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Numbers Can Lie

Did you ever play “Telephone” when you were little?  Remember what happened to that whispered message passed through 10 kids and how easily “Strawberry Jam” turned into “I am a banana”? It was funny then.

Research findings, passed via content marketing and social media are a lot like “Telephone” because once a number is repeated often enough, small changes in the interpretation can create a very different story. Even worse, every time something is repeated, it takes on a greater authority – even if it’s questionable to begin with.

Here is a finding from the CEB, MLC Customer Purchase Research Survey, 2011 which is quoted extensively by subject matter experts and in other reports including “The Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing” among others.

It states that:

On average, customers progress nearly 60% of the way through the purchase decision- making process before engaging a sales rep.

This finding – fine tuned in an included chart in the report to show that almost 60 is actually 57% has surfaced, over and over and over in countless discussions and B2B studies. An additional comment about the response distribution indicates an upper limit of 70% so that number shows up quite frequently as well.

  • 57% being close to 60% is frequently represented as two thirds- once it hits 2/3’s  well, that’s  “almost 70%”
  • 70% – well that’s pretty darned close to three quarters, which is almost 80%

I’ve seen all of these numbers passed on as absolute fact.  I’ve also seen it written as 2/3-3/4  of companies have made the decision before calling in the vendor. (Just a little slant on the interpretation – It’s a “Telephone” thing)

But even the original number isn’t telling the whole truth.

In a direct quote from the Digital Evolution in B2B Marketing, about how this number came to be it states:

” To understand the scope of this issue in the B2B context, CEB’s Marketing Leadership Council (MLC) surveyed more than 1,500 customer contacts (decision makers and influencers in a recent major business purchase) for 22 large B2B organizations (spanning all major NAICS categories and 10 industries)….”

1500 contacts involved in a recent major business purchase sounds pretty impressive, but 22 companies?   What that means is the “recent major business purchase” involved an average of 68 decision makers and influencers. (1500/22=68.18)  A distribution chart in the original report clarifies that yes, indeed we are talking about only 22 companies, or a total of 22 purchases.

For 22 major purchases, each involving an average of 68 decision makers and influencers (and I’ll stick my neck out here to also suggest literally millions of dollars) the customers delayed engaging with sales reps until they were 57% through the process. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the first 50% of the process was about figuring out what each of the obviously many involved departments required- not to mention whose budget would be taking the hit. It’s hardly what I would describe as a “striking finding” – more like a bit of a snore. But look at the fuss that number has caused.

So, for most the the B2B vendors out there who are wondering what to do with your apparently antiquated sales team, may I suggest – “Turn them loose.”

Think of it like this – Does 68 decision makers and millions of dollars look like a representative B2B sale?

More to the point – does it look like one of yours?

Step Away From That Spam Button!

Just looking over an article at b2bonline and finally I have crossed the line –


 ” I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

 OK. What did it this time?  The report is about a study that says something that anyone who has ever sent a marketing email to businesses or consumers is brutally aware of – that legitimate marketing emails are routinely marked as SPAM by contacts who are simply too lazy to bother to unsubscribe or either unaware or unconcerned with how a “spam”label affects the senders.  Or even worse – they might be people who have gone to some sites on spam like Spam Abuse and been told – point blank – not to bother with removal requests.

 The “Email Intelligence Report” conducted by Return Path, found that 70% of emails given the dreaded “This is Spam” were legitimate emails meaning the sender had the necessary permission to send them.  But that permission makes no difference when businesses get their email accounts suspended or get blacklisted for crossing what is actually a very small % of allowable spam complaints – about 1 in 1000 emails.

 Sure, the regulations were put in place to protect consumers and businesses from irritating, unwanted and often fraudulent email senders – true spammers – the kind who scrape lists and routinely blast out hundreds of thousands of unwanted messages.  But wait a minute Mrs and Mrs “let’s protect the public”regulators.  The REAL spammers DON’T CARE.


 I know how frustrating it is to get a ton of junk mail, but I also know how difficult it can be when legitimate business emails get labeled as spam. And so, since labelling a message as spam doesn’t do anything to hurt the worst offenders, I believe that the only reasonable option is to REMOVE the option to label a message as spam and replace it with an unsubscribe request.

Unfortunately, politically, this would be about as popular as health care, increased taxes or more deadly boring coverage of fiscal cliff, so I think that at this time, the only thing you can really do about it is to become a loud and annoying person whenever you hear friends, family, relatives, business associates and perhaps even total strangers talk about how they identify emails as spam and let them know that they’re being IDIOTS!



Are You Throwing Your Web Leads Away?

Knowing how hard it can be to generate a steady (or even unsteady) stream of business leads and reading about how many companies are looking for ways to drive more leads, I’m still shocked from a study we ran recently at Boxpilot.

We were curious about how long it takes an average small business to respond to an information request.  Our sample was skewed to smaller companies who we suspected, didn’t have a large call center or a sophisticated marketing automation program backing up their internet presence.

We already know how well the most advanced marketers can manage their potential leads. But there’s a universe of smaller businesses out there without the manpower or the systems (or the budget) to keep up with the latest standards. So, the question we posed to ourselves was “How long will it take them to answer our information requests?” and those requests, I might add, also included requests for product quotes.

You’ve probably heard about studies showing that in terms of making contact with web leads you need to strike while the iron is still very hot indeed, with the chances of making contact falling way off within less than a few hours.  Sadly, the businesses we checked into didn’t reach that standard. In fact, only 5% of them responded (by phone or email) on the same business day.  One fifth of the companies followed up our information requests within 2-5 business days. Another 15% got back to us the following week.

Here’s the killer.  Over half – 55% to be exact- of the businesses we asked for information about their product or service never got back to us, at all. We heard nothing, nadda, zilch. What a brilliant strategy if your goal is to turn a glimmer of positive interest into a dissappointing demonstration of your lack of efficiency! What a waste.

Really – how hard can it be to take an internet inquiry and have a sales or marketing person take two minutes to look at the question and give some kind of an answer – even a quick email?  Well, clearly it’s harder than it looks for smaller businesses.

What could be getting in the way?

  • Maybe web form information is being sent to the wrong person, or not enough people
  • Maybe there are no clear systems or standards in place
  • Maybe our requests were out of the ordinary and no one was willing to step out of the box to handle them
  • Maybe we just didn’t look like a good enough prospect and the reps were cherry picking
  • Maybe the responses weren’t getting forwarded
  • Maybe the people managing them were just too busy to respond right away and then, once a few days had gone by “chickened out”.
  • Maybe they got so few responses they were just in shock

Maybe they just need some help.

Voicemail is a Great Call Result

I was recently in a Linked In discussion talking about lead generation, cold calling and the best way to make an initial contact with new customers and I contributed using voicemail as a good door opener with a email follow up to provide additional information.

I don’t have any objection to sending a warm up email first, but until I have left the voicemail there is no confidence what-so-ever that a message has been delivered.  Too many emails don’t get delivered, but I know when the voicemail is in the box.

In principle, people generally agree, but far too many respond that they’re not ready to initiate a phone call until they have some level of “warmth” with the contact. And that’s fine with me because it’s what the voicemail is for.  It’s a free standing medium all on it’s own.

I understand that when most sales people think of voicemail, they consider it a second choice outcome on a live contact attempt – and sometimes that is true. But it has become so difficult to reach new contacts live that the expectation IS that you are going to voicemail.

Voicemail is not a substitute for a phone conversation, it is a medium in its own right. It will not get blown away secretly by a spam filter and will give you an opportunity to use the emotional and persuasive power you hold in your own voice and the impact of a one to one communication to begin the process of a sales introduction and a relationship.

And now and then, when you pick up a phone and dial a number, the person you want will pick it up. With luck they’ll associate you positively with the messages you have left and be interested in talking to you.

Communications at a Trade Show

During a major show, the content and timing of your communications and calls has to be well-planned ahead of time so that your programs can execute seamlessly and (preferably) without a second thought on your part.

Work with your sales team to identify top priority contacts who you expect to have in attendance and create a mini-communications plan around them to ensure that this opportunity isn’t wasted. If you have company representatives speaking at an event, boost their profile and your company by using them as your spokespeople to invite your target contacts to attend a presentation of connected event.  A personalized voicemail message with an email or text message follow up is a great way to deliver this during a show. Since there’s no way your speakers will be able to leave a few hundred voicemails during such a busy time, pre-planned voicemail and email campaigns can deliver their messages to the group(s) of your choosing.

You can also incorporate text messages with voicemail and/or short live messages via attendees’ mobile devices during the show with time sensitive information or announcements.  Pre-event promotions are a way to help collect mobile contact information for show attendees. Indicate the phone type on your database, to segment cell phones from office numbers.

The telephone is perfect communications tool during a large event because a trade show or major seminar is one of the few opportunities large groups of like minded people have to actually meet and exchange ideas in person. Personal contact campaigns couldn’t be a better fit.  If possible keep your chosen spokespeople available to chat and se sure they’re aware of the messages delivered in their name and who they’re being delivered to.

Don’t wait until after the show to incorporate new contacts into your data base.  Download new scanned contacts as you go and even if you’re simply collecting business cards, don’t leave them sitting until the end of the show.  Find someone to update your information during the show and don’t miss an opportunity to appropriately message Day One contacts with Day Two or Three updates and invitations.

After a major show, while your marketing team is still in the process of sorting and beginning to qualify the potential leads, you can make an immediate follow up call particularly to thank people for attending one of your events or presentations, while you’re still fresh in their minds.  Again, third party help can be secured quickly and very affordably to help put lists into a workable state, although using scanning systems make list creation easier. 

You can take advantage of an early relationship building opportunity to have the follow up or thank you messages delivered on behalf of the most appropriately matched contacts within your company.  Have one of your own executives leave message for C Level contacts, have technical people reach out to other techies and mirror seniority levels.   These campaigns are easy to structure in advance. The contacts can be adjusted as you move raw leads into your early lead management/sales funnel. 

 Don’t forget to differentiate your company from a host of faceless and voiceless competitors by developing a personal contact with voicemail, voicemail + email and live calling.

Promoting Your Next Trade Show

According to MecLabs’ Marketingsherpa, tradeshows are budgeted for a major portion of 2012 B2B marketing expenditures across organizations of all sizes.  From large  (1000+) organizations with 33% of their budget to Medium (100-999) at 20% and Small (<100) who typically budget 19% of their marketing spending.

The numbers seem somewhat surprising given all the hype around inbounds web leads, social media marketing and marketing automation, but given that again, according to marketingsherpa the perceived effectiveness of tradeshows moved up to the fourth most effective marketing tactic – from seventh and taking into consideration the cost of show participation the numbers do actually make sense. Tradeshows, in spite of their obvious success have appeared to be on the decline for the last several years, but just like so many other tried and true marketing tactics, they’re experiencing that back and forth rise and fall in popularity that affects just about every B2B marketing tactic.

So, with the new confidence that the market is showing for trade shows, how can you maximize the effectiveness of every dollar you spend? In other words, how can you hold as many productive introductions and conversations with a cross section of representatives from qualified companies?
Basically, you have two main streams of promotion available to you – passive and active.

Passive promotion is the work you do to drive inbound leads (who will all think that contacting you is their idea). The tools at your disposal for passive communications are social, site based and word of e-mouth. Blogging and discussions can build background interest and credibility within the appropriate communities. Announcements and white papers posted to your site – preferably with associated auto-responder email series for down-loaders can incorporate news about your tradeshow participation and the events you’re planning. Look for interesting hooks and promotions (maybe even fun) to induce contacts to share your emails or site information.

Both before and during the event, be sure to take advantage of mobile opportunities with short videos that your contacts can share and stay up to date with new smart phone event apps that can help you create interest around your participation and perhaps incorporate a useful at-event service for your contacts. Look at replacing at least part of your more traditional handouts (also known as throwaways) with QR codes. And of course, Tweet your little heart out both before and during and after the event, combining a preplanned schedule and up to the minute spontaneous Tweets.

Once you’ve planned to cover your grass roots, passive programs and drive a few interested parties to your door, you need to concentrate on your more deliberate and active trade show lead generation program. It’s all about generating visibility and promoting your company to your chosen audience to talk –face to face – with the right people. It’s about making the best impression when they visit you – at your booth or not- and then following up promptly and consistently to qualify your new contacts and focus your communications on converting the right prospects into sales ready leads.
You have a number of audience “pools” to choose from when creating the lists of contacts to run promotions to including – (in no particular order)

  • Local customers
  • Past Attendees – customers and prospect companies
  • Registered Exhibitors
  • Speakers and their companies
  • Registered attendees
  • Locally based prospect companies
  • Prospect companies most likely to be attracted to the show
  • Current prospects in any lead nurturing or sales funnel
  • Sales rep suggestions and recommendations

With the exception of a list of a list of registered attendees which can only come from the show organizers, creating lists of the companies and contacts shown above are well within the abilities of most organizations to assemble, although they will require different levels of research. If you simply do not have the staff available to manage this research, help can easily and quite affordably be found using basic web and telephone research services.

Depending on the timelines; direct mail, email, web announcement and newsletter promotions can create advance awareness of your participation at an upcoming event. As you get closer to the show you really need to add telephone calls and voicemail messages mixed with a few emails from your marketing and/or sales teams. They’re a more personalized way to issue event-within-the- event invitations, including booth and floor appointments, reminders and confirmations, demos, networking events, dinners and other receptions.

How to Drive Inbound Leads

Everyone is talking about driving inbound leads and their inherent superiority based on the obvious expectation that someone who contacts you is naturally more interested than someone who you reach out to and manage to “grab” on a cold call. One thing that closely parallels this (hardly new) trend is that over the years buyers have frequently claimed that to have initiated contact with a company in response to their own research.  In other words, they had the need and they did the hunt and they found their vendor.

That’s always amused me. Do you have any idea how many times, over the years, I have left people messages both verbal and in writing- sent countless reports and invitations, only to learn that they were the ones to reach out? If you are yourself in marketing or sales, you know the answer to that question- “Too many times to count!”

It’s okay of course, whatever makes my phone ring is perfectly fine and if you choose to believe it was your idea, that’s great too. I’m happy that you found me and became one of those wonderful things called an inbound lead.

So what’s the secret to driving inbound leads?  Simple, do more outbound marketing.  For all the things in marketing that have changed, nothing has really changed at all.  We just have more channels to do it on.

So many people and companies are talking now about inbound leads from your website and I grant you that websites are great for leads, but where do you think people got the information to find that site in the first place?  As often as not they have followed an email link, or a direct mail link, or a site highlighted on a blog post, or maybe just the post.  You might have left the url in a voicemail or signed your emails with it.

They might have found you on an organic search, a PPC or clicked a Tweet.  They might have found your site from someone other than you, but you can rest assured that at the root of that search was an outbound sale or marketing action that was initiated by someone in your company.  All that outbound work to create the magical inbound lead.

I believe that websites are a wonderful place from which inbound leads can originate because they are still often perceived as safely removed from a sales follow up (although a lot of sites and companies are working hard to strip away that perception of anonymity). When that changes and people  better understand that poking around on someone’s site is going to earn you a sales call, they’ll probably do less of it.

I understand that valuable contributions to group discussions can play a role in driving some excellent inbound leads – but for small companies who need a fairly dynamic funnel to stay alive, not nearly enough of them.

And so, send out your mail and your emails. Update your newsletters. Make pithy contributions on your blogs and leave your name, phone number and URL on your cold call voicemail messages.  Take every outbound action that crosses your path and the spontaneous (?)  inbound leads are sure to follow.

When the Written Word is Not Enough

Tremendous importance is placed on the value of the written word.  Anything lasting must be in writing. Anything to be remembered  must be in writing.  Anything legal, binding or anything important, must be in writing.

So, it can be hard to understand how there can be circumstances when the need for fast, simple, persuasive and ultra clear communication precludes the written word.  Those are the times you just have to speak up or listen, depending on which side of the communications equation you’re inhabiting at the time.

We get lazy and ignore the tremendous advantages that the spoken word can deliver over the written word. But now and then when our laziness and inertia are overridden by an immediate need to make the point with unequivocal (and confirmed) clarity, we finally discover the motivation to abandon our keyboards and pick up the phone.

Too bad we don’t do it more often.  I’m guessing there is something in our basic nature that makes us not only gravitate to the latest and greatest, but also to the smallest amount of work that’s required of us.  The personal visit was replaced by the handwritten note which was replaced by the telephone call, then the email and now the text message. As we abbreviate and depersonalize communication the nuances have disappeared, but nuances are necessary.

This is true for our personal communications and especially for business communications.  Why more so for business?  Well, probably because mistakes in business are rarely made up with a hug and a kiss- at least not since the 70’s.  Mistakes in business communication mean lost clients, missed opportunities and lost sales.  So why do we keep scrimping on our range of communications techniques?

If you have something important to say by all means send an email. However, if you really want to communicate let people hear your voice, complete with its sincerity and excitement, curiosity and unequivocal clarity.