Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Missing Pieces of the Sales-Marketing Alignment Puzzle

Research continues to show that marketing-sales alignment remains a significant challenge for many companies. Earlier this year, for example, InsideView published The State of Sales & Marketing Alignment in 2018, which was based on a survey of more than 500 sales and marketing professionals.

In this survey, 75% of marketing respondents, and 63% of sales respondents reported having a good or excellent relationship with their counterparts. However, respondents also rated the marketing-sales relationship as weak or very weak on several vital demand generation activities.

Many B2B companies have been trying to crack the code on sales-marketing alignment for more than a decade. So why has this task proven to be so difficult? Part of the reason success has been elusive is that most companies have focused on only one piece of the alignment puzzle.

Shared Understanding Isn't Enough

Many of the "best practices" for achieving sales-marketing alignment are intended to create a shared understanding among marketing and sales professionals regarding the critical components of the company's demand generation strategy and process, some of which include:

  • The definition of the target market, and the characteristics of the ideal customer (the "Ideal Customer Profile")
  • Core value propositions
  • Customer buying processes
  • Lead management processes (lead stage definitions, scoring criteria, etc.)
Clearly, marketing and sales can't be aligned if they aren't "on the same page" regarding these vital aspects of demand generation. But such shared understanding alone won't automatically create the level of alignment - or, more accurately, operational integration - that's necessary for high performance demand generation.
Even with such shared understanding, marketing and sales can easily continue to operate without the required level of ongoing collaboration and coordinated effort. So, what else is needed to produce the quality of alignment that most B2B company want?
The Other Pieces of the Alignment Puzzle
Marketing-sales alignment that is highly effective requires two things in addition to shared understanding. First, there must be a widespread recognition among marketing and sales professionals that the two functions are now deeply interdependent. In other words, marketers and sales professionals must recognize that they need each other, and that an integrated approach to demand generation is essential for success.
Second, effective alignment requires marketing and sales to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. In organizations with a high level of sales-marketing alignment, this collaboration occurs naturally and spontaneously, whenever it is needed, and it takes place at all levels of both functions. In other words, working collaboratively becomes the normal way that things get done.
How Leaders Nurture Alignment
Achieving effective sales-marketing alignment is primarily the responsibility of the chief marketing officer and the chief sales officer. The CEO must be supportive, but the CMO and the CSO must lead the alignment effort on a day-to-day basis. In addition to implementing the mechanisms designed to develop shared understanding, CMO's and CSO's need to take three other steps.
Reinforce the Aligning Narrative - The CMO and the CSO must constantly communicate the importance of having marketing and sales work together seamlessly - that the company's demand generation efforts can't produce maximum results unless marketing and sales function as a cohesive team. In addition, CMO's and CSO's should communicate that informal, self-directed collaboration among marketing and sales professionals is not only acceptable, but expected. This aligning narrative needs to be reinforced every day in some way.
Conduct Regular Sales-Marketing Forums - CMO's and CSO's should conduct joint sales-marketing forums on a regular basis. The cadence of these forums is determined by individual company needs, but they probably should occur at least monthly in most companies. The primary objective of these forums is to provide a venue for marketing and sales personnel at all levels to interact, exchange information, and discuss problems and opportunities.
Leverage Cross-Functional Teams - The CMO and the CSO should always be looking for opportunities to use cross-functional teams to deal with meaningful problems, challenges, or opportunities. Whenever possible, these teams should be composed of individuals who wouldn't otherwise work together. Not only are cross-functional teams usually the best way to address major issues, they also foster the development of personal relationships that span functional and departmental boundaries.

The Bottom Line

Creating effective sales-marketing alignment is ultimately an exercise in team building. It's essential for marketing and sales professionals to have a shared understanding regarding the major components of demand generation strategy. But shared understanding alone isn't sufficient to create the level of alignment that's necessary for high performance demand generation. In addition, marketing and sales leaders must nurture a "culture of collaboration" that transforms marketing and sales into a true team of teams.

Illustration courtesy of Olga Berrios via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Six Ways to Gain Influence With B2B Buyers

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the major survey findings reported in The 2018 B2B Buying Disconnect by TrustRadius. This report is based on two surveys. One survey included 438 individuals who played a key role in a significant business technology purchase during the previous year, and the second was a survey of 240 individuals who worked for business technology vendors in a marketing or sales capacity.

One objective of this research was to identify what sources of information buyers are using to support purchase decisions, and what sources they deem to be influential and trustworthy. As I discussed in the earlier post, the sources of information that buyers think are most influential and trustworthy include their own prior experience with a product, free trials, product demos, and referrals from a friend, colleague, or peer. Surveyed buyers ranked all types of vendor-provided information (except product demos) as least influential and trustworthy.

TrustRadius also asked buyers about the overall influence that vendors have on their purchase decisions. Only 23% of the surveyed buyers said their vendors are very influential. TrustRadius then sought to identify what attributes and behaviors separated very influential vendors from less influential vendors in the eyes of buyers.

One of the most striking attributes of very influential vendors is that they are open and transparent about the limitations of their product or solution. Fifty-one percent of surveyed buyers who said their vendors are very influential also said their vendors are very forthcoming about product limitations. Only 31% of the buyers with less influential vendors said their vendors are open about product limitations.

In the survey of vendor marketing and sales professionals, 85% of the respondents said they "aim to be clear about where the product works well and where something else might be a better fit." So there is a significant gap between vendors and buyers on this aspect of transparency.

Buyers who said their vendors are very influential were also more likely than other buyers to say that their vendors:

  • Provided customer evidence like reviews and case studies
  • Connected them with customer references
  • Helped them strategize the best approach for their use case
  • Helped them understand potential ROI
  • Provided learning opportunities (events, workshops, etc.)
Collectively, these survey findings provide a clear picture of what buyers really want from their vendors. And these findings are consistent with research from other firms. For example, in a 2017 survey of B2B buyers by the Aberdeen Group, survey participants were asked to select two factors (from a list of nine) that play a role in their buying decisions. The three most frequently chosen factors were:
  • Total cost of ownership
  • How the vendor/solution supports our company's goals
  • Efficiency gains (ROI)
However, when survey participants were asked what other factors they consider when they make buying decisions, 68.2% of respondents said the vendor can help sharpen our competitive differentiation, and over half (55.7%) said the vendor can help me identify new possibilities and avenues for revenue.
Clearly, today's buyers are looking for vendors who are completely transparent about the capabilities and limitations of their solutions, and vendors who can help them improve business performance. That's not particularly surprising, but it's important to remember.

Illustration courtesy of Amtec Staffing via Flickr CC.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Closing the Customer Experience Gap

Most senior business leaders now recognize the strategic importance of providing outstanding customer experiences. Customer experience has been one of the hottest topics in business and marketing circles for the past several years, and it's been the subject of numerous research studies.

A 2017 report by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services provides an important perspective on the current state of customer experience management. This report was based on a global survey of 682 business leaders, 53% of whom were executives or senior managers. Survey respondents represented several industry verticals and included individuals from large, mid-size, and small companies.

The HBR report is particularly interesting because survey participants were drawn from a variety of job functions, including operations/product management, sales/business development, marketing, and HR. It's now clear that delivering outstanding customer experiences requires a cross-functional effort by many parts of a company. The HBR research is valuable because it captures the views of business leaders working in several business functions.

An overwhelming majority of the business leaders surveyed by HBR recognize the importance of providing outstanding customer experiences. Nearly three-quarters of the survey respondents (73%) said that delivering a relevant and reliable customer experience is already critical to their company's overall business performance, and almost all respondents (93%) agreed that it would be critical two years from now.

The HBR research also revealed, however, that most companies have more work to do to provide great customer experiences. Only 15% of the survey respondents said their company is very effective at delivering relevant and reliable customer experiences. Fifty-three percent of the respondents said their company is somewhat effective, and nearly a third (32%) rated their company's performance as not very effective.

This research also revealed the breadth of the customer experience gap. HBR asked survey participants to rate the importance of nine factors in delivering relevant and reliable customer experiences and their company's effectiveness regarding the same factors. The following table shows the percentage of survey respondents who gave a high rating (8, 9, or 10 on a 10-point scale) on the importance/effectiveness of each factor:

As this table shows, there is widespread agreement regarding the importance of these nine factors, and the findings also show that less than half of these survey respondents believe their company is effective on any of the nine factors.

Like other studies, the HBR research identified the lack of a single, comprehensive source of customer intelligence as a major cause of the customer experience gap. Only 13% of survey respondents said they have a single source of customer data/intelligence across all products and activities, and the lack of unified customer intelligence is clearly having an impact. Only 23% of the survey respondents said they are able to act on all or most of the customer data they collect.

The HBR report discusses several other important topics related to customer experience management. If you're involved in improving the customer experiences that your company provides, the HBR report will be useful and valuable.

Top image courtesy of Richard Grant via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Buyers Take a "Trust But Verify" Approach to Vendor Content

TrustRadius recently published The 2018 B2B Buying Disconnect report, which provides several important insights regarding how business technology buyers research potential purchases, and how they view their vendors.

The report is based on the results of two surveys. One was a survey of 438 individuals who played a key role in a significant business technology purchase during the previous year. The second was a survey of 240 individuals who worked for business technology vendors in a marketing or sales capacity.

A primary focus of this research was to identify what sources of information buyers used to support purchase decisions, and which sources they deem to the influential and trustworthy. TrustRadius provided survey participants a list of 15 sources of information and asked them to rate each source in terms of use, influence, and trustworthiness. The following table shows the five most widely used sources of information according to surveyed buyers.

Unfortunately, the TrustRadius research contains rather sobering news for B2B content marketers. When surveyed buyers were asked about the influence and trustworthiness of each source of information, vendor-provided sources of information scored as the least influential and trustworthy. The following table shows the four most influential and trustworthy sources of information identified by surveyed buyers.

And the next table shows the six sources of information ranked least influential and trustworthy by surveyed buyers.

Things May Not Be Quite As Bad As They Seem

These survey findings paint a fairly bleak picture for B2B content marketers, but there are reasons to believe that things aren't quite as bad as the survey results seem to indicate. The TrustRadius report contains several quotes from surveyed buyers. Here are just a few examples.

"Salespeople, no matter how honest, will always have a strong bias and be the least objective voice in the process."

"Websites can be helpful for finding objective facts like technical specs, etc., but at the end of the day, they're a marketing tool and therefore not going to give you the full picture."

". . . The [vendor provided] use case studies typically do not get into the details of what was involved with implementation and are not tailored for the specific use cases we are looking to tackle."

The quotes contained in the report provide context for the survey findings, and what they indicate is that most business technology buyers are unwilling to rely solely on vendor-provided information.

In some cases, buyers view vendor-provided information as biased (but not necessarily deceitful), and in other cases, vendor-provided information just doesn't adequately address some of the specific issues that buyers are concerned about. In addition, the quotes and the survey results show that today's buyers want direct experience with a product (via demos and free trials) whenever possible.

Trust, But Verify

In the 1980's, President Ronald Reagan made extensive use of a Russian proverb during nuclear arms negotiations with Mikhail Gorbachev. The English translation of the proverb is "trust, but verify."

The TrustRadius research indicates that many of today's B2B buyers have adopted President Reagan's mindset. They expect vendors to provide information, and they will use that information in their decision-making process. But they also want to confirm important points via first-hand knowledge or experience, and/or via information sources that are independent of the vendor.

It's important, of course, for B2B marketers to provide potential buyers with content and information that is credible and trustworthy, and I discussed how to make content more credible in this post. But we also need to recognize that many of our prospective buyers will want to access independent sources of information, and we need to make such sources of information an integral part of our marketing efforts.

Top illustration courtesy of via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Surprise! Buyers Want Trustworthy and Authoritative Content

Business buyers are continuing to rely heavily on content to inform and support their buying decisions, but they are becoming more selective about the content they consume, and they show a strong preference for trustworthy and authoritative content. These are some of the major themes of Demand Gen Report's 2018 Content Preferences Survey Report.

Demand Gen Report has conducted the content preferences survey annually for the past six years to gain insights regarding how B2B buyers use content in the buying process and what types of content they prefer. The 2018 survey produced 168 responses from B2B marketing and sales professionals. Ninety percent of the respondents hold C-level, VP-level, director-level, or manager-level positions.

The 2018 survey revealed that content continues to play a vital role in the purchasing process. Thirty-eight percent of the survey respondents said they consume five or more pieces of content when making a purchase decision, and another 40% reported consuming between three and five pieces of content.

Research by other firms has shown that business buyers are becoming more selective about the content they consume, and the 2018 Content Preferences Survey also provides evidence for this increased selectivity. Demand Gen Report asked survey participants to indicate their agreement with this statement:  "I place a higher emphasis on the trustworthiness of source." In the 2018 survey, 78% of respondents strongly agreed with the statement, up from 75% in the 2017 edition of the survey.

The content preferences surveys have also consistently shown that business buyers want content that is authoritative and evidence-based. In each survey, participants were asked what recommendations they would give to improve the quality of the content provided by B2B vendors. Demand Gen Report provided a list of possible recommendations, one of which was:  Use more data and research to support content." The following table shows the percentage of respondents who strongly agreed with this recommendation:

Buyers' desire for content that is objective and authoritative is also reflected in the types of content they give more credence to. The following table shows the percentage of respondents in the 2018 survey who said they occasionally or frequently give credence to five types of content:

As the table shows, these survey respondents are most likely to give credence to content created by users and content authored by a third-party publication or analyst. They view vendor-created content as least credible, but even so, 61% of the respondents said they would occasionally or frequently give credence to such content.

Most of the findings of the 2018 Content Preferences Survey aren't particularly surprising, but they do provide support for several established principles of content marketing. Specifically, this research demonstrates the value of using third-party content and the importance of creating content that is credible and authoritative.

Top Image Source:  Demand Gen Report

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Alice, the Red Queen, and Effective Content Marketing

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, the Red Queen takes Alice  on a run in a forest. Alice and the Queen run very fast, but they never leave the place where they started. When Alice wonders why, the Red Queen explains:  "Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place."

Today, most marketers can identify with Alice and the Red Queen. Marketers now have access to an impressive array of tools and techniques that didn't exist only a few years ago, but they're also facing new pressures and challenges. And despite the new tools and techniques, marketing success remains difficult to achieve. If anything, successful marketing requires more resources, more effort, and more expertise today than it did in the past - a classic example of the "Red Queen effect."

The impact of the Red Queen effect is particularly visible in content marketing. Over the past few years, the volume of marketing content has exploded, and this bounty of content has enabled consumers and business decision-makers to become more "choosy" about the content they consume.

In a 2016 survey of 1,644 executives by The Economist Group, 75% of the respondents said they had become more selective in their consumption of thought leadership content over the previous 12-24 months, and 82% cited the volume of content as the main reason for their increased selectivity.

The primary impact of the Red Queen effect in B2B content marketing is that content of average quality is far less effective today than it was a few years ago, as the following diagram illustrates:

In this diagram, the diagonal black line represents the relationship between content quality and content performance that existed when the spread of content marketing was still in its early stages.
The red curved line represents the relationship between content quality and content performance today, and it shows that you need better content today to be successful at content marketing, another classic example of the Red Queen effect at work.

Does this mean that companies should stop using content marketing? Not at all! It does mean, however, that most of the "easy victories" have already been won. It also means that business and marketing leaders need to have realistic expectations about the benefits that effective content marketing will produce and the resources (time, effort, money, etc.) that will be required to make their content marketing program successful. There's reason to believe that this more realistic view of content marketing is beginning to emerge.

For the past several years, Gartner has plotted the evolution of content marketing in its "Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising." The 2014 edition of the hype cycle showed that content marketing was approaching the "peak of inflated expectations." In the 2016 version, Gartner indicated that content marketing was nearing the "trough of disillusionment." The 2017 hype cycle shows that content marketing is about to emerge on the "slope of enlightenment," where both the benefits of content marketing and the requirements for success will be more widely understood.

Top image courtesy of KCBalletMedia via Flickr CC.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The State of Personalization in 2018

The personalization of content and messaging has been widely discussed in marketing circles for more than two decades. Numerous research studies have shown that both consumers and business buyers want companies to understand their individual needs and interests, and then tailor experiences accordingly. Virtually all marketing thought leaders agree that personalization is vital for delivering outstanding customer experiences.

So, just how far have we come in our personalization efforts? New research by Dynamic Yield provides important insights regarding the current state of personalization. The Personalization Maturity Assessment report is based on a survey of 700 marketers and executives in various business roles drawn from several industry verticals. Forty-two percent of the survey respondents were located in Asia-Pacific, 34.1% in EMEA, and 23.9% in the Americas.

This research revealed a strong belief in the value of personalization. Globally, about 26% of respondents said that personalization is at the core of their marketing/customer experience efforts, and another 46% said they understand the benefits of personalization.

Dynamic Yield's survey found that many companies have made significant progress on the personalization front. For example, 23.57% of respondents said they have a single view of the customer that enables them to personalize experiences across marketing channels, and another 23.14% said they personalize most experiences.

The survey also revealed, however, that many companies have more work to do to maximize the potential of personalization. Only about half of the respondents (49%) said their organization has prioritized personalization as a company-wide strategic initiative. And only about 52% reported having sufficient resources (money, time, personnel, etc.) to deliver personalized experiences across all marketing channels. In addition, only about 22% of the respondents said they have a centralized, cross-functional team that executes personalized campaigns across all channels.

Dynamic Yield also found that many companies need a more integrated technology stack to reap the full benefits of personalization. Only about 24% of respondents reported having an integrated tech stack that allowed them to personalize customer experiences across all touch points. Another 33% said their personalization technology is integrated with some, but not all, of their other marketing/customer experience technology systems. These findings are generally consistent with Econsultancy's 2018 Digital Trends study, in which 40% of survey respondents reported having a highly or somewhat integrated technology stack.

So overall, the Dynamic Yield study paints a fairly positive picture of the state of personalization in 2018, although it also clearly shows that there's room for improvement.

It's possible that the Dynamic Yield research slightly understates the level of personalization maturity in larger organizations. About 42% of the respondents in this study were with companies having $50 million or less in annual revenue, and 23% were with companies having under $10 million in annual revenue. It seems fair to say that larger enterprises are likely to have more experience with personalization and more resources to devote to their personalization efforts.

Image courtesy of Brian Solis via Flickr CC.