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This blog delivers business development resources for senior executives of B2B manufacturing companies. Built around our #SellMoreHere & #SellMoreThere approach, readers receive insight several X/week into strategies and tactics for domestic & international growth; and actionable recommendations to grow revenue, profit and enterprise value.

ed marsh international b2b business development expertMost posts are written by B2B biz dev, marketing & export growth expert Ed Marsh.

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Our easy-to-read and informative infographics help to demystify the challenges of business development.

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Are your Board Advisors putting the kibosh on your biz dev?

 

Who are they & where do you find them?

smb board advisors are often like clonesLet's be honest.  Most companies select their board of advisors, whether formal or informal, from friends and peers.  And realistically, how many folks seek out others with radically different backgrounds and perspectives for those groups?  

Almost by definition, therefore, companies select to receive self-limiting feedback from 'advisors' with similar backgrounds, lifestyles, interests and experiences.  And, therefore they aren't receiving a flow of disruptive, uncomfortable, vibrant and vigorous insights and suggestions that challenge their status quo.

Further restricting the breadth of perspective is that most company owners, and therefore their peers from whom they draw advisors, are managing stable mature businesses.  They may be 'lifestyle' businesses, or perhaps seeking adequate growth to accommodate family members and transition.  In some cases they are marking time pending a liquidity event, and management focus is probably on a specific area which they find engaging.

In short, likely none of these folks are energetically pursuing bold growth through today's effective and innovative approaches.  Instead they're typically presiding over somewhat stagnant businesses - relying on "tried and tru" methods.

Are those the right advisors?

Propeller heads or Windsor knots

In a recent blog article by that name, Josh Linkner explored the traditional conflict between product/engineering and management/finance perspectives.  Writing about the value of complimentary skills in a company he said,
"Too often, we try to build our organizations with self-lookalikes because it’s comfortable, but a homogenous team brings little inspiration. Bringing divergent perspectives together will help you create your own Reese’s peanut butter cup moment. Great football teams don’t take the field with 11 quarterbacks so don’t try to seize your own potential with only one viewpoint...

If you’re looking to break through to the next level, cross into uncharted water by injecting completely different perspectives to your challenges. Your success lies at the intersection of men and women; millennials and boomers; locals and foreigners; propeller heads and Windsor knots.

It’s an and, not an or."
While he's focused primarily on direct employees, the same certainly applies to advisors.

And especially today, because for even the most traditional and staid B2B manufacturing enterprises, global growth and digital marketing are simultaneously critical avenues to growth, and often poorly understood by seasoned advisors.

You don't need your board advisors to understand you...

Makes sense, right?  After all these are advisors to the company, not your unpaid, golf buddy cum professional coach.  If you need some help building introspective insights call your attorney, accountant or maybe a counselor.

Your advisors must help you understand your prospects

board of advisorsAnd that means who they are, wherever they are, based on where you do sell AND should (could profitably) sell.  And further it means understanding how they (remember, your prospects!):
  • think of problems and opportunities
  • manage their work responsibilities
  • research solutions
  • make buying decisions
  • use technology
And here's a newsflash.  Your manhattan drinking buddy probably can't offer you that.  Sure, he might have some suggestions on a great, local commercial banking resource.  But if his international experience is golfing in Ireland, a river boat tour in France and an occasional cruise with Caribbean port calls, he's not going to challenge you to consider the importance of global diversification.

Similarly if he considers his blackberry to be pretty hip, collects business cards and thinks social media is for teenagers, he's not going to provide context for why your lame website is killing your business development.

Are the board advisors you need the advisors you have? 

If you want affirmations that you are a business hero, then you may have the right group of board advisors assembled - a group that sees the world through the same lens and filter as you.

On the other hand if you really want advisors that will help you recognize and address big picture issues; that will guide you as you work to position your business for ongoing vibrant growth and viability in a digital, global world; then likely you've fallen short.

So maybe you have a problem...but the good news is the solution is pretty easy.  Reach outside of your immediate circle of peers to find some bright, capable business leaders that will challenge your traditional perspective with insightful, legitimate business growth perspectives.

And then listen to them and understand!

Want some insight into the two primary B2B business growth opportunities for manufacturers today?  Check out our outline.

business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,


image credit - discovery.com and berks.pa 
Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Global Sales Planning - the risk of listening to the experts

 

The risk of unknown unknowns

Typically companies hesitate to export because of concerns about known complications - normally falling into a category we call (borrowed from McGladrey) "transactional."  Typical topics of concern include foreign receivables, foreign currency and logistics. But those can often be easily conquered by finding folks with the right niche experience.

There are other categories of expertise that are critical to success but often overlooked.  These include international marketing and effective/artful channel management.

And then there's the scary stuff.  The risks, often with real consequences, that many companies simply don't even know about to fret over them.  FCPA enforcement exposure is one example.

What's the FCPA and why's it matter?

fcpa enforcment is a risk to mitigate as part of global sales developmentThe Foreign Corrupt Practices Act provides draconian penalties for officers and directors of companies which have engaged in corrupt business practices.

Experience tells me that at this point most stop listening - offering a quick and categorical assurance that it doesn't apply since they don't condone any corrupt practices.

Great.  Except it's not that easy.

This isn't just about what a company and its employees are doing in the US, or directly overseas.  This is often about "business as usual" in common export markets.  Further, it's about liability for actions of reps and distributors, and the implications to a future sale.  

Still convinced you're safe?  OK.  One more question.  Are your products imported into overseas markets?  With the exception of some business services, almost certainly yes.  And therein lies the exposure of almost every business.  

Statistically the vast majority of FCPA enforcement actions originate with customs irregularities.  In a typical scenario, customs pulls your shipment for 'inspection.'  Your local rep, aware of customer delivery commitments (and perhaps L/C expiration) goes to customs and 'facilitates' clearance.  They probably do so in the course of routine business without you even being aware of it.  And you're on the hook.  (Want to really freak out?  Did you realize that a typical D&O policy won't pay for your FCPA defense?)

And what if the experts don't even get it?

Here's where it becomes even more concerning.  Sometimes "the experts" don't even understand the exposure...

Take this recent excerpt from the blog of a company that specializes in helping US companies expand overseas.
"In many markets, one alternative to setting up your own operations is to sell your product through distributors. Scott Johnson, of New Atlantic Ventures in Boston, said that this form of entry can be especially attractive in South America, where the restrictions of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act effectively prevent businesses that operate in the U.S. from also operating in many countries. Selling through a distributor gives businesses a channel into those countries without risking high levels of FCPA exposure."
Wrong answer.

Your company (and you personally as an officer / director) are responsible for the actions of your distributors, even if they are done without your knowledge.  The FCPA is clear on that point.

That being said, there are some steps which you can reasonably take to substantially mitigate your risk (more below) but the first step is recognizing your risk - and accepting that the 'firewall' of a 3rd party distributor protects you.

And further, when you get ready to sell your business someday, the buyer will certainly perform due dilligence to determine what FCPA enforcement exposure they will inherit along with your other assets and liabilities.  You can imagine the impact on your valuation if they identify reason to be concerned.....

Prudent & reasonable

This needn't be a horror story.  You can largely mitigate the risk through some common sense steps.
  • commit unequivocally to a zero tolerance internal policy
  • conduct periodic training for all employees
  • include FCPA compliance stipulations in all contracts and t&c
  • screen potential channel partners through resources such as Alexandra Wrage's (@AlexandraWrageTrace International SMB products
  • conduct periodic training for all contractors, channel partners and 3rd parties (and have them acknowledge understanding)
  • NEVER simply wink or look away
Interested in learning more? Check out the great blog on the topic from Mike Volkov. (@mikevolkov20)

And most importantly, seek and consult the right experts - folks that have done this themselves, owned companies, empathize with your perspective and challenges - and those that know what you need them to know.

Want to learn more about how global sales growth can help you enhance the value of your business?  Check out our free eBook.

Global Sales Business Valuation


image - the economist

Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

B2B business development - why manufacturers lost the frontier spirit

 

Hey Mr(s) hard charging, failure is not an option, damn the torpedoes, hit the beach and burn the boats, go for broke business manager....what happened?

From the conditions of frontier life, came [American] intellectual traits of profound importance . . . coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness; that practical, inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy, that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil.” Frederick Jackson Turner on traits of the frontier
American companies used to push the envelope.  Leaders and managers contributed to a vibrant environment of exciting progress and growth.

Then we created "empowered" companies and the exciting growth seemed to slow - in fact in many cases now frustrated "quasi-empowered" folks leave stagnant companies to create the vibrant growth environment in new companies - abandoning their employers for the verdant distant pastures on the horizon.

So today, most B2B manufacturing companies wallow in their bewilderment aboutnew market conditions.  The old approaches don't quite work, but they're not so completely dysfunctional that it's obvious for all to see.  So companies tweak a little here and right size a little there, without fundamentally adapting their B2B business development approach.

What happened?

Circling the wagons

b2b marketing mediocrityThere was another 'side' to the frontier push.  Danger and risk. And the preferred tactic when the fur started to fly was to literally circle the wagons creating a 360 degree defensible perimeter.

Somehow along the way, the bold push of the frontier spirit, balanced with a bit of defense, became inverted.  Now it's defend in place, with an occasional flash of spirit.

The result?  Ineffective business development characterized by disregard of rapidly growing global markets and doubling down on bland B2B marketing crap.

How many companies invest time and money in creating something only slightly less vacuous than this for instance? (thx to @DMScott)


Which question to ask....

"The question is no longer if. The real question is when.

The when-not-if paradox is not exclusive to the mid-’90s Internet rush. It’s been a dilemma for centuries, and continues to grow in magnitude and importance. Mobile devices: when, not if. Social media: when, not if. Adapting to a millennial workforce: when, not if. Expanding into global markets: when, not if.

Rather than resisting the inevitable, embrace macro-trends early to get the most out of them. The faster your move, the more you’ll be able to extract value from being an early-adopter. Change is happening at an unprecedented rate. Leaping forward instead of clutching to the past is your best bet to remain relevant and enjoy sustainable success." Josh Linkner @JoshLinkner 
And that's the problem.  Most B2B manufacturing companies are asking yesterday's questions.  "How can we be a bit more efficient with our cold calling?" or "Which magazine ad will get the most impressions?" or even "Why is XXXX company trying to export? That's just for big companies."

Not many ask "OK, it's different today.  How can we really grow again?"  You know, as in the 10-20% growth that seemed so natural in the 80s....

damn the b2b marketing torpedoes

Leaders and consultants

The ability to intuit and ask insightful questions is what distinguishes great leaders and consultants from the mediocre mass.  But today's markets are particularly unforgiving of mediocrity.  It's time to start asking the right questions....to put your B2B business development on a sustainable and profitable path.

Are you bold enough to do so?  Maybe it's time to channel your Admiral Farragut - to "damn the torpedoes" and call for full speed ahead!


business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,


image 

Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Seduced by B2B sales growth promises? Maybe you should keep it as is!

 

B2B business development requires pushing the envelope

If the tried and true were still working, you wouldn't be reading this.  We both know that.  

But here's where reality crashes into fantasy.  The actual steps and work required to grow, whether you pursue our #SellMoreHere approach to digital marketing for B2B manufacturers or our #SellMoreThere export sales growth model, are sometimes unpleasant.

If you could only figure out how to wring enough bucks out of your current model for a few more years....you'd be all set.

But if snapping your fingers didn't work, you may have to actually get to work.  Here are a couple tips - be careful.  Don't get yourself into something you'll regret!!

Internet Marketing -  It takes courage to improve - because doing so implies previous mistakes.  And stepping up your B2B marketing game is no exception.  In fact, once you commit to effective inbound marketing, your VP of marketing is going to feel pretty silly.  All those vague promises about ROI are going to be shown to be hogwash, once you have a B2B marketing solution that really does have a clear ROI.  Maybe you'd better not go there.....




Export Market Development - Keep your B2B manufacturing business domestic, small and stagnant.  That's a surefire approach to avoiding real hassles like allowing people to pay you with real money....even if it's not benjamins.  FX isn't (or shouldn't be a big deal) but if you don't have the stomach for learning something new and interesting, don't try to take your company global!


Not freaked out yet?  Think you can gut it out?  Then take a look at how we approach B2B business development for manufacturers.  Our two prong approach is about growing profitably and appropriately.

business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,

Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Does your B2B Marketing pitter patter match the B2B Sales chitter chatter?

 

Does that sound backwards?

B2B business development walk the talkWhen you read that you probably wondered whether I didn't really mean the opposite - is the B2B Marketing chitter chatter keeping up with the B2B Sales pitter patter.

And you'd have been wrong....

See, here's the thing.  The reality is that you can't really sell anymore.  Folks may buy from you, and they will do it on their terms, at their pace, according to their requirements.  (Before you scroll down to leave a comment about sales being as important as ever....I get it.  Obviously you must have direct sales people.  But their role is changing and they must adapt!)

Virtual sales process

Great B2B sales people have always had an extraordinary ability to help buyers recast their understanding of their problems, needs, requirements and desired solution.  They help buyers through that process by first establishing credibility and authority, and then drawing on extensive experience to , psychologist style, accompany the buyer on a path of discovery and exploration of their real needs.

And that happened through conversation, back in the day, when someone would call to request information or answer the phone to entertain a cold call. 

We all know that neither happens any more.  (OK, again you amped up B2B sales types, I know you're cold calling heroes.  But all you business owners?  When did you last buy something based on a cold call?  That's my point.)

That means that the conversation; the creation of credibility and demonstration of authority; and the assisted self-discovery with buyers increasingly occurs virtually.

And that means that your B2B Marketing now really must walk the sales talk.

And how?

Accept the fact that people are looking for you online.  Note I didn't say they're looking for your product.  By the time they are looking for a specific set of specs or services you'll be mired in a competitive squabble.  That's neither productive nor profitable in most cases.

But before they started searching for a specific product, they began to search for folks that had the same challenges as them - who could make suggestions and recommendations.  They were searching for resources to help them understand how to overcome their challenges.  

Specific product or service ideas flowed eventually from that initial search - they didn't drive it.

Bottom line? I can guarantee that people are searching online for help with problems which your product could fix.

Answering questions

The best place to start?  Just like you would in a dialog belly button to belly button.  Prospects have questions.  (In fact there are lots of people with questions who aren't prospects yet.  Want to make it easy for them?  Provide answers!)  You know what they're asking, or should be, early on in the process.  You can probably keep yourself busy for months, collecting great leads, by merely answering those questions.

Want to see what I mean?  Check out this great video of the @SalesLion talking about creating content that moves the needle.  (Just skip the first 40 seconds, and then buckle up.)

Taking it to the next level

Good stuff, right?  Absolutely.  Now clearly there's more to it.  Inbound marketing to create sales qualified leads for B2B manufacturers requires strategy, precise execution, evolving methodology, tools like marketing automation, and tons of great content that speaks to your specific personas at each stage in their buying journey.  (Get all that industry lingo?)

But you don't have to do it yourself.  Here's more on how we help.



Download your free Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Marketing here


image credit 
Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Improvement vs. innovation - why your B2B sales are stagnant

 

You know it....but you're not sure why

"What is happening...is not a wakeup call precisely but a tugging at the attention, a demand to focus." Peggy Noonan
At some level you recognize that your B2B sales & marketing effort isn't working the way it needs to.  The acid test, revenue, is probably the prime tip off.  But there's more.  Competition seems more virulent and pervasive; margins are compressed; pipelines look like the python that swallowed a rat; and sales cycles are no longer predictable.

Further, while you're not hesitant to invest in marketing, you're loathe to simply throw money at poorly defined problems, when there's no discernible ROI.

It's a disorienting feeling - to recognize, at least in your gut, that there's a problem but not really know how to fix it.

You keep returning to it....trying to tweak it

b2b business development model improvementSo you do what's worked for the past 10 or 20 or 50 or 78 years of history in your company.  You tweak the sales & marketing machine.  In the words of Lowe's Kyle Nel, speaking at the Neuromarketing World Forum, you "are just improving and not innovating."  And in a B2B world where the "rate of change is now 'exponential'" that's a predictably unsuccessful approach.

But improvement is an entirely understandable response.  Most B2B companies approach business (internally and as they fit into their customers' operation) with an incremental, continuous improvement mentality.  Whether it's making the basic better, or the cool even 'awesomer', it's the same incremental approach.
b2b marketing improvement
And when the basic strategy is working, it's perfect.  Keep refining and modifying looking for opportunities for improvement.

But that's not your problem, is it?  The basic business development strategy isn't working - at least not well enough to generate abundant sales qualified leads; growing revenue with stable margins; predictable growth for operational planning; collegial commercial banking relationships; increasing enterprise valuation for your exit; or internal growth opportunities for young talent.

So is tweaking the answer?

Most people you talk to in B2B manufacturing face the same challenge

But is it even clear that you have a problem?  What if what you've got is just the new normal?  After all, most of your peers are probably facing essentially identical challenges.

So are stagnating sales, margin pressure, increased competition and unpredictable project cycles simply a fact of life today like the vacation email tether?

"Yes", or "no", you're right.  Because your outlook and expectation will be baked into your approach - and therefore will predict the outcome.

But before you groan "I knew it" ask yourself one question.  Seriously, honestly, introspectively (on an early Saturday morning when you have a cup of coffee and a clear mind)....

"When did I last buy something in the way that we are trying to sell to others?"

It's fixable...if you're adaptable

breakout b2b sales growth requires a different modelMy strong suspicion?  At least a decade ago.  You're not buying based on cold calls.  You might find intriguing ideas at trade shows or in magazine ads which you then research further.  And you probably rely on referrals from peers and professional advisors, and even your independent research online (looking for solutions to problems.)  And you probably aren't interested in wasting time with a sales rep until you're getting close to actually doing something.  (The statistics say you're 70% of the way through your sales process!)

Guess what?  As much as we each yearn to be unique, we're also each part of an environment that shapes us.  And each of your prospective customers is shaped by the same environment - a hyper digital world of constrained time and money resources.

So doesn't it stand to reason that your prospects are buying like you do today - not the way you all did 15 years ago?

And how do you define your prospects anyway?  By some general industry classification or arbitrary geographical boundary, or with a nuanced understanding of the value your products can create for them and their lifetime value to your company?

Your company can achieve substantial growth if you're willing (really, gut level, not proforma lip service) to embrace new approaches and opportunities.  Digital marketing (done right, with measurable ROI and best practices - not just sexy design or hocus pocus SEO) will power a sales qualified lead engine where you previously found only frustration.  Dynamic global markets, selected based on criteria around your product and goals (not mindlessly chasing plunging into the BRICs), offer green field opportunities. 

Are you open to change and growth?  Tired of that 'tugging at your attention'?  Check out our approach to business development for B2B manufacturers in today's market environment.

business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,


image credit herehere & here 
Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

2 more reasons to stop right there - don't try to grow your business!

 

Not all wine and roses

There's no straight line to business success.  Interesting books dig into all sorts of factors, even plain dumb luck. 

No matter what your path, in the potential event that you are intent on growing your company, here are a couple reasons to reconsider.

It's not going to be pleasant!

B2B digital marketing - you don't want to start really kicking ass becuase then years of mediocrity will suddenly become painfully apparent and undeniable.  And the VP of Marketing who kept promoting those mediocre programs...poor guy might feel a bit sheepish!



International Sales -  you realize of course that the markets that are growing quickly and buying tons of stuff aren't the ones you can service from a Princess Cruises port call.  You're going to be in some developing markets - and with that come some undesireable toilet conditions.  Don't want to be in the habit of carrying toilet paper in your briefcase?  Better stick to selling in the US.



On the other hand if you think you've got "the right stuff" (or even just a strong compulsion to grow your business despite minor inconvenience) then take a look at our parallel approaches to dynamic business growth.

business growth, international business development, SMB marketing,

Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Designing successful content marketing for B2B manufacturers

 

Even if it hurts....

Manufacturing Content Marketing B2B researchAnother post here recently tackled the question of why strategy is such an unpleasant topic for many SMBs.

And then along came the Content Marketing Institute's 2014 report on B2B Manufacturing content marketing

And what do you suppose it showed?  Some shocking statistics around that nasty strategy topic.

11%

Imagine that...11% of all B2B manufacturing companies DON'T EVEN KNOW IF THEY HAVE A CONTENT MARKETING STRATEGY!!!! 

68% are deliberately flying blind.  11% don't have a clue.  21% claim to have it figured out.

And absent strategy, the average B2B manufacturing marketer is simultaneously thrashing around with an average of 13 different content marketing tactics, while 70% are producing more content than they did last year.

So stepping back, one can deduce that, assuming all 21% with a strategy are among the 70% producing more content, 49% are producing content without direction that guides its focus, creation, execution and results.

Who in the world is bankrolling this?  Who'se writing the checks without regard for the plan and ROI?

Overwhelmed with sales qualified leads

Although it's not specifically reported, one can further assume that these companies are rocking their sales quotas.  Instead of specific goals around sales qualified leads and revenue, the top goal of these elite B2B manufacturing marketers is...drum roll please....brand awareness.  Seriously?  And people wonder why CFOs are skeptical of any investment in marketing?

But it get's deeper.  The primary metric they cite to measure their success?  Website traffic.  Not an entirely irrelevant number in the digital marketing world, but not one that satisfies investors for sure.

Predictable challenges

It's probably not surprising, given the absence of strategy to guide the creation of content according to persona and stage in buying journey, that producing engaging content is a top challenge of B2B manufacturing marketers.

News alert - if you want to create engaging content it might make sense to do so according to a strategy that considers the real issues and concerns of the folks that would particularly benefit.

And then there's budget.  Imagine this.  These folks who are thrashing about bereft of strategy (OK, let's call it design so it's easier to swallow) are frustrated that they aren't awarded adequate budget by corporate bean counters.  One might reasonably conclude that to grant any larger budget would be professionally negligent on behalf of any finance person who did so!

Wow!

It's not a DiY project

Are these marketing folks incompetent?  Maybe a couple.   But the majority are undertaking a very technical and sophisticated discipline with a traditional marketing approach founded in graphic design and web publishing.

There's a reason why some of the most effective folks in the content marketing world are engineers and finance specialists by training.  At its core B2B inbound marketing for manufacturers is an extremely analytical pursuit.

The good news, though, is that companies open to outside assistance can find some qualified advisors (agencies with a deep experience in B2B companies - rather than marketing to them - are trickier to find.)  And they should.

Inbound marketing offers awesome (real and measurable) ROI in most cases and most importantly moves the biz dev needle creating a stream of sales qualified leads....if it's done right.

Want to learn how internet marketing can help your manufacturing business?  Check this out.



Download your free Step-by-Step Guide to Internet Marketing here


Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Social media for B2B marketing - inane or invaluable? Hofstede & culture

 

"The Mindset Divide"social media b2b marketing mindset divide

"Perhaps one of the biggest myths in B2B branding is that the nature of the decision process is so rational that emotions do not play a significant role." Kevin Lane Keller @ Phillip Kotler
Yesterday we looked at similarities between B2C and B2B marketing.  For dyed in the wool B2B product manufacturing folks this can be counterintuitive and pretty darned uncomfortable.

Generally though they become comfortable with story telling in the context of some video, documents which map to the buyers journey and even infographics.  

But social media is often too big a leap.  How many times have you thought or heard a senior exec from a B2B manufacturing company sound off about Facebook and Twitter?  Those seem to be the lightning rods (occasionally I hear folks blast LinkedIn as well - but most are blissfully ignorant of GooglePlus, Pinterest and others.)

Is time and attention paid to those channels fruitless?  It can be - just as it can be incredibly fruitful.  Not every channel is appropriate for every B2B product or business model.  But there are almost certainly some that are right for yours.  

Why are there such differing opinions?  Certainly people are people - each with personal preferences.  But there's more.  A fundamental difference in perspective.

Process vs. Results & People vs. Biz

Geert Hofstede's work on organizational culture established six dimensions of corporate culture.  They include:
  • Process-Oriented vs. Results-Oriented
  • Employee-Oriented vs. Job-Oriented
  • Parochial vs. Professional (does one's identity come from company or profession)
  • Open System vs. Closed System (inclusive vs. secretive climate)
  • Loose Control vs. Tight Control (of people's activities)
  • Pragmatic vs. Normative (procedure or market driven)
These differentiators are often applied to national culture - to predict and explain business conflicts which originate in different cultural norms and expectations.

But to understand the different comfort with social media, consider for a moment how they also define critical differences between generational approach to business in the US...... 

Personal vs. business - boomer vs. millennial (& gen x)

b2b marketing across generational and social media divideGenerational differences in perspective are behind much of the conflict over the value and efficacy of social media in B2B marketing.  Fundamentally those who see work as distinct from non-work view perpetual engagement differently than those who are digital natives (e.g. millennials.)

One of the hardest things for B2B execs to accept is that not everyone makes purchasing decisions and buys the same way they do.  (Step 3 in my 13 step program calls for that awareness.)  But buying is different today - and those who are constantly connected embrace tools which enable that.

That includes social networking - and many consider it a prime source for solutions to problems and challenges they face, and recommendations.

Obviously there's a continuum of connectedness across generations - there are extremes and large variations.  Many boomers wouldn't consider searching for B2B solutions on line - asking their accountant, attorney or golfing partner instead.  But the center of mass is rapidly moving toward digital tools.

While the lines are blurring, personal remains distinct from professional...sort of

"Professionally when I network, it's for information to do my job better....it is an essential part of being successful." LinkedIn / TNS data on social networking
MindsetDivide InfographicAnd this may be where some of the resistance lies.  If you see Facebook solely as a tool to vent about politics and keep up with children & grandchildren, you understandably don't associate it with any substantive business purpose.  You are likely inclined to be process and job oriented, and inclined toward the closed system, tight control and pragmatic approach to the market.

On the other hand if you use Twitter to keep current (in real time) with notable thought leaders in areas of professional importance to you - then that is a tool which is worthwhile.  (And likely one for which you might maintain distinct profiles for your personal and professional sides.)  And you are probably more apt to have a results and employee centric view, preferring and open and loose environment and market based outlook.

And between the two, there is likely a very different sense of propriety, appropriateness and pertinence of social networking in different contexts.

Get over it

Everyone instinctively finds a comfortable spot in their social and professional context based on individual preferences.  But the general societal context is shifting.  Companies must shift to remain relevant.  And their sales & marketing must be assiduously tailored to carefully crafted target buyer personas.

Just as one can recognize that promiscuous selfies uploaded to social media channels are likely to have unfortunate consequences for adolescents.  One can also intuit that if 70% of the B2B sales process happens before a rep becomes involved, that increasingly social networks are a resource to those seeking solutions.

One can remain skeptical of the value, but embrace a best practices approach and reserve a final judgment based on carefully measured KPIs and ultimately ROI.

And if you're still struggling to understand...here's a final question for you.  Have you ever turned to Consumer Reports (or some analogous source) in print or online to get an opinion on what you were about to buy?

Of course you have.

Where do you think folks turn now?

Struggling to come to terms with the reality of B2B digital marketing?  Check out our Step by Step Guide.

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Evolutionary Marketing & New Markets Blog

Reconciling the B2B impression that inbound marketing is for B2C

 

Cynacism & skepticism

Often in conversation with B2B business owners one detects skepticism that content marketing is appropriate for B2B marketing.  That skepticism tends to bubble up especially when the topics of social media, video and images arise.

I get it.  This is indeed a different approach than spitting out tech specs.

But maybe the issue is perspective rather than marketing method.

B2B buying process

B2B marketing storytelling like B2CJoe Chernov, VP of Content at HubSpot suggests that were one to boil all of the content marketing universe down into 5 fundamental truths, among those would be the importance of B2B marketing mimicking B2C.

Implausible you think?  Actually no.  And here's why it's critically important.

B2B buying has morphed dramatically over the past several years.  (More on that in my book here.)  While it used to be that the interaction was controlled by a direct sales person in personal engagement with a prospect, it is now a virtual engagement.  Research indicates that buyers are not inclined to entertain sales rep contact until their buying process is nearly 70% complete.  B2B marketing must now serve much the same purpose as toy, cereal, car or jewelry B2C marketing.  The emotional engagement (after all, every buying decision is based on emotion and justified with 'logic') must be created virtually - the discourse and connection with a sales rep doesn't occur as it used to.

Therefore, from a pragmatic perspective, Chernov's absolutely right.  

But that's a pretty tough transition for folks accustomed to sterile, product focused, corporate speak B2B marketing.  It can even feel cheesy - actually, if it's not done right it can be cheesy!

What's the key to the transition?

Story telling

Joe Chernov b2b inbound marketing comparison to b2c
"Consumer brands are better at communicating on a human level. B2B marketers appear to forget that while companies may pay for their products, people still buy them. Think of the P&G 'Thank You, Mom' campaign that ran throughout the Olympics. If a B2B company could combine storytelling, empathy and creativity in the way that P&G did, it would be unstoppable." Joe Chernov (@jchernov) interview with Mark Masters (@heyidgroup)
B2B marketers need to learn to share a story.  As buyers move through the stages of their buying journey there are chapters to craft.  As they move from stage to stage, or chapter to chapter, the entire story unfolds.

This doesn't mean that B2B marketing becomes "I'd like to teach the world to sing" jingle junk. But it does mean that B2B manufacturers must become much more savvy about how they articulate and demonstrate individual and organizational value for buyers.  It's not adequate to state the presumed benefits from the seller's perspective.  Now, B2B inbound marketing provides the opportunity, in a rep-less sales process, to share a story with buyers which follows the following format:

  1. typical challenges, problems, pain points and unmet goals with which buyers wrestle
  2. the consequences of those
  3. how their world would look different if they were fixed
  4. the sorts of solutions that might help to fix them
  5. how those solutions might impact them individually and organizationally
  6. a process that they can use to evaluate options
  7. the financial & business value justification for implementation 

The 'story' must naturally morph the abstract into concrete - and do so in a way that benefits the prospect rather than serves the seller's preconceptions.  Maybe your CMO would be better known as the "Chief Instantiating Officer"!

Script or 'Mad Lib'?

Obviously there's a natural progression inherent in the buying process.  But B2B marketers need to understand that their story telling isn't always received in an orderly, Robert McKee Story sort of way.  Sometimes it will be chaotic - with elements plugged in arbitrarily by time-starved buyers.

And therein lies one of the biggest challenges of marketing for B2B manufacturers.  Not only are their carefully scripted direct sales reps not offered an opportunity to the story anymore, but the story is far more nuanced and complex than it used to be.  And it is consumed by people in chunks and pieces - almost randomly.

Some will read an article, some will see an image, some will click on a video and some may be intrigued by an infographic.  They'll drop into the process at random points.

And a company's marketing strategy and tools must be sophisticated enough to understand what that behavior means, and how to naturally provide a preview of the next chapter to that prospect in a form which they will appreciate.

And BTW - they really don't care what year you were founded, how many bits or bytes, HP or mm your product has.  (Did you notice that chapter was missing?)

Want to learn more about how B2B Sales & Marketing are evolving?  Download the book now.

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