This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.
Lead generation is a top objective of B2B marketers. Yet when it comes to messaging, offers, and the tactics for generating those leads, marketers are not always as specific as their agencies need them to be.
Peter Altschuler is the Creative Director at AcquireB2B, an agency that specializes in generating, nurturing, and qualifying leads – transforming them from people who are “just looking” into prospects who are “ready to buy.” As creative director, Peter turns business and sales objectives into provocative, compelling, and highly focused lead generation campaigns.
Mac: Clients give us all sorts of input, right?
Peter: “All sorts” is a good way to describe it.
But it’s rarely in the form of a brief that you and I rely on to understand what a client expects from any given project.
But we can take their input to create a brief – which I think is vital – just so that we’re all working from a common set of parameters and expectations.
And we do that a lot. But from the creative end, which is your focus, what do you consider the bare essentials that clients have to provide to be sure they get what they want?
And what they need.
There are ten basic elements and, though they seem pretty straightforward, each one should be, as Einstein said, as simple as possible but not simpler. In other words, as the term “brief” implies, the information should be reduced to its most concise... and precise... form without leaving out anything that’s vital to know.
I want you to give me an example, but first tell me the ten basic elements.
O.K. Number one is the product and, in B2B, that may be the physical item or the core service, or it may include installation, upgrades, maintenance, consulting, training, and warranties. So the product has to be described very specifically.
Two is the objective, and the objective is never to sell more stuff.
I thought it kinda is.
Ultimately, sure, but getting to that point requires intermediate steps. Like increasing or establishing awareness in a particular industry vertical, generating qualified leads from companies of a certain size or location, attracting more visitors to a product offer page, persuading existing customers to purchase a complementary product or add-on, or using a discount to attract more prospects who are ready to buy.
Each of those seems to have two parts.
They do because, otherwise, they’re too generic. They’re simpler than possible, to go back to Einstein. Without the second part, there’s not enough focus. It would be like an ad for Coke that says, “It’s refreshing,” but doesn’t have an image that indicates who finds it refreshing – a family at the beach, for instance; describes how it’s refreshing, like poured over ice or drunk through a straw; or suggests when it’s refreshing by showing a guy wiping his brow as he takes a gulp.
Number three is the audience, which makes the objective even more precise.
By clarifying exactly who you want to reach. If you’re selling office supplies in bulk, the office or purchasing manager is a better target than the head of finance, even if the message involves cost savings. That’s because the finance executive doesn’t buy supplies. He or she probably doesn’t even get them from the supply room. The executive’s assistant does that. But...
But if you’re introducing a new product like, I don’t know... digital paper that transfers what you write into text in a software application, then you probably want to target the end user. If the user wants it, they’ll ask the office or purchasing manager to stock it – an item the manager would never consider buying if there wasn’t a demand from employees.
Makes sense. But how to do reach those users?
You’re a step ahead. That’s number four. The media. Once you know the audience, you have to pick the best way to reach it. That could be email, postal direct mail, digital or print ads in specific publications, video (which could be part of an email campaign), or billboards.
Billboards? For B2B?
Sure. Like between a convention venue and the main hotel to attract attendees to a tradeshow booth. Spot TV can do the same thing. Or maybe Apple wants to persuade public transit commuters to read the Times or the Post on iPads and uses busboards and subway posters.
But there are nuances.
Aren’t there always?
Yeah. If the medium is email, what other medium matters?
Yes! It’s essential to know where the email will be read – on a phone, tablet, laptop, desktop – so that the creative can be modified appropriately. There was an interesting study released in August of 2015 that showed that desktop views of email increased and mobile views decreased in B2B categories. But in fashion, a B2C category, the opposite happened.
So the media have secondary considerations just like objectives and audience.
The fifth essential is the primary message. What’s the one thing, more than anything else, that you want the audience to receive? Or let me rephrase that. What’s the one very specific thing that you want the audience to “get.”
I did a campaign years ago for a company that used a knowledge base, which is like a database on 3-D multi-media steroids. A database can hold alphanumeric data in tables. A knowledge base can incorporate audio, video, graphics, as well as text and numbers and store it in an unstructured repository. Don’t look so worried. That’s as technical as this gets.
To get across the point that databases were limited, the first ad showed a picture of Bo Diddley’s trademark cigar box guitar, and underneath it was the headline “Databases don’t know diddley.”
Clever. I like that.
And it worked great. The first two sentences of the very short body copy established the difference between data and knowledge bases, and the inquiries poured in.
The client, to be honest, thought the appeal was too narrow. They wanted to make a big, blue sky statement about the future of information management, but we pointed to examples from earlier campaigns that fell flat, and that I had nothing to do with, by the way...
Of course. I assumed that.
... and that helped us talk them out of it. What’s kind of interesting is that item six, a unique selling proposition or USP, was incorporated into that primary message.
Their USP was that their technology could store and retrieve any type of information – this was a few years before Google – and no one else could claim that at the time. But, even if someone could, it wouldn’t matter if my client claimed it first.
I’m not sure I follow.
There’s a classic story about a beer brand that gave a tour to its agency’s creative team, and the copywriter was fascinated by the process they used to sterilize bottles using steam. The writer wanted to focus on that as a differentiator, but the brewery said that everyone sterilized their bottles the same way. Didn’t matter, the copywriter said, because the brand’s customers didn’t know that bottles were sterilized or that it was a common practice. So the agency promoted the beer as cleaner and healthier because the bottles were sterilized, and sales went up.
But couldn’t every other brand make the same claim?
Yes, but if they were the second or third or fourth, they’d look guilty of me-too-ism and might be perceived as copying from the now higher profile brand, instead of coming up with something better of their own.
From there, creatives need to know the benefits and then the corresponding features – items seven and eight. The benefits tend to be more important to the people who want a solution to a problem; the ones who want to know if it will be more efficient, cost-effective, durable, and so on.
Purchase initiators, short listers, recommenders, and decision makers would be in that group. For researchers, evaluators, and influencers – the people who want to know how it works, whether it will integrate with or replace other components, and so on – the features are probably more important.
For copy and art teams, though, both are important if they’re creating materials for all of those different individuals. The need to know what to say and what to show based on who’s expected to read, watch, or listen to the information.
Yeah, that’s the current catchall name for what used to be called collateral or sales aids or marketing literature, depending on your generation, and it’s all been used in B2B marketing and sales for more than a hundred years. It’s only since the Internet put buyers in charge of obtaining all that information, instead of having marketing and sales departments dole it out, that it’s now seen as something new. The media and formats are new, but the relevance and variety of the information – content – hasn’t changed much.
OK. Is there anything else? I think we’re only up to number eight.
Nine is competitive information. We need to know what other vendors are saying and doing to be sure that we don’t wind up with me-too-ism, that we don’t just do a better job of saying and doing the same thing as the other guys, and that we understand what the competition thinks is important to the market so that we can find an area they’re ignoring or aren’t tapping into very well. If we know all that, we can create something that stands apart and endures for as long as the market stays stable.
What do you mean by “stable”?
These days, new products and services appear much faster than they used to. They could be disruptive entrants that offer something entirely new or improvements to existing offerings or more aggressive pricing of those offerings. Or even new regulations from government that affect how a product can be used or if it can still be used at all. Government isn’t a competitor, but it can have a pretty big impact.
So the creative strategy should incorporate a plan B and, probably, C and D to anticipate potential what-if situations and be ready with an alternate approach that can be launched in close to real time.
Like real time marketing in B2C – the kind that responds to things like a blackout during the Super Bowl using Twitter.
That’s a great example, though B2B may not need to respond quite that fast. But B2B does use marketing automation to respond immediately in other ways like sending instant replies to website inquiries or email responses. And that kind of responsiveness itself can be a competitive advantage or part of a company’s brand USP.
And we’ve done that kind of thing for clients for years now. It’s a great way to motivate companies to create repositories of messages, offers, and content that can be distributed as soon as a response or inquiry is submitted.
Just as long as everything is coordinated in terms of style which, conveniently, is the tenth and final item on my list. If we don’t understand the look and sound and feel that conveys the brand’s or product’s character, we risk confusing the audience.
It’s hard to think of a B2B example that everyone’s familiar with, so I’ll cheat a little and use two B2C firms – T-Mobile and Apple. T-Mobile blares at you with bright magenta color schemes, attacks on competitors’ pricing and contracts, and outrageous and often profane statements from its CEO. Apple relies on visual minimalism using an abundance of white space, it acts as if it has no competition, and its public statements are either well-planned in advance or, under Tim Cook, very measured when the company has to respond to situations like the bending iPhone 6 Plus.
If we created an Apple campaign full of multi-colored backgrounds crammed with products and long blocks of text, the reactions from each Apple user on the planet would be massive. And if we did a T-Mobile campaign that veered toward Apple’s style, well... people might think that the CEO was sacked or that the company was sold to Cupertino.
Or the account was given to another agency.
Peter, thanks so much for taking the time to elaborate on the ten essential elements of a productive marketing brief.
It was my pleasure.
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A lead is a lead. Or is it?
Here's a first draft of a glossary I gave one of my clients to help them get started writing theirs. Perhaps it can be a starting place for yours too.
A person at company or contact name on a database
A company, division, department or facility that has purchased from our company.
A listing of contacts at specific companies and facilities which is available for ongoing use. Also often called the Sales & Marketing Database or Customer & Prospect Database.
A contact who makes or approves the final decision to buy.
A contact who recommends or influences the buying decision. Also called Recommender.
A contact who has responded to our company’s marketing (Website, direct marketing, exhibits, advertising, etc.). Also called Responder or Prospect.
A response to our company’s marketing (website, direct marketing, exhibits, advertising, etc.). Also called Response.
A broad term used to describe everything from lists to inquiries to tradeshow leads to sales ready opportunities. To avoid confusion, this term shouldn’t be used.
A list of contacts at specific companies and facilities, as in a rented list. Also called "Database" if available for ongoing use.
Marketing Qualified Lead:
An inquirer, responder or prospect at a particular company and facility who has been "qualified" as meeting the minimum definition of what represents a sales-ready opportunity.
A contact who has responded to our company’s marketing (website, direct marketing, exhibits, advertising, etc.) or has been contacted and determined to have some potentional, but has not yet been qualified as being sales-ready. Also called Inquirer or Responder.
A contact who recommends or influences the buying decision. Also called Influencer.
A contact who has responded to our company’s marketing (website, direct marketing, exhibits, advertising, etc.). Also called Inquirer or prospect.
A response to our company’s marketing (website, direct marketing, exhibits, advertising, etc.). Also called Inquiry.
Sales Accepted Lead:
A Marketing Qualified Lead that has been accepted by sales.
The contact who specifies our company’s products or services.
A contact who appears to be similar to our company’s Prospects, Marketing Qualified Leads, Sales Accepted Leads and Customers, but who has not specifically expressed interest or determined to be a Prospect.
Do you have terms and definitions to add to a BtoB sales lead glossary?
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Effective B2B marketing processes plus automation yield outsized returns
A recent research study by Sirius Decisions (sponsored by Marketo), Calculating the Return on Marketing Automation, shares a framework for establishing a return on marketing automation, and discusses why the purchase of a Marketing Automation Platform (MAP) alone - without the proper processes and skills wrapped around it - will likely produce disappointing results.
According to the study results, Marketing Automation technology paired with appropriate, systemic processes can yield four to five times the number of closed deals when compared to deployed technology alone. The magic lies in realizing higher conversion rates throughout the Sales cycle. It’s not about generating more leads; it’s about identifying the right leads.
Companies using technology alone to solve their demand creation issues experience lower returns than companies who have no marketing automation AND no processes. The report breaks companies into three segments:
- No Marketing Automation with no processes
- Marketing Automation with no/weak processes
- Marketing Automation with average processes.
No MAP / No Processes
This group features organizations that exhibit a complete set of legacy demand creation tendencies. They have a funnel with an extremely wide top that quickly narrows to a trickle by its end. With no shared processes in place between Sales and Marketing (e.g. target market definitions, lead handoff criteria, service-level agreements), lead generators have little choice but to flood the funnel with any prospect who shows the slightest interest. Email is the most typical tool, yielding a response rate of roughly two percent.
Almost all responses are passed on to a qualification function (usually inside sales). Conversion rates from response to ‘lead’ can range as high as 85 percent. The lack of qualification at the top results in abysmal conversion rates at the middle and bottom. An average of only five percent will be qualified as true leads by telemarketing. “Sales fatigue” sets in over time in terms of leads that come from Marketing. Telemarketing finds out these leads are of low quality, so reps turn to cold calling, preferring to control the quality of their lead destiny themselves. Field reps will likely ignore Marketing’s output even more. Given a starting marketing database of 50,000, this scenario yields roughly one closed deal (or average additional revenue of $100,000) per marketing program.
MAP Plus No / Weak Processes
This group is made up of organizations that purchase a MAP, but don’t spend the time building all (or any) of the processes that drive true MAP performance. By itself, a MAP can help marketers refine their targeting and the assignment of specific content to prospects; together these drive greater response rates. This yields a response rate of three percent. Improved data quality within the MAP means that Marketing will reject more inquiries, dropping the conversion rate at the first juncture to 75 percent. This rate is still too high, overflowing the telemarketing function with even more unqualified leads. The middle and bottom conversion rates are unchanged from the first scenario. The close rate remains the same, but costs increase.
According to the study, a typical software-as-a-service-based MAP runs roughly $100,000 in the first year - when one includes the platform, implementation, integration, training and support. In this "MAC plus NO or Weak Processes" scenario, an organization with a database of 50,000 will see revenues increase only about $100,000 in the first year. In addition, if Marketing has raised expectations that lead quality will increase due to this MAP purchase, greater friction between Sales and Marketing results.
MAP Plus Average Processes
The third group consists of organizations that purchase a MAP and drive alignment between Sales and Marketing around target market definitions, lead handoff criteria and service-level agreements. When this occurs, marketers are able to take advantage of broader MAP functionality including lead scoring, portfolio marketing and lead routing. The value of this functionality shows in performance. Improved focus on the best targets raises the response rate to roughly four percent. A significantly lower conversion rate of only four (compared to 85 and 75 above) percent ultimately yields much better results, because these are true Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs).
With a handoff process in place, Sales now accepts and processes more than 58 percent of MQLs. The higher quality of these leads in turn yields an increased close rate of a bit more than 23 percent. An organization can expect to close roughly five deals per program based on a 50,000-name database. That’s a revenue increase of about $400,000.
Processes should always precede technology. Deploying technology without Sales and Marketing processes in place will only highlight the problems you always had. The key is to rethink your approach and use technology to leverage your processes, not the other way around.
How does this align with your experience?
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Ask before telling and learn before selling
Michael Brown is our “Business to Business By Phone Expert”. When it comes to using the phone to generate, nurture and qualify leads, there’s nobody better than Michael.
With all the developments lately in B2B marketing, telemarketing still has a prominent position and I want to highlight that. So I sat down with Michael and asked him what’s new in telemarketing.
Mac: Michael – tell me what you’ve been up to. What’s the latest and greatest in the world of B2B telemarketing?
Michael: Well Mac, there’s a debate inside Sales and Marketing circles about cold calling versus “smart” calling. Cold callers call to pitch. Smart callers call to learn what the prospect’s organization is trying to accomplish, and to see if the caller’s product or service would be helpful. The cold caller uses a generic (same script for everybody) approach. The smart caller has a unique approach for each call… one based on significant research and pre-call preparation.
Okay, Michael. I hear where you’re going with this. What other differences are there between cold calls and smart calls?
Make smart calls from behavioral and affinity lists, not demographic or segment lists. Behavioral lists are based on verbs in addition to SIC codes (for example – “grew by 15% or more”, “merged”, “moved”, etc). Affinity lists are based on recent purchases of related products or services. These lists cost more, but end up giving higher ROI because their performance is so much better.
Smart calls begin with a quick visit to the prospect’s website to find out what their business does and how they position themselves. Focused homework beats “tell me a little about your business” every time. Lose the elevator pitches, hype, and feature dumps. Ask before telling and learn before selling.
Smart calls are exploratory calls based on an organization’s relevant news – an event or occurrence that changes them into a better-than-average prospect for your company. Something that you can build a logical, valuable conversation around.
Tell me what you think about integrating telemarketing with some of the more recent tools?
We all need to get really good at multi-media marketing. I define that as: phone + e-mail + social + SEO/SEM + online content. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Getting all the pieces working together creates real synergies and greatly improved results.
Speaking of “working together”… strongly encourage coordination between Sales and Marketing. The more closely the two collaborate; the better off everybody is… including your customers.
I couldn’t agree more with everything you’ve said, but especially that last statement regarding Sales and Marketing alliance. Thanks for taking the time for this interview, Michael. Any closing remarks?
Yes. Provide for time. Market and sell with vigor and enthusiasm tempered with humility and patience.
Well put. Thanks again.
If any of you readers have anything to add about Smart Calling, or the integration of marketing tools across media, please weigh in below.
This is the latest in our ongoing series of tips from some of the experts who provide our sales lead management consulting and training services and our marketing automation and lead-generation agency services.
Meet Meryl Evans, one of our email copywriting experts.
Meryl is a professional writer and editor who specializes in online B2B lead generation and lead nurturing. She helps our clients build and maintain relationships with their prospects and customers through email, newsletters, landing pages, blogs and more.
Here are Meryl’s top email copywriting tips:
- Write emails with the prospect or customer in mind, not the company. Remember that even in B2B, people make the buying decisions.
- Use paragraph breaks every three or four sentences. Many emails still have long paragraphs, which are hard to read. Faced with a long block of text, many people are daunted and move on.
- Use multiple sub-headings, and numbered and bulleted lists (like this one) whenever possible. People skim and scan when reading online.
- Limit calls to action to one or (at the most) two items. Any more than that and people get confused about what you want them to do. Confused people do nothing.
- Add a response link to the beginning of each email for those ready to take action before reading the rest of the message. Don’t make people who are ready to respond search for your link. Repeat the link further down for those who take longer to decide.
Professionally written lead generation and lead nurturing emails get higher open rates, and more responses. Consider putting our email copywriters to work. Click here to learn more.
Readers, what are you top tips regarding B2B email copywriting?
Please add your comments by clicking on the word “Comments” in the line below the Share button.
The growth of the Internet has changed B2B buyer activity.
Buyers don’t wait for a sales person to call them anymore. They get most of their education on the web. As B2B buyers increasingly use online channels to do their research, Marketing meets prospects earlier than ever in the buying process – often long before the prospects are ready to engage with Sales. This is one reason that, on average, only 25% of new leads are sales ready.
So you need a way to determine which leads are ready for Sales, and which need to be nurtured.
I was thinking about all the lead qualification criteria I’ve seen used in B2B lead generation programs and decided to list them by category. Here’s what I came up with:
- Firmographics (industry, company size, location)
- Demographics (contact’s title, job function)
- Contactability (phone number, email address)
- Action taken (attended webinar, downloaded whitepaper, requested pricing, spent time on certain Web pages)
- Frequency, quality, quantity, recency of actions taken
- Social media engagement (commenting on blog posts, joining social network discussions, retweeting)
- Need for your product or service (application or problem needing to be solved)
- Buying Stage (awareness, consideration, decision)
- Fit (your products or services meet or exceed their technical, performance, reliability requirements)
- Competition (what other competitors are involved? can you win against them?)
- Contact’s role in the purchase decision process (recommender, influencer, decision maker)
- Timing (purchase decision timing, implementation timing – how soon?)
- Availability of funding for the purchase (has budget, can get budget)
- Size of the opportunity (quantity needed, revenue potential).
In a survey conducted by Sirius Decisions, they found that companies who give fewer (better qualified) leads to Sales actually sell more. That means that if Marketing does a better job of qualifying leads, Sales can close more profitable deals, resulting in increased revenues.
Using the criteria I’ve listed above, plus the information in The Definitive Guide to Lead Scoring published by my friends at Marketo, you’ll be able to design a process that ensures Sales only gets sales-ready leads.
Lead scoring seems to be on everybody’s mind. My friends over at SilverPop have also focused on Lead Scoring with this blog post: Five Prospect Behaviors You Should Be Incorporating into Your Lead Scoring Process.
It’s obvious that lead qualification is growing in importance as Sales and Marketing productivity becomes more of an issue.
Do you have anything to add regarding lead qualification or lead scoring?