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Plug-ins: b-to-b marketing

Managing your data so that it works for you takes work — especially in the data-driven b-to-b marketing world, where success hinges on data clarity, data freshness and data relevance.

As Theresa Kushner, senior director of customer intelligence at Cisco Systems, points out in her column, data has a “use by” date. Collecting data but never getting around to using it is a waste of resources, time and money and will never help you reach your ultimate goal — building long-lasting relationships.

Messaging is also key, especially when it comes to email marketing, a channel that can carry serious costs if not implemented with forethought and care, notes Patrick Surry, global customer analytics solution owner at Pitney Bowes Software.

And where would a b-to-b marketer be without a successful branding strategy? Bryan Burdick, CCO at Bizo, shares his views on why, when it comes to business, ‘brand building’ is really just a synonym for ‘relationship building.’

Three steps for effective b-to-b branding:
Bryan Burdick, COO, Bizo

For any b-to-b marketer, branding is the ultimate opportunity to make your mark on the world, to influence prospects at every stage of the sales cycle and to maximize revenues by positioning the so-called ‘right’ product or service (i.e., your product or service) with the right target audience.

Here are three key ways that b-to-b marketers can leverage branding to optimize these objectives and improve the performance of their marketing efforts across the board:

1. Build strong relationships through strong brands. Everyone knows that, in general, b-to-b sales cycles are significantly longer than their b-to-c counterparts. In large part, the key objective during the “sales cycle dance” for both marketing and sales is to build a solid relationship between the company and the prospect. If this is done successfully, the relationship is ultimately consummated in the form of a signed agreement.

In short, your brand-building efforts are really relationship-building efforts. Thinking in these terms, ask yourself if your brand represents the kind of company that you would want to have a relationship with — and understand that whatever your answer is, your prospects probably feel the same way.

2. Never waste an impression. If your company sells industrial air conditioning units, would you sign your sales team up to exhibit at a pet food convention? And you wouldn’t dream of dropping a direct mail campaign targeted at elementary school teachers. Ridiculous, right? Instead, you would go to where your buyers are.

In today’s world, the same mantra can — and should — apply when laying out a branding strategy.

The first step, of course, is to understand the business demographics and other characteristics of your target audience. Do you want to target decision makers and/or the frontline workers who will actually use your product? Are there other key influencers who will affect the purchase decision for your service? Then, work with your vendors and technology partners to understand how to leverage today’s technology to ensure that your campaign is targeted directly at the audience or audiences you are working to influence. A relevant message to the right target audience leaves a lasting impression.

3. Retarget to the max. You should look both ways before you cross the street; you should never blow-dry your hair in the bathtub — and you should do as much retargeting as you can possibly afford.

On the off chance you’re not familiar with the concept, retargeting is the ability to deliver specific, highly relevant online ads to users who have visited your site or landing page, but did not convert.

When it comes to retargeting, context matters, so ideally you want to retarget your prospects in the right online environment. In other words, reinforcing your industrial HVAC brand on a parent-child gaming site is probably not the best use of retargeting.

Even if you don’t get an immediate conversion, retargeting enables you to nurture and build a relationship over time with a prequalified prospect. Numerous studies have demonstrated that retargeting is consistently the most effective and highest ROI element of virtually every strategic online marketing campaign.

In email marketing, it’s quality over quantity:
Patrick Surry, global customer analytics solution owner, Pitney Bowes Software

An email marketing strategy is not just about deploying the same content to a mass number of people on a daily basis. The average consumer already receives more than 3,000 advertising messages each day — truly an information overload. Customers want personalization, not only in the form of offers, but also in terms of the type, frequency and overall focus of messages.

While “free” emails, hastily crafted and rarely coordinated, may create a much needed, short-term boost for businesses, they often result in long-term setbacks. Customers can, at any time, choose to manually or mentally opt out by simply ignoring the messages in their inboxes. The business then loses a connection, and with it, an opportunity to nurture the customer relationship.

It’s not enough to concentrate on what might be of interest to a customer; marketers must suppress offers that may not be of interest. Here are four best practices to reduce opt-out rates:

1. Find the right targets. Each email should have reasonable potential to add business value. This means only contacting “persuadables,” as in customers who specifically buy or renew as a result of an effective and relevant email message.

2. Relevance is key. Today’s software solutions make true one-to-one marketing messaging possible. Personalized messages, in which the content is pertinent and appealing to the recipient, improve the odds of success.

3. Don’t over-communicate. How often is too often? Smart companies are empowering customers and prospects to self-govern communications at any point in the relationship by offering options in the types and the frequency of emails customers prefer to receive.

4. Monitor the results. Traditional campaign effectiveness assessments look at click rates and sales. Businesses instead should take a more holistic view that considers true impact on customer lifetime value, and the effect that opt-outs can have on that number.

Manage data to build lasting relationships:
Theresa Kushner, senior director of customer intelligence, Cisco Systems

The results of IBM‘s 2011 global CMO study were clear: “CMOs in the most successful enterprises are focusing on relationships, not just transactions.” They successfully do that by using data — big and small — to generate customer interest, guide experiences and engender loyalty.

1. Start with the individual. Knowing your customers means knowing more than their names. Recognize their purchase behaviors, their preferences and where they stand regarding your company. Capture consumer data with each transaction and take the time to identify which customers are most important to you, and build profiles to understand them better.

2. Connect data big and small. It can be tricky to identify individuals as they traverse the Web, but if you provide value to surfers, they will reward you with enough information to establish a relationship. Starting with an email address is equivalent to starting with a business card. Then, build your understanding of the customer by being aware of both online and offline activities.

3. Use it or lose it. Have a plan for each piece of information your customer provides, and always give something in return that enhances the customer’s experience or awareness of your company. This is a conversation, so respond via the same medium with the information given. If you collect phone a number, call. If you collect an email address with permission, send an email.

4. Engage the entire company. Departments other than marketing impact the customer experience, too. Don’t overlook your channel or distribution partners. Connecting them to your customer information enriches your understanding.

5. Make data quality a priority. Data, like milk, has a “use by” date and customer information on average has a half-life of about two years. Titles, addresses and phone numbers will change, which means management of marketing data is a continuing process, not a discrete act.

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