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By Michael Cannon

Marketing has changed more in the last few years than I’d venture to say it did  in a decade or two before.  In the not-too-distant past, traditional B2B brand marketing worked in a world without the internet, where buyers had fewer sources  of information and your company could somewhat control the message.  Over the  last few years buying habits have shifted and much is being written about this new “buyers journey”.

For CMO’s and sales and marketing teams, the impact is clear.  Through social media and the internet, buyers are now typically 70+% of the way through the buying cycle before they initially reach out to your company to talk with a sales representative.  In many cases, companies are mired in the 1 of 3 syndrome, where they continually find themselves one of three possible solutions in the mind of the buyer, are forced to differentiate on price, or worse yet not invited to the opportunity. An ugly scenario for any executive team.

To combat this “bake-off” phenomenon, CMO’s have a new and ever widening arsenal of tools at their disposal.  Big data and sophisticated analytics tools augmented with integrated inbound and outbound platforms and marketing automation tools are powering marketing decisions.  Content marketing, viral marketing, segmentation, personas, measurements are all in play.  Yet for all these tools and new methods, one thing seems to be continually missed, undervalued and negatively impacts market success.

To thrive in this online social paradigm, Marketing must understand the information your buyers value and then deliver that information in a way that is easy for them to access and consume, at the right points in the journey and their relationship with your company. When the message and point of view aligns with their needs, and speaks in the right voice, at the right stage of the buyer’s journey, you create more influential “brand conversations”. And as a result, you establish a more effective brand promise and thereby drive greater demand for your products and not just leads.  Yet, studies show that less than 50% of marketing content and sales conversations are relevant to the customer.  And less than 30% of marketing content is relevant to sales teams and channels.  With all these tools, all this technology and all this data, how can there be such a huge communication gap?

Beyond all the technology, all the process – companies need to create a thoughtful buyer communication framework to close this widening gap.  Marketing needs to stop utilizing primarily descriptive communications that talk about their company, products, solutions and platforms in a wordy, generic and anecdotal style – verbal or written. Instead they need to start using more persuasive language the buyer will find more useful and will answer the questions as to why consider your company, why change, why select you, and why now.  And have that backed with clear, relevant, differentiated and provable content and discussion.  These communications need to be customized by buyer role and objective, by step in the buyer’s journey and used by both Marketing and Sales.

This problem is not as easily solved.  CMO tenures still come under increasing pressure to provide the quality leads and sales tools that drive revenue and there still exists a disconnect in many organizations between sales and marketing. To overcome these issues, Marketing must engage buyers with the more influential content and sales conversations.  And this can only happen if Sales and Marketing are aligned around a common go to market approach, vocabulary and communication style.  As I’ve seen in many companies I’ve worked with, the result of engaging buyers more influentially, more consistently, across more touch points in the buyers’ journey is they create and win more opportunities. After all, all the ‘big data’ knowledge and insights and inbound and outbound marketing campaigns are useless unless you are transferring valuable information to your potential customers and turning your competitors’ reasons to buy from them to supporting points on why buyers should buy from you instead.

Welcome to the new branding world. Brand and the messages supporting the brand are more important than ever. But it is not about colors and designs, snappy tag lines and outbound communications. It is about a point of view expressed by engaging in more meaningful conversations with buyers. It is sharing information that is valuable, timely, sometimes even entertaining – white papers, videos, case studies, research, pictures and online interaction and comments.

Along with your sales and marketing teams, get out and talk with your customers and prospects.  I’ve found that you can learn a great deal on how to structure more influential brand conversations that create greater competitive differentiation in today’s social media-dominated world.  But, I cannot stress enough that you need to do it now with a sense of urgency.  The new Buyers’ Journey is real and impacting you now, whether you realize it or not.

What other people viewed after reading this post:

5 Easy Steps to Make Your Customer Communications 20 to 30% More Influential

What Is Causing Ineffective Customer Communications?

What Is the Cost of Ineffective Customer Communications?

 


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By Michael CannonTop 6

I knew I was onto something when my sales teams began to consistently
overachieve and attend the coveted President’s club trips.

The genesis of that observation started a few years earlier with my promotion into sales management. My first big insight was that we wanted our customers to make a specific sequence of decisions. (See chart below.) My next insight was that these decisions easily translated into buyer questions that we needed to answer persuasively to achieve engagement and generate orders. The final insight was that most of the marketing content and sales training were not aligned with these key decisions. They did not provide persuasive answers to the primary buying questions.

Primary Buyer Decisions and Questions

Over the next several years I came to see that, depending on the offering, all decisions (disruptive) or a subset of these decisions(main street) and questions were critical to our goals.

6 Q Table

Descriptive versus Persuasive Answers

When I reviewed our marketing content and sales conversation for each product and service, I quickly realized that, while the customer communications were well-written, professionally produced and communicated, most were descriptive and focused on answering secondary customer buying questions, such as:

  • What does the product do?
  • How does it work?
  • What features are included, optional?
  • What are the key benefits?

The answers were also overwhelmingly product-centric, and accompanied by a list of attributes that were often wordy, generic, general, and anecdotal in nature.

The Two Question Test

To illustrate this point for my sales and marketing teams, I simply blacked out our company and product names from our product landing page and brochure, and asked them two questions: 1) Is this an explicit, customer business objective-level answer to the desired decisions we want our customers to make, i.e. “why change?” and/or “why us?” and 2) How is this different from what our competitors are or could say?

As an example,  I went to a leading email service provider’s website, selected their product page and found this:

Real Results Start with Email Marketing

Reach customers where they go most: their inbox

Email Marketing just plain works. See how.

Email connects you to people; email marketing software helps you understand your audience’s response, so you can plan your next marketing move. Our email marketing is easy, affordable, and proven to get results; that’s why we’re ranked number 1 in Website Magazine’s list of the top 50 email marketing solutions.

This product landing page clearly fails the two-question test. By comparison, how does your product landing page or brochure stand up to the test? Does it provide persuasive answers to the desired actions you want your target customers to take? How about your sales conversation? Take a moment to investigate.

Overall, the impact of using mostly descriptive communication is fewer leads, meetings, opportunities, and orders. With over 50% of the buying process occurring online, communicating in a mostly descriptive manner is increasingly becoming too costly.

This is not to say that descriptive (what and how) communication is bad and that persuasive (why) communication is good. You need both to be truly influential. What I am advocating is that most companies are over-invested in the descriptive style and under-invested in the persuasive style.

Moving to a more decision-based, more influential customer communications style is guaranteed to increase the effectiveness of your marketing and sales teams. You can start realizing the benefits by following these five steps:

  1. Establish messaging as a separate deliverable
  2. Determine the right categories, styles, and types of customer messaging needed for market success
  3. Create persuasive messaging
  4. Deploy persuasive messaging into marketing content
  5. Employ persuasive messaging in sales conversations

To learn more, read: 5 Easy Steps to Make Your Customer Communications 20 to 30% More Influential

What other people viewed after reading this post:

Examples of Persuasive Messaging (Very informative, registration required)

What Is Causing Ineffective Customer Communications?

What Is the Cost of Ineffective Customer Communications?


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By Michael Cannon

Most customer communications, marketing content, and sales conversationsbusiness-Customer Communication
are 30% to 50% less effective than they should be. The Customer Communications Index (CCI), which summarizes more than a decade of 3rd party research, bears this out:

  • Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
  • Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams

This substantial communications gap is caused by these five problems surrounding the way most companies go to market:

1)     Management by Volume

The primary metric by which Marketing is managed is the volume of content produced quarterly—how many pieces of collateral were created, campaigns run, sales tools produced, and training programs delivered. Marketing has little incentive to produce more effective content when effectiveness is not being measured and used as a management tool. In the volume-time-cost-effectiveness equation, effectiveness is a distant fourth. Volume management is the primary driver for why most content is very well written, but not very influential.

Solution: Benchmark your customer communications against the CCI. Then launch an improvement program and measure the results against the index and other KPIs quarterly.

2)     Poor Visibility into Cost

There are no line items in the P&L for ineffective customer communications costs. These items are hidden in the company’s business model in the form of higher discounting, lower win rates, and slower revenue and market share growth. They’re hidden in Sales’—field, inside, field marketing, sales operations—and channel partners’ budgets as the 15% to 20% of staff time spent trying to close the gap between what they need to effectively do their job, and what Marketing produces.

Solution: Gain visibility into the true cost of ineffective customer communications using these six quick analysis points.

3)     Persuasive Messaging Is Missing

Another cause of ineffective customer communications is that persuasive messaging, the most important style of messaging as measured by its ability to persuade the most people to engage and buy, is largely missing.

This problem exists because most companies do not:

Solution: Read the article 5 Easy Steps to Make Your Customer Communications 20 to 30% More Influential.

4)    Lack of Methodology and Skills

Knowing the messaging required for greater market success is necessary but not sufficient. You must also know “how to do it.” Historically, creating messaging was more art than science. The marketing profession did not have access to a repeatable methodology to define, create, and deploy highly persuasive messaging into the content and conversations used to engage customers. Many Executives are “shoulding” all over there marketing team by expecting them to know “how to do it”. It’s clearly not working.

We know the “how to do it” problem exists because, as the research above documents, little, if anything, changes. Year after year, companies continue to engage customers with mostly descriptive content and conversations.

Solution: View The Buyer’s Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Engage Customers with the Most Influential Communications.

5)     Perceived Shortage of Time and Resources

This Top 5 list would not be complete without discussing this fundamental organizational challenge. Most marketing professionals know that much of their marketing content is not effective and they would like to improve it. What’s holding them back is the perception that they lack the time and resources to do better.

Solution: More effective prioritization. Calculating the cost of ineffective customer communications will help build a strong business case for creating less, but more effective, content. And, as the organization builds persuasive messaging skills, the volume of influential content will increase as well.

 

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By Michael Cannon

Over 5% of your company’s annual revenue – that’s the cost burden you incur for ineffective customer communications.

Proof that most of your customer communications (marketing content and
sales conversations)Money are probably ineffective can be seen in over a decade of research
, which is summarized into the following Customer Communications Effectiveness Index:

  • Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
  • Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams

Just for a moment, consider these data points and the cost burden they place on your P&L. Even if your organization is 10% to 20% better than the average, the cost is still too high, and avoidable.

Use the following analysis points to help quantify your true cost:

Marketing and Sales Costs

  1. Cost to create and distribute ineffective marketing content. Marketing content includes collateral, demand-generation campaigns, sales tools, and sales support training provided by Marketing. Survey your customers and ask them what percentage of the marketing content was useful in helping them with their buying decision. Survey your sales team and ask them what percentage of the marketing content is useful in helping them create and win opportunities. Multiply the blended percentage that was not useful by the total dollars spent to create the content, including full-load salaries of employees, and external vendors such as agencies and media buys.
  2. Cost of content created by Sales (Direct/Indirect). Survey your sales team and ask them what percentage of their time they spend recreating/creating messaging/content because they do not have what they need. Multiply the percentage of time spent creating content by the sales team’s full-load salaries. What incremental revenue could be generated if 50% of this content creation time was instead spent with customers?

Lost Revenue Costs

  1. Deals lost to competitors. In the last 12 months, what percentage of the qualified opportunities was lost to competitors? What is the total amount of lost revenue?
  2. Discounts to win/retain accounts. In the last 12 months, what was the total dollar amount of the lost revenue “given” or discounted to close and/or keep the business?
  3. Deals lost to “no decision.” In the last 12 months, what percentage of the qualified opportunities was lost to the “do-nothing decision,” meaning the prospect elected to stay with the status quo? What is the total amount of revenue lost?
  4. Underperforming new-product launches. In the last 3 years, what percentage of the new-product launches missed first full-year projections by 25% or more? What was the total dollar amount of the lost revenue?

You probably don’t even need to calculate and total these numbers to know that the cost burden on your P&L is too high.

Depending on the effectiveness of your messaging and the quality of the implementation into content and conversations, you can reduce these costs by 10 to 20%.

For example, when Agilent Technologies targeted “deals lost to the competition,” here is what they accomplished:

“Our win rate increased by 30% and the time we spend supporting the field was reduced by around 50%, for the product family I support.”

Nigel Mott, Product Sales Manager
Agilent Technologies

Typically, you can reduce these cost burdens for less than 10% of your total costs and use the other 90% to improve margins and profits. And, you can easily run a small test pilot to validate your projected cost savings.

Want help benchmarking your customer communications, doing a cost analysis, or running a pilot program? We are here to help you. Contact Us Now.

 

What other people viewed after this post was:

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By Michael Cannon

When you peel the onion back on why your marketing team is failing you,Failure
what you find is that the issues are focused primarily on four categories of marketing content:

  1. Customer-facing collateral (company website, brochures, videos, etc.)
  2. Demand generation (advertising, events, etc.)
  3. Internal-facing sales tools (competitive analysis, sales opportunity overviews, etc.)
  4. Sales support training (product, competitive, sales enablement, etc.)

When you peel down to another layer, what you see is that it’s rarely the content that’s the problem but rather the messaging in the content — or more specifically, the lack of effective messaging. The messaging is focused mostly on what your product does and includes, and how it works, instead of being focused on why your product is the best way to help your customers achieve their business objectives. It’s primarily descriptive messaging, and not persuasive messaging.

The result is content that is well written/produced, descriptive and not effective.

Proof that most customer communication (content and sales conversations) is probably ineffective can be seen in over a decade of research and is summarized in the following Customer Communication Effectiveness Index:

  • Less than 50% of your marketing and sales communications are relevant to your customers
  • Less than 30% of your marketing content is relevant to your customer-facing teams

Just for a moment, consider these data points and the cost burden they place on your P&L. Even if your organization is 10% to 20% better than the average, the cost is still too high, and avoidable.

Top 10 Reasons Why Marketing Is Failing

When you peel the onion back yet another layer and ask, ”Why is it that most of the messaging in Marketing’s content is not relevant or useful?”, the following items emerge:

  1. Poor visibility into the true cost of ineffective customer communication
  2. Lack of clear differentiation among messaging, content, and conversations
  3. Inaccurate model of the categories, styles, and types of messaging required for market success
  4. Misguided priority setting
  5. Erroneous business model for allocating sales and marketing resources
  6. Ineffective new-product development process or commercialization process
  7. Lack of method and skills to create persuasive messaging
  8. Poor alignment around the definition, rating, hand-off, follow-up, and reporting of leads
  9. Limited sales experience
  10. Lack of a formal feedback loop from Sales, a.k.a. content usage and rating system, to understand what is working, what is not, and “why?”

An additional reason is that executive leadership manages Marketing primarily on the quantity of content produced rather than the effectiveness of the content.

For a description of the first nine reasons and their solutions, read “9 Strategies to Increase Marketing Effectiveness.”

A sales portal with basic content-management functionality resolves reason #10.

What do you think is the best way to change how executive leadership manages the marketing function?

What’s on your top 10 list?


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 By Michael Cannon

The truth is that prospects do not give much credibility to
what 
youCommunicate Crediblity say about your company and its products and services. Your communications are mostly perceived as claims.

Given this reality, in what way can you communicate your competitive advantages so that prospects are more likely to believe you?

Yes, customer stories, testimonials and case studies (written, audio, and video) are the most credible and most powerful tool to influence the buyer’s decision…but only if they’re done right.

The Problem with Most Customer Stories

You know your customer stories are not very credible and influential when they are written from the perspective of the company and product, i.e., “Look what we did.” You can tell your stories are self-centric when they use a lot of pronouns such as “we,” “our,” your company name, and your product name. These words indicate that you have made your company and product the hero of the story. This story style reduces your credibility and your influence on the buyer’s decision.

Secret to the Most Influential Customer Stories

To make your customer stories highly credible and influential, they must be written from the perspective of the customer, i.e., “Look what I did.” You can tell your stories are customer-centric when they use a lot of pronouns such as “I,” “we,” “us,” and “our.” These words indicate that you have made the customer the hero of the story. This story style increases your credibility and your influence on the buyer’s decision.

Your customer stories must also highlight how your customer was able to solve his/her business issues using your key competitive advantages. When you communicate your key differentiation points with the customer as the hero of the story, it enables prospects to more easily visualize themselves using your company/product as a tool to become a hero in their company.

Once you have created customer-centric hero stories, liberally distribute them across your website, in your collateral, sales tools, and demand-generation programs. It will make all these customer communication tools more effective.

See examples of customer stories that apply this principle of persuasive communication:

Success Stories

Quotes

Call to Action

Take a look at one or two of your customer stories and determine “who is the hero of the story?” If it’s your company and/or product, then you know what you need to do. Customer stories are the most credible and most powerful tool to influence the buyer’s decision — but only if they’re done right.


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By Michael Cannon

In a prior post, we reviewed “The Easiest Way to Get Customer Testimonials and Case Studies.”Influence
Now the focus is on how you can utilize persuasive messaging as a tool (outline) for making your customer stories much more influential.

Let’s say you have business-creation messaging to enable the early phases of the buyer’s journey, a.k.a. the Technology Adaption Life Cycle (TALC). If the top three reasons to change from status quo are: 1) Reduce Operational Costs, 2) Improve Service Levels, and 3) Reduce IT Complexity, then you want your customer stories to be in alignment with these top three reasons and the supporting data.

The same goes for order-creation (competitive) messaging. If the top three reasons to buy the solution from your company instead of the competition are: 1) Lowest Operating Cost, 2) Highest Service Levels, and 3) Lowest Risk, then your customer stories must also be in alignment with these positions.

This may seem like a “duh,” and it is, but many customer testimonials and case studies do not make this alignment obvious, if it’s there at all.

Not deploying persuasive messaging into your customer stories causes them to be interesting, but not influential. View these persuasive messaging examples (requires registration) and see how they are organized into highly influential customer story outlines.

ACTION ITEM: Pull out one of your customer stories and review it now. Does it clearly support one or more of your top three reasons for a customer to change from status quo and/ or choose your product or service? If not, commit to updating that story with the ideas above. Customer testimonials and case studies are the most effective sales tools you can create, but only if done right.


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By Michael Cannon

 

Two TrendsTrend One: Content Selling

B2B content marketing today is focused primarily on lead generation and is used mostly by Marketing to drive the early stages of the buyer’s journey, i.e., awareness, consideration, and preference.

In the future, content will be focused mostly on customer/revenue development. It will be deliberately used by Marketing and Sales to support all stages of the buyer’s journey.

This trend is a predictable response to the three big market drivers:

  1. The internet enables buyers to do a lot more of their buying without talking to a person.
  2. New internet communication channels, such as interactive blogs, social media, YouTube, etc., accelerate trend #1.
  3. Web-enabled software, such as marketing/sales automation and big data analytics, also accelerate trend #1.

These drivers enable Marketing to a) see much further into the buyer’s journey, b) create content that more effectively supports more/all of the buyer’s journey, and c) do more/all of the selling. They enable the trend to Content Selling.

You can see the trend playing out now. Low cost/consideration products have already moved to the online ecommerce channel. And, each year it creeps up into higher cost/consideration products as the selling function moves from outside sales, to inside sales, to online sales.

Embracing Content Selling is how the marketing profession becomes much more relevant to revenue, customers, and the direct/indirect sales teams.

It’s why I think Marketing is poised to become the King of Revenue.

To learn more about supporting the buyer’s journey, read this article: The #1 Way to Enable Greater Market Success: Messaging Breakthrough Accelerates Each Phase of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle.

Trend Two: Messaging-Enabled Content

I say “poised” because there is one big barrier in the transition to Content Selling: It’s the painful fact, borne out by over a decade of 3rd-party market research, that less than 50% of our marketing content is neither relevant nor useful to our prospective customers.

This number is just too high. It must be driven down in order to improve the ROI of content marketing and to enable the shift to Content Selling.

Making our content more relevant and useful requires that content be developed from its persuasive messaging components. For example, the two biggest buyer journey decision points are 1) the decision to change from the status quo, which requires “Why Change?” Messaging, and 2) the decision to select a particular vendor, which requires “Why You?” Messaging.

Creating persuasive messaging as a separate deliverable and then deploying it into all your go-to-market content (collateral, demand generation, sales tools, and sales support training) is the core of messaging-enabled content. It’s what is required for Marketing to accelerate each stage in the buyer’s journey and the transition to Content Selling.

It’s how Marketing becomes the King of Revenue.

To learn more about how to create messaging-enabled content, read this article: 5 Easy Steps to Make Your Customer Communications 30 to 50% More Influential.

Thoughts? What trends do you see?

 


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By Michael Cannon

The main reason it is so difficult to get customer quotes is that a company
is usually tryingHappy Face  to get the quotes when it needs them, not when the customer needs something from the company.

The easiest way to get testimonials and case studies is to ask for them when the customer is negotiating for something they want, like a bigger discount or other concessions as a part of the buying process.

If you’re providing sales support, try this approach: “I’ve got approval to give you X (an extra 3% discount) if you can get the customer to agree to provide us with Y (testimonial/case study), sometime in the next 60 days.”

If you’re talking to the prospective customer, try this approach: “If I could get you X (an extra 3% discount), would you agree to provide us with Y (testimonial/case study), sometime in the next 60 days?”

Make it clear that they will have final approval over the content, that you will write the quotes for them to select from and edit, or that you will interview the key contributors and write the case study for them to review and edit.

It’s not a lot of work for the customer, costs them nothing to give, and they get what they want. It’s an easy yes.


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By Michael Cannon

This may seem self-evident, yet a lot of customer communicationsComparision
(content and conversations) are not comparative.

When you are developing communications to influence people to change from the status quo — i.e., the goal is opportunity creation — it’s not about the value of your solution. It’s about the value difference between your solution and the customer’s current solution.

On the other hand, when you’re developing communications to influence people to buy your solution rather than the competition’s — i.e., the goal is order creation — it’s not about the value of your solution either. It’s about the value difference between your solution and the competitors’ solutions.

The comparison point is completely different depending on the goal of the communications.

The operating principle is that if buyers understand how you help them solve their problems or reach their objectives meaningfully better than their current solution and/or meaningfully better than the competition, then you have a higher probability of getting them to agree to change and to select your solution.

ACTION ITEM: Grab one of your customer-facing pieces of content. Determine what action you want the reader to take, i.e., “What is the goal?” per the concepts above. Then review the content to see if it’s making the right comparison. If not, now you know what to do.

For assistance, read:
5 Easy Steps to Make Your Customer Communications 30 to 50% More Influential

 


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