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3 Coins in the Fountain: How Small Business Ignore Branding and Miss Opportunitytest

Three Coins in the Fountain is the title song (sung by Frank Sinatra) from a classic film about 3 American women working and looking for love in Rome. It refers to the Trevi Fountain, where visitors make a wish and toss in a coin, right hand over the left shoulder.

It’s a good analogy for how many small businesses view branding – wishful thinking.

The concept of branding can seem superfluous to many small businesses, with the perception of a high ticket and low value. Why do I need to spend more money? What will it get me that I don’t already have?

The answer is more business. Brand communicates the promise you make to the marketplace – here’s what a prospect will gain if they buy your product, use your service, do business with your company. Your compelling competitive differentiation, short and sweet. It’s lubricant for the sales process.

Brand is the center of your communications, and if we look at it through prospects’ eyes, it’s pretty straightforward why. When a prospect looks at your website, considers your product, shakes your hand, they ask themselves 3 questions:

  • Who are you?
  • Why should I care?
  • What’s in it for me?

Voila – brand. If you can’t anticipate and communicate the answers quickly, easily and transparently, the road starts going uphill.

In my experience, most businesses are terrible communicators when it comes to brand. Their communications focus on “I” and “we” and not “you”. They focus on features and not benefits. They use long sentences crammed with vague platitudes that are full of sound and fury, but convey nothing. Many times I will go to a website and leave with no practical idea of what the company does or why I should be interested. Given that the majority of the consideration process takes place before engagement, you may be leaving a lot of money on the table.

What’s a small business to do? Here are 3 ideas:

  1. Talk to your customers. Why did they buy from you in the first place and why do they keep coming back (or not)? What are the qualities, the benefits that ring strongly. What problems are you solving? What goals are you helping to achieve?
  2. With that input, put your fingers on the keyboard and answer the 3 questions in one sentence. Better yet, tweet it. The longer and more convoluted your “elevator pitch”, the less believable. The harder a prospect has to work to understand you, the less likely they will embrace your message.
  3. Don’t take your word for it. Go back to your customers and advisors, run what you’ve written up the flagpole and see who salutes.

This is the essence of your brand, your compass for navigating the consideration and sales process. Grab this hammer and beat your website and communications into shape.




The End of the (Land)linetest

Hi, this is Rachel at Cardholder Services.

My gosh, how does she do it? What stamina! She calls at all hours and from all over the country, and from a new phone number each time! In fact, several times caller ID said the call was coming from my own phone number.

Rachel calls me sometimes on my cell, but all the time on my landline. When we were visiting my sister, she told me that Rachel, or one of her robo-friends, calls them all the time. We were sitting around the house for about 3 – 4 hours and I counted 9 calls. Wild. What’s the idea, to flog us into submission?

You can’t call her back to find out really where this is coming from or who’s behind it. If you push a button to ask to be taken off the list, you double the calls.

Obviously, this is a big-time money-maker. But I think they’re going to kill the golden goose.

The FTC says they have been diligent in enforcement and have shut down many of these “shops”, but new ones keep springing up. It’s like kudzu. (Unlike kudzu, you can tell the FTC what’s going on at or 1.888.382.1222.)

Rachel is winning.

Yes, my sister is a card-carrying member of the National Do Not Call Registry. No, she has no pre-existing relationship with Cardholder Services nor has she, at any time, opted-in to receiving these solicitations.

Her carrier is willing to try to block these calls, for a fee, but with no assurances because the number keeps changing.

I asked my sister, so why do you still have a landline? Why do you pay for this every month? I don’t have a good answer.

Will we reach the end of the landline with a bang, a whisper, or a call from Rachel.






5 Steps to the Purposeful Integration of Sales and Marketingtest

Often it seems as if sales and marketing work for different companies, and often, they wish they did. However grim this may seem, truly effective b2b prospecting can’t be achieved without cooperation.

Our experience is that sales usually follows-up only to 30% to 34% of marketing leads. The stated reason is no confidence.

“Why should I follow-up stuff from Marketing when I have real opportunities to work?”

Here’s our 5-step process for integrating sales and marketing, based on demonstrated trust, and have found it can generate a 100% or more increase in lead follow-up, to an average of 60% – 85%.

Step 1: Define the playground

We need a team to make this happen. Empowered representatives of each department are a leaner, more agile team. Not incidentally, this means fewer personalities to contend with.

This team is tasked with developing ideas, trying them, and defining success.

Step 2: Build good fences

The team must hammer out a Service Level Agreement (SLA), defining the new cooperative relationship between sales and marketing. Some suggestions:

  • There are interim measures and resulting measures. Interim measures, such as open rate or contacts may be specific to marketing or sales. Resulting measures, such as lead quality and sales, must be shared.
  • The SLA specifies the criteria that defines a lead that is worth sales’ time. Sales gets 2 votes, marketing gets maybe one. Criteria may include:
  • Source: where did the lead come from (e.g., referral)
  • Need: how important is the product or service to the prospect
  • Timing: where are they in the consideration process
  • Budget: has one been established
  • What are the checkpoints for analysis and dialog?

Step 3: Focus

This isn’t going to work unless we share a clear understanding of the prospect, on two levels:

  1. Decisions are made by the buying center, which consists of several functions. Who is in it and what is the contribution of each executive?
  1. These executives are not just functional titles, but people, with often contradictory business and personal drivers.

Create prospect personas for executives important to the buying center. Each is an archetype, with substance, form, and personality. This will unify our vision and understanding of these prospects.

Prospect personas must be based on new external research with current prospects and customers, or we will perpetuate the mythology that divides us. Proprietary research among marketing professionals shows that 77% of effective personas were based on new external research and 72% of ineffective personas were created from existing information.

The research will also generate what we call the Key Prospect Insight (KPI), which provides competitively superior insight into these real people regarding their needs, information behavior, attitudes, and motivations.

Step 4: Walk a mile in their shoes

The consideration path to a b2b purchase recommendation is a conundrum, and may vary by persona. The process maps the journey to help you:

  1. Identify the most powerful touch points.
  2. Understand how to maximize value and engagement.
  3. Align company sales and marketing.

If this map isn’t based on new research with current customers and prospects, we’re kidding ourselves.

Step 5: Go big

It’s time to take this hard work down off the lift and get out on the road. Let’s see where this working relationship is strong and where the components need to be fine-tuned.

Publicize the results, concentrating efforts initially on higher management. Cooperation, where it didn’t exist before, constitutes cultural change, and that does not happen from the bottom up. People will only get on the bus if management is driving.

Then engage the rank and file, and show them three things:

  1. This was developed based on trust
  2. It requires continuous improvement
  3. It generates more leads and more sales.

Interestingly, sales and marketing integration is not hypothetical but is a pain-point for many organizations. What works (or doesn’t) for you?

Content Must Connect – Three Essential Insights for B2B Content Marketingtest

We recently conducted Prospect Persona research with C-Suite executives worldwide. An inescapable observation is that in b2b content marketing, we speak before we listen, that most content is based on assumption of need rather than firsthand knowledge of what facilitates and adds value to the purchase process.

Of course, these senior executives want an expert, unbiased voice that speak directly to the specific, immediate need. Easy to say, hard to do.

From this research, and our Prospect Persona experiences, emerge three essential insights to help us create content that connects with the executive, their need, and the decision making process:

  1. No one in a corporation makes a decision by themselves.

Corporations rely on the buying center. Titles with subject matter expertise and/or skin in the game have responsibilities to the buying center. The buying center is virtual and expands or contracts based on the product or service being considered.

Here’s what I mean, in the words of one senior executive,

You marketing guys are all alike. You think you have to send everything to me, but that’s not the way decisions are made around here. Moreover, while you are a respected resource, I resent having to go through all of the information you send and dole it out to who really needs it.

We have many smart, talented people, each with specific responsibilities to gather information and assess what you have to offer. You must be sensitive to their needs and respond with the required information.

You would do well to learn who they are, what they do and what they need.

  1. There’s a sphere of influence

It is likely that there are unseen and previously unknown influencers to the buying center – folks who do not sit at the table, but contribute greatly to shaping information and opinion.

For example, during these interviews many CEOs revealed the importance of their assistant. We may imagine them with appointments and emails buzzing around their head, but many times they are entrusted with conducting primary research on matter of immediate interest. Many CIOs tune into what ideas bubble up from their engineers.

These assistants and engineers punch above their weight, having outsized influence because they are conducting, and thus curating, the content research.

You would also do well to learn whose these people are.

  1. The nuances of messaging can blow up your goals

A technology client had built a very successful SMB business and was now looking to move to the enterprise. For years their message spoke to their prospects about backing up your data to the cloud.

Prospect Persona research came to two conclusions:

  • One, back-up, by itself, is not valued by the corporation. It’s a cost center. The corporation only values data recovery.
  • Two, about a third of the enterprise technology decision makers had an “almost religious aversion to the cloud”.

So, by changing the way they said hello, from backup to recovery, from the cloud to reliability, the content could be of value to a significantly wider audience.

In summation, John Eng, CMO of TradeShift, adds his hard-won experience,

“Our content and sales teams work to empower the buying center, to empower each participant to recommend us. We work hard to build the personas to integrate our efforts and focus on what’s really important to them.

“We must connect with these executives on a personal level to really be effective. It’s the only way to prove our competitive superiority. Otherwise, we’re just making noise.”







Manage Change, or It Will Manage You: True marketing innovation requires top-down cultural buy-intest

The success of marketing innovation correlates with the success of implementing change. Marketing may realize that all systems and processes must be retooled to become more customer centric. However, if the cultural change is not managed successfully, these will be just empty words. Here are the four hard-and-fast rules to enable change without disabling innovation:

  1. Be an evangelist for the vision.

Employees view prospective change to corporate culture through the lens of FUD: fear, uncertainty and doubt. Employees need to understand why change is occurring, how it will occur and what the result will look like. Show them the expected future state and explain why it is better for the company and better for them. Be very clear about the behaviors that will deliver the future into their hands.

  1. Reinforce lasting change with measurement and rewards.

Things in corporations that are not measured or rewarded do not happen. Marketing may mandate that the new direction is customer centricity, but if things like customer satisfaction, retention and lifetime value are not in the comp package, nothing will change.

  1. Train the new skills that employees will need to succeed.

If you expect individuals to do things differently, you must provide them with training. Successful training is a process, not an event. Employees need time to listen, think about and adopt new concepts and skills. As much as possible, train through group interaction. When people in a nonjudgmental environment are encouraged to exercise and apply new concepts, they are more likely to retain and internalize what they’ve learned.

  1. Walk the talk.

Lasting change does not happen from the bottom up; it only happens from the top down. It is important that at each level of the organization, and within each department, employees see a person of influence who is a role model for the changes in behavior. And most of all, they must see management as consistently living and breathing the change—that is, they must see that the person who signs their check is committed. If the organization fails at this, the other three conditions don’t mean a thing.

The Center of the Universe for B2B Prospectingtest

Every champion of a product or service believes in their heart that their target is the CEO. They need to find a way into CEO’s consciousness. That the illumination of their message will pierce the maelstrom like a lightning bolt and all, from there, will be smooth sailing. Scales will fall from eyes and money will rain from the heavens.

To them I offer a cold shower:

  • This is not the way CEO’s learn
  • This is not the way corporate purchase decisions are made

We’ve just completed Prospect Persona research that involved talking to CEOs worldwide. We learned two things about their information behavior:

  1. Their number one source of new concepts and ideas is their peer network
  2. They look to the buying center to vet and recommend in all purchase decisions

Let me paraphrase one of the seminal remarks:

You marketing guys are all the same. Because I’m the CEO, you only want to talk to me. But that’s not how we make decisions.

We have many smart, talented people, each with specific responsibilities to gather information and assess what you have to offer. You must be sensitive to their needs and respond with the required information. I’m part of the team, but I rely on them.

Corporations rely on the buying center. Titles with subject matter expertise and/or skin in the game have responsibilities to the buying center. The buying center is virtual and expands or contracts based on the product or service being considered.

For instance, if a company is making a large purchase, perhaps a locomotive, there will be subject matter experts, operations, finance, union reps, government relations, the business unit executive and purchasing (and more) involved in the tire-kicking. They will arrive at a final recommendation. The CEO will be part of the team, towards the end.

However, if the purchase decision is less mission-critical, perhaps super-special office equipment, the CEO may not be involved at all.

What’s critical is identifying and understanding the key members of the buying center and their roles and responsibilities, the information they require and how they learn, to understand their often-conflicting business and personal goals.

John Eng, CMO of TradeShift, adds his hard-won experience,

“Our content and sales teams work to empower the buying center, to empower each participant to recommend us. We work hard to build the personas to integrate our efforts and focus on what’s really important to them.

“We must connect with these executives on a personal level to really be effective. It’s the only way to prove our competitive superiority. Otherwise, we’re just making noise.”

And I’ll add one last paraphrase from our research

Get to know our people and our culture. Don’t just sell to a “company”, become part of the team. Earn the right to do business with us.

That’s a worthy, and achievable prospecting goal. Three steps you can take now:

  1. Profile (and prospect) the critical lower-level influencers, not just the C-suite
  2. Create personas of the entire buying center team. Each brings a distinctive POV, and you can’t win without winning them all.
  3. Don’t make stuff up. Conduct real research with real prospects. Working from collective assumptions does not provide breakthrough insights on how decisions are actually made.


A Smart 4-Step Formula to Identify B2B Prospect Opportunitiestest

Not all prospects are created equal. Some are ready to buy now, some later, some not at all – yet marketing tends to invest the same in each one, which is inefficient at best.

I’d like to suggest a simple 4-step formula that will bring an early identification of prospect opportunity and allow us to gauge our marketing investment in a prospect per the potential return. The formula is based on the concept of “propensity to buy”, or the likelihood that a given prospect will purchase. Understanding, and measuring this concept enables us to focus on real opportunities.

The Four B2B Prospect Opportunity Pillars

The propensity to buy formula rests on four pillars: source, need, timing and budget. By applying some parameters to each we can assign numeric values. The higher the numeric value, the higher the value of the prospect. These parameters are based on information that you gain through interaction, if not actual conversation, and are in the sequence that the information is usually revealed.

Source is where the prospect came from. It is the first evidence gathered and it is the most important of the four pillars. For instance, the source might be a customer referral, which is enormously powerful. Or, the prospect might belong to an important industry association, or the individual might have dropped out of the sky. Let’s assign three points to a referral, two points to an association member, and one point to the unknown.

Need means exactly that – how does the prospect express their need for your product or service. If its because of a mission-critical need, let’s assign three points. Research for a planned project? Two points. Curiosity gets one point.

Timing is how soon the prospect expects to be making a decision. Right now gets three points. In six months, two points. Sometime in the future gets one point.

Budget. This does not mean we ask the prospect how much money is in their wallet, but we can find out if there is an existing budget, which would get three points; two points if the budget has been requested; and one point if the prospect is still building their business case.

The maximum point score is thus 12 – prospects with 12 points represent the highest potential close ratio. This may be gilding the lily, but It’s worth focusing your resources here at the expense of other groups. Bring the business in now. Ten to eleven points indicates potential, and that you should have a lead nurturing program in place. Eight to nine point prospects are still in the game, but should be nurtured through lower-cost communications. Prospects with less than eight points go directly to the database where they are informed, stimulated, and given the opportunity to express further interest.

The under eight-point pool is the domain of suspects and competitors (if they’re smart). If you’re smart, you make up a suppression list of these competitors so you can find them on the database and get rid of the little buggers.

This scoring model we’ve discussed is directional. It has got to be tweaked to your individual business, and then fine-tuned through experience. I encourage you to keep it as simple as possible, and to regularly purge the system, perhaps every six months. The bottom line is a more efficient prospecting machine, better utilization of marketing (and sales) resources, and a better ROI.

Work Smart

Of course, this propensity to buy model is used at the tail end of the go-to-market process, once the lead generation machine is in full swing. If we really want to work smart, we begin with indepth qualitative research, such as the Prospect Persona process mentioned earlier, so media and messaging are directed at the highest potential candidates.

Additionally, we recommend profiling who is not a prospect. Persona research* we have recently conducted identifies not only ideal prospects (and their consideration path) but also those who may look and smell like a prospect, but are unlikely to ever convert.

Throughout our focus must be on quality not quantity, on working smart.

*For a free copy of our research, The Power and Potential of Persona, please click HERE.

Originally posted on the MENG blog.






The Core Reason B2B Prospecting Underperformstest

The overwhelming majority of people working on any given b2b marketing campaign have never seen, met or spoken to a customer, and certainly not a prospect. They work from reports and results. They are separated, a gap to a chasm, from the often-conflicted humanity of the people that make the decisions. This separates your campaign from its potential.

We are not fishing on the shores of Lake Abundant – it’s harder than ever to differentiate ourselves, to find, nurture and motivate the prospect as the world become increasing atomized.

The b2b prospect is the most elusive, with a long consideration journey that takes place, for the most part, prior to any direct engagement. So, who are those guys? What do they want? Perhaps we should ask them.

Many companies utilize personas – archetypes or synthesized summaries which are based on qualitative research with real people in this position about their characteristics, specific information behaviors, attitudes, motivations, and goals. Personas have generated great success in b2c (e.g., Best Buy’s customer centricity campaign generated double-digit improvement in sales per store), we think persona’s next greatest potential is in b2b prospecting.

Personas have one thing that data and research reports do not. Personality. And, as a very wise friend once said to me, the b2b sale is all about personalities. This can put the personality on the planning table, and can serve as a point of reference, if not agreement, between marketing and sales.

We recently conducted proprietary research among marketing professionals to begin to understand, and benchmark, how companies are using personas, where and how they have been effective. The full results are detailed elsewhere (I’d be happy to send them to you), but as we examine the potential of personas in b2b prospecting, three points jump out at me:

  • About one half (58%) of respondents said they are currently using personas
  • About a third (35%) report that personas are very or extremely effective
  • About one half (47%) discovered important new insights or corrected faulty assumptions.

The potential is there – just being able to avoid mistakes half of the time would justify the effort to me, but let’s look at the other side of the coin:

  • About a third (32%) say personas are not respected or appreciated within the organization
  • A quarter (26%) say the personas have not yet revealed many new insights
  • Less than a fifth (17%) say that personas are not very or not at all effective

There’s one verbatim that seems to sum up what’s underneath these stats:

“In the main, personas tend not to drive any new learning, but rather skin existing learning with a newer, somewhat obvious conclusion.”

The results are that 41% of the personas were created from existing data, which iis a self-fulfilling prophesy. Said differently, it’s hard to find new insights when you are relying on the same old information and biases. To be effective, we must engage the prospect in purposeful conversation designed to uncover the what, how and why of their goals, consideration and decision behavior.

As our b2b prospects get harder to influence, lets understand them better through personas. Remember the third that said that personas are very or extremely effective? Here’s their input:

“Personas are drivers of our segmentation strategy.”
“Better copy and image selection. Leads to better targeting, media usage and prioritization of budget.”
“A contributor to product developmentâ.”
Is this the silver bullet we’ve been waiting for, Godot? Sorry. While we’re waiting it sure seems like an effective way to leverage success.