Tech Marketers: The Right Mind-Set Drives Thought Leadership

March 16, 2010

As many of you tech marketers understand at this point, building credibility can positively impact the activities of your sales force. With a company wide effort to publish important and relevant content the sales process can be shortened by ensuring the tech buyers perceive your organization is leading the market and has deep expertise around specific issues. To be most effective with thought leadership, the marketing team needs to have a plan in place. I have suggested before that your team should think like publishers and put together an editorial calender outlining the topics to be covered throughout the year.

There is a large quantity of information regarding thought leadership on the web and I recently came across an article in marketing profs authored by  Paul Mckeon the president of The Content Factor. In the article, Paul outlines five best practices for generating thought leadership. He takes a different approach in terms of identifying the mind-set your organization should be focused toward to ensure a succesful thought leadership approach.

1. Clearly define your own brand of thought leadership

Before you embark, be sure you know where you are going. That means having a clear understanding of what thought leadership means in general, in your marketspace, and for your company. Such clarity will ensure that other key stakeholders in your organization follow you, and it will help them understand what it takes.

Experts agree that thought leadership is one of the most misunderstood, overused, and abused terms in business.

“Thought leadership is one of those terms people throw around with no idea what it means,” said Beverly McDonald, former chief communication officer at Infor, a $2 billion software company.

“People think it means repeating what has already been said in the marketplace and if they do it with more frequency they’ll rise above the noise. Or they think it’s an alternative way to get their name in the press when they can’t get attention with any real news. The bottom line for me has always been that you can’t be a great thought leader unless you have great thoughts.”

2. Be guided by generosity

Thought leadership is a commitment to a grander goal than lead generation.

On her blog, elise.com, Elise Bauer says that a spirit of generosity is essential to thought leadership, and it’s a good summary of the shift in mindset that should occur when a company makes the transition from business leader to thought leader.

“Thought leadership requires generosity of one’s time, intelligence and knowledge,” Bauer counsels.

Consider the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” as a mantra for your thought-leadership efforts, and understand that with a little patience your company will benefit from your work. Companies will look to you for insight and innovation. The media will quote you, and analysts will respect you. And rest assured that your brand will have earned a new credibility and glow that, although difficult to quantify on a spreadsheet, will build your company’s success over the long term.

3. Tell, don’t sell

In our post-credit meltdown marketplace, the consumer—whether B2B or B2C—is more skeptical than ever and can spot an insincere bit of “trust me” marketing a mile away. That is all the more reason for companies to exercise due diligence when starting a thought-leadership program. Be sure it is more “chalk talk” than “pep talk.”

For example, if whitepapers are part of the program, be sure you understand that they should offer objective analysis of an industry issue or problem, not promotion or technical documentation of your products. A whitepaper should accomplish the following:

  • Justify why the problem must be solved
  • Objectively explore alternative ways to solve the problem
  • Logically lead the reader to the conclusion that your organization has the knowledge, expertise, and tools required to solve the problem

4. Take yourself out of the story

Ken Anderberg, publisher and editorial director of Health Management Technology magazine, looks for people who take a bold stand on the issues when he selects contributors to the publication’s regular “Thought Leaders” column.

“The contributors should be presenting an overview that is not self-serving,” he said. “We’re looking for information that is useful for your readers, not a self-serving discussion of a company’s technology.”

5. Take risks; be visionary

Many companies measure a marketing effort’s success solely by how many leads it generates. That shortsighted view doesn’t take into account the longer-term return on investment of a thought-leadership program.

They are also apprehensive about sharing information that goes beyond what is contained in corporate collateral or on their website.

What they don’t stop to consider is that all organizations have a “secret sauce” or “family jewels” that set them apart, and keeping them locked away in the far corners of the organization is not the behavior of a true thought leader, especially not in today’s connected world.

Bottom Line: With the right mind set and expectations, your thought leadership can build your organization’s credibility and truly position itself as a thought leader.


On vacation

February 16, 2010

For those that read my blog, I will be back March 1st

Thanks for all of your support


Tech Marketers: Your First Impression Counts with CIOs

February 9, 2010

If you are marketing technology, here is another reason why your sales team needs you to focus on nurturing your target audience with a fully integrated effort.

The CIO Executive Council recently interviewed 277 senior IT executives in October and November 2009 to gain a better understanding of vendor solicitation. Although the full ” Field Report” results are to be published in February, the first look at the results solidify general thinking in the market. Over 50% of unsolicited cold calls by your sales force are found to be the most annoying first contact method listed by the senior IT executives. I don’t think this is a surprise since logic suggests that the target should have some understanding of your solutions and organization before they are contacted.

More importantly, these senior IT executives found that the caller was not prepared and had little knowledge of the targets’ organizational needs in half of the contacts that actually connected.

The list goes on in terms of unsolicited contact strategies deployed by technology marketers. Unsolicited emails, email content that added no value, voice mails that had no clear message were also stated in the survey as being ineffective in a first contact strategy. CMOs, are you experiencing this at your organization? This can be solved with marketing. The sales force cannot do it alone and needs your marketing team to lay the ground work for more successful interactions with the IT buying target.

When these senior IT executives were asked how a vendor should differentiate themselves when contacting CIOs, they listed off the basic content a marketing team is expected to create and distribute using a variety of marketing communications materials and tactics.

  • Name references that are relevant to our own company and known/respected by me
  • How their product cost or feature set is tailored to companies of our size
  • How their product fits with our current IT implementations or standards
  • How their product cost or feature set is tailored to companies in our industry
  • How their product is competitively different and superior
  • What they are already providing to companies like ours
  • How their product could help us accomplish our specific business or IT goals

The results outline the simple fact that CIOs and non-incumbent vendors find that establishing a relationship for the first time is hindered by inadequacies and difficulties inherent in the approach for first contact. A smart marketing plan (or even an account specific plan) developed with your sales force can better prepare your content to ensure it’s relevant, your approach to ensure delivery of your message in channels that your target trusts,  and your follow through to successfully  nurture and establish these relationships with key decision makers.

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VARs: Time To Consider Your Message

February 2, 2010

Last year a majority of the VARs slowed their marketing spending during the down economy. As we move into this new year, I would argue that many VARs are following the same plan and perhaps rightfully so as the economy still remains a bit shaky. But spending less money doesn’t necessarily mean reduced marketing — Now is a good time to review your brand.

I am encouraged to see a growing trend that I have not seen in many years among the VAR community.  Many VARs are making an effort to brand and promote their own unique value above and beyond any vendor affiliation. Creating this differentiation within a landscape that could easily be described as a commodity can only have a positive affect.  With long term goals in mind, VAR marketing must go beyond the very common messages focused on vendor certifications and the perceived benefit of  associating with these multi-billion-dollar brands. A reliance on provided vendor messaging will only hamper the ability of a VAR to communicate its point of difference in the crowded marketplace.

Tech buyers have consistently  suggested that it’s more important for a VAR to align tightly to its organizational needs by communicating more relevant expertise than to promote the Platinum, Gold or Silver level of certification they may have with any vendor.  VARs can strengthen their customer relationships by highlighting the value they deliver, communicating their deep vertical expertise or by providing above-and-beyond services for more basic infrastructure issues.  Of course, these are only a few general thoughts that demonstrate a path towards more unique messaging and must be underpinned by the VAR’s ability and not necessarily the vendor’s marketplace message.

The economy has forced many VARs to simply become better business people instead of relying on vendors for marketing differentiation and business expertise. VARs have to work hard to identify what their unique position is within the marketplace and develop their own brands to ensure they can stand out among the crowd.

The smart ones will understand that the canned messaging and marketing programs provided by these vendors…. is not a VAR identity.

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Tech Marketers: Quick Reminder Strategy Comes First

January 26, 2010

CMO’s at tech companies need to ensure their team is focused on strategy first. I have had recent discussions with many marketing departments at technology companies that cause me a bit of concern. Often, the conversations among these marketers tend t0 focus on what marketing vehicles should be used. I can’t count how many times I heard ‘let’s do a direct mail’ or ‘we should look into social media,’ without a mention of the objective, audience, or – for that matter – the desired result.  This concerns me greatly as I believe these marketers have the talent and the know how, but seem to be so focused on the tactical efforts due to heavy influence of a sales team or perhaps their senior management to get something out there.

A common trap inside these corporate marketing departments assumes that when you talk about marketing, you’re automatically talking about tactical marketing – placing ads, generating leads, sending out mailers, attending tradeshows, creating brochures, implementing a follow-up system, and so forth.

There is a failure to realize that the strategic side  – what you say, how you say it, and who you say it to – is always more important than the marketing medium of how you deliver it.

The distinction between the two is critical and these marketing folks need to stay focused on their strategies without undue influence from other departments. Now, I am not suggesting that the sales team input is not important. I do believe in alignment, but the conversations seem to shift to marketing tactic versus the bigger objectives. Tactical marketing is the execution of your marketing plan, such as generating leads, placing media, creating marketing tools, and implementing a follow-up system. In other words, it’s the medium in which your message is delivered.

Strategic marketing has to do with the content of your marketing message and starts with understanding your customers and the issues that are important to them, understanding why they buy or make a decision.

Just putting a marketing message in an appropriate medium for your target audience to hear or read is not good enough. The strategy must derive from an understanding of what’s important to to the target audience. Otherwise, this tactical part of the marketing process will be much less effective, resulting in ads that under-perform.

Many companies simply try to craft their sales pitch more before they find out how to provide a solution to their consumers’ needs.

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, the true intent is to remind all of your busy tech marketers to stay focused.

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2010 has new marketing opportunities for technology marketers

January 4, 2010

Happy New Year

Well, here we are after a very difficult 2009 year and it seems that all of the macro economic issues this past year have solidified a bit, indicating 2010 may be more improved after facing decreased budgets, staff and a return to basics. Hopefully, you focused on improving your core processes, measures, and databases so you are ready for whatever the economy and market brings our way in 2010. Based on many discussions, it seem that 2010 will be a year of focusing on the basic marketing strategies while cautiously moving forward.

I have been reading numerous “predictions” for the new year and have found common themes that seem to have sound thinking for the upcoming year. Based on reading these many predictions, I believe director of marketing at Frost and Sullivan Naylor Gray’s most recent comments capture these themes most aligned with my thinking.

1. Back to the Basics: Marketing 101

In 2009, marketers were challenged to overcome their lack of staff and budgets, forcing many of them to perform different tasks potentially compromising the basics of their marketing programs. With recovery expected to take hold in 2010, marketing teams need to review their basic blocking and tackling to ensure that the fundamentals of their programs are on strong footing.

Additionally, as the marketing automation craze continues to grow, the basics of marketing will take on greater importance. Generating audiences, creating new messages, segmenting the database in different ways, and understanding all the facets of the sales process will be required skills for effective marketing programs. In many cases, successful marketing automation deployment begins with the basics of the marketing program; like so many ambitious new undertakings, it is always best to start with a strong, simple foundation.

Finally,  it is absolutely clear that there must be awareness and acknowledgment of this global economic phenomenon and its impact on customers and buying, which means new messaging and segmentation on the high end and a lot of database scrubbing on the low end.

Examples of Back-to-the-Basics Required for Marketing Effectiveness:

  • Mapping the message to database segments
  • Creation of CRM database segments
  • Lead scoring for sales leads
  • Enhanced ROI reporting on the marketing spend
  • Centralized and simplified data management of marketing metrics
  • Integration of sales and marketing data
  • Understanding the sales process
  • A/B message testing
  • Quality control of all new collateral and messaging
  • Attention to lead conversion numbers
  • Database hygiene to clean out nonviable contacts and lost prospects
  • Website optimization (search engine optimization and search engine marketing)

2. Sales and Marketing Integration: It’s All About Process

Marketing and Sales must integrate their processes and objectives; when they don’t, it is usually the marketing team who gets the blame.

There is a delicate balance between Sales and Marketing that is about to get even more precarious. The balance relies on Sales communicating to Marketing precisely what a “lead” looks like and, on the other hand, Marketing establishing the proper way to score this and hand it off. Complicating this relationship will be the ability or inability of both teams to explicitly track the sales process through data points in a CRM system. A poorly understood or poorly articulated sales process will result in the inability to map the marketing program into the sales process. Weakness within any aspect of the sales process will result in a cascading failure between the sales and marketing integration.

Most importantly, a disintegrated sales and marketing process will make the effective implementation of a marketing automation solution nearly impossible. Marketing automation relies on a robust sales process that is clearly discernible by the marketing team charged with generating and qualifying the leads.

3. Marketing Automation

Many B2B companies have not yet automated, but leading marketers will automate in 2010 if they have not done so already. Marketing automation will integrate lead-generation efforts, sales process, contact CRM tracking and Web site analytics into a hyper-powerful tool. There are many companies that provide marketing automation solutions, so marketers looking to automate should be certain that they identify one that best fits with their organization’s culture and needs.

The degree to which marketers will automate will be dictated by their existing practices and budget, but before they do, they should perfect their sales and marketing processes so that they are fully integrated. There are powerful returns for those organizations who master this marketing automation rollout, with some organizations reporting double-digit increases in sales revenues simply as a result of the successful automation implementation.

Additionally, automation will be a blessing for the marketing department that struggles to do more with less. It will also free up resources to focus on the important tasks of building new client relationships, demonstrating value for their products or services, and finally achieving those ROI targets.

4. Content Is King (Again and Always)

Knowing what types of content to select for lead-generation programs and when to deploy them will be a critical success factor moving forward.

Additionally, when selecting the right content, marketers must be able to model out the relevant lifespan of this content to ensure that they have interesting and timely offerings that attract the right kind of attention. There are many different content sources, but what marketers really need is to stand out from the noise with a truly distinct content offering. Many marketers will perform a content audit mapped against buying groups and sales process and discover that they do not have enough of the right kind of content.

Content can take many forms, and includes social media, user-generated reviews and recommendations, e-mail copy, Web pages, customized landing pages, white papers, event sponsorship, thought leadership, case studies, ROI/TCO calculators, benchmarking tools, podcasts, Webinars, videos, press releases, brochures and other marketing collateral, interviews, articles, testimonials and proposals.

5. Convergence of Marketing/Public Relations

PR integration is important. Tactics and strategies need to be tightly integrated between Marketing and PR. With the rise of social media and a movement away from conventional advertising, what the PR team does affects Marketing more than ever.

Further fueling the trend, surveys indicate a shared responsibility between Marketing and PR for social media strategies. And as the Web continues to fundamentally alter buying behavior, much of the decision-making occurs upstream from the vendor via Internet searches. PR can ensure that the company’s value is communicated on a multitude of social media sites and formats. Other items driving this convergence:

  • The explosion of online video has placed PR at the center of messaging strategy (media training, talking points, video feedback).
  • The rise of marketing automation software that tracks all online user behavior gives PR more reason than ever to drive interest from online media to the company Web site.
  • The use of white papers and Webinars requires a coordinated Marketing/PR response.
  • As the recession dried up advertising budgets, PR had to shoulder the burden for getting more organic mentions and placements to compensate; this will not stop even when the recession ends.

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Tech Marketers: Only 1/3 of Marketers Achieve Integrated Marketing Success

October 22, 2009

Most technology marketing folks strive to plan and develop an integrated marketing approach while planning their annual strategies. The theory of IMC certainly makes sense and has proven to deliver successful results for many organizations. But achieving this integrated approach is harder than it seems. At a recent DMA conference, Dave Frankland, a senior analyst with Forrester suggested that 45 % of marketing leaders are committed to an integrated marketing approach as the core of their customer centric marketing activities, while only 1/3 of them actually deliver against this goal.

Achieving a customer-centric integrated approach to marketing has been a desire of marketers in the technology community for years.  Back in the nineties, the term integrated marketing typically described public relations, advertising, direct marketing, and promotions working together to deliver a consistent message to a target audience across multiple communications channels. With more resources, technology and tools available today, the modern definition of “fully integrated marketing” is far more expansive and emphasizes structured collaboration among most, if not all, other departments. With shared language, metrics, and strategy, the entire enterprise is able to work together toward the common goal of achieving maximum customer value from each relationship.

This new modern definition simply makes sense. Today, key trends make marketing integration a financial requirement, and the availability of technology, data, and analytic know-how has finally made establishing a customer-centric organization realistic and practical. But implementing the theory has been quite difficult for many technology organizations.

Some of the major obstacles that have prevented a customer-centric integrated approach include:
• A lack of executive support
• Organizational designs
• Compensation and incentive systems
• Measurement constraints
• Business models
• Data capture capabilities
• Analytic capabilities
• Perceived high cost
• Focus on short-term results

In a 2009 study of more than 400 CMOs and 20 business and academic leaders the CMO Council found that global marketers are seeking stable operational platforms to contend with unstable market dynamics. Their goal: “To achieve substantive performance gains that drive top-line revenues and sustainable corporate growth.”  Among the actionable key insights uncovered in the study was that inadequate data-sharing across the enterprise consistently hindered the ability to effect process and operational changes. According to the report, “Integration of platforms and processes is critical.”

As marketers, we all understand that data drives much of our activity and access to data is imperative to ensuring an integrated marketing effort drives results. These are big operational issues and should be discussed with senior leadership as you draft your strategies for 2010.

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