Do you treat marketing like a math problem or art project?

Steampunk-giraffe-2Fundamentally different approaches.  Sometimes they generate the same results, but rarely by design or intention.

There’s plenty of art in marketing.  Always has been, always will be.  But the art is in the middle, not the beginning or end.

Great marketing starts with an understanding of the success metrics that matter, that make the art worth doing.  If the math doesn’t stack up, great art still doesn’t matter.

Marketing today starts with math and ends with math.   It starts with quantifiable objectives and ends with quantifiable results.

But math doesn’t solve for the middle.  The middle is still art.  Sure, that art is often directed by quantifiable best practices, scientific observations and experiments.  But how you translate that into execution, copy, visuals?  That’s art.  Always has been, always will be.

Marketing is still art and science.  It’s math first, math last, art in the middle.  Today’s best marketers get that sequence right.


Six keys to start-up and small business sales success

sales-for-startups-bookOne of my favorite all-time sales executives always had a quote at the top of the enormous whiteboard in his office: “Start-ups don’t starve, they drown.”

That’s true across a variety of departments and disciplines, but perhaps nowhere more acutely than in sales.  When you’re in start-up mode, you’re often trying to sell something to people who don’t know about it and don’t believe they need it.  By definition,  you’re creating a category and using a machete to cut through a virgin jungle.

Unfortunately, that’s often used as an excuse to “throw a lot of spaghetti against the wall” to see what sticks, and otherwise throw what should still be a disciplined sales strategy into chaos.  Chaos leads to drowning, and drowning leads to death.  Any start-up veteran knows that when sales dies, the company isn’t far behind.

This Thursday, I’ll be presenting start-up sales best practices at a “Sales for Start-ups” event in Seattle.  If you’re in town please consider joining us, it should be a great event with great speakers and networking.

In advance of the event, here are six places most start-ups (particularly of the B2B variety) should focus to improve their precision, strategy and success.

Sell the hole, not the drill
Nobody cares about your product or service, unless it helps them do something or achieve something or mitigate something they care about. Few people go to the hardware store to buy a drill. What they really want are holes. It’s your job to figure out what that means for your customers. Then, everything in your sales process (and marketing) should align behind it. More on that here.

Develop a deep(er) understanding of our target customer and their ecosystem
How much do you really know about your target customer? What they care about? What are their objectives and what are the primary obstacles keeping them from achieving them? Who are the key people inside (and outside) of their organization helping them achieve those results, and/or keeping them from getting there? The better you understand the underlying ecosystem and environment in which your customers exist, the better you can align your message and value proposition to things they already value and care about. This is especially important for start-ups selling in a category where the value proposition isn’t yet clear.

Teach everyone in your organization how to listen for buying signals
Buying signals aren’t often explicit. More often than now, a “buying signal” will actually be in the form of someone complaining about something, or otherwise exhibiting the signs and symptoms of a problem you can solve. Those are the buying signals your competitors either aren’t listening for or just plain ignore. Teach everyone in your organization, but especially those with customer-facing roles, to understand your deep customer profile/personas and know when they’re seeing those early-stage buying signals online and elsewhere.

Map your sales process to how your customers buy
Anything less than this will introduce unnecessary friction between seller and buyer. You aren’t going to change when the buyer is ready to buy. But you can help them understand and quantify their needs faster than they would have done so naturally. Just make sure the process you manage with your sales team aligns with that natural buyer process, and the result often will be increased velocity, loyalty and conversion from your pipeline.

Calculate the sales activity and pipeline required to hit your sales number
How many leads do you expect will become qualified opportunities? How many qualified opportunities do you expect will close? If you haven’t done the math, most likely your pipeline is still too small to reliably achieve your monthly or quarterly sales goals. Doing “the math” up front helps create more realistic expectations and also ensures that sales & marketing are aligned around exactly what kind of results at each stage of the process are required to consistently hit the number.

Clearly define success metrics and lead/opportunity stages
Does everyone on your team agree on the definition of a “qualified” lead? If I asked each member of your sales team what criteria are required for a qualified opportunity, would I hear the same answer? If you don’t have this level of consistency, it’s too easy to have sales pipelines that are unreliable, unrealistic and simply inaccurate. Common definitions ensure transparency and accuracy, and allow you to more tightly define specific next steps and focus areas for improving strength of pipeline at any given time.

Much more on start-up sales best practices Thursday, hope you can join us!

Do you know who you’re writing for?

Are_you_looking_at_me-There are numerous ways to write the same piece of content.  Pick a topic and the approach you’ll take will differ widely based on who you want reading it.

Take content marketing, for example.  If you’re writing for a content marketer, you’re probably going to provide tactics.  Best practices.  Examples.  Success stories.

Let’s say you’re writing for the VP of Marketing or CMO.  You’re likely writing less about tactics and more about strategy.  You’re likely helping the marketing executive figure out how content marketing fits into their overall marketing mix.

Now let’s say you’re writing for the CEO or CFO.  Do they care about content marketing?  Maybe.  But their interests probably have far more to do with ROI – direct lines to sales, revenue contribution, resource and budget requirements, etc.

Pick any topic and you can likely outline a wide variety of approaches based on who you care most to reach and influence.

Editorial calendars with themes and customer-focused topics are great.  But unless you enumerate specifically who you’re writing for, your great content might still miss the mark and fail to drive the action you want.

Matt’s App of the Week: FirstRain

appoftheweek-300x284This is the latest in a series of weekend posts highlighting a wide variety of applications we think are pretty cool. Most have to do with sales, marketing and productivity. Check out past featured apps here.

In particular for sales reps and business development professionals who work on a named account basis (and have a specific set of companies they’re targeting), depth of insight and intelligence on those companies can be a key competitive advantage and accelerator of the right conversations.  Traditionally, researching and compiling this information has been time consuming and messy.  Even with the proliferation of information available online, getting it all together and keeping it updated has often been a hassle.

That’s where FirstRain really shines.  You tell them what companies you’re targeting, including the type of engagement or business relationship you’re interested in.  They then filter the entire Web for information about the company and specifically related to your focus areas, and share it for you in one easy-to-use Web interface.

You can sign up for alerts on breaking news of conversations pertinent to your field of work, and add new companies at any time.

Huge time saver, and I’ve found it a source of intelligence I’m sure I wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Worth a look.

B2B Reads: pesky millennials, kindergartners & top execs

best-blogsIn addition to our Sunday App of the Week feature, we also summarize some of our favorite B2B sales & marketing posts from around the Web each week. We’ll miss a ton of great stuff, so if you found something you think is worth sharing please add it to the comments below.

In the meantime, here’s some of what we’re reading:

3 vital lessons from the pesky millennial generation
There has been a lot of negativity about the work ethic of the millennial generation. But, have you ever stopped and thought about what they can actually teach you? Great perspective from Ruth Schwartz.

Tips for busy executives to get the most out of sales calls
One of the best ways to get the most out of sales calls is by utilizing video meetings. They keep each party engaged, it is easier for demonstrations, and oddly enough, can get the meeting to go by quicker. Are you using video meetings? Great tips from Miles Austin.

37 marketing tools to spy on your competitors
Your competitors might be doing great things so why not learn from them and get your own inspiration from their work? Nothing wrong with a little espionage according to Chris Kilbourn!

How teaching kindergarten prepared me for sales
Selling and teaching can be very similar in their strategies. Some of the important similarities are: keep it simple, use visuals, build trust, and be ready for anything. Check out some more similarities that Jillian Eyl came up with.

The 7 key ingredients of a powerful Twitter bio
You may think your online reputation is different from your work reputation, but you are quite mistaken there. How you want to be perceived will directly be reflected off of your online presence. Is your Twitter bio up to your standards? Great stuff from Neil Patel.

The state of B2B lead nurturing [new benchmark research]
How successful are you at lead nurturing? Is it a key component in your marketing strategy? Take a look at these numbers and facts from Sean Callahan to see how you could better take advantage of lead nurturing in your business.

The harsh realities of SEO that no one tells you
Opinions on SEO and what the best strategy is are around every corner from all different people. We hear a lot of stuff being passed around, but what is really true about our search engine rankings? And, where do our blogging efforts start to pay off? Awesome post from John Bonini.

Differentiate yourself from the competition
The best question to answer when it comes to you versus your competitors, according to Sales Engine, is why you are better than they are. What do you offer that they can’t? A company’s success is largely based on its ability to actually articulate and execute why it is different and better than its competition. So why is yours better?

5 reasons your prospect doesn’t buy (and what to do about them)
A lot of potential buyers know that the product right in front of them would benefit them in some way, but they still don’t buy. Why is that? Here are 5 potential reasons for their hesitance according to Anthony Iannarino.

14 annoying office habits we all need to break
Last, but not least, we have to remember to be respectful. We are all here to be as productive and successful as we can. Let’s not steer everyone off of this path because we chew too noisily, or our music is too loud. Fun office tips to remember from Lindsay Kolowich.

Are great salespeople born or made?

bornoradeThe answer, of course, is both.

Over the past couple years, I’ve found that the single-best indicator of a sales rep’s likelihood of success with a new company is results from their personality and attribute tests.  Past experience isn’t always relevant.  Hitting your number in a different industry (or sales era where the rules & tools were different) doesn’t necessarily predict future success.

Fitting in with one company’s culture doesn’t mean they’ll be a fit in yours.

That said, certain sales attributes tend to work across genres and cultures, regardless of past sales experience.  Tenacity, rational optimism, discipline, collaboration tendencies.  These skills can be trained, but some salespeople are just born with it.  And on the other hand, some potential sales reps don’t have it, and it’s against their DNA to achieve it.

Sales skills can be trained.  Sales process, tool usage, how to listen for buying signals.  These skills can all be developed.  And this very clearly isn’t a pitch to devalue the importance of sales training in growing the skill set and success rate of your entire salesforce.

But certain skills that form the foundation of success for great salespeople are more inherent to their personalities, something they are going to bring to the table and your sales floor no matter how you train them.

Great salespeople can be made, but the consistently successful reps were born with the attributes that help make them great.

If your hiring process doesn’t yet account for this, you have some work to do.

“How I Work”: Rebecca Lovell, Startup Liaison, City of Seattle

Rebecca Lovell3“How I Work” is one of my favorite recurring features in Inc Magazine as well as via Lifehacker’s This Is How I Work Series, and recently several sales experts (including  Anthony IannarinoDave Brock and Trish Bertuzzi) participated as well.

Periodically moving forward we will feature a new B2B sales, marketing or business leader here answering what have become the standard “How I Work” questions.  You can catch up on everyone we’ve featured thus far in the “How I Work” series here.

This week I’m excited to feature Rebecca Lovell, a fixture in the Seattle technology and start-up scene for years.  She’s managed several start-up organizations including the Alliance of Angels and Northwest Entrepreneur Network, and currently serves as the startup liaison for the City of Seattle (in addition to mentoring start-ups via TechStars, teaching classes on venture capital investment at the University of Washington, etc etc).

Rebecca, suffice it to say, gets stuff done.  Here, in her own words, is how she works.

Location:  Municipal Tower, downtown Seattle

Current computers:  work: HP Compaq PC, home and on the go: Dell Latitude

Current mobile devices: iPhone

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without? Glympse and Car2Go

What’s your workspace like? When I’m in the office at the City, I surround myself with whiteboards and post-it’s, and post-it’s on the whiteboards. Seriously tough to compete with this analog organization scheme; I haven’t found a better substitute when planning multiple programs for multiple groups over a range of dates. Easily editable, color-coded awesomeness! I am also arranging to remove my cubicle walls (you can take the woman out of a startup but can’t take the startup out of the woman).   My workspace more often, though, is wherever I’m holding office hours with entrepreneurs (WeWork, Impact Hub, and SURF and coffee shops), so I travel light!

What’s your best time-saving shortcut or lifehack?  Time-saving: ActiveWords (thanks Buzz Bruggeman), and Sonicare toothbrush in the shower (that thing is awesome). Lifehack: if you don’t want to spill the beverage(s) you’re carrying, don’t look at them. Look straight ahead. I learned this while serving trays of wine as a caterer in college. Works every time!

What everyday thing are you better at than anybody else? Singing in the shower (after the Sonicare routine of course).

What’s your favorite to-do list manager? Other than the aforementioned whiteboard, as my to-do list is generally email, it’s all about inbox folder management. I move emails once I respond to them, keep them in my inbox until I do, and never let it get over 50.

What do you listen to while at work?  Office: My co-workers laughing. Home: Pandora (favorite station is a Black Keys/White Stripes combo). On the go: iTunes (Aretha, Adele, Florence & the Machine get a lot of air time. What can I say? Karaoke inspiration).

What are you currently reading? Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

What’s your sleep routine like? Asleep by midnight, up by 5:45 to go to the gym before work.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? No matter how busy you are, don’t skip the 45 minute workout in the morning– the days you’re busiest are the days you need it most (from my mentor in grad school, Phyllis Campbell, then CEO of the Seattle Foundation, now Vice Chair of JPMC)

Anything else you want to add? Other than the whole shower-toothbrush thing, I’m really not a multi-tasker. Generally whatever I’m doing is what I’m doing and gets (and takes!) my full attention.

Fill in the Blank: I’d love to see Julie Sandler answer these questions.

Inbound-only marketing is like waiting for the phone to ring

wilecoyoteI’ve built my business on inbound marketing.  It works.  But it also has its limits.

By focusing on inbound marketing alone, you have little control over the growth rate and consistency of that growth over time.  You have less control over the quality of inbound requests and prospects.  The phone will ring often, but you’re still basically waiting for it to ring, and hoping there’s a good prospect on the other end.

This doesn’t mean you can’t grow a successful business with inbound marketing alone.  You certainly can.  But if you want to change the mix of customers you attract, if you want more predictability and accuracy in hitting a particular revenue number, inbound alone likely won’t get you there.

I’ve seen this limit both with clients and with our own business.  Thanks to almost 2,000 blog posts and counting on our site, we see significant daily traffic and leads.  But if we map those inbound leads against our “target profile” for new customers, the overlap is small.

That organic growth has turned a one-person consultancy into a fast-growing agency, so I have nothing to complain about and am not going to stop focusing on content marketing and inbound.  But to consistently hit our revenue targets and particularly focus on the companies we think are the best fits for our services, we’re increasingly balancing inbound with strategic outbound marketing and new sales development activities as well.

Of course, if you’re doing this right, you’re still investing heavily in precise, targeted inbound marketing to mitigate the overall cost of building the pipeline you need.  If you’re doing it right, outbound is a supplement to that value with far more precision and efficiency.

Finding that balance for your business is a simple math problem.  Know the basic mechanics of your pipeline – how many qualified opportunities do you need to get a sale, how many qualified leads do you need to get a short-term opportunity.  Then be realistic and precise about how much of that pipeline (quantity and quality) your inbound efforts are currently providing.  The rest needs to be filled with outbound.

Cash for demos – good idea or tacky?

cashmoneyAt a conference last week, one particular vendor’s booth was covered in cash.  Curious, I stepped up and asked why.

I expected it to tie into an analogous pitch for their services.  I expected the cash to be primarily a prop.

Nope.  The company founder excitedly told me I would get one dollar if I immediately tweeted about their service, and five dollars if I sat through a five-minute demo.

I was authentically interested in their service anyway, so I asked for the demo.  After five minutes, they handed me five dollars.  I tried not to take it.  It honestly felt a little dirty.

They claimed that giving away cash like this was more “efficient” and “effective” than spending the same money on the same old booth giveaways.

But is handing out cash this way at a booth a good idea?  Is it tacky?  Does it really drive the right prospect behavior or lead qualification?

I’m leaning towards “tacky” but am curious what you think.  Would you do this at your booth?  Have you done it?

Let me know your opinions and experience.

5 Things Marketing Automation Administrators Should Know

joshhillThis is a guest post from Josh Hill, author of the Marketing Rockstar Guides blog on demand generation. He is currently Marketo Practice Lead at Perkuto, a marketing automation agency.

When I first joined the marketing automation world in 2010, I was excited about bringing in a more regular process for managing leads as well as more automation to handle that process. But what I was not ready for was the tidal wave of changes required to make the lead lifecycle work across Salesforce and Marketo.

Since then, I have enjoyed being a part of dozens of marketing automation implementations.

The single biggest lesson? Think through the implications of everything marketing automation can touch. If you can successfully do this by following these five tips, you will be a great marketing automation administrator.

1. Put Data First

Data is the foundation upon which your CRM and marketing automation systems are built, so it is logical that you pay attention to the data that is in these systems as well as the processes and workflows that you’re building around them. Creating a data quality report each month is a good way to highlight gaps – and success – in your house list. To that end, have a set of data rules for your team. I developed the Six Principles of Marketing Automation Data. Know them and practice them.

2. Collaborate with Other Teams

In spite of its name, marketing automation touches multiple departments, especially Sales.  Getting input and buy-in from Sales and other departments is an absolute must. As you begin to map out your implementation or change plan, make sure that you’re scheduling time with an experienced person from each department. There’s no need to try to compensate for their experience when you can download their knowledge and incorporate their feedback into your planned system.

3. Create Process Visualizations

Outside of your cubicle, could anyone else understand what you have done? If you decide to leave on vacation or move to another firm, your current firm will be terribly confused. But what is worse is if you can’t remember your own work and reasons for building the system a certain way.

Top administrators create detailed diagrams, which help relay the big picture to your entire organization quickly and efficiently.  Remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a process chart is worth a two hour meeting. Charts help you discuss suggested improvements and receive faster approval.

Take time to map out existing processes, workflows, teams, and your desired end state. Marketing automation can be a catalyst for change, but successful change requires careful planning.

From a simple whiteboard exercise to Visio to LucidChart, I use them all.

4. Know Your Systems

You might assume an Administrator knows his or her system. Go beyond simply knowing Marketo or Eloqua. Know your instance inside and out. And know how it works with your CRM, your website, and your product. People look to you for solutions and you should be able to articulate one, even if you cannot implement all of it alone.

5. Administrators are Guardians and Teachers

Much like a server system administrator or a Salesforce Administrator, you have three key responsibilities. First, you are the steward and guardian of a working and living system that must be monitored constantly. You authorize users as a gatekeeper. Second, when you allow in other marketers, you are their teacher. You must nurture their skills and teach them how to do their job well and without causing harm to the system. Third, you are responsible for the data and workflows. Changes to the system must be well considered, communicated, and executed without causing disruption to staff, business, and customers.

Are you a marketing automation administrator? Share your thoughts here.