To Choose Where You Play in the Market: Know Your Buyers Well

What do MBAs need to know about Buyer Behavior?

During the past couple of years, I have had the wonderful opportunity to guest lecture at my alma mater, Santa Clara University, to new classes of MBA students. This is something I do twice a year at most, and I love to give back to the business school that kick-started my career in marketing.  My topic is Buyer Behavior and why it matters in B2B focused organizations, where keeping a direct sales force — or channel partners — happy and productive often becomes the primary focus of the marketing organization.

Tomorrow night, I will attempt to impart words of wisdom to Professor Ravi Shanmugam’s next class of unsuspecting scholars.  As always, I will ask them to share their reactions to my presentation by commenting on this blog post. Most Santa Clara MBA students are employed full-time at top Silicon Valley firms and many hail from technical or engineering backgrounds.

Which will make for interesting discussion, since my comments tomorrow evening will focus a bit more on the healthcare industry. I plan to talk about how — in my new role this year heading up industry marketing across Xerox – we are making online, social, traditional and (frankly) unexpected moves in this industry.  Unlike high tech, this is an industry where Xerox is better known for supplying copiers used at the nurses’ station or admissions desk than for solutions we bring to hospitals, insurance companies, government agencies and employers to help them simplify how each manages the health of its respective populations.

Segmentation, personas, and behavior profiling continue to be the tools that good marketers use to understand how and communicate why buyers purchase from technology suppliers. Increasingly, these tools also help marketing executives determine where to head in a strategic direction (e.g.  grow current solutions versus invest in new ones), define how an organization uniquely creates value and plan how – through market execution – to deliver that value to customers.

Today, I think many B2B marketers stop at segmentation and targeting when they answer the question “what type of buyer should we attract?” The temptation to put buyers in broad, all-encompassing categories is difficult to resist.  Marketers want their message heard by more people than fewer.  The irony is that less truly becomes more in many B2B marketing opportunities.

Better marketers (and their sales counterparts) understand the detailed, specific issues buyers face in their respective markets. They understand what motivates buyers and why one buyer’s needs are distinct from another.  This understanding makes it easier to engage prospects in meaningful conversation about how your products and services can help them. Demonstrating that you are part of a community focused on solving key business problems (not just trying to sell stuff) is also important to creating belief in buyers that it is worth the time to have a conversation with you. Personas are a primary tool to help you move from technology supplier to industry insider. Relentless study about who buyers are and what causes them to buy keeps these personas current and useful as tools.

This is the essence of the advice I hope to convey to this class of soon-to-be-MBAs.  I will see how successful I am at achieving this goal based on the comments I receive to this post.  Won’t you join me in reading their comments and seeing how I did?  Expand the comments link below and join the conversation.

Change Management: Critical Skill for B2B CMOs in 2013

Have we reached a “new normal” for marketing budget growth?

Will marketing budget growth trends continue to shrink?

IDC’s findings from its 9th annual Technology Marketing Benchmarks Study show concerning results about the future of marketing budgets.  Prior to the start of the recession, marketing budget growth tended to keep pace with revenue growth.  In high tech, this looked like 6 – 7% per year on average across a variety of firms, large and small.  After everyone hit the reset button in 2009 and slashed budgets into the negative growth range, recovery to pre-recession levels continues to look distant, if not impossible, to achieve.  Current marketing budget growth rates are only half of those rates seen previously.

For many marketers, business leaders and financial officers now demand way more efficiency and accountability than was expected 5 years ago.  Marketing must build a business case for every program and demonstrate a return on investment.  Those marketers who do this well win budget approval for key programs and those that don’t struggle along with shrinking budgets.

Can automation help marketing get more efficient and be more accountable?

Partially.  It is almost universally accepted that applying technology to a poor business process only makes the flaws stand out.  But process improvement is where the future of business marketing lies.  In 2013, successful CMOs will turn their attention to managing change in this new era of marketing budget scrutiny and pressure. In a recent Forbes blog post, David Cooperstein — the leader of Forrester’s CMO & Marketing Leadership practice – outlines 5 areas where CMOs need to get smarter about before having change management conversations with their peers, team members, and agencies.  I want to second his advice and add a couple of more points for CMOs who work with Chief Sales Officers in organizations where direct sales is a dominant part of the business.

Besides defining the future state of the organization, mapping process against that and figuring out where technology can help, these CMOS also need to learn more about how to:

1)      Evolve the sales process.  Today, buyers are more than half-way through the purchase process when they decide to talk to vendor reps for the first time. To get ahead of this, sales execs want account managers to “be more relevant”, to get into the need-identification conversation earlier by introducing buyers to critical, insightful information about their business.  They expect reps to go online, mine social network relationships, and target executives with business-relevant information.  That’s a long way from a cold call.

2)      Shift from messaging to creating relevant conversation. Smart CMOs need to understand how the sales process is changing and partner with CSOs to make it easier for reps to have business-relevant conversations. Developing good marketing content that shares a unique point of view on industry-specific issues is the start.  But managing the change needed in the sales process to encourage and reward reps for having business-relevant conversations instead of yakking about features and benefits, is a change management challenge marketing must help sales overcome.

I think David is spot-on when he says that it’s difficult for CMOs to articulated the change management required for marketing to succeed in implementing and making use of the technologies that are now available to them – and that they aren’t going to get much help from vendors like Deloitte, IBM Global Services and Accenture in the meantime.  But I think B2B CMOs face a more insidious challenge – that of making marketing a true partner to sales – one that can help reps leverage the power of online, social activity to become a true partner to prospects, not just the organization trying to get them to sign on the dotted line. And to get this done without jeopardizing the brand image and equity many big firms enjoy.

The Art of Evolving A Big Company Brand

It’s pop quiz time, folks.  Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when I say?:

BMW           (ANSWER:   “The ultimate driving machine.”)

Nike            (ANSWER:   “The swoosh.”)

Apple          (ANSWER:  “Products designed to be incredibly desireable.”)

Xerox   —   Yeah, yeah… “The copier company….”

This little experiment into bad game-show trivia demonstrates how difficult it is to change well-recognized, deeply-ingrained brand perceptions.  For many people, Xerox will always be the copier company. Although half of our annual revenue now comes from helping other companies shed business process burdens and focus resources more on what they do best.

Last month, I had the pleasure of sharing some steps in my current journey, on the quest to move public perception of Xerox from the old to the new, with a great group of marketers at the ANA Business-to-Business Committee Meeting, held in lovely San Jose, California.  The basic objective of the presentation — that you can find here on Slideshare – was to explain how we adapt Ready for Real Business (our company communication platform) to specific industries (in this case healthcare) to demonstrate that Xerox has been — and will continue to be — about making business simpler. 

Can Xerox make the transition from “the copier company” to something more?

For marketers, the lesson is crucial – develop your brand and be true to it.  In the second half of the day, Intel presented its story behind the new “die” logo and brand image.  The presentation began by contrasting firms that struggled with brand image (think Burger King versus McDonalds) against their more successful counterparts.  I thought it was VERY interesting to have these two presentations open and close the day.  (Nice job, ANA folks!)

During my presentation, I explained how Xerox uses affiliate advertising to tell our services story and highlighted our surprising success with online video storytelling.  I then showed how we evolved this top-level positioning into what we call the “Freedom to Care” campaign, which features our engagement with conferences like TEDMED and the World Healthcare Congress, by engaging in earned and purchased social activity, and with MESC 2012 (the renamed Medicaid conference.)

Key lessons learned through these travels so far? I would say:

  • Be persistent, not impatient. Evolving a brand is a years-long process, so don’t whipsaw your strategy around if the immediate pay off doesn’t surface. 
  • Put the focus on your clients.  If your marketing talks about what’s important to their core business and to their customers, you will be more relevant and your message will get through faster.
  • Top-notch brands are disciplined. Marketers who steward them apply consistent effort and investment. And they are not afraid to be a bit repetitive in their communication.
  • Get everyone singing the same song.  In really big firms (those that have really big brands), cross-business line collaboration is key. Lead business lines by example, it’s easier than trying to be the brand police.
  • Digital technologies help to speed up the process. Of course, it’s always best to integrate marketing into a consistent set of messages and offers/promotions that cross traditional and online channels.

Did my message matter?  I think so –  the folks at ANA let me know today that attendees rated my presentation the highest of the day.  Yay for me, but more importantly “yay” for the marketers who can marry the art and science of brand evolution in ways that stay true to company value but adapt to changing times.

How to Tell A Story…Watch This And Be Inspired

B2B marketers feel challenged to create compelling content.  We blindly pursue writing headlines that makes potential buyers drop everything to click on our links or give us a call. Or we chase the two-sentence value proposition that magically opens the door for our sales guys.

What we miss sometimes is the power of a story to get our message across. 

Humans love stories.  We learn from them.  Stories are part of our DNA: ever since we evolved from grunts to language, we have sat around campfires — or dining room tables — and told stories that share experiences.  Storytelling is a profound way to convey information to others in a form that is easy to remember. But B2B marketers get caught up in explaining why what we offer is better, cheaper, faster, more exciting, or more innovative. We lose sight of how a simple story — told by another customer or an employee with real, first-hand insight– can make our message come alive.

Since March, I’ve shared a few of my experiences managing the Xerox TEDMED sponsorship. I’ve talked about my new adventures in corporate sponsorship, messaging to healthcare, developing advertising, and surprising delegates with something unexpected.  All of which flexed new marketing muscles in me.  Now I want to share a TEDMED moment that will affect you in a profound way.  

Watch this video from TEDMED 2012. It will change your life and strike a deep emotional chord. I know this because it did to all the people who listened that day. In this video, Ed Gavagan tells a gripping tale about the medical expertise that saved him after a random violent encounter. It’s 12 and 1/2 minutes and worth every one.

So watch it and don’t be tempted to bail out after the first minute or two.  Because, as presentations go, this one has a few flaws.  Ed stumbles around in his speech a little. He stands in one place. He seems a bit uncomfortable. He doesn’t make a lot of eye contact with the audience. He doesn’t use slides. He doesn’t have props.  He doesn’t use gestures a lot.

But what he does well is tell an amazing story.

At the risk of ruining the moment, here are 3 things every B2B marketer can learn from watching how Ed tells a story:

1) Be authentic. While the presentation doesn’t look rehearsed, it is. However, Ed tells his story from the heart and with rich details that make you feel what transpired deeply. You connect with his story at a very basic level. Transparency, honesty, and realism count so much more than polish. If you need to spend time on your content, do it on the former not the later.

2) Surprise your audience. Using a flashback as the main part of the story is an unexpected twist that draws you into the action. Sometimes not following a linear progression, doing the unexpected (like the way Ed inserts humorous moments into the talk), and challenging your audience’s preconceived notions create the most memorable moments.

3) Tie it all back together. There is no obvious “in summary” or “let me review my key points” in this talk. Yet Ed elegantly draws all the storylines back together at the end to thank an audience made up of many medical professionals for being who they are in the world.

Watch the video and let me know what you see in Ed’s storytelling that B2B marketers should follow.  Share your thoughts. 

And if you really want to experience something poignant, listen to the 25 second Q&A at the end of the session (the shortest one of TEDMED 2012) where Jay asks Ed to explain the real reason why the surgeon didn’t cut his long hair…

What Major Account Sales Wants from Marketing

Leads: The Center of the Sales and Marketing Disconnect

You’ve heard this story hundreds of times.

You’ve probably lived through similar situations at some time in your marketing career. I’m talking about the ages-old argument between marketing and sales.  The conversation goes something like this:

  • Marketing wants to know “what did you do with those leads we generated from <fill in the blank event or activity>?”
  • To which Sales replies, “What leads?  Oh, those leads were terrible — send us better ones.”

Despite great advances in demand management and marketing automation – where marketers can use technology to target, engage, educate, and nurture prospects long before sales gets involved – the process of developing leads has yet to change fundamentally the natural tension between those who create market awareness and interest and those who turn that desire into deals.

This week I had the occasion to attend the Marketing Leadership Board Meeting, sponsored by the IDC CMO Advisory service.  The first item on the agenda was a “voice of the sales person” session that we could have continued all day.  Held jointly with the Sales Advisory service, this panel included front line sellers from top tech firms here in Silicon Valley. We’re talking enterprise sales — folks who manage one or two major accounts that create millions of dollars in revenue each year.  This friendly discussion was intended to give marketing counterparts some perspective and feedback on how to best impact sales’ productivity and effectiveness. What resulted was some very pointed commentary that set many of the marketing operations folks in the room back on their heels.

What does marketing do to really annoy those who manage major account relationships? Here’s my paraphrased synopsis of the key points made:

1) Sales builds key relationships and marketing messes them up. Every one of these sales people felt that it was Sales’ job to develop and maintain executive relationships at key accounts.  When marketing sends unsolicited communication — that is either off-topic, redundant, or too frequent — this interferes with their ability to keep the executive-level conversations moving forward. As a result, Sales is reluctant or unwilling to share contacts with marketing so they squirrel their most important information away on smartphones and personal databases.

2) Most marketing-generated leads are still poorly qualified. Even though they agreed that it can be helpful — from an awareness and credibility perspective — to communicate with contacts outside those involved in the current deal, these sales execs believe they hold deep insight into what makes buyers tick and that marketing should just butt out of these conversations. Generating net-new leads, and asking for timely follow up, simply takes too much time away from persuading their primary decision makers.

3) Marketing helps most when it makes content look snappy and throws a great party. Executive events, sponsorships, polishing RFPs and oral presentations, and dinners at nice restaurants provide great opportunities for sales to meet with top-level clients and prospects face to face. Marketing can help put that best foot forward (as I did with the recent Xerox TEDMED sponsorship). Beyond that, Sales doesn’t see much value in the advertising, direct mail, online content, or social interaction that Marketing often leads.

So what’s a dedicated marketer to do?  Throw you arms up in frustration?  Resort to the “oh boys will be boys” attitude of marketing in the face of direct, major account sales?

No, I think if you can’t beat them, it’s time to join them.  But in a very specific way.  Marketing must work to reinforce its purpose as the revenue generation engine of the company.  In building demand ahead of the pipeline.  If major account sales doesn’t yet appreciate that Marketing can help to drive the business in this manner, then it’s time to:

1) Find the parts of the business that can benefit from qualified lead generation. OK, major accounts may not (yet) see the benefit of marketing communication directed at the parts of the account that don’t yet know about your company and its products and services.  So work with the new logo/business development folks.  Channel partners are always hungry for net-new lead opportunities.  Look for small teams offering specific solutions or addressing specific markets (like healthcare or higher education.)  Showing that marketing can have an impact is the primary goal.  And major accounts may not be the first place to start.

2) Put sales in control of the demand generation process — in their accounts.  Many refer to this as account-based marketing, but the guiding principle is the same – develop demand generation and customer communication programs that target a specific audience.  Whether industry or role focused, programs that progress a buyer through a specific set of educational or business problem resolution steps can help sales people attract the interest of new buyers by delivering interesting, relevant content instead of promotional messages.

3) Double down on marketing/business centric metrics. The best way to demonstrate that marketing can truly help sales develop new opportunities or progress current deals is to measure your impact on the pipeline and the business. Marketing dashboards, reports, and portals that reflect the same business issues that Sales cares about it the way to start.

Will marketing and sales ever see eye-to-eye with sales?  I see many smaller to mid-size companies achieve this goal today.  But large, enterprise firms — with a long history of sales-centric operations, direct account coverage models, and professional sales processes — will take a longer time to develop this appreciation.

Content That Generates Meaningful Thought Leadership

Talk to anyone about marketing automation, demand management, or lead nurturing and the conversation inevitably turns to content. 

Copyright ITSMA 2011

Most marketing operations folks starting down the automation path talk more about their people, change management, and technology implementation woes. But after they get a couple of campaigns under their belt, the challenges of developing a steady stream of relevant, interesting content surface.

Here’s proof.  In the chart here, ITSMA shows that among services marketing teams surveyed in a 2011 study on lead management maturity, Leaders say content creation is the biggest concern they face.  So what does it take to create great content?  Great ideas.  Good marketers express great ideas through thought leadership. 

I think thought leadership is a fuzzy term. Many think thought leadership has to be truly unique and leading to be worthy of publication.  I like Forrester Research’s definition, from my former colleague Jeff Ernst, because it focuses on outcomes.  Jeff says that thought leadership is:

“The process of formulating big ideas and insightful points of view on the issues your buyers face capturing those ideas in multiple content vehicles and sharing the ideas with prospects and customers to enlighten them, engage them in a dialogue, and position your company as a trusted resource.”

At Xerox, I think we work hard to present insightful points of view on industry and the role of managed print, document, IT and business process services in those industries. I don’t think we are leading edge, but our experiences demonstrate that thought leadership is best crafted around three key ares:  your experts, your customers and your take on vertical industry problems (expressed as views shared with recognized industry experts.) 

If you are in the Denver Colorado area, and you want to find out more, please join me for the Colorado chapter of the BMA Keynote Luncheon on Wednesday, March 14, 2012.  I will post the slides from this presentation on my blog afterwards and share a few of the key comments, if you can’t make it.  I’m sure the folks at the BMA will share as well!

To preview a key lesson learned ahead of time, I want to point to Jeff’s research on thought leadership and say that his framework for upgrading your content to thought leading is very useful. He suggests 10 criteria for evaluating your content through a thought-leading lens, including:

  • Relevant – does your content deal with big issues your buyers face?
  • Provocative — does it challenge conventional thinking?
  • Forward-looking – does it anticipate what’s over the horizon?
  • Distinct – is it different than what your competitors, partners, or industry cohorts are saying?
  • Inspiring – does it energize people around this idea or way of thinking?
  • Actionable – does it provide advice on what to do now?
  • Results-driven – can using your ideas produce breakthrough outcomes or change?
  • Conversational – does your tone encourage dialogue and feedback?
  • Credible – how do you show your company can help others get there?
  • Independent – do you avoid making reference to your products and services?

(Source: Forrester Research, June 7, 2011, “Thought Leadership: The Next Wave Of Differentiation In B2B Marketing”)

Indirectly, many of the points Jeff makes are the same criteria we used in Xerox Document Outsourcing Services to determine which experts to feature, what type of content to develop, and which to feature in our campaigns. So it is a very useful and practical tool for assessing your content’s thought leadership acumen.

What challenges have you faced in developing great content?  I hope you will join in the conversation with the BMA and me next week.

5 B2B Marketing Predictions for 2012

Sourced from (see below)

Happy New Year! To kick off 2012, I thought I’d journey back to my industry analyst roots and make a few predictions about the issues most likely to impact B2B marketers during the next 12 months. I can’t say these predications are as well researched as my prior efforts, but – hey! – I don’t get paid to give advice any longer. (Doesn’t stop me from doing it, however.) I based this list of ruminations more on firsthand experience than third-party study and pseudo-science stuff:

1. Marketing automation (MA) interest, purchase, and use will accelerate. Despite claims from the vendors here, the MA market has been slow to develop. As the recession deepened, marketers turned to MA to cut costs and shift expenses from heads to tools. But the automation investment stakes will rise in 2012 as large enterprises move beyond initial trials to tap into the promise of building demand ahead of the sales effort. Sirius Decisions predicts 50% of enterprises will make the jump to MA by 2015 and Annuitas CEO Carlos Hidalgo expects MA purchase intent to double this year. I think the trend is positive, but that growth won’t accelerate dramatically. Experiencing this shift at a big company (Xerox) these past 18 months, I believe that the transition will be slower – and more painful – than these predictions as large enterprises in particular come to grips with the talent, process, and content issues (not the technology) that keep marketing automation on the B2B backburner.

2. Market program focus will shift from building brand and consideration to sales enablement. Marketing and sales cannot survive independently from each other, but only a minority of executives will address this dilemma in 2012. I don’t believe the solution is to make Marketing report to Sales and lose its position at the boardroom table. However, the core marketing conversation must demonstrate how marketing activity impacts sales pipeline and, ultimately, revenue. I see revenue performance management become more than just a buzzword as B2Bers start to demonstrate predictable, sustainable growth in sales, fueled by tighter marketing and sales alignment. Interestingly, notable successes will come from firms that grow sales with existing clients rather than bold moves into net-new markets.

3. The role of the customer advocate will emerge and take shape. B2B marketers have long known the value of the customer reference. Buyers want proof that you did what you say you do for someone else like them. And they want to learn from those experiences. While customer case studies and success stories were the physical and online record of this achievement, lower cost advances in technology will make it far easier for B2B marketers to capture customer testimonial in the form of video or interactive apps, particularly those suited for tablet presentation. I see companies like BrightTALK, ntara interactive, StoryQuest, and Velocity World Media experiencing a bumper year in 2012. Social networks – and plain, old, traditional industry associations and conferences — will let marketers turn clients into advocates by promoting mutual successes and shining the spotlight on customer achievement rather than product features.

4. To increase lead scoring effectiveness, marketers incorporate fit and interest criteria. Sales continues to complain that marketing delivers terrible leads. Lead scoring helps to bring discipline to the lead development and qualification process. But scoring backfires as marketers get too sophisticated too early when rating the value of prospect engagement with marketing activity. Because the threshold always changes, smart marketers will use scoring to prioritize leads, and let sales determine where to draw the line. As a best practice, they will use hard profile information – rightness of fit, account demographics, contact relevance, and audience rating – to augment softer behavioral information passed along with each “qualified” lead.

5. Content marketing will evolve as a separate function within the marketing organizational structure. The Internet has helped to make B2B buyers more sophisticated. Today, over half of the purchase decision is complete by the time buyers talk to sales. To get noticed during the early investigation phase – when the realization dawns to decision makers that the status quo is not working – marketers must produce interesting, educating, thought-provoking content. In 2012 they will quit relying on agencies to do this. The need to publish points of view in-line with thought-leading positions will cause firms (in particular: big ones) to hire or retain journalist-quality writers to pump out content for field and solution marketing programs (demand gen) to consume.

What do you see and how is that view different?  Post a comment here to share your thoughts.

PS: I sourced this image from


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46 other followers