Marketing Effectiveness

September 23, 2011

Bananas in the Wind

It was a hurricane weekend, literally. Irene was making her way up the Eastern Seaboard, and she had her crosshairs on New England for the last good weekend of the summer. We were to be housebound for two days seeking refuge from the waves of wind and rain. So, what do you do under these circumstances? We decided to do the only thing that made sense given the situation - throw a hurricane potluck party.

With the unexpected downtime, we got a number of things done around the house, which might have otherwise been delayed. For one, the house finally got a good cleaning to accommodate the party guests. I performed a number of other chores that had been piling up on the to-do list. And my wife baked a batch of banana bread that was to be sent as care packages to the kids away at school. This is a fairly normal occurrence for us – every time a banana gets a bit too dark it gets tossed in a basket in the freezer. When the basket fills we make banana bread. It is the best way to not waste an overripe banana and it gives us a regular excuse to make a bakery item that is truly a staple at our place.

Sunday afternoon finally came around, Irene showed up as forecasted, and our neighbors trekked through the horizontal rain to ride out the storm in our kitchen. There was gas in the generator, plenty of liquids to make it through any size catastrophe, and very coincidentally, four variations of banana bread. For some reason, the Saturday of that weekend inspired nearly each family gathering for the party to bake banana bread. So, that gave us the opportunity for a bake-off of sorts.

It turned out that two of the four specialty breads were significantly better than the other two – according to all tasters. As one might expect, recipes were compared to determine the cause. When everything was analyzed it came down to the bananas. Normal eating bananas, that appetizing yellow of peak ripeness, proved to be the difference. The best bananas for bread, it turns out, are those that are beyond peak – the blacker the skin the better. Baking with bananas before they are ready creates a much less desirable outcome.

Bananas are just like marketing leads. Sending them off to sales before they are ready creates a less desirable outcome as well. Here is a case in point, if we took a poll of 100 companies whose marketing programs include a booth at conventions and conferences, we would learn something disconcerting. Consider this question for that poll, “do you qualify or nurture trade show leads prior to distributing to sales?” I can confidently predict that more than half would respond, “no qualification or nurturing”. Likewise, if we polled the sales functions from those same companies whether they value leads coming from smarketing, more than half would say. “trade show leads offer no value”.

The problem is not running programs at trade shows. The problem is really about sending along bananas before they are ready for baking. Marketing cannot ship leads off to sales that are not ready – they have to be ripe according to sales preferences. Marketing may think that a yellow banana looks good, but sales owns the taste test.

Interestingly, this is still debated. The same thing happened within our kitchen during hurricane Irene. Two chefs argued vehemently about only using quality bananas – neither could tolerate the idea of using a banana beyond its eating prime. However, the taste testers own the decision. Sales owns the decision about what is a “ready lead”. Marketing owns the process of getting them ready.

What I have learned works well in this situation is for marketing program managers to speak directly with sales folks to learn firsthand the criteria and characteristics of lead readiness for them. Most of the time it turns out to be some pretty common stuff. The prospect has a budget, there is a timeframe for a purchase, there is clarity about the fit between the need and the product – these kinds of things. What is universally not accepted is a business card thrown in a fishbowl at the booth on the tradeshow floor. Don’t laugh; there is a huge percentage of leads today that are delivered to sales with no more qualification than that.

So, my parting suggestions:

- save your overripe bananas in the freezer and
- make sure you know what sales expects from your leads and what it means to be sales ready.

Go ‘Canes!

Hurricane Hat

July 22, 2011

Growth Strategy for Crabs

Crabby Beachcomber

I have a serious case of crabgrass. It is shooting up absolutely everywhere. I have never had an invasion of this magnitude – it is going to be quite a battle for supremacy in my yard.

Crabgrass follows a very interesting growth strategy. It sends shoots in all directions and hopes that where it pops up will be a successful place to branch out. Those that end up in the driveway are doomed. Likewise, those that end up in the middle of a healthy patch of grass have difficulty making it as well. But, if they make it through to a spot that is distressed – perhaps a bit of clearing without other grass coverage – the new shoot quickly settles in and starts to expand.

This is an expensive strategy. It requires large amounts of shoots that are destined for failure. It also requires a very aggressive growth capacity – the new shoots have to grow faster than the surrounding grass in order to gain an adequate foothold for expansion. This requires a very deep set of roots to feed the shoots with the requisite water and minerals. It is as if the crabgrass has a rich uncle somewhere constantly funding its expansion without concern for cost.

I find crabgrass really, really irritating.

E-mail marketing has a lot in common with crabgrass. For those that don’t want to receive the offer, it is like having this invasive species in your inbox. Campaigns that utilize e-mail as a primary vehicle often follow the crabgrass growth strategy – send shoots everywhere and hope that one pops up in a location that will allow a foothold. The ultra low cost of e-mail as a channel is that analogous rich uncle funding the crabgrass. It does not really cost that much to send out 1000 e-mails, even if you only expect two to be opened. You can afford to end up in somebody’s driveway without much loss. But, two will get opened and they may lead to business. Crabgrass eventually does get a foothold and does thrive.

On the other hand, not very many homeowners are happy with a crabby lawn. Crabgrass has a pretty low brand value. If you have been utilizing a crabgrass growth strategy you might be doing the same to your brand. However, you can’t really blame crabgrass for its approach – millions of years of evolution have trained it. It is not smart enough to target those open patches in your lawn. But, your growth campaigns should be smarter. You do have the ability to target where you will have a better chance of being successful – reducing the irritation of messaging sent to the wrong buyer. Likewise, targeting also prevents making offers to those that are going to buy anyway. You want to use special pricing to entice a new buyer, not reduce your margin with existing buyers.

Targeting does require a bit of extra effort. However, e-mail campaign techniques that utilize a sound web strategy have proven extremely successful – topics for another post. Buying lists and pounding folks with offers is just so last century.

I wish you a green and happy lawn.

January 21, 2011

Concealed Weapon

The irreconcilable differences within the gun control debate are at the forefront of our national attention again. Should it be within an individual’s civil liberties to carry concealed weapons of mass destruction? One side ardently pleads no and one side defiantly shouts yes. This debate will wage on until only one is left standing.

Simultaneous to this debate, a similar, quieter one is underway within the marketing profession. Is there a way we can control the current technology available so that we maintain the right balance of personal privacy yet monitor buyer behavior in a way that allows us to achieve all the marvelous potential of marketing X.0? Protocol development is underway, utilizing a self-governance model, such that we keep the web free of regulatory burdens but observe appropriate rules to protect the buyer. This is a hopeful endeavor. On the other hand, it is somewhat akin to taking guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens with no possible hope to keep them out of the hands of criminals.

The future of effective marketing programs is centered around the automated monitoring of buyer behavior, largely on the world-wide web. This concept is not a bad thing. If you search on a topic, such as the comparison of top data analytics tools, and then download a sponsored whitepaper, it should be acceptable for different interested parties, especially the sponsors of the content, to have access to that information. How that information is used and what actions it drives are the core elements of the debate. The abuse of the information is what we all want to prevent. No matter what we agree to, there will be web sites and data hijacking technology that attempts to abuse as a central objective. It is as unpreventable as keeping Saturday night specials out of the hands of those who intend to kill.

Tom's Guns

One of the things I hear mentioned often within the debate is the term trust. A wonderful aspect of the internet is the two-way nature of its utility. User generated data also allows us to monitor those sites that can’t be trusted because of their behavior. If a site performs inappropriate monitoring behaviors, in essence breaks our trust, we can then collectively ruin their brand by posting the trust-breaking activity as a response. Criminals can try, but it is truly hard to hide when anyone can make a citizen’s arrest in the evolving social structure of the web.

So, I guess the moral of the story is self governance should become truly as the term implies. It is fine for an industry to govern itself, but I suggest that self-governance be performed by the marketing department. If you break the trust of your buyers you will be black-listed. Spam ratings are just the beginning. As social networks of buyers become the norm, brand value will be impacted by user-generated content based not only on the product or service, but also based on marketing procedure.

Certainly, one of the safest approaches to manage trust is through community development. Buyers are joining communities everywhere. Participating in those communities and sponsoring communities of your own will become essential. As your buyers self-select to operate within your community (think Amazon as role model and Facebook as scofflaw) they will learn whether you can be trusted and allow more and more control and offer up more and more data. If you conceal your weapons – gather data invisibly and use it inappropriately - you lose customer trust and that will erode your brand. On the other hand, if your customers opt in and you maintain their trust, they will stay in as long as there is value to them as a member of the community.

This is new territory we are forging and there is a lot to learn. There are plenty of businesses in the forefront of this, especially focused on B2C social sites. However, you don’t have to wait to exploit the possibilities just because you are a bricks and mortar B2B organization. If you are not pushing your customers and prospects to some form of community within your own site, I suggest that you initiate this as a starting place. If you don’t push your customers to your site at all, that is actually the starting place for you, but you need to get through that stage quickly because you are still operating in the previous millennium and you are going to be left behind.

One final thought on this topic; let’s stop using the metaphor of targeting our opponents in our crosshairs. That is literally a killer practice.

November 26, 2009

Who Gets The Credit?

This week we Yanks celebrate the anniversary of a famous dinner that happened a few centuries ago on the eastern shore of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But this year there is a bit of trouble brewing between the good people of that eastern shore. Apparently, those that like to celebrate an historic first landing of a certain sailing vessel, named after a vernal bloom, at the location of a famous rock, are all in a tizzy. Their neighbors to the east, who live at the tip of a peninsula named after an over hunted fish, are claiming that the Pilgrims, with their large belt buckle hats, landed in their fine town first.

Now, it is obvious what this is all about, and then again, you have to wonder why. Yes, it could be beneficial for tourism to claim that the Pilgrims officially started things off in your town. But, historians are fairly confident that the first Feast of Thanks happened at the site of what we now know as Plymouth. Nothing is going to change if those turkey celebration wannabees win their argument. If the Mayflower first stopped off in current day Provincetown, refreshed their water tanks and emptied the scuppers, who really cares? We will still end up with a very feeble seaside rock and historical landmark getting all the attention.

This smacks of a similar argument that I often hear between feuding business functions – who gets credit for the lead? I have visited more than one company where the dispute goes something like this. The marketing function performs a lot of effort generating leads and then hands them off to the sales force. Some individuals within the sales team pursue the leads they receive, but they get creative with how they capture these opportunities in their CRM system. According to the paper trail within the technology, they reject the lead from marketing and enter a new opportunity in the system, as if they found the lead themselves.

Unlike the situation going on here in New England regarding the seafarers aboard the Mayflower, it actually does matter where a lead originates. There are two issues at play in this situation.

First, and foremost, it is very important to track what marketing activity generates a lead. More critical is the ability to then connect that lead to the opportunity pursued. If the business is won, we want to then track which types of leads bring more business. Likewise we want to track which types of lead generation activities spawn the best leads. All of this requires that we link all the activities together. When a good lead is pursued and tracked under an opportunity that is not linked to the original lead we don’t have the ability to determine if the money invested in generating that lead is good money spent.

I hear many reasons for why this degenerate lead management activity occurs; mostly the rationale is centered around the thinking that the original lead was bad and the sales person had to do work to actually create an opportunity that was good. I don’t have hard statistics to quote on this, but I suspect this is nonsense.

The second issue to raise is the use of rewards that are in place and how they influence the behavior. I have witnessed many companies that remunerate sales people with a higher commission for deals they find and close versus deals they get handed to them from a marketing lead. On the surface this could make sense, but with a bit of understanding you will see that this too is total nonsense.

The reward causes the bad behavior. If you are investing money in marketing campaigns then you need to do everything you can to ensure those campaigns pay off. Don’t reinforce your sales team to circumvent those marketing investments. And don’t give them an incentive to cheat the system and mask the efforts of your marketing function.

Rather, be thankful for your marketing function. Give them credit when they find a good lead. Let them know when their lead is not good and for what reason. But, don’t break the chain and make it impossible to measure campaign effectiveness. And whatever you do, don’t make your sales folks thankful for the ability to get a lead for free and then turn it into a better deal once they make it their own.

If you visit the Bay State in November, please enjoy all the historical sites, but you may want to make your plans for a Cape Cod visit when the weather is a bit more oriented for a trip to the beach.

Happy Thanksgiving

Ghost Ship

November 06, 2009

Leads? We don't need no stinking leads!

Here we are rapidly approaching the futuristic sounding year 2010. Web 2.0 business developments are starting to become normal operating procedures. We have been doing this CRM thing for a solid 15 years and the use of killer apps to support major business functions have been around for two decades. Even longer, the science of direct marketing has been formally studied now for over half a century. Why is it then that I continue to encounter marketing functions that do not believe they have a reason for generating leads?
Helping to identify prospective customers who might be interested in becoming current customers is the reason for being if you are a marketeer. Why would you actually choose not to perform such a core function of the enterprise?

Actually, there are quite a few reasons that have been offered up as justification for this reluctance. I would like to debunk some of them, as I feel they are rationalizations and excuses and need to be exposed.

The Sales Force Does Not Need Help
There can be a misconception that the sales team has the bases covered. They have the relationships and they know the accounts. They are on top of what the customer needs and are handling communication in a face-to-face approach. There is no need for the marketing function to disrupt this stable situation. This all assumes that you have enough sales resources to always be present when the customer chooses to take an action. I have never found an organization where this was actually the case.

Long sales cycles demand a significant amount of touches and the sales rep cannot possibly be present for every single one. The ability for marketing to share in that burden is critical. Communication coming through supplemental channels ensures that your company stays front of mind. Eventually the customer needs to pull the trigger on the purchase – the last thing you want is for this to happen when the sales rep is in between visits.

Likewise, many accounts demand a long-trail of relationship maintenance. New purchases spring up in a hard to predict pattern. When a new need arises will your sales rep be the first to be there to remind the customer that you have the ability to satisfy? Don’t leave this to chance. Keep a steady stream of communication with the client supplementing the sales call. This comes from a steady flow of targeted marketing programs, not chance.

Marketing Has Other Priorities
What is more important than bringing in new business? Sure, we need to develop product literature and, yes, we need to drive brand equity. But we also need to drive prospective customers to hard working sales reps. Marketing is a support function. It should guide the sales force to push the correct products with the right accounts. But it also needs to help the sales force identify accounts that want those products. Where I come from these are called leads. Let’s do things to get those leads into the hands of the folks that know what to do with them. Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore!

Dorothy and her Posse

Customers Are Finite And We Know Who They Are

This is probably the most common rationalization I hear. Many of the industries I work with have a fairly definitive customer list and they know them all. However, they don’t always know when they change their mind. They don’t always know when a new need arises. They don’t know every interest or every potential interested contact. But, if you have a sufficient reach to the customer using supplemental channels you can raise the probability that customers who know you will turn to you when a need arises. This is not just direct mail we are talking about. This includes a strong web presence and participation in the appropriate social media where your customers reside. This is the realm of lead generation as well. Even with customers with whom we are already intimate. Marketing can play a huge role here, if only we were not overcome with the myth that we already know the customer.

Our Customers Are Too Sophisticated For Promotions
I hear this from my B to B customers all the time. Lead generation is something for consumer marketing but it does not apply here. This is what I know. No matter what industry you are in, your customers read their e-mail every day, all day. Your customers are on the web right now. They are conducting a search about the kind of products and services you provide. They are even looking at your products and sharing their opinions about your products to others (whether they have used them or not). And you truly believe that they would ignore a call to action if you were to offer them something while they are out there looking?

Your customers and prospective customers want to be reached when they are ready to be reached. Do you know when that is exactly? The marketing function has the ability to keep tabs on that kind of thing, if we would let them. Your industry is not exempt. When there is a prospective buyer out there exploring, let’s give them an offer – even if it is only to come over and check us out. You don’t need to give coupons or 2-fers. You need to reach out to them when they are interested in being reached and when those two things come together magic happens, they buy.

I am not asking for an overnight change. Let’s start small. If you don’t currently generate leads for your sales force, identify a small and modest program that could uncover prospects. Build a means for capturing that interest and transporting the interested party to the right place for the next step in the pipeline. A small success will breed more interest. Soon more regions will clamor for the new leads and eventually you will be sitting on a bona fide lead generation engine. But let’s not get carried away. Start with a pilot that you can control to be a success.

Maybe we do need leads after all.

June 12, 2009

Healthy Dissent

The news from Tehran is quite compelling. A nation is rising against tyranny and we are watching it live rather than reading about it in history books decades or centuries later. More importantly we are watching stuff happening that is at the absolute core of the human spirit play out in prime time, and it is not reality TV. I wish reality TV would go away, but that is the topic for a separate posting.

One of the aspects of the story of the current Iranian drama is that drama is what exactly it is. We don’t know how the story is going to end. And, we know there are a number of different endings where this can lead. The tearing down of the Berlin Wall was one story we witnessed through the news that ended in an amazingly positive outcome. The democracy protest in Tiananmen square came to a less desirable conclusion. As I write this, we do not know the outcome (but it will be shortly determined following this posting I suspect).

Certainly we can speculate and compare the situation in Iran to that in East Germany and China. In the one situation, the social movement and momentum carried by the people was stronger than the political will of the government. As a result the Wall came down and the Eastern Block crumbled. In the other, the political (and military) will prevailed and Communist China remains. Although I am certain others may argue that there is a new revolution afoot driven by capitalism instead of protest. The outcome in Iran will be determined by this set of competing forces – social versus political will.

What can tip that balance and drive the outcome one direction or the other? I suspect we could find a number of variables through a study of history, but I am certain that the variable this time is going to be the infamous Web 2.0.

CNN is getting its best evidence of the protests from sources such as Facebook videos posted by everyday folks using mobile phones to shoot the history they are in the process of making. The Iranian government is doing its best to squash the formal journalists from reporting, but the virtual reporters, numbering in the thousands, have taken over the process. As long as the internet remains available in Iran, this revolution may have legs.

This is serious, serious stuff – human dignity, freedom and lives are at stake. The same technology that helps us sell our used goods on Craig’s List is fueling something phenomenally more significant. And it is even more amazing that we watch it all unfold while we are sitting at the dinner table.

Demonstracion Azur

At the risk of trivializing what is unfolding in the Persian Gulf, I have to draw a correlation. It is what takes place on this blog site after all. This same software that is facilitating a nation toward the brink of something extraordinary is in use every minute of every day potentially assisting the nation that might be described as your customer base to travel a similar path. Today, while you read this, there are customers of yours sharing their views of your product. They may not be posting videos (or in fact they may) but the process is the same. They are either endorsing your rule or trying to tear it down. They may be revolting against you, but it may not be reaching a threshold of interest that it is making the news (yet).

What is your web strategy? Are you monitoring the appropriate sites for content related to your brand or products? Do you have a user-driven content function on your site? You might ask in return – if you were to enable your upset customers to drive content on your site, wouldn’t that be the same as the Iranian government promoting Twitter for their angry citizens? The answer would be, yes.

But, if the Iranian government were to do something so bold, it would come from a strategy and policy driving other behaviors not in parallel with their current path. They would not rig elections; they would be taking stronger action to serve their citizens according to need; they would be using the media to monitor opinion, not to snuff out dissent.

Dissent is equal to failure in government and business. If you have a rebellion by your customers you have done something wrong. What you want to do is find out if that sentiment is growing before it becomes significant. You don’t want to learn about customer dissatisfaction on the news. You want to find out in time to take action (not to jail your customers but to learn from them). If you are getting signals of dissent, you need to embrace it – listen to it carefully so you can take corrective action before it is too late.

Social networking sites are one of the best places for you to manage the process of customer dissent and it needs to be a significant component of your customer strategy and customer feedback process. Or, you can take a lesson from history and follow a different policy.

Let them eat cake.

May 29, 2009

Smart Lights

There have been a number of things I have been hoping to make happen in an effort at putting that proverbial silver lining on this nasty recession. One of these has been an attempt at finding a vacation deal. So, I contacted the travel agency that I have been using lately and told them what I wanted to do. They gave me back some options and some prices and I was surprised. What I wanted to do was not being discounted all that much. There are some serious deals out there. The cruise lines are just about paying passengers to get on their ships in the Western Caribbean right now, for example. No deals for me. So, I asked the travel agency to monitor the situation and let me know if a deal comes along. They said no. What? I know that the software exists to set this up easily – most of the travel companies make it available. I was flabbergasted.

This is the same thing as approaching an intersection late at night when there are no cars on the road and having to sit at a red light while all the other lanes, with no cars, get their turn at green. The invention of the smart light has been a great thing for people like me with no patience. Why should I sit and wait for absent cars to pass the intersection? The smart light solved this problem – it detects my presence and knows I am there alone and allows me to pass blissfully through. My travel company needs a smart light (in fact I bet they have one and choose not to use it). With little effort they can program my interest and when what I want comes along they can let me know – and they don’t need a traffic cop at the intersection to figure it out – it can all be done with automation.

This is great stuff for the consumer e-commerce space and I believe it has served as a significant component of the web 2.0 revolution. Now it is time for the B2B folks to get on board.

The smart light is also the roadway analogy to the concept of trigger marketing. When I approach an intersection a magnetic sensor buried in the pavement senses my approach. It sends a signal to a computer chip that has been monitoring all the lanes, including turning lanes, and determines if I should have the opportunity to go out of order. There are certain rules programmed into the decision making, and if I meet the criteria, I got a green light, literally. I can’t tell you how much I value this invention. The same exists for your marketing department, if you set up your intersections with smart lights.

Trigger marketing tools monitor your customer traffic. They detect certain traffic situations, such as do they stop at a white paper and then do they stop at a webinar? If so, you might set up your sensor in the road to trigger that behavior and send a lead to the sales person who would manage that account. Nobody has to wait for anybody. The trigger does the work of letting you know about the traffic. It is just as fantastic as the smart light. I really dig this stuff.

Of course, there is the challenge of driving the traffic. I find that triggers are easy to explain and convince my clients of their value. The harder topic is the effort needed to drive traffic to the intersections where the triggers are buried in the road. This requires campaigns.

It is still somewhat of a mystery to me why so many organizations resist the concept of conducting marketing campaigns. Some believe it is only for consumer marketing. Some think that their customers won’t respond or don’t read e-mail (you have got to be kidding). Some have tried a campaign but have experienced poor success. My perspective is that these are all unsatisfactory reasons for not using the marketing function to drive customer interest and enable the customer to tell you when they are ready for contact on a topic that fits their needs. Campaigns that drive traffic (to a website, to an event, to reply to a survey) are an extension of the company’s ability to deliver messaging to customers and prospects about your products and services that they require. The great advantage of the trigger is that it allows your customer to determine when they are ready for a contact.

Then there is the marketing function that is fine with running campaigns and regularly sends leads to sales, but the leads are largely ignored. This is another great value that can be derived from the use of triggers. With the creation of a bit of sophistication, such as through behavior scoring, you can set up the triggers to only detect interest after all the required criteria is reached. This scoring approach increases lead value and ultimately sales acceptance. No more leads based on who stopped by the trade show booth just because they wanted whatever free goods you were pawning.

Frosty Bicyclette

The next time you are sitting at a stoplight and getting irritated with the delay, think about that missing sensor in the road. If you are not using trigger marketing, you are basically doing the same thing with your marketing function – unnecessarily delaying traffic.

Happy Driving!

March 20, 2009

Tourist In Paradise

There was an ad in one of the airline magazines placed by a resort that claimed it was a destination for travelers, implying that it was not a place for tourists. They were touting themselves as a haven for the elite. This is an interesting distinction that I have not seen articulated quite so explicitly. As someone who is on the road (in the air) 30 or more weeks out of 52, I do recognize this distinction. Encountering too many tourists while traveling can make a trip a bit less rewarding.

It is currently spring break time and the influx of unseasoned travelers is menacing. The folks in line at security are not efficient with emptying their bags of liquids and electronics, nor are they quick to remove the shoes, coats and other metal objects that so upset the security personnel. This part of the airport experience is less pleasant than usual. The planes have more seats occupied by travelers who are not aware that the thing they are kicking in front of them is actually intended to be your tiny haven of comfort.

Tourists also dress a bit differently, stick out a bit more, and in general don’t blend in to the hustle and bustle of the getting-from-point-A-to-point-B world that us regulars have as part of our work week. So, yes, there is a distinction, and I try not to be a snob, but I prefer to think of myself as a traveler and not a tourist, even when I travel for pleasure.

So, at this point you are wondering what this could possibly have to do with CRM. Here it goes.

There are many folks in organizations today that are responsible for making sure that the CRM tools that are in place, often with great investment, are working to serve their purpose. This may be a role that you play within your company. I meet a lot of these folks and they go by a wide ranging set of titles. But, when I get introduced to them or when I hear them referenced, the role is commonly described as being the person in charge of the tool.

I hope that you don’t get upset with me on this, but think this is a mistake. Folks in these positions are very important and I have recommended to plenty of my clients that they invest in this type of role. However, being a steward for a sales or marketing automation system on the one hand is valuable, but on the other hand, it is not sufficient.

This role should be responsible for supporting the effectiveness of the function that it supports, of which the tool responsibility is merely a subset. By the way, the distinction between the two roles is the only portion of the traveler/tourist analogy that I am raising. I am not suggesting that tool managers are like tourists. But, I do think that those who focus on functional effectiveness rather than tool effectiveness have a greater chance of providing value to the organization. You will be focused on the outcome to which the tool contributes rather than on the tool itself, which might sound trivial in print, but I find that the difference in orientation causes a huge difference in output.

So, what happens if you find yourself in this situation? I propose that you reframe your role – declare that your charter is on functional effectiveness and push others to expect that from you. Do you manage someone that looks like this? Re-orient your expectations and re-define the outcomes of that role. They should be focused on business results such as staff productivity and performance. Do you consult to someone in this position? Counsel them to redefine their mission to reach for greater contribution. I believe you will see an impact almost immediately.

Getting back to travel and tourism - elite travelers are allowed to have fun while they are on the road - they can even wear that favorite Hawaiian shirt now and then, but they do have to do it with just a bit more dignity.

Happy Beer Day

March 13, 2009

Green Branding

We typically get involved with some type of entertaining on or around Saint Patrick's Day and our food and drink invariably is prepared with the aid of coloring enhancements. I'll serve green snakebites before dinner. The corn bread accompanying the meal is green and whatever pudding is served following the meal will be in some way improved to a mouth watering green.

The timing of the topic of today's entry is not intended to augment the menu - it is truly a coincidence, really. I just read an article describing a very creative branding strategy that is also very green, just not in a Paddy's Day way. The whole story goes something like this.

There is this wombat in Australia that has become endangered. The problem is that it is hard to get the funding to protect these obscure critters - partially because they are shy and don't do much to help themselves on the world stage. Enter a company called Xstrata, a mining company from Switzerland. Xstrata has adopted the northern hairy-nose wombat as their corporate mascot. As a result, their logo is now the hairy-nose.

Having an endangered mascot as your logo comes with a price. You now fund habitat restoration and other programs to keep this not quite cuddly from going the path of the dino. What you get in return is that everything wombat how has your brand attached. Websites, t-shirts, environmental literature and media all show the Xstrata brand anytime the wombat is involved.

I think this is an incredible win-win situation.

You could put your brand on a sports stadium or concert arena, which I think is ridiculous. There is no pride in playing basketball at the Dunkin Donuts arena in Providence. Not only is the brand association missing, but the investment does not really accomplish anything. The Patriots at one time played at CMGi stadium. That branding investment was so successful for CMGi that they filed chapter 11 shortly after the name went on the side of the grid iron.

If you are looking to get your name attached to something think before you spend. Why not check out what the World Wildlife Fund is trying to keep alive. You might find they have just the mammal, reptile or winged creature you were hoping to complete your brand image. And if you do, everybody wins.

Wing Span Warning

February 20, 2009

So Touching

Picture the scene – it is one of those restaurant booths that is like an oversized study carrel. We are completely enclosed in dark wood paneling with a burgundy curtain as a door shutting us off from the other diners. My business colleague and I are having a sales dinner with a pair of prospective clients. This new opportunity comes from an industry that we are not entirely familiar with, but it is something we really want to pursue. I am leading the conversation and in the course of my dinner-friendly interview ask the woman sitting across from me, a sales operations director, “what are all the different ways you are currently touching the client?”

My business partner almost chokes on his appetizer, nearly spraying it on the gentleman sitting across from him, the director if IT applications. We had teamed up for the first time that night and he was unfamiliar with the vernacular regarding the idea of “touching” the client. He thought he was witness to a potential harassment suit and I was afraid I was going to be performing a Heimlich in our intimate little dining space.

I have discovered since that awkward incident at the restaurant nearly a decade past that the term “touchpoint” has become much more commonly accepted within the world of CRM. I have less of a challenge breaking in new consultants and my clients have a precise understanding of my meaning when building a customer touchpoint map of the front end functions. That has made life a bit easier.

The Touchpoint Map, a diagram illustrating the span of customer interactions across the full customer engagement lifecycle, is a really powerful tool. It helps to quickly define the potential scope of CRM and illustrates, very powerfully, cross-functional dynamics in play for attracting, acquiring, and retaining customers. CRM, after all, is pretty much all about managing the effectiveness of your customer touches.

One of the misconceptions I find, however, is that many of the organizations that I work with get that they are touching the customer with their sales functions and that they are touching the customer with their services functions, but they don’t always recognize that they are also touching the customer with their marketing functions. And, I think that this can get in the way of marketing being as effective as would otherwise be possible.
So, I put this question out to all you marketers – are you touching your customers enough? All kidding aside, at least briefly, I would like to laud the merits of multi-touch campaigning, a topic that does not get enough exposure in my opinion. But, I think it is one of the best means for optimizing the value of marketing and getting the most from marketing investments.

Pretty much everybody with reasonably solid campaign management experience has learned that three impressions gets the best lift per buck (impressions = touches by the way). What seems to be less universally experienced is that three impressions spread across multiple channels can have even more success. Run two impressions on a new product prior to a sales visit and the customer will be softened up for the new pitch. Make an offer with an e-mail campaign followed up by an outbound call and the prospect will be more prepared to hear the terms of the deal. Push the interested party to the website for a whitepaper download and they will be more prepared for an SME visit.

I am a real fan of the multi-channel approach to creating customer touches, but it does require some orchestration. Marketing and sales do have to be in synch for this to be most effective. Campaign planning seems to work well with the tele-channel but sometimes there can be challenges getting programs rolled out to the field in an organized manner. This is where the use of a CRM tool gets really handy helping to keep everybody on the same page. The cross-channel multi-touch does require extra effort but I believe the return justifies the effort. More importantly, with lower value segments, the use of non-field channels in the approach has proven very successful with strong ROI results.

There was a pretty popular television advertising campaign run by AT&T a while back that had the tag line, Reach Out and Touch Someone. If I were to hijack that slogan my version would be, Reach Out and Touch More Often.

Enjoy the contact.

Backrub for Sale

January 16, 2009

Keep It Tidy

You go out for an evening with a few other folks and everybody is in a good mood. The positivity is self reinforcing and you have a rocking time. The following week, even with the same friends, the results are different – somebody is in a sour mood and it brings down the whole group. We are amazingly impacted by the emotional condition of our companions.

I recently ran across a study that validated this phenomenon empirically. But, the surprising finding was that it is not just your circle of friends who influence your affect, but it is also individuals within the circles of friends of your friends, and the circles of friends of your friends’ friends that can also have an impact on you. Two or three degrees of separation and the impact on your emotional well being is still possible.
Apparently good moods and bad moods are viral.

This is certainly no secret within the customer facing business world. We have known for quite some time that a dissatisfied customer can go a long way in hurting the reputation of your business, potentially spreading their negative view to as many as 50 people. But the stakes are now higher with the advent of social networking. Negative views of your business can spread like the parvovirus on a cruise ship. Blog sites and the easy ability to capture and share opinions can turn that 50 people into 50,000 with the stroke of the enter button.
So, the question is, what are you doing about it?

Messy Steed

In the old days we ran customer satisfaction campaigns and either corrected problem areas or made offers to unhappy campers with free goods to buy back some happiness. This fundamental approach for feedback is still essential, but not sufficient. Feedback also needs to be incorporated into social networking.

There appear to be a number of alternatives for customer feedback 2.0 and the right set for your business will likely require some experimentation. My advice is to put an individual in charge of this who truly understands the process and power of social networking. You will need to be in the right blogs and will need to use the right hooks and they will differ based on your brand and your audience.

Hospitality and travel tries the hardest at soliciting my feedback. But I confess, I really don’t reply much to Hilton or Starwood when they send the unrelenting e-mails requesting input on my experience with their pillows. I am more reliable on ebay where I am a member and feel more accountable to provide feedback. I really like sites that include customer reviews of products or restaurants and I pay close attention to the critical comments. However, they are not enticing enough for me to put significant effort into providing input in return. It is a complicated situation.

Customer generated content is becoming the norm for our new world order. Control over that content may be elusive, but letting it happen without any intervention is not in your best interest. Best to do what is needed to put your best foot forward, especially if there has been a stumble.

Tidy Up

On that note, please feel encouraged to leave your views in the comments section provided on this site.

December 05, 2008

When is an Opportunity not an Opportunity?

If a lead lands in the forest but there is nobody there to hear it, does it still make a sound?

Old Tree

Let’s try a different approach. If you get a lead that comes from a prospective new customer – they have expressed an interest in a product or service – that becomes an opportunity once qualified, right? Now, if perhaps through the same demand generation process a lead comes in from an installed account – an existing customer expresses new interest in a product or service – that also becomes an opportunity, once qualified, right again?

For those of you that answered, “wrong”, to the second question I confess I am baffled.

Lately, a lot of the work I have been engaged with clients has been focusing on lead management, especially the process of moving leads into the opportunity pipeline for the sales function. Over the last several months I have encountered some organizations that don’t like to include installed accounts in their opportunity pipeline – they want to treat them differently.

So, I confess, as I am confused by this. Why is an installed opportunity different from a prospective account opportunity? Oh, you might say that because there is a different sales force assigned to each, then we need to treat the leads differently. Hardly. The opportunity pipeline is the opportunity pipeline.

If we don’t afford the same attention to leads coming from existing customers we run the risk of letting those leads disappear through cracks in the process. They are potentially viewed as less important, or the process controls do not extend to these leads and they can silently vanish because of inattention.

An opportunity for new business is an opportunity for new business whether new or old. The processes we build, the methods we follow, and the technology we used to enable each must manage all the leads and not give second class treatment to those from a friendly old customer.

If for no other reason, keep the process consistent so you don’t screw up your forecast. Opportunities that come from existing accounts are measured in the same currency as new accounts – why make your forecast complicated?

Consider this posting as a declaration for equal opportunity marketing.

April 11, 2008

Exercise Your Vote, and Your Website

No matter the outcome, if we gain nothing else from the presidential primary this election year it will be that Senator Obama has changed the rules of campaigning for ever. This happened once before in my memory when a very 5:00 o’clock shadowed Richard Nixon made a very poor television presence during one important debate as compared to the young and dapper John Kennedy. From then on presidential campaigns were conducted on television. From this year on campaigns will be done online with the same fervor as chasing the evening news sound bite.

While I admire the Obama campaign for this reason as well as others, to me the more important lesson from this is that even stodgy old political campaigning can benefit from the new reality of the internet. More businesses need to learn from this, and hopefully will as a result from a successful end to the Obama campaign. Check out the March 19 issue of Fast Company for a nicely written article on the Obama campaign and the impact of web marketing.

Back in the USA

It was no accident that the Obama campaign found success on the web. Fate was sealed better thanks to the recruiting of Chris Hughes of Facebook fame. And there alone is probably a lesson. If you are going to build a better web strategy you want to find someone who understands the segment that uses it most completely to help you build a useful strategy.

But there are some other lessons to be learned as well. Perhaps most importantly is the amazing success of social networking for the Senator from Illinois. Most of my clients have no aspect of social networking in their web strategy, not even a blog site. Heck, I am happy if I can get a web strategy built for many of the organizations I support. Don’t think that just because your customers are baby boomers that social networking does not matter to your business. Viral marketing does not only infect twentysomethings.

However, you don’t need to recruit a web wunderkind to build your internet strategy to develop some decent cyber reach. You don’t really need to be all that fancy to find success, but you are not going to experience the benefits of web marketing without taking a step beyond your obligatory web site with your product overview, pictures of your management team, and job postings. Start a customer community and allow for user generated content (whether you do or not there are people talking about your products on a blog site somewhere else). Be careful, one of your customers might actually have a good idea or even better, a good experience to share.

So, get out there. Leverage the power of the web. And, don’t let those voting muscles get flabby between now and November.

February 29, 2008

Whipped Cream on Meatballs

I don’t know if it has to be all or nothing. Why can’t you have whipped cream on meatballs, Seth?

Can traditional marketing concepts live in peaceful coexistence with new marketing and the 2.0 era?

What happens if you have customers that live in both worlds? Viral videos on U-tube are viewed by a few senior citizens (my brother sends me URL’s all the time), but I also believe those same senior citizens are influenced by traditional marketing campaigns more.


OK, this is all about Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out Of Sync?, the newest from Seth Godin. It has had some pretty positive press since being released right at the turn of the year. Plus, if it was written by Seth Godin, it must to be the hottest sage advice to be followed by faithful new marketeers.

But I am not swayed all the way to abandon the sundaes yet. Meatballs are old fashioned business in the metaphorical world and the sweet appealing ice cream is representative of the new ways our internet-fueled universe has enabled marketing to be performed (especially to certain market segments). No value system driving the metaphor, just the facts mam.

Supposedly you have to revamp your old stodgy marketing function if you want to play in the new marketing sand box. That is the part I don’t swallow – I must have choked on the cherry or the nuts. Yes, of course you must embrace new marketing principles. I am beating on my clients every day of the week to build better web channel strategies. But I don’t think you have to rewrite everything else. This is a baby and bath water situation.

The web is a channel. It is a growing channel. For a few businesses it is the only channel. But the far majority of companies being run on the face of our planet rely on more than one channel, and the web strategy needs to integrate with those, not necessarily the other way around.

I believe it is fine to have a web strategy that integrates with a more traditional direct mail strategy. Two channels are better than one. Having two channels that are well integrated is even better. Go build your web strategy and connect it to how you reach your customers with standard campaigns, partners, and your field force. Think about how web impressions can enhance the other channels. But don’t feel like you are a Luddite just because you still want sales people to talk to customers live.

Hold the chocolate, I’ll take Worcestershire Sauce over my whipped cream

February 08, 2008

You Have Mail

I am amazed what an e-mail can accomplish. Back in the 80’s when e-mail became the communication medium of choice it was very easy to get into difficulties. The angry reply with too many people on the cc list was the typical culprit. I sent my share. We have all improved that skill over time.

But it also amazes me how much business is actually conducted over e-mail now, especially business development. It is mostly informal, ultra fast, amazingly efficient, but, more and more, surprisingly effective.

Recently a customer of mine moved his Rolodex into his CRM Contacts and started sending out periodic e-mail blasts with updates regarding what was going on within his company and the marketplace. No creative, no graphics, just some pertinent information that was shared in a conversational tone. About 10% of those outbound messages regularly turn into meetings, which then lead to some kind of meaningful business. Marketing execs would kill to achieve that kind of lift. I think he is a genius.

Slow and Steady

What amazes me even more is how many companies ignore the e-mail channel for reaching their prospects and customers. Yes, I understand that there is too much spam. I am not talking about e-mail blasts that offer me opportunities for appendage extension; I am talking about legitimate sharing of information and offers that connect businesses with their customers. When was the last time you sent out information that updated your customers on a better way to reach your service center or changes in market conditions that could impact their thinking? You don’t have to write a big newsletter! But you can reach a lot of people with a few key strokes in a way that could have big impact.

You do have to offer some value, however. And you also need to know the e-mail addresses of the contacts you hope to reach. This latter requirement does not have to be a big deal. Recently one of my clients declared that it would be too hard for them to gather e-mail addresses for their purchasing customers. To the contrary, and with a small bit of investigating we discovered they already had access to a significant percentage, and had daily contacts that could allow them to capture the majority of their accounts within a few months – and with no appreciable extra effort. What it (collecting e-mail addresses) does require is to make the decision that this invaluable customer data element is captured and stored as a standard component of the customer or account record. No big deal, just make the decision and make it policy. Just stop making excuses for why it can’t be done.

And another thing - if you think your customers don’t use e-mail, you are most likely wrong. They do, they like it, and they are increasingly finding that they can’t work in any other way. Stop buying envelopes and stamps since they are too expensive, too slow, and more than likely getting thrown away (please recycle!).

December 14, 2007

How's Your Funnel?


Everybody talks about the pipeline. Progressing deals along the continuum from lead to close, including the sacred forecast, it is the focal point of many CRM programs. No question that it is a big deal, with billions of commission payments at stake. OK fine, I’m on board.

But, what about the funnel? Maybe, this term is not in your normal lexicon. In addition to the concept of the opportunity pipeline, some organizations like to also think about having a funnel of leads that help to fill that pipeline. Probably the word hopper would be a better term here, but the funnel seems to be the accepted metaphor.

I tend to think of the funnel as the marketing portion of lead management and the pipeline as the sales portion of lead management. The pipeline gets a lot of attention, but the funnel is what feeds the pipeline, and a big cause of why the pipeline may not be full. Most companies have some sort of funnel – a way to pull in leads that are eventually handed off to the sales organization. Unfortunately, there are too many elements of the lead funnel that get neglected. Let’s look at some examples.

Probably the biggest problem in the funnel is the tendency for pushing leads through too fast. You get someone to stop by your booth at a trade show and they indicate an interest. That is a lead that you can choose to send along to the field force, or you can make sure it is ready. Based on my research of the research (and personal experience with my clients), 80% of leads are sent to the field before they are ready – which means they are wasted and lost.

This problem is due mostly to the fact that most marketing organizations don’t have an agreement with the sales organization as to what constitutes a lead that sales has found to be acceptable. Leads that they can purse as opportunities are to be considered ready. Leads that don’t cross that threshold are not. This does not mean they are bad, but it means that they are not ready, which leads us to the next problem.

Nature versus nurture – which do you believe? If a pair of twin leads were separated from their mother at birth and raised independently what will drive their success, their genes or their upbringing? We have learned it is pretty much all about the upbringing, which the lead management gurus call nurturing.

Most organizations do absolutely zero nurturing and this then translates into something like 80% of their very expensive leads are thrown away. Nurturing means that you take a green lead, that person who indicated an interest by downloading a whitepaper, and offer them a webcast or invitation to a local event. They may not be ready to buy at first, but they may be totally ready to hear more. After hearing more, they may be ready to buy – which means the nurturing worked. This is a far superior situation than forcing the lead to sales immediately just to find out they are not ready and please don’t call again.

Gravity in the funnel is the key. The problem with the web today is that it is easy for people to find you – even if you are not trying very hard. Then, you get excited because somebody came to your website. Remember, just because somebody visits your site, it does not mean that they want to buy. Go back to the previous paragraphs – they probably need nurturing. But, what do you do when you start attracting people to your site? Pull them in, but for the right reasons.

If you sell toilets, don’t give away iPods to attract people into the funnel. Give away a really, really compelling article on why your toilets never clog. That will provide the gravity to bring in the prospect that your field sales folks want to talk to. They don’t want to talk to people who want free mp3 players. My kids use toilets, love free iPods, but have no intention to buy a toilet that does not flush. Content on your site, like a good white paper, is one of the best means for creating positive gravity. Pull the right prospects through your funnel and into the pipeline. Let the rest of the riff raff hit your site then swirl away if they don’t truly intend to buy.

October 05, 2007

Harvest Time - Is The Fruit Edible?

A number of years back I was lamenting to a friend that the company I work for was not generating enough new business. This fellow, who has been a marketing wiz for his entire career, made somewhat of a flippant reply that our basic problem was that we did not generate enough leads. It was an intensely obvious point, but at the same time, it was a significantly profound revelation for me.

Back then our business model was entirely based on partner referrals – a software partner would sell licenses to a new customer and suggest that we assist with the process of implementing the software. Back in 1999 it was a reasonable way of doing business, as we were riding a strong wave of CRM expansion (and it did not hurt that we aligned ourselves with the market leader).

Harvest Time

When the market started to pull back, so did our alliance referrals, and we became heavily reliant on our installed base for generating revenue. However, this segment can only deliver a finite pipeline that needs replenishment continuously. So, we took control of the helm and went after new business development independently. Since then we have been quite successful in identifying, on our own, companies who are in need of the services we provide. This business development capability is something that most people refer to as lead generation.

This was a fundamental change to our business model that has had very positive results. I can’t imagine how we could be successful today any other way. However, what surprises me is how many of my clients don’t have this fundamental capability in place, or don’t have a fruit-bearing lead generation mechanism cranking out opportunities for the sales organization.

So, I have decided to explore this situation a bit further. Why is such a fundamental business development capability less mature for so many companies?

One of my early conclusions from this ongoing investigation is that the typical sales organization is not confident that lead generation from a marketing function can actually bear edible fruit. The perception that investments in lead generation, beyond the obligatory trade show attendance, will be fruitless serves as a limitation to business development success. Ultimately this causes a self-reinforcing negative loop. Marketing remains under-funded and provides only sour or un-ripened leads, while field sales is rewarded with higher commission rates for bringing in new business. With this the perception that the field must perform its own hunting remains solidly in place.

If you find this to be the case in your organization, I suggest that you look at a way to break that cycle. There are challenges to overcome. First, marketing has to get funding to build a lead generation function correctly. Buying worn out lists and pounding them further with spam is the best way to prove to the field that they should do their own hunting. Building a process to identify interested prospects, then nurturing those leads until maturity, and, finally, qualifying opportunities before handing off the lead to sales is the only way to begin changing perceptions in the field. However, it will take some time.

Don’t give up after the first pilot hands out leads that are ignored. The sales reps will need to see a solid trend of qualified leads hit their inbox or home page before they will be won over.

Feedback on lead relevance is also key to making this all work. Understanding which leads, and which lead sources are generating true opportunities is the best way to optimize the lead generation tactics. But one caution - feedback is not the easiest thing to get back from sales (quality feedback that is).

September 14, 2007

Changing Rules

While searching through a folder of articles that I have saved on a diverse set of topics (poorly organized and therefore hard to find easily) I ran across a Peppers and Rogers Group article focusing on how the rules for Marketing have changed. The basic gist of the article was how changes in buying combined with the increased diversification of channels have forced marketing functions to manage campaigns differently than more traditional approaches.

This is all fairly common messaging in the marketing trade rags these days. The interesting thing is that the article I was reading was from 2004. The rules have not only changed, they have changed again.


What makes this all interesting to me, interesting in the Chinese curse kind of way (“may you live in interesting times”), is that too many of my clients are still using marketing strategies from 1984, let alone 2004. Plus the changes between today and 2004 are just as significant as the changes between 1984 and 2004.

To me, the challenge is on what set of rules to bring these marketing organizations up to speed. Do we jump from 1984 to 2008, or do we go incrementally? Each has their advantages. Wasting time with a marketing approach that is behind the times, even if advanced for the organization, is delaying the benefits that the Web 2.0 provides (especially since most of these organizations have customers that are buying in the current paradigm). On the other hand, making big leaps often causes problems and the approach of baby steps can be a strategy for success.

Chances are the answer to this question of small change or big change will depend on a number of factors. Perhaps the biggest factor is what the customers expect to receive. If they are not satisfied, they can easily defect to a competitor. A second factor, not to be overlooked, is what is required by the sales organization for lead management and sales support.

Either way, marketing according to the rules of 1984 can’t continue. At least getting into the current millennium would be a start.

August 24, 2007

Educating Marketa

A recent article in CRM magazine postulated that marketing professionals have been educated for communications and creative content, but not adequately educated on managing marketing operations. When it comes to CRM automation this is precisely the benefit that the technology brings to the business – improving the ability to manage operations. However, to get the most out of the technology it is still important to have an educated process. Acquiring the ability for campaign automation, while campaign management processes remain immature, will likely lead to little gain.

Beer Rule #9

I have recently encountered several clients that spent considerable sums on marketing automation, bundled with other CRM functionality, which has morphed into virtual shelfware. So, what causes this? It is primarily a factor of believing that campaign automation will autmagically lead to new processes for conducting campaigns. But, when push comes to shove, if you don’t know how to manage a solid campaign, the software won’t do it for you.

Some of the best CRM ROI comes from the ability to target customers with appropriate offers and push leads from these campaigns to the sales organization. Small marketing functions that don’t contain sufficient campaign management skills should seek external help to get campaign processes built. The automation will provide a lot of muscle once this is in place correctly.

Getting campaign management correct can make the difference between a successful CRM program and one that just plods along. It can also help a small marketing function transition from obligatory staff function to strategic business contributor. I think the latter is more desirable

June 08, 2007

Who's Listening?

You might have seen the May issue of CRM magazine that has an article proposing that marketing needs to think of themselves as feeding sales. I especially like the elucidation of the metaphor that claims that marketing is not exactly starving the sales function as much as it is causing malnutrition by feeding them junk food. Excellent stuff!

I like the use of metaphors to describe things and this led me to a variation that I think is also useful in understanding the relationship between these two business development functions. Lead generation is like a conversation and marketing is the speaker with sales as the listener. Think of all the other well known dysfunctional relationship types that are plagued with speaking and listening problems (all of you married folks in the audience know what I am talking about).

Back in a previous life, I ran an exercise in one particular workshop that helped illustrate a thing or two about listening. It went something like this. Two people had to draw a complicated geometric diagram, but without the ability to see – each had someone describing the diagram verbally – one person would serve as the speaker and one as the listener. However, the catch was that one of the listeners could ask questions and one could not.

What do you think were the results? You guessed it – the person who could ask questions would replicate the drawing almost exactly. The person who could not ask questions would make all kinds of bad assumptions about what was being said, and the drawings were horrid. The conclusion that everyone would glean from this exercise was that good listeners need to ask questions, give feedback, and in general be in control of the conversation – not the speaker!

So what - what could this possibly have to do with sales and marketing? Let me get to the point. Marketing is the speaker – they need to give stuff to sales – leads, messaging, market insight. Sales is the listener, but the problem is that they are not listening. They need to be in control of the conversation, but marketing mistakenly keeps control (there is no control, actually). However, with control comes responsibility, and that includes giving feedback and asking clarifying questions.

Getting back to the listening exercise for a moment; I would ask the listeners how successful they thought they were. The one with no feedback felt they did a good job, and expected to get a good picture in return. The one with feedback felt they did a bad job because there were so many questions, and expected the pictures to be poor. Of course we know the results were just the opposite.

Now, getting back to marketing, the measurement is the picture, not whether we think we are doing a good job of communicating. What should marketing be measuring to determine if the speaking and listening process is working? Well, the equivalent of the good picture in this case is something like lead conversion. If the process is working well, sales will convert a higher percentage of leads to opportunities. But the feedback needs to be there as well. Information about what leads are good and what are not must be returned back to marketing to achieve the best results.

So, marketing, give control to sales. Sales, take control, but don’t be apathetic – ask questions and give feedback. Let’s generate some business.

Stay Away

May 19, 2007

Voice of the Buyer

The Voice of the Customer concept is becoming a popular approach for marketing functions to develop a better understanding of customer interests, and, therefore, behavior. Back in March, CRM Magazine ran a short piece on this method for getting into the customer’s proverbial head. The article provides some insight for infusing this customer-orientation mind set into the organization at a number of levels. Good stuff. Here is an idea for how you might be able to leverage this approach for very effective outcomes.

You may have read a posting on this blog site, Balancing Act, which looks at the need for striking a balance along a number of different dimensions to run an effective CRM program. I think the concept of the Voice of the Customer is a beautiful way to accomplish a balancing act of one type, and enable the Marketing function to provide some critical value to the sales function.

In this case the balance dimension is a selling versus buying orientation. When we focus on sales effectiveness we tend to focus on what things to do to sell more things. In this case the perspective is from that of the seller. But there can be some value in understanding the sales process from the perspective of the buyer. Could we do better if we were more understanding of the buying cycle, buying criteria, the needs of the buyer? There is no question.

Blowin' His Horn

The voice of the customer can serve as a mechanism to help better understand the needs and requirements of the buying process. Should the marketing function become effective at gathering this kind of valuable insight, it could then share this knowledge with the sales force to better tailor their process to be best aligned with their customers and prospects.

And what good would this do? Well, there was that research study reported last summer in the Harvard Business Review, which indicated that customers prefer to work with sales professionals who understand, are sensitive to, and follow the customer buying process, not just push the deal through their own selling processes.

Listening to your customer is not good enough. How you act on the information you hear is the real opportunity for success. Gathering buying information is a great value from the Voice of the Customer tool. Helping sales utilize this data to sell more effectively is priceless.

March 23, 2007


When I was a kid I had a brother-in-law, Ted, who was a Lutheran Pastor. Once a week Ted would create a sermon to be delivered to his flock on Sunday morning. His approach was to use an event from over the course of his week as a topic at the center of the sermon. The church calendar would also dictate that the sermon teach the lesson from a specified bible passage. It was easy for Ted to come up with his story for the week. It wasn't always easy for him to tie it into the requisite scripture reading. There were plenty of Saturday nights consumed until dawn making this connection. It was hit or miss.

I find that this same approach works for me when it comes to producing this weekly blog entry. For those of you who have not noticed, I post an entry each Friday. However, two things are different for me than they were for Ted. First, I don't have a required bible passage to tie in. And Second, I don't stay up all night on Thursday composing. The nice thing about this blog software is that you can post-date entries. Some of mine have been weeks late.

My entries do relate to an event or activity of my week, or the week before. And, while I don't need to connect to verses from the Good Book, I do keep things relevant to the theme of customers on the edge. So, what was the experience this week that led to the title of "Charlatans"? A difficult client meeting, what else?

I have a client, who after months of working together, still treats me as if I am trying to pull a fast one over on him. You will have seen a previous entry describing this as a broader problem – consultants are often linked with other notorious professions. In the minds of some we are all just charlatans.

For an interesting dialogue on client / consultant relations check on this blog site.


This same perception can leak over into other industries as well, particularly when it comes to marketing, and especially on-line marketing efforts. I have seen banners and gimmicks from Fortune 100 tech firms that are no different from those hawking dating services, porn call-in numbers, and get rich quick schemes. Under these circumstances the damage is self-inflicted. There is absolutely no reason to use nefarious means to lure people to your site. If you offer an iPod give away you are going to attract people who want a free iPod, not necessarily those who want to buy your services. And if you forward those contact details onto your sales force as if they were real leads, you are only doubling the damage.

The use of a Trojan horse to get someone to visit your site and check out your product does not have to follow this slippery path. Offer a white paper or webinar that is on a topic relevant to your product or service. This stands a much better chance of attracting quality prospects into your funnel. This can be a hard concept to get across. My own marketing VP will argue that our last M&M giveaway brought in a legitimate client. I’m OK with giving stuff away – it does build a certain amount of good will. However, when it comes to the use of techniques to lure those to your site, stick with product or service related content. It will save you from being lumped in with the rest of us charlatans.

March 16, 2007

The Iridium Rule

Ghost Town

You were taught to live by the golden rule but recently you may have run across the platinum rule (treat others they way they want to be treated). The platinum rule has been postulated by Tony Alessandra as a tenet for a more effective approach to selling.

Well, today, I would like to offer up The Iridium Rule. Come on, you know iridium. It is element number 77, right next to platinum on the periodic table, very similar in characteristics, costs about the same, and is even found in the same deposits when mining. We don’t really talk about it much however.

We do talk much about how to sell. So it is no surprise that the platinum rule along with its namesake precious metal gets more exposure. So what the heck is the iridium rule? It is for the marketeers – “market unto others the way they want to be marketed to”. Sounds silly? Better not – it is a new requirement of today’s demand creation. We need to talk about this more. Let’s make iridium a popular metal too.

OK. You conduct a campaign that sends an e-mail to a high potential contact from a company that should want your product or service. You got the contact details through a purchased list and you made a proposal to those on it to check out the quality of your offering through a no risk promotion. A portion of those on the list are going to be interested in taking the next step with you, but what is that next step?

Are you hoping to call them next to set up a sales call? Do you want to send them a white paper? Are you hoping they will download a software demo, or maybe attend a webinar? Perhaps they want to stay connected but not take the exact action you are proposing. Is it to subscribe to a newsletter? Do they want to open a chat session because they are ready to take an action sooner, but have questions?

Are you prepared to offer all or any of these? Because, that is what is necessary to increase your chances of keeping the prospects in your funnel rather than swirling over to your competitors. Buyers today expect to connect up with your marketing efforts in a way that satisfies them. They might be able to chat but not e-mail. They may be interested in your newsletter for a future action, but not ready for the software download. They might want to read the whitepaper, but have no desire, yet, to speak to a telemarketer. And, if you only offer the action that you want (or are capable of) a percentage of those prospects are going to land somewhere that offers the medium or action that fits their requirements or preferences.

So, The Iridium Rule – market to your prospects the way they want. Build your capabilities to match the different ways your prospects neet to connect with you. Flood your funnel. Engorge your pipeline. Strike gold.

March 09, 2007

A Change in Behavior

I should not have been surprised, but I was. Minding my own business, surfing through the virtual store isles of eBay, I stumbled across CRM software for sale. First it was Microsoft CRM, then ACT appeared, and then Goldmine. Back in the days when the “killer apps” first came along, CRM software was sold to the early adopters by an elite crew of smartly dressed sales professionals. My how times have changed. (Yes, I know there are still a few sales reps out there donning Brooks Brothers).

The web has changed everything. And, if you have not adopted the changes to business development brought about by the ever new and changing internet buying behavior, then your competitors are winning.

Bho Dog Gone Wild

I’m not talking about eBay (although some of you do have competitors who are selling their products there). Most of my clients are in the B2B space and their customers are shopping on the web, just like the average consumer.

For example, prospective customers interested in buying services to improve their partner channel effectiveness are performing Google searches to find who the vendors are. Some may look directly at which vendor has what for sale. More advanced shoppers search for what company has produced what intelligence. They look for evidence that a vendor has expertise, not just the ability to put marketing hype onto a web site. White papers can serve as evidence. Speaking at industry events is another example. Once the prospective buyer has determined who has the capability, they zero in on the short list and surf the vendor sites for more evidence of capability.

By now you have the capability to track who has visited your site. However, do you know all the content that they perused? Can you compare that to previous visits or interactions? If you combine this set of buying behavior data points into a composite picture, you will have a better understanding of what they are looking for. This will position you to make them an offer – targeted to the interest that they have displayed to you. They have been spending time looking at your security software offerings, especially retinal scan. Offer them a white paper. Offer them to see a pod cast on the topic. If they bite, they are a hot lead, and you need to treat them as such. If they don’t bite, they are still a lead, but perhaps a bit cooler and need a different approach.

This is the new world of demand generation and the rules of changed. Sending 1000 contacts a direct mail offer to attend a retinal scan seminar may hit 999 who have no interest. Sending an e-mail with an offer to view a pod cast to the 50 who have visited that portion of your product description content on the website may lead to 35 who will take the next step with you - better targeting trough more intelligence and stronger lead generation as a result.

Stay tuned.