shop right from there. FitDay, an online food journal site, is set up so users can enter the foods they consume and the exercise they do over the course of a day. Users can set weight loss goals, create reports based on the data they've entered, and write journal entries about their weight loss process.

What's key about these kinds of tools is that they keep the user coming back time and again. When women are shopping for clothes, they know they can find styles that match their body types on MyShape. For people trying to loose weight, FitDay gives them a place to enter their calories after each and every meal. From a marketing and lead generation perspective, this kind of stickiness is invaluable, and makes it easy to qualify and convert high-value leads. Tools that allow users to track their processes, calculate their needs, discover, compare and customize potential solutions are tools that will keep a user coming back to your site until they are ready to make a decision.

By taking a page from B2C marketing, B2B marketers can build tools that provide a deep level self-submitted user behaviors. These behaviors can be used to nurture users through their buying process and present them with relevant materials at appropriate times. Instead of responding to your marketing messages, users are now able to submit their own lead data (in their own timeframe) when they make the decision to work with your interactive tools.

May 02, 2008

Designing Better Landing Pages

958915_sphere_revised.jpgIf you're in the business of generating online leads, you need a Landing Page that doesn't scare users away from becoming registered site members. A good Landing Page is one that encourages the casual user to register and convert, obtain the offer that drew them to your site, and return regularly. A good Landing Page whisks users through the registration process quickly, provides questions and response options that match their experiences, and doesn't demand the surrender of too much personal information.

I've culled some basic Landing Page design tips from experts in the field, and included them below. Crafting a well-designed Landing Page that converts a high number of users and generates quality leads requires far more than I've offered here.

1. Keep it short and simple. Jon Miller of Marketo and Modern B2B Marketing makes a great point in
Two Practical Landing Page Tips That Will Save You Money
. Using his company's Landing Page software, testing capabilities and tools, Miller ran a test to see which Landing Page forms convert at a higher rate - those with short forms (5 information fields), medium forms (7 information fields), or long forms (9 information fields). The short forms won hands down, with users converting at a higher rate and each conversion costing less. Miller's findings are clear - the more information you ask of your users, the less likely they are to provide it and the more that conversion costs.

2. Inspire trust with consistency in branding. Your Landing Page is part of your organization's corporate marketing message, and it's important to remind users that by registering via this page, they'll receive trustworthy content and information. By incorporating consistent branding on your Landing Pages (instead of implementing a particular product's branding campaign on its Landing Page), you present a united front to your users and let them know that your company is responsible for their personal information. In Think Beyond the Click: How to Build Landing Pages that Convert, Julie Mason writing for SearchEngineLand points out that the number one reasons people decline to submit personal information (or submit fake data) is because the site doesn't look credible.

3. Don't use too many bells and whistles. When encouraging site registration via a Landing Page, the last thing you want to do is frustrate your users and force them to navigate away from the Landing Page (or worse - close out their browser window entirely) because the graphics or pop-ups are too invasive. In 10 Landing Page Optimization Tactics by Larry Chase, Chase explains that while some users may appreciate the graphics display (especially gamers), most users just want to hand over their personal information so they can get the offer they've been promised. Hold off on using music, video, or pop-ups on Landing Pages and allow users to register with as little interruption as possible,

4. Limit navigation and escape routes! Once a user reaches your Landing Page, the goal is that they register. Period. While you typically want to offer users links to research they might find interesting or encourage people to investigate your site for themselves, you don't want to do this from your Landing Page. In Online Marketing Blog's Ten Tips for Lead Generation Landing Pages, Lee Odden says, "...each link is an invitation for the visitor to click away instead of converting. " By sticking with your corporate branding, a straight-forward registration form and a header or footer (with a link to your homepage), you have a better chance of converting users.

5. Don't forget your end of the bargain. It's essential to deliver on your promise once a user has taken the time to fill out your registration form and become a member of your site. When a user finds themselves on a Landing Page, they've arrived there after deciding to download a white paper, watch a webinar, or take some other action. If you strand your new member on a generic thank you page they're going to be frustrated, unsure of how to retrieve the content they registered for, and unhappy with their experience on your site. Make sure your re-direct new registrants to the content they want and save your thank you message for a follow-up email message.

May 01, 2008

Taking a Page from Online Newspapers

If you want to shake up IT marketing, consider taking a page from online news sites such as the Washington Post or the New York Times and expanding your use of graphics, interactive tools and customizable options when presenting your marketing materials. Instead of designing landing pages and research libraries simply as repositories for digital assets, consider how you can use these spaces to grab users and engage them in a meaningful online experience.

Take for example this Washington Post multimedia module called Forced Out. This investigative piece examines the DC real estate boom, and how it's given landlords the perfect opportunity to force poor tenants out of their homes in order to make way for expensive condos. The Washington Post effectively employs rich media, including a narrated slide show, videos, an interactive map and tabs that take the reader through the Post's 3-day investigation. Social media is also used in telling this story, and the Post provides a forum for readers to discuss the articles and share their feelings with one another. This cross-pollination of audio, video, photography, the written word and interactive tools allows the Post to engage several of the reader's senses when telling their story, and encourages them to get further involved with what they've learned.

When you are able to tell the story of your product or service, you are more likely to convince people to pay attention to your message, regardless of what you're trying to sell. Marketing technology may not be as sexy or glamorous as marketing couture or alcohol, but it doesn't have to be boring either. With the increased access to rich media tools, such as videos, interactive graphics, and audio, you can develop a variety of resources that appeal to all kinds of users. At the same time, you can position those resources in a way that while their messages overlap, they also each tell your story in different ways.

While many IT marketers are already developing content using a variety of media types, their assets are often segmented by type when you visit the company websites. Even when you have the ability to search for solutions or products, the supporting assets are generally presented as a list, and not as a cohesive unit. Landing pages and Microsites are more likely to group assets by product or topic, but even they lack the storytelling effect that you find when reading online news sites.

Social media plays a role in this new kind of storytelling too, as users want to know not only what a product's story is, but also what their peers think about the story. By adding user forums, reviews and comments to your marketing zones, you express an overall confidence in your product by allowing unsanctioned voices to contribute to its story. While a landing zone, Microsite or product page on your website may not seem like the best place to allow user-generated commentary, plenty of well-known businesses are already effectively employing these techniques.

Check out news sites around the web and think about how they generate interest in their stories. And remember, even though most newspapers are designed primarily to deliver the news, most of them are probably in the lead generation business too. We can learn from each other, and learning how the media employs rich media and social media practices in their business is a good place to start.

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.

April 14, 2008

Building Your B2B Brand

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A recent Buzz Marketing for Technology blog post by Paul Dunay asks a simple question: Is Social Media More Difficult in B2B than B2C? I've been trying to come to terms with this concept in posts I've authored recently, and am struck by the points Dunay raises about building B2B brand identity, brand loyalty, and B2B social media usage.

Dunay explains that when you hear "Ralph Lauren," or "The Gap," you can easily envision the people who wear those brands - and from there, you can create a marketing platform that might appeal to the people who wear those brands, and engage those brand loyalists as such. When you mention big IT companies however, it's harder to associate any one group of people with the brands that dominate among those companies. There is no typical Microsoft user; there is no easily identifiable group of IBM devotees or Dell disciples that you can visualize and grasp onto for marketing purposes.

Building a B2C brand, and subsequent loyalty among B2C consumers, is generally considered to be easier than building a B2B brand. Because of the passion people tend to feel for consumer purchases (consider the buzz generated when the iPhone was released), taking the next step and getting people to actually identify with their favorite consumer products (and therefore, their favorite brands) is that much easier. After all, how many people do you know who are willing to in line to purchase new virtuzlization technology or disk-to-disk backup systems for their businesses?

The market segment you need to reach when marketing B2B technology is vast, unstructured and not easily pigeon-holed. We can identify the titles of key decision makers in the B2B buying process, but we can't as easily pinpoint what brands they wear, where they buy their coffee, or what kinds of cars they like to drive. In lacking this ability, it becomes more difficult to build identifiable brand loyalty, and create meaningful social media outlets where influential B2B decision makers will feel comfortable hanging out and engaging and interacting with other B2B buyers and their content.

And while B2B marketers do have the good fortune of dealing with a relatively well-established group of B2B buyers and decision makers, B2B buying doesn't tend to excite passion the way that clothing, car or coffee brands tend to. Creating brand loyalty is an excellent way to promote unity, passion and excitement around any product - and when you're able to do these things, it becomes easier to incite your users to interact and engage with whatever media you present to them.

So what matters in B2B branding? How do you implore users to identify with your corporation, your products, philosophies and your brand - especially if you want to use that branding to instill a sense of loyalty and passion and ignite user-interaction via social media tools? Let me know your thoughts on the matter - the verdict is, after all, still out on the best way to reach this influential, tech-savvy group of decision makers who make the IT marketing world go-round.

March 25, 2008

Have You Visited a Virtual Tradeshow Yet?

exhib_hall_225x147.jpg Ziff Davis Enterprise Virtual Tradeshows are 1-2 day live events that bring analysts, consultants, research firms, business decision-makers and vendors together in a virtual environment where they can learn about and discuss enterprise technology. In addition to expert speakers, live presentations and virtual "booths" staffed with vendor representatives, attendees have access to a full-service virtual environment packed with social networking and research tools.

Part of what makes these events so compelling - for both vendors and IT buyers - is the interactive nature of Virtual Tradeshows. When signing up for a show, you can create a personalized profile, upload an avatar and have your data transfered to a "Vcard" (a virtual business card). Once inside the event, you can reach out to vendors through their booths, network with other attendees in the Virtual Lounge, and chat with Ziff Davis Enterprise representatives at the Help Desk.

Each VTS is packed with resources to help you learn more about the specific topics being presented. You can add research materials to your virtual Briefcase, view live or archived webinars, or watch keynote addresses by industry experts. Because the focus of these events is on educating users, there are links to vendor websites and forums where you can further discuss the technologies being presented.

By presenting so much information via this virtual platform, Ziff Davis Enterprise has placed the user at the center of an educational, interactive experience. And with so many ways to reach out to vendors, industry experts and other interested users, you are given a chance to truly investigate new technologies in these pressure-free, collaborative learning environments.

To see the full list of Ziff Davis Enterprise Virtual Tradeshows, click here.

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.

March 12, 2008

How Smaller IT Companies Leverage Social Media

As promised in How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media, I investigated some smaller technology companies to learn where they are spending their social media dollars, and how social media is playing a role on their websites and in their customers' experiences. I found it interesting, though not too surprising, that most of the smaller tech companies have not implemented fancy social media tools, and have instead chosen to focus more heavily on using traditional rich media practices (the use of white papers, case studies, videos, podcasts & webinars) to educate their users on their products and services.

For these smaller companies, the most popular use of social media seems to occur when developers are invited to collaborate on further developing the products, and have a need for a forum where they can discuss their ideas. Red Hat, Juniper Networks and F5 all have these kinds of communities on their sites. Otherwise, these smaller companies are using blogs, wikis, and customer stories told via videos to engage their users and create a feeling of community and collaboration on their sites. Comprised of various companies from the CNNMoney list of the 100 Fastest-growing Technology Companies, the list below is a sampling of IT hardware, software and service companies that aren't quite as large as IBM or Microsoft, but who use social media to create communities and engage their customers.

1. Akamai is the leading global service provider for accelerating content and business processes online. Akamai places a high priority on the customer experience, and has created a page full of videos in which their customers talk about their experiences with Akamai logo.jpgAkamai. And because Akamai has so many high-profile clients, including the NBA, Fox Interactive and MySpace, their video presentations are a great way of letting people know the heavy-hitters that use their products. Users can also tour the Network Operations Command Center online and watch the Akamai Real-Time Web Monitor. While there in no user forum or online community through the Akamai site, the company's use of multimedia tools and customer stories gives the impression that they want their customers to share their stories feel as if they are part of a greater Akamai experience.

2. Epicor is a global leader dedicated to providing business software solutions to companies around the globe. In terms of their social media strategy, Epicor offers standard live and archived webinars that are designed to introduce and educate their users about their products and technology. The Epicor site also has a Customer Portal, where users can join discussions and access reference materials from one location. And while Epicor is still relying more on in-person events than on online events, they do have a User Conference page where users can access videos, customer testimonials and opportunities to provide feedback about what they'd like to see at future events. Epicor customers can also chat with live company representatives and subscribe to company alerts.

3. F5 Networks, a leader in Application Delivery Networking, provides solutions that ensure business applications are always secure, fast, and available. The most prominent aspect of F5's social media integration is their F5 DevCentral site - a f5 networks.jpgcommunity driven portal that provides links to blogs, forums, videos, wikis and other resources. F5 Networks has combined all kinds of user-created content - from blogs to wikis - in one location, so their customers can find information on their products and services quickly and easily. They also provide access to the F5 "Labs" - a place where users can present ideas for new products, product upgrades and other development-related concepts. Tags decorate the right-hand side of the page too, so users can see what other community members are interested in, and find related resources.

4. The Juniper Networks high-performance network infrastructure helps businesses create a responsive and trusted environment for accelerating the deployment of services and applications over a single network. One of the first places I visited on the Juniper Networks site was the J-Net Communities, an online portal that connects users and lets them share and discuss their use of Juniper products and services. The J-Net Community lets users see information about who's logged-in to the site, the most popular forums and user-based information. Juniper also has links to their official blog, Got the NAC, and provides a range of rich media tools to promote their products and services.

5. NetScout Systems, a leading provider of integrated network and application performance management solutions, offers the NetScout User Forum (an independent user group), where netscout logo.jpg
NetScout customers can come together to share their experiences with NetScout products. NetScout users can also read the NUFBlog, however they must first register with the NUF community to do so. Another area where NetScout users can participate more fully in the company is the Online Training Center, a resource portal that contains educational materials, interactive Flash presentations, and audio/video training modules. By engaging their users to learn about their products and participate in customer forums, NetScout has successfully employed social media tools that highlight user needs and experiences.

Continue reading "How Smaller IT Companies Leverage Social Media " »

February 28, 2008

How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media

587214_hands_revised.jpg How are technology companies incorporating social media into their corporate marketing campaigns? We all know that most tech companies already use podcasts, webcasts and video to market their products and services, but what other tools are being employed by IT companies both large and small? By reaching out to users with interactive tools, technology companies are finding that there is a place for social media in their marketing departments.

I visited websites of 10 large technology companies to learn more about how organizations have implemented social media into their corporate websites. Each of the companies I researched is using social media in some form - check out what I found below:

Cisco Systems
When visiting the Cisco site you can easily navigate to their "Human Network" - a place where users can log in to watch videos, read and share stories about their experiences with Cisco technology, and communicate with their network members. In their blog, Cisco touts the success they have had with collaboration tools such as wikis, forums and other interactive technologies - and from looking at the site, you get the impression that they know what they're talking about.

Dell
There is a prominent link at the bottom of the homepage on the Dell website. By clicking the link, users are directed to the Dell Online Community. On this site, Dell offers a portal filled with user-generated content (reviews, conversations, suggestions), rich media (podcasts, videos), and other social media tools including a Dell Wiki, a link to Dell on Second Life, and Member Spotlights (profiles of Dell Community members).

Hewlett-Packard
HP has jumped full-force into blogging, and publishes blogs on a range of categories - from Innovation to Mobility & Wireless. When you're on the HP Blog site, you have options to view other rich media (podcasts, videos, webcasts), but there is no robust HP online community. And while you can read about Customer Stories, the stories are actually more like case studies, and users are unable to contribute their own. One unique feature of the HP site is their Online Classes - where users can log-in, register for a class, and learn about different topics online.

IBM
IBM has developed an Executive Innovation Channel that works as a forum for users to investigate specific technology topics, find resources related to those topics, and connect with IBM employees about the topics. While there is no user-to-user interaction, IBM has clustered rich media content (including Flash videos and audio files) that relate to the topics, for easy access, and they also track your interactions with their content as you move from topic to topic.

Nokia
Nokia's slogan is "Connecting People," and they make that possible in their "Forum Nokia," an online community site where users can learn about Nokia products, visit the Nokia blogs, contribute to the Nokia wikis or join the discussion boards. Nokia has implemented popular tagging searches on their blogging site, and users can search their blog posts by keywords. When you view the Nokia product pages, there are RSS feeds to user blogs, videos and news. You can also visit the Nokia Workshop, where users write about their experiences with Nokia technology.

Continue reading "How IT Companies Have Leveraged Social Media " »

February 27, 2008

Will Social Media Kill "Campaigns?"

With the recent surge in the use and interest of social media as a B2B marketing tool, now is a good time to address the coming changes to how this industry does business. By incorporating new social media technologies into lead generation and marketing efforts, B2B marketers may have to reconsider how view their customers and their clients.

In Buzz Marketing for Technology, Paul Dunay makes an excellent point regarding the possible demise of the traditional "campaign" due to social media's impact on marketing. In his post, There is No "Campaign" in Social Media, Dunay defines traditional marketing campaigns as such:

When marketers use the word “campaign,” it tends to suggest an initiative to get a message out to a targeted group of constituents. It also implies there will be a beginning and, somewhere down the road, an ending.

With social media playing a larger and larger role in the B2B marketing industry however, "campaigns" become outdated. According to Dunay, marketing via social media modes (blogs, podcast series, virtual communities) requires long-term user participation. Because users have to get involved in order for social media to really work, you have to continue reaching out, engaging your prospects and asking them to join the conversation.

By relying on the user to respond to our offerings, it's possible that we will have to cultivate, nurture and score leads in a completely different manner. "Campaign" time frames may lengthen, and the way leads are valued may change. Lead scoring, and the management of leads over time, may become the most important part of lead generation, especially if companies discard time frames for lead guarantees and concentrate on lead quality instead.

February 19, 2008

Social Media as a B2B Marketing Tool

social media.jpgWith the popularity of social media sites like Twitter and Flickr, it's no surprise that B2B marketers are starting to reconsider social media tools for their marketing strategies. Overall, B2B marketers have not fully jumped on the social media bandwagon, it seems however, that the tide may be about to change.

Back in June, Jon Miller of Marketo published What's Wrong with Social Media for B2B Marketing on SearchEngineLand. com. In his article, Miller argues that to effectively use social media, you need to be marketing trendy or popular products or concepts that will motivate users to interact with your site. And while B2B marketing can incorporate some social media practices - especially for traffic generation, brand awareness, and direct selling - the relative straight-forward nature of B2B marketing topics limits user interaction.

Lately however, it seems that more and more B2B marketers are realizing the benefits of using social media and are trying to implement social media on their websites and in their marketing campaigns. Enterprise marketers are starting to offer more live and virtual events, bookmarking and tagging options, and Web 2.0 applications that let their users respond to, comment on, and sometimes even create their own content.

Have you begun implementing social media in your marketing practices? Are you interested in learning more about how you can use social media to enhance your B2B marketing campaigns? I've found a few resources that may help you get started. Feel free to start participating yourself and leave a comment - after all, we can only make social media a B2B marketing reality if we're all ready to take action and interact with marketing campaigns.

Social Media: Where Should BtoB Marketers Start?, is a free archived webinar that features Vice President, Principal Analyst Laura Ramos of Forrester Research and Rob Solomon, CEO and Founder of Bulldog Solutions.

Deciphering Social Media is a free TeleBriefing in which Anil Dash, chief evangelist of Six Apart, and Chris Howard, VP and Service Director of Burton Group's Executive Advisory Program, join Principal Analyst Mike Gotta for a lively discussion on the challenges and benefits social media presents to the enterprise.

You can also check out Koka Sexton's Super List of 50 Social Media Links if you want to learn more about social media in general.

-BH

February 14, 2008

IT Marketing and the Economy

financial_resized.jpg Are you concerned about the current state of the US economy and how an economic downturn will affect your business? Have you wondered what will happen if businesses across the country scale back or cancel big-ticket IT purchases because they fear an impending recession? With the Federal Reserve Bank's recent rate cuts, the continual decline of the NYSE and NASDAQ, it's easy to see why so many people are concerned about entering a recession. At the same time, it's important to stay positive, hope for the best, but as always, plan for the worst.

While business remains strong in this first quarter of 2008, it is clear that more and more IT marketers are concerned about the effects of a recession on the overall industry. In reading through my weekly line-up of marketing Websites and blogs, I stumbled upon a few resources that address the economy and its impact on IT marketing and thought it might be useful to present them here.

In his February 6 white paper, Strategies For Interactive Marketing In A Recession, Forrester Research's Josh Bernoff addresses the impact of an economic downturn on interactive marketing initiatives. According to Bernoff, the inherent nature of interactive marketing makes it a relatively safe place to invest, even with a looming recession. Interactive marketing applications tend to be inexpensive to build and maintain, and traffic is driven via user interaction and word-of-mouth. These unique aspects of interactive marketing programs make them affordable to build, implement and maintain, and they provide a high return-on-investment. Read Bernoff's paper here and find out if including more social media and interactive marketing strategies in your 2008 marketing campaigns could actually be the more cost-effective way of doing business.

In this free podcast, The Economy and IT Initiatives, the Burton Group outlines what enterprises learned through strategic planning during the last economic down-turn in the scope of data center management, security initiatives, and identity management projects. If you are concerned about the economic impact of a recession on IT buying in the enterprise, listen to this informed account of how organizations respond to down-turns. This podcast is available on the Burton Group site through February 28.

BtoB Online is also offering free webinar titled How Marketers are Planning & Budgeting for 2008. Scheduled to air on February 28, this webinar will address the following:

• How marketers are measuring success in 2008;
• Where marketers are spending their online budgets; and
• What marketers think about current economic conditions, and how these are affecting their plans and budget.

The good news, according to the 2008 Marketing Priorities and Plans survey (BtoB Online), is that in 2008, B2B marketers plan to increase their overall marketing budgets.

-BH

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.

February 01, 2008

How to Use Telemarketing to Nurture Leads

If one of the goals of your lead nurturing campaign is to become a trusted adviser to prospects as they move along the IT buying process, you might consider using telemarketing to achieve that goal. By introducing telemarketing as a lead nurturing tool, you create a two-way communication channel with your prospects that allows you to learn more about their needs as they learn more about your offers.

telnet.gif In her article, Show 'Em the Love: How You Can Create a Content-Rich Nurturing Strategy, Kathy Rizzo of TelNet Marketing Solutions talks about how telemarketing can be used to reach out to prospects and determine what content they are ready to receive. Rizzo writes that the most effective way to nurture your prospects is by providing them with timely and relevant content that is suited to their purchasing needs, and in order to determine what kind of content best fits their needs, it's important to keep the lines of communication open, which is best achieved through telemarketing.

When calling prospects, you need to ask a series of pointed questions that get to the heart of their buying need and timeline. Once you determine your prospects' needs, you can use telemarketing and email touches to reach out and deliver strategic content that will move them further along the buying process. Instead of simply sending automated content to your entire list of leads, you are now able to break your leads into segmented lists and send specific content that you know will be found useful by your leads.

By incorporating telemarketing into your lead generation and lead nurturing strategies, you recognize the importance of tailoring your efforts to individual buyers and targeting your tactics to fit your users' specific needs. And each time you reach a potential buyer via the phone, you are given the chance to gather data on their purchasing process and refine your marketing efforts to match.

-BH

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 23, 2008

What is Engagement Marketing?

According to Wikipedia, Engagement Marketing campaigns elicit consumer participation in the evolution of a brand, and stimulate users to be actively involved in the production and co-creation of marketing programs. By encouraging the consumer to act and comment on your blog, submit a product review to your site, chat with your online sales team or join your web-based community, you stimulate the consumer's desire to participate in your marketing programs.

Once your consumers are participating in your marketing programs, they begin to feel more connected to your company and often remain loyally involved with your brand. A great example of engagement marketing can be seen in the popular Fox TV show American Idol. By asking audience members and at-home viewers to vote each week for their favorite contestants, the show has created an engaged audience that feels connected to the contestants and keeps tuning in to find out if "their" contestants are going to win.

Online social networks such as MySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn also illustrate successful engagement marketing initiatives. In order to be a part of these networks, users must take the initiative to sign-up, create detailed profiles, and connect with friends, co-workers or other like-minded individuals. Once a user is part of these communities, they have opportunities to write blogs, upload photos, join niche-communities, share recommendations, and keep building their networks. And while social networking communities differ from traditional marketing ventures (in that users tend to join for networking or entertainment purposes as opposed to joining for educational reasons like they do with sites such as the Web Buyer's Guide), they still receive and respond to marketing messages while engaged with the sites.

In order to attract and retain customers, IT marketers need to reach out and offer more ways for their users to actively participate in their marketing efforts. While not all IT marketing efforts need to include Engagement Marketing strategies to be successful, there is a need to create more options that allow users to meaningfully connect with your brand, and engage with your message while they educate themselves about your products and services.

Check out what IBM is doing to engage their users on their "Executive Interaction Channel" that is part of the widely publicized IBM Innovation campaign.

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

January 07, 2008

What IT Marketers Can Learn from Guitar Hero

If you have teenagers in your life, chances are good that you've heard of Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock - this year's hot video game that lets you play along to a catalog packed with legendary classic rock and heavy metal tunes. When you play Guitar Hero III, you can personalize your very own rock star with clothes, various guitars and the songs you want to perform. You can even pick rock legends to jam out against - such as Slash, the former lead guitarist from Guns N' Roses.

So what does Guitar Hero III have to do with IT Marketing and lead generation?

At first glance it would appear that the two have nothing in common. IT Marketers are looking to reach a niche audience of highly informed technology buyers while Guitar Hero III appeals to teenagers who have time to hang out and perfect their guitar solos. In looking a little deeper however, it appears that IT Marketers could actually learn a lot from the game.

For starters, Guitar Hero III allows players to personalize their gaming experience. The makers of Guitar Hero III - Activision, have learned that people respond to technology when they can make it do what they want it to do. They let players change their rock stars' clothes, and reward them with virtual money so they can buy new accessories as they get better at the game.

While IT Marketers may not be able to market technology with flashy outfits and expensive instruments, we can allow our users to personalize their experiences while they are researching technology on our Websites. By offering users their own "pages" on our sites, we allow them to create their own research environment. If users are given choices - in what they see when they log-in to our sites, in how their personalized pages are designed, and as to the content that appears on their pages, they are going to feel more connected with the Website.

Personalization is a powerful tool that is driving all kinds of technology - when we're able to give our users what they want, they'll keep coming back for more. Let your users express themselves in your space, and pretty soon your space becomes their space. Once you can transform your space into your users' space, you'll have an audience that's out there waiting for what you have to offer.

-BH

December 28, 2007

Grade Your Website's Marketing Muscle

I recently ran across an interesting tool that grades Websites according to their online marketing effectiveness. Website Grader by HubSpot is a free tool that allows you to enter your Website URL, keywords associated with your site, and competitor Website URLs, than generates a report that ranks how well your site performs when searched.

According to HubSpot, Website Grader "provides a score that incorporates things like Website traffic, SEO, social popularity and other technical factors. It also provides some basic advice on how the Website can be improved from a marketing perspective."

If you are considering optimizing your site for Search, or are curious as to how well your site is searched, check out this free tool. I plugged in the Web Buyer's Guide information, and found that we have a score of 99 out of 100. This means that out of all of the sites that have been analyzed by Website Grader, the WBG scores higher than 99% of them for its marketing effectiveness.

The personalized report I got after submitting the WBG information also gave me detailed analysis of how our site ranks on Google, Technorati, and on social networking sites such as Digg and del.icio.us.

-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 11, 2007

Organization is the Key to Campaign Success

As more and more lead practices are automated on the back-end, implementing these new practices into your campaign management can be tricky. With the advent of complex lead scoring systems, email nurturing programs, and long-term lead management, keeping all of the details straight is both difficult and essential to the smooth operation of your campaigns.

With so many details for each campaign, the lead generation team at Web Buyer's Guide determined that the best system for our needs would have to contain information for each campaign (assets used, custom questions and filters, etc), allow us to store, scrub and score all leads, and serve as an archive for past campaigns that could be used to analyze the success of each program.

After reviewing the available lead management tools on the market, we realized that the best way to implement such a system was to build it ourselves. Our outstanding in-house developers and client services team created a robust lead management tool that allows us to manage campaigns from initiation to completion, generate leads according to our client's scoring needs, and analyze the success of campaigns once they've been completed.

By combining campaign specifications, promotional information, reports and lead scoring details in one central place, we can spend more time generating and nurturing leads and less time juggling details and hand-scrubbing reports. At the same time, we have control over our system, and can change it as our needs change.

Juggling campaign details and managing leads can take up all of your time when done manually. By implementing an automated lead management and cultivation system to help you organize your programs, you regain control over the process and free up time to help your clients achieve a maximum return on their investments.

-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 12, 2007

Turn Off Filters and Start Scoring Your Leads

Increase your sales opportunities and build your relationship with prospective buyers by changing how you approach leads once they've been generated. If you run lead campaigns and only accept leads once they've been geographically, demographically or otherwise filtered, you may be hurting your chances of catching leads while they can be nurtured and turned into sales.

Instead of limiting which leads you'll accept, try purchasing all of the scrubbed leads generated through your campaign. Once you have these gross leads, you can then apply filters and score the leads accordingly. By grabbing all of the leads generated in a campaign, not only do you get a handful (or more) of sales-ready, fully qualified leads to hand your sales team, but you also have less qualified leads that can be nurtured and moved through the sales pipeline.

Scoring leads from A-D (with A leads being sales-ready and D-leads being "cold") helps you sort out which leads are ready to be telemarketed, which leads require personalized e-mail follow-ups, and which leads can be "drip-marketed" over time. By holding off on filters and fences until you have all a campaign's leads in hand, you expand your marketing reach to leads that would have otherwise been scrubbed out of the process.

-BH

November 08, 2007

The Process of Managing Leads

According to Wikipedia, Lead Management is defined as "the methodologies and systems to manage customer prospects and inquiries, generally generated by a variety of marketing techniques. Lead management can be considered the connectivity between advertising and customer relationship management that facilitates the acquisition of customers."

In other words, lead management is the series of steps undertaken from the time lead data is captured, until the lead is passed along to the sales team and moved into the sales funnel. For those engaged in generating leads, lead management is an integral part of our jobs - and involves everything from scrubbing junk leads to scoring leads, to delivering leads for your client or sales team to close.

According to Brian Carroll's B2B Lead Generation post, Lead Management is Far From An Easy Task, lead management should be viewed as a process that includes the following steps:

1. Lead Generation (generating inquiries)
2. Lead Qualification (are they a fit? Are they sales ready?)
3. Lead Nurturing (cultivating early stage leads)
4. Lead Distribution (hand off from marketing to sales)
5. Lead Pursuit (sales process and pipeline)
6. Lead Tracking and reporting (closed the loop between sales and marketing)

Do you have lead management procedures in place at your organization, or does lead management involve minimal lead scrubbing and delivery? While automated lead management software is available to help marketers with this process, successful lead management procedures can be implemented without the purchase of these automated systems. If you want to start managing your leads, start with Brian Carroll's six steps above, and ask yourself what you're doing to address each step.

-BH

November 06, 2007

Multimedia Content: The Basics

podcast icon.jpg
With the ability to easily create content delivered via multimedia channels (podcasts, webcasts, videos), it seems obvious that you should go ahead and record a podcast, shoot a video or present your offerings via a webcast. And while technology buyers are becoming more comfortable in turning to multimedia content when researching their technology needs, challenges persist in developing and delivering multimedia content.

In creating multimedia content, make sure that what you produce is compelling. Technology buyers may be more likely to view an online video or download a podcast than they were a year ago, but they won't watch your content if it's boring. For the added expense it takes to produce a video or podcast, your investment is worthless if your message fails to excite your users. And while B2B technology marketing doesn't need to be sexy (and probably shouldn't be), it should be interesting, provide factual information, and present your offerings in such a way that your users will reach out to learn more.

When trying to deliver multimedia content, try to limit file sizes for downloads, or better yet, provide URLs that link your users directly to podcasts, webcasts and videos on your company website. By providing direct links instead of files, you ease your users' download fears and prevent them from having to save (often large) multimedia files on their hard drives.

If you are hosting multimedia files and driving traffic to your company website, make sure you have enough bandwidth to accommodate a multitude of users visiting your site and viewing/listening to your content at the same time. The availability of multimedia content does little good if your site crashes every time users try and access your content.

-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 29, 2007

Lead Quality and the Human Touch

Lead quality is becoming increasingly important as technological advances are moving the IT marketing industry toward automated lead scoring, reporting and nurturing systems. Because of this push towards automation, technology sellers need to be assured that leads entering their sales pipeline are of the highest-quality possible.

Understanding what makes a quality lead (or an "A" lead) is key to running a successful lead generation campaign. Here's how we provide quality leads at the Web Buyer's Guide:

1. We have a pre-registered database full of IT-interested leads who are subscribers to one or more of the Ziff Davis Enterprise Web sites.

2. When promoting campaigns, we target leads according to their self-selected interests, and we provide a variety of content to match our leads' needs at each stage in the buying process.

3. Once a user has expressed interest in a topic and their lead data has been captured, our lead generation team hand-scrubs our lead files to remove false, misleading or junk prospects.

This final step - of hand-scrubbing leads - cannot be understated. Even with automated CRM systems and databases, it's crucial that someone screens your leads before they get delivered. After all, it still takes human intervention to recognize the difference between Mickey Mouse and Mickey Smith.

-BH

October 23, 2007

Content Strategies as Campaign Starting Points

When planning a lead generation campaign, try to conceive a content strategy before you launch your program, and use it as an outline for your entire campaign. In determining a content strategy, you need to ask the following:

1. Where do you plan to use your content?
2. What kind of content do you want to use in your campaign?
3. How do you plan on delivering your content?
4. Who is your audience?
5. How long do you need to provide content?
6. Do you have primary verses secondary content to provide via lead nurturing or follow-up?
7. Do you plan on offering content that leads will respond to differently as they travel though the buying process?
8. What kind of story are you trying to tell via your content offerings?

If you look at content as a means of not only generating a lead, but also as a true research tool for the user, you allow the users' needs to enter your campaign planning. By paying attention to your prospects' experiences with your content, instead of focusing solely on your offers, you acknowledge the role of the consumer in your business, and are inherently more focused on what you can do for your leads rather than on what your leads can do for you.

-BH

October 08, 2007

B2B Marketing on the Global Stage

Globalization is the next frontier for lead generation and now is the time for IT marketers to get in on this rapidly expanding International action. According to ComScore, a global Internet information provider, the worldwide Internet audience has grown by 10% in the last year, and 80% of worldwide Internet users come from outside of the U.S. With statistics like these, it's clear that opportunities exist for IT marketers outside of the US and Canada.

Much work goes into moving your business onto the global stage, and I've come across a few resources that offer tips, advice and general information on making this move.

The Gilbane Group's Globalization Blog is resource packed with tips about globalizing your business, and provides pointers on dealing with translation issues as they impact a move into the international realm.

16th Letter - a blog about Internet strategy- has a series of articles addressing the importance of globalizing your Internet business and offers advice on international domain name registration, how to start the globalization process and key trends in the international Internet market.

B2B Media 2.0 and Globalization is another blog that discusses B2B marketing on the global stage, and points out issues such as audience development.

-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 14, 2007

Eyetracking Technology in B2B Marketing

Every year Marketing Sherpa publishes an updated edition of its Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide and provides insight into the lead generation business. The guide is packed with useful marketing surveys, case studies and tips for running successful lead generation programs.

A new component to this year’s guide is Marketing Sherpa’s eyetracking research. By outfitting business technology users and buyers with eyetracking technology from Enquiro, a search engine marketing company, Marketing Sherpa has given us a glimpse into the user’s perspective when it comes to viewing Web sites.

According to the guide, eyetracking technology measures how the eye moves over a Web page, and specifically tracks where the eye stops and when the eye moves to a different position. When the data is mapped, you’re left with a “scan-path,” which shows what users have been looking at, and with what intensity they have been viewing their screens.

Eyetracking data such as this can help technology marketers determine not only how to design their Web sites, but also what kind of copywriting is most effective in reaching users. For example, in looking at the scan-paths provided by Marketing Sherpa, it is clear that the first word of every headline and the first word of every paragraph on a Web page receive the most visual attention.

It is this kind of detailed, customer-centric research that can be used when developing and designing landing zones and microsites, when writing headlines and other promotional copy, and when organizing banner and skyscraper advertisements. By considering the patterns displayed by our customers, we can more effectively align our marketing efforts with our user’s experiences.

-BH

August 15, 2007

A New Company, New Partners and New Programs

I’m pleased to announce that we have a new partner at the Web Buyer's Guide. In the past few months, the Web Buyer’s Guide's parent company – Ziff Davis Media, sold its enterprise group – consisting of the WBG, eWEEK, Baseline, and other enterprise publications to Insight Venture Partners. In doing so, we established a new organization called Ziff Davis Enterprise. The sale was finalized on August 1.

Our new business venture is an exciting and positive change for the Web Buyer’s Guide. We keep our enterprise partners at Ziff Davis, while gaining the resources (and potential new partners) who are aligned with Insight Venture Partners.

In addition to all of the organizational changes, Q3 and Q4 are gearing up to be our most dynamic quarters to date. Our Lead Generation programs have expanded, and the we now offer Video and Content Syndication programs in addition to our well-established Branded Landing Zone and Microsite promotions. And as usual, the Web Buyer’s Guide has other new programs in the pipeline –stay tuned for more information on our upcoming plans.

-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

October 11, 2006

Online Lead Generation at $1.3 Billion and growing fast

Online lead generation is now on everyone's radar screen. The market is now growing at many times the rate of Paid Search. Price Waterhouse now pegs the market size at a $1.3 Billion run rate for 2006 - 8% of the total online media spend.

BH



August 14, 2006

The IT sales cycle is getting longer

The graphic below illustrates the change in sales cycles reported by IT companies from 2005 to 2006. The fact that the IT buying process is getting longer is disturbing news and has much to do with the increased information that is available via the Internet and the number of key influencers that involved in these purchases. The phenomenon is likely to be temporary as marketers will adapt quickly and learn how to capitalize on their new tools. And buyers will adapt quickly as well- since a slower buying process will inhibit the ability for companies to implement new technology and realize gains from cost savings and productivity.



If you are targeting the Enterprise, expect sales cycles to become even longer. Big companies can produce large wins - but organize your sales plans to build a track record of smaller wins that can finance your way to the those big whales. IT marketers that are hyper focused on the big wins may find themselves brushing up their resumes - if firms lose patience with their strategies and lack of results. Be keenly aware of your company's patience level and tolerance for long-term marketing plans. Otherwise, Monster.com may be a nice site for you to visit in the near future.




BH

August 09, 2006

Technology spending is approaching $1.2 Trillion

With IT Technology spending now approaching $1.2 Trillion (IDC: CMO Tech Marketing Benchmarks Studies 2003-2005), there are probably a few new customers that you are missing. Tech spending has recovered nicely since 2001, with average growth rates from 2004-2006 in the 6% range. While that's not the double digit growth that we witnessed for many years leading up to 2000, we are smarter, leaner and operating more efficient marketing and sales organizations.

Interested in the make-up of that growth?

Services is up 8.9%.
Software is up 7.0%.
Hardware is up 5.3%

We have a nice breeze powering our sails (sales).

BH