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BMI: Tuesday Marketing Notes (Number 531—August 17th, 2016)



Five Things They Didn't Teach Your Marketing Team in College (And Why This May Be Killing Your Company's Sales)

by Eric Gagnon

According to a well-known study from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, only 37% of financial executives surveyed were satisfied with their company’s ability to measure the quantitative ROI of their company’s marketing programs.

No wonder recession-hammered companies have been slashing marketing budgets. After all, if they knew they could generate an additional return of, say, $2.50 for every $1.00 they spent on marketing, would the marketing budget be under pressure?

After years of studying business-to-business marketing practices, I can make this bold statement about the reason for unaccountable marketing programs: Most college-level marketing courses are irrelevant to the real marketing needs of B2B companies. Specifically, how to generate leads, convert prospects to paying customers, and open new opportunities in new markets.

Because college marketing courses tend to focus on the marketing theory, strategy, and brand-building techniques of consumer marketing, rare is the marketing staff who know—and can apply—B2B “tradecraft."

But the good news is that these tradecraft skills can be learned and practiced. More importantly, they can make a huge impact on your Marketing staff’s ability to contribute directly to sales growth. These five major principles give you a good place to start:

1. Marketing’s Most Important Job is to Generate Sales Leads

In the real world, the most important responsibility of B2B marketing professionals is to execute marketing programs that produce qualified sales leads—that is, potential prospects who respond to ads, mailings, online promotions, events, and other elements of your marketing program…and who become interested and motivated enough to engage with your company in some way. Measurable, productive sales lead generation—not burnishing a company’s “brand image,” or other attributes of the consumer marketplace mistakenly practiced by many in business marketing today—is the way professional business marketers earn their keep.

Rebuilding your marketing program to pay for itself in solid lead generation is possible, using inexpensive market-testing techniques and focused marketing deliverables (print ads, mailing pieces, online text ads and Web pages, etc.) that clearly present your product’s major problem-solving benefits and provide a compelling reason for the reader or viewer to contact you.

2. If Your Marketing Team Can’t Execute, You Don’t Have a Marketing Program

Colleges don’t teach business marketers the essential skills of marketing execution they need to do their jobs. Instead, marketers either learn these skills on the job or, worse yet, ignore this critical aspect of their work and fob it off to their ad agencies or marketing consultants.

In this lean economy, grand marketing strategists take a back seat to marketing staff who know how to do things. Tough times underscore the vital importance of timely, effective marketing execution, and the critical role it plays in helping you take advantage of every opportunity to sell your product.

Good execution means making sure your company’s marketing projects are completed on time to meet the selling opportunity. It means completing ads, mailings, web activity, content, events, and all other individual marketing activities on budget, without added cost due to delays and mistakes. It means reinforcing every opportunity to sell your product with a marketing process that gets your company and its offering in front of your audience when they’re ready to buy . . . or at least take note. And it means supporting specific sales opportunities (e.g., a big presentation to a major prospect) with effective materials and selling tools.

3. You’ll Never Know What Works Unless You Try (Test) It

In any new marketing program—especially efforts to launch new products, or programs that include new, untested copy, deliverables, or new media publication placements—some of the things you try will either fail or underperform. Out of ten efforts in a marketing program, three are likely to be outright failures, three will generate a solid return, and the rest will fall somewhere in the middle.

Marketing is as much an art as it is a science, and the only way you will know the impact of your investment is to test many different types of marketing activities . . . as my friend, the late Josh Stailey of The Pursuit Group once said: "The art of creation, followed by the science of tracking and analysis." Start on a small scale at low cost, then ramp up those activities that pay, kill the ones that don’t, and re-test the marginal ones with improvements to copy, prospect targeting, or other variables.

You can test marketing programs at low cost, using Google AdWords analytics, targeted landing pages, keyword search campaigns, small e-mail and direct mail tests, and fractional ads optimized to generate response.

No testing program is worthwhile if you can’t measure it, and this is why it’s important to emphasize strong call-to-action offers to induce readers and viewers to take a tangible, measurable step (e.g., contact your company, visit your Web site, download your white paper, etc.).

In short, measure everything, from tests to baseline marketing programs. Diligent measurement of marketing programs will not only optimize both response and conversion rates, but may also reduce marketing costs significantly. And with proven marketing “lift,” your budget will represent a direct correlation between marketing investment and sales growth.

4. Content is King, So Show What You (Your Company) Knows

Today, most prospects use search engines to gather information on products and services before they contact a potential vendor. And they may even make “short list” decisions before you ever hear from them. With that in mind, business buyers need to know not only the basics about your product/service, but how—in detail—your offering helps them solve specific business problems or technical issues. Based on the content you provide, they also make a subjective judgment as to how well your company can meet their needs.

Your marketing team can create ways to define and showcase your company’s unique expertise to help sell. Examples include white papers, case studies, applications briefs, software, books, articles, charts, etc. The form is less important than the quality and value of the content you are offering, and its relevance to the prospect’s problem or need.

Content development—an important component of both lead generation and prospect-to-customer conversion programs—also gives your marketing team another important new role as your company’s “story keepers:” Researching, discovering, finding, creating, and presenting the unique know-how, your “story” separates your company from all the rest, and makes the case that you are the best solution available.

5. Lead Conversion Makes Your Marketing Program Pay Off

For B2B companies with long, complex sales cycles, the critical marketing ROI results from an effective lead conversion program (also known as lead nurturing).

Lead conversion programs are a kind of “marketing program after the lead generation program,” aimed specifically at leads that—while qualified as genuine prospects‚aren’t ready to buy. Left to the sales force, which is out chasing hotter prospects, most wither and disappear. Lead conversion includes both specialized content (developed specifically to educate and persuade prospects who are not yet ready to buy), and a defined process for communicating and distributing this content over the full term of your company’s sales cycle. Done right, prospects receive content appropriate for each stage of their decision-making process. Content created for lead conversion is utilized both within these automated communications processes, and by your company’s sales reps as they interact with prospects.

Most companies I’ve observed want to transform their marketing programs from a costly expense into an investment in higher revenue and greater profitability. And most marketing teams I’ve observed can make that happen—if they learn how to apply the principles and skills of this effective marketing “tradecraft.” They may not have learned that in college, but they can now. They—and you—just need to get started.


Comments? Questions? Send them to me at:

Eric Gagnon (, a director with the Business Marketing Institute, is author of The Marketing Manager’s Handbook and The CRM Field Marketing Handbook.

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