Adrian McDermottAdrian McDermott November 8, 2012

How important are cross-channel solutions for B2B?

There is no question that cross-channel marketing is essential to make the most of social media and mobile to reach and touch consumers. But how important is it for B2B markets? Depending on the sector, somewhere between important and very important, I would say:

  1. Web 2.0 technologies are becoming more widely used. They make difficult communication problems (group functionality, interactivity, mixing media, live content) easy. The technologies are as applicable in the enterprise arena as in the consumer space.
  2. The scale of online transactions. In the US, in 2011, the value of B2B transactions was almost twice that of B2C transactions reported in the 2010 census. (US government data quoted by Oracle, B2B Cross-Channel Commerce; Complexity, consumerization, and change).
  3. Buyers like to be in control. People are used to the efficiency of the online purchases process, where product selections and related reading content, including third party recommendations or referrals, dynamically present themselves depending on menu selections. Static presentation via catalogs and static pages of content that are all from the vendor are likely to become more irritating as they take more time and often do not answer the question in the buyer’s mind.
  4. The growth of social tools in the B2B space, from the widely adopted (blogs, webinars, customer forums, Twitter) to the up-and-coming (customer communities, innovation platforms, crowdsourcing solutions) means companies have to adapt to customers’ preferred style of interaction.
  5. Social media solutions can bring greater stakeholder participation, for example in innovation, support and market research, and thereby increasing involvement, satisfaction and product and marketing innovation.

The problem is complexity: sales may require several steps and buyers, and international markets add the complication of currency, language and culture. There is also the question of confusing customers or employees by multiplying channels. The opposite problem is depriving customers and staff of channels of communication that fit personal preference or communication needs.

The cost-benefit ratio of more channels vs. more communication also depends a lot on your (current or planned) cross-channel management software. Perhaps asking a few questions about that is a good place to start when assessing how many channels to get involved in.

Adrian McDermottAdrian McDermott October 30, 2012

What is marketing automation software?

Why marketers need more automation

Marketing has never been more central to business success. As globalisation and the software revolution drive commoditization and price pressure ever faster, the Web gives customers more independence, choice and information than ever, too. That creates huge pressure on marketers to get it right, fast. Marketing is more complex than it has ever been, as with the web, social media, email and mobile there are a growing number of new channels

But how about seeing it as opportunity rather than pressure? As inbound marketing has risen in prominence, customers are attracted by companies that pay them the right kind of attention and offer them what they really want. That means businesses no longer having to compete by spending the most money on advertising and PR, but really working harder and smarter.

By smarter I mean thinking more intelligently about the customer, and using smarter tools to manage the marketing complexity and get and use the best data. Software is essential to help develop, analyse and manage campaigns, and segment and nurture leads. So what exactly is offered and what does it all do? Many of these tools are familiar, some are just maturing, so this seems like a good time to summarise them.

The 4 main functions of marketing automation

  1. Demand generation software helps companies create attention through search-related ads and SEO, finding and tracking keywords, tracking responses and finding and diagnosing poor performance.
  2. Marketing intelligence software tracks behaviour of prospects through social media, web pages and email to try to segment them and attract a response (call to action).
  3. Marketing automation moves leads through the marketing funnel, normally from a landing page, to nurturing in order to trigger actions from marketing staff and, depending on lead scoring, sales staff. Emails and related content (e.g. e-newsletters) are integrated into the sales process.
  4. Workflow automation: Budgeting of campaigns, workflow and co-ordination of sales and marketing staff, data-sharing, content creation, scheduling and targeting. This is a particular strength of most of the enterprise cross-channel marketing software vendors.

Because of the level of integration, it is hard to split up products into separate boxes. Each activity in each phase of a campaign uses workflow integration, is generally dependent on actions by leads, triggers responses, and produces data that feeds back into the process. So, for example, blog management software can integrate with SEO by selecting keywords automatically, can track responses, feed into the social media analytics to assess effect on reputation scoring and much else – and the blog itself can be part of both lead generation and lead nurturing.

What tools are included?

The following activities are co-ordinated, integrated and can be assisted or even automated

  • SEO
  • online advertising (including social media and mobile)
  • web analytics
  • social media monitoring
  • blog management
  • crowdsourcing
  • customer community management
  • landing page management
  • email management
  • lead scoring
  • lead nurturing
  • lead management
  • customer decisioning

Cross-Channel Campaign Management

These products put many of these tools together. They are strong on co-ordination and analytics. Software offerings help to plan and co-ordinate campaigns using the various channels, offering:

  1. Campaign design and execution
  2. Interaction management
  3. Analytics and reporting

Well known names include SAS, IBM, Oracle (Siebel), Alterian and many others, but there are many niche companies. According to Forrester Waves In Cross-Channel Campaign Management 2010, social media and mobile analytics and activities are weak spots in all of the big name offerings, suggesting plenty of opportunity for niche companies.

Social media

Blogs and social media platforms generate web content fast, are much read and shared, and have SEO advantages, and some smaller cross-channel vendors are particularly expert in this as they started as social media marketing rather than enterprise software companies.

Blogs: Blogs are a kind of a hub product because they combine social features, SEO advantages, and content; and also because they are less formal than articles but may be just as informative. The generally accepted statistic is that companies that blog regularly attract 50% more leads. Software can help with SEO, link to campaigns and measure response.

Social media monitoring / management tools: These monitor what is happening in the social media sites and blogs and can measure reputation – either as a general background activity to suggest opportunities or alert to problems – or as part of a campaign where they can measure effectiveness or trigger actions (interactions, advertising, targeted social media activities).

Customer community management: You might normally think of B2C markets exclusively when the terms “community” or “social marketing” are used, but the underlying dynamics of consumer-centered tools adapt themselves well to enterprise software, allowing stakeholders, from customers to the entire supply chain, to pool ideas and knowledge. This can dramatically ease support issues, reduce product development time and improve customer-centricity of product management and marketing planning.

Crowdsourcing: Taking the notion of community management and innovation into the wider world, crowdsourcing is a clever way to do market research, pool ideas and drive innovation, and at the same time generate demand and involvement through participation. As with customer community management, the challenge for companies is that such tools break across conventional boundaries between PR, market research, product management and marketing, so are hard to fit into existing staff roles. Much of the challenge is how to structure and measure the marketing functions rather than how to use this tool!

This is now an interesting time for marketing software. The ideal in marketing is to be able to begin a conversation with each prospect as an individual, and maintain it on this basis throughout the series of customer transactions that follow. In a mass-marketing model that idea was so idealized as to be largely useless, but today’s campaign and social media software allow businesses actually to try to put it into action. With the growing prominence of the social and mobile web, the landscape is changing fast, so there will be plenty of new players, and there is still plenty of room for existing products to improve, as Big Data, social media and personalization come of age.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller July 2, 2012

How to present your company better by talking about something else

This year, I have had a lot of experience seeing presenters try to capture audience attention and get their message across to decision makers.  At IT events I have been hosting, I matched presenters to a selective group of decision makers from large companies and government organizations. I saw some very good speakers, but a surprising number of ineffective ones.

Talking about yourself again?

It is now widely recognized that you, your products and your competitors are not the main thing that the audience most wants to hear about. But in practice, most of us feel exceptional enough to get away with it. It just does not work, and I saw speakers again and again lose the audience’s attention and fail to get the message across.

So how to combine your presentation with effective product marketing?

  1. You come last. Intro what you do in 1-2 slides at the end of your presentation and not at the beginning where everyone would do it. The reason? The attention rate is highest at the beginning and you do not want to bore the audience there and lose their attention to your key messages. At the end it is second highest, so still a good spot. If you have held their interest till now, they will naturally want to know more about you.
  2. Let your customers speak. Show what solutions and benefits you have brought by letting customers do the talk (if no customer wants to do that, at least use quotes or a video, but be aware that they must be authentic)
  3. Drama building. Explain what key issues exist, what is being done or not being done right now to address them and what can be done differently. Classic drama building.
  4. Interact. How about letting the audience decide what you want to talk about? Sounds unrealistic? Not at all. One approach we have seen from a participating vendor at an event we did was to use a presentation just as a guideline and collect 10 questions that the audience wanted to be answered upfront. Needless to say this presenter, despite still talking only about his company, got one of the best scores from the audience in the follow-up online survey. A few smelled the trick and said this was “impudent”, though, so don’t try to manipulate the audience. While you might make it work for a majority you will lose some attendees forever.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller April 9, 2012

China goes high-tech

If you have been read this blog over the last few years you will have noticed that every so often there is an article about China winning in high-tech. The trigger for this post is the news that the German solar cell manufacturer Q-Cell announced chapter 11. The German newspaper FAZ showed this infographic that is very typical in other high-tech industries as well. Note how little time it takes to go from being a leader to  a minor market player. Your industry might be next.

I have a special relationship to China because I lived and worked in Shanghai and Hong Kong for a few years when Hong Kong was still British. Also, in each of the 10 years and more since then I have been to China for business development assignments.

Now over the last 2-3 years things have changed for more and more clients, as China has shifted from being a country with unlimited growth potential to their number one competitor. And my attitude to China has also shifted from being enthusiastic 10 years ago (I even learned some Mandarin), to somewhere you can do some business (albeit never very profitable and entailing very hard negotiations) to facing a competitor who is out to kill you and will use both legal and illegal business practices to do so.

I heard that China has taken on about 50 industries where they want to become the dominant force. In order to get there fast, copyright infringement is the way to go, which companies like Cisco ( with Huawei stealing their IOS and copying routers 1:1) or Ericsson (an Ericsson BCS looked identical to that of Huawei) have experienced first-hand. If I tell people that you always lose against the Chinese, it’s just a matter of how much, they are mostly puzzled and do not seem to understand. Going through the three stages mentioned happened over 15 years. Most people enthusiastically doing business with China these days are still in stage 1, but I am convinced that they will go through the same experience over time. So I have been thinking how best to warn people, and came up with this list:

  • don’t shift technology know-how to China even if Chinese partners demand it and make business dependent on it
  • if this is demanded, forget it and manufacture elsewhere in Asia; cost-wise there is no need to be in China any longer
  • increase your intellectual property security mechanisms, and make sure there is no single point where all info is stored and can be accessed; encrypt all data, and enforce security policies like a bank
  • in order to stay competitive you must keep innovating; while this is sort of a no-brainer in high-tech it is even more so critical if Chinese companies start copying you
  • make product marketing and product management one of your key strengths
  • do not underestimate Chinese competitors but study them the same way you study other competitors: always assume that they will soon be able to deliver the same quality products as you but for much less
  • in case a Chinese partner demands something unusual and not acceptable to you, walk out. One way that Chinese companies typically win in negotiations is knowing that Western managers have just a few more months of reporting cycles before they are under pressure to show results: turning this around to put the pressure on the Chinese partner requires an open-ended long term (years) approach on your side. If you don’t have that, do not even start negotiating
  • try over the years to bridge the intercultural gap: the new generations in China are changing also their attitudes becoming more westernized. It helps if you learn at least some Mandarin, BUT don’t try to do business with it, you do not want to have another disadvantage
  • build your strategy not on China alone but have at least one or two other regions where you develop business so that you can shift focus in case it is needed

Ralf HallerRalf Haller January 12, 2012

How B2B marketing works

So what makes B2B marketing different than the better-known consumer and retail marketing, as taught in all marketing classes? To give the answer right away: it is all about the Door Opener, problem-based marketing, to identify what problems customers have, make them aware of it and then provide proof that you have the best solution to solve it. B2B marketing gives answers to the question “Why do I need it?”, whereas consumer and retail marketing addresses the question “Which one should I buy?”.

Why is it that there is such a fundamental difference between B2B and B2C marketing?

In order to answer this one has to look into the history of marketing. During the years of the industrial revolution many new mass products were created.  These new products were unknown, so marketing at that time had to first explain what it is and why one would need it. This is the same as today’s B2B marketing. Then over time these consumer products were well-known and there was no point in explaining what a fridge or oven or whatever was, and why it is good to have one; people knew that. So marketing shifted away from explaining and moved to differentiation and associating the product with an image such as good feelings or celebrities using it. The age of brand marketing started where people bought brands and less so new – unknown – products.

Marketing literally forgot about problem-based marketing as it was not needed. For B2B marketers this is not the case, since there you need to identify and explain the problem/pain first. Often the customers do not even recognize it since they have workarounds, just as people bought ice, and had cool cellars or even ice houses before the refrigerator arrived. Only once you tell them convincingly that there is a problem and that your solution will provide benefits will they be receptive. Consumer marketing would not – I hope – convince a CIO to use a new software across its organization.

Of course companies still try to do that and are surprised when the targets protect themselves from vendors’ pleasantries and approaches. To get decision makers to events you need to address issues, problems that they might also face and then offer solutions. In my experience, the more concretely that is done the better. It then also does not really matter if you have 600 people attending or “only” 60. If among the 600 you have everybody and their son then I highly prefer the 60-people event with very interested people who come to find solutions for current problems they face. So in short its about the quality and not the quantity. Some samples from ads in 1930 I collected below. One ad explains that a fridge allows you to make ice cheaper and more conveniently, another one uses a better can opening mechanism as a differentiator for beer, and one ad for a public rural telephone device says it is easy to use for – even – fruit growers. Back during those times every marketer was a B2B marketer.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller January 11, 2012

What’s the difference between B2B and consumer/retail marketing ?

Had an interesting meeting yesterday with an equally interesting startup in Switzerland talking also about why it is hard to find good B2B marketers in Europe and if that is maybe the reason also why there are so few good IT startups to be found here.

Reading the book “Selling to the C-Suite” from Nicholas Read and Stephen Bistritz right now, I also came across this exact issue where they write the following interesting lines:

So it’s really not surprising that when we ask marketing directors in B2B organizations to explain their marketing mix, we learn that they are technically proficient at segmentation, database scrubbing, and targeting, as well as in using multichannel print, online, and digital media strategy. The names in the database are usually the right business contacts. And if their performance indicators are to release X number of press releases to analysts and journalists per year, run Y number of conferences and events to achieve minimum attendance goal, and pull Z number of leads from these conferences and trade shows, then most B2B marketing managers end their year feeling that they’ve done a pretty good job. And if they’re working in consumer retail companies, they’d be right. But not if they’re working in B2B. Most people don’t give this much thought because all through their career, marketing leads have been so-so, and they probably think that’s just how it goes. …

And to cut them some slack, how could they ever have been taught it when all the marketing theory taught in today’s schools is based on the household consumer goods model, which dropped the concept of problem-based marketing half a century ago?

So what is good B2B marketing is what needs to be answered next. Stay tuned….

Ralf HallerRalf Haller

Security remains a hot topic

Today I saw a new way of tricking people into opening an email attachment. An email from American Airlines (supposedly) confirming a flight that I (supposedly) had booked in the US was sent to me. Strange thing only that I did not book that flight at all. Obviously someone tried to trick me into opening a zip file attachment.

It is the Ticket_AA.exe that would be the problem if I had opened it. I wonder how many people got this email and what the percentage of people is that actually opens the attachment.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller December 9, 2011

“BIG Data” to collect BIG bugs

Yesterday IBM announced the acquisition of DemandTec for $440 million. The company has hundreds of customers such as in retail and government helping them analyze and derive conclusions from massive amounts of company-collected data.

“Big data”  as the name suggests has to do with masses of data collected from just about everywhere. We are talking terabytes and more of data collected from all kinds of sources such as information-sensing mobile devices, aerial sensory technologies, cameras, microphones, RFID readers, wireless sensor networks, social media, buying patterns and so on. The fact that 90% of the data in the world today was created within the past two years makes this an even bigger challenge as it is a constantly moving target. Currently used relational databases and desktop statistics/visualization packages cannot deal with this unstructured data, requiring instead massively parallel software running on large computers, and often grids of dozens, hundreds or even more of servers.

Its not surprising that Google has been into this for quite a while since their search algorithm is doing exactly what big data is all about: collecting massive amounts of data and making decisions (search) based on analyzing it. Google is offering access to computing power even to enterprises now with its service BigQuery. More also in this Google blog.  Google was also there right at the beginning with its framework MapReduce that was then used in projects by others such as Yahoo, leading to Hadoop, a story on this you find here.

Data collected are e.g. from web logs; RFID sensor networks; social networks; social data, Internet text and documents; Internet search indexing; call detail records; astronomy, atmospheric science, genomics, biogeochemical, biological, and other complex and/or interdisciplinary scientific research; military surveillance; medical records; photography archives; video archives; and large-scale eCommerce.

As IBM states: Big data spans three dimensions: Variety, Velocity and Volume.

A McKinsey report on Big Data mentions e.g. these points:

  • The use of big data will underpin new waves of productivity growth and consumer surplus. For example, we estimate that a retailer using big data to the full has the potential to increase its operating margin by more than 60 percent.
  • The computer and electronic products and information sectors, as well as finance and insurance, and government are poised to gain substantially from the use of big data.
  • Policies related to privacy, security, intellectual property, and even liability will need to be addressed in a big data world.

Ralf HallerRalf Haller October 11, 2011

The Green Grid meets (in) Europe(ans)

Today I attended The Green Grid meeting in Paris at the Schneider Electric headquarters.

The Green Grid has made itself a name by being able to have three continents (US, Europe, Asia) agree on a clear definition on how to calculate the PUE (Power Usage Efficiency) metric. The PUE value inside a data center is the power ratio of the total power used by the whole facility divided by the power consumed by IT equipment. A PUE value of 1.3 means e.g. that 30% of the total power used is for cooling, power loss and other facility sources on top of the power used for IT (1.0). So the smaller the value, the more efficient the data center. Of course this value depends on when it is being measured. During a cold winter day it will be better than during a hot summer day assuming free cooling is being used. The Green Grid wants data centers to measure the value over a period of 12 months, which makes lots of sense.

Now PUE might not necessarily be the best value to use, although it is great as mentioned that a metric has been agreed on internationally. There are the following shortcomings:

  • PUE does not include information on availability, a more redundant data center would have naturally a higher PUE than a very low or not redundant data center
  • total utilization of a data center is also not reflected, a new big data center with few clients can have the most innovative green measures in place but still achieve a bad PUE
  • it is also very possible that measures reducing IT load such as consolidation of servers enabled with virtualization increase the PUE
  • while electrical energy is important to look at also water used, CO2 production, reuse of waste energy and other resource efficiencies are not reflected
  • an older data center will most likely have PUE values that will be higher than a new data center with latest innovative cooling systems used
Therefore new metrics taking resources and cases like the mentioned ones into account are needed. The Green Grid having achieved already a lot will take this on next as well.
Being an organization originating from the US they need to work hard to gain credibility in Europe, though. The US is not known as being energy efficient (US electricity use per capita is about double that of Europe). Additionally, the US government joins forces with China and India when it comes to slowing down CO2 reduction goals such as in Kyoto, and will certainly do so Durban this December. So it is not too surprising that they are quite under-represented in Germany, France and other European countries, while having good membership levels in the UK.
It will be interesting to see how The Green Grid can overcome this disadvantage.
As for me, I have been very impressed to see how they have been able to market the idea of energy efficient data centers and a metric (PUE) worldwide. Marketing is, as we know, a US domain and if it takes Americans to bring green data center metrics to the world then that is just fine IMHO. Final thought: if The Green Grid succeeds even more internationally they will also have a way to bring green thinking back home.