Demand Generation for the C-Suite: How to Hit the Right Spot

Blog Post Originally Published in BtoB Magazine

Marketers are constantly under pressure to prove value by bringing in leads for sales. This in turn creates a vicious cycle where marketers will cast a wide net in hopes of bringing in as many hand-raisers as possible. It’s not always a win-win, as oftentimes those don’t turn out to be quality leads. Today, it’s a different ballgame: We need to shift to a more targeted accounts-based approach, which means creating content and messaging to support the many buyers and influencers throughout the buying process—especially C-suite. Let’s face it— the holy grail of marketing is to get to the influencers— the C-suite—who have the ultimate say in how an organization invests its dollars.

I recently spoke on a panel titled Demand Gen for the C-Suite, sponsored by Loop Demand, alongside C. Edward Brice (@cedwardbrice), senior VP-worldwide marketing at Lumension Security.  I’ve summarized some of the interesting tips from that panel in a two-part Q&A blog series with Ed. Here’s part one:

Why is it important to target the C-suite in your demand-generation efforts?

Brice: Let me first say that my point of view comes from what we observe in the buying process as an IT security software company. I believe that the C-suite is more involved in the operational side of the business than in the past—and maybe even more than what has been traditionally perceived. I suppose there could be a few C-level executives locked away in the mahogany halls of the ivory tower somewhere, kept away from all the dysfunction of the day, but I haven’t encountered that in my own environment or in our customers’ environments. I find that most C-level leaders are either searching for answers to operational problems or researching best practices, strategic issues and emerging trends.

The C-level isn’t going to take a cold call or enthusiastically sit through a sales-oriented or product-centered webcast, so make sure your demand gen efforts are holistic by developing content across key topics that these individuals will find relevant, and deliver that content through appropriate channels.

How does this differ from your traditional demand-generation marketing campaigns?

Brice: Here’s an example: In our annual program planning, we identify key problems or scenarios. Then, we develop content, which is based on the context of a buyer’s journey, that’s designed to help drive inquiries and convert those inquiries into opportunities to support our sales cycle. We don’t intentionally target C-level folks with these messages, because they really aren’t our primary target audience. We then have thought leadership topics that we consider the industry’s hot topics, and we develop content related to these topics, which may be targeted to C-level roles. The objective with this content is to educate and to deliver our point of view on these hot topics, and to provide recommendations for company execs to consider in developing a strategy.

CEOs and other C-level executives are guarded by many gatekeepers. How can you pierce those corporate shells and get to the right people?

Brice: A few years back, Sirius Decisions did an interesting study that identified three major roles that a C-level leader plays across a buying cycle: Champion (guides the buying process); ratifier (validates and signs the PO); and influencer (advises throughout the buying process). I think in most cases it may be more effective to focus on producing relevant content across a buyer’s journey than spending 100 percent of your effort on trying to reach the C-level. It’s likely that they are part of the process anyway, but may or may not be driving the process. There are times, of course, where you’re trying to educate the market on a very new and innovative strategy, and that might require a more C-level-targeted approach.

In my next blog, I will write about content marketing for the C-suite.

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Social Media Planning and Strategy – An Oxymoron?

Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics: How Social Media Transforms the Way We Live and Do Business and renowned speaker on all things social media, once said: “We don’t have a choice whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it.”

According to a 2009 survey by Marketing Trends, the top three areas of investment moving into next year are e-mail marketing, social media and search. Why? The traditional marketing model has fundamentally changed. People are moving away from physical events and advertising as they are no longer the optimal choices to market brands or products. Meanwhile, more companies are seeing social media as a key marketing channel. According to the CMO Council, “60 percent of the more than 600 marketers who responded in our survey will invest in new online community and networking tools in the next year.” Today, it’s about word of mouth — people  their time online are engaging with like-minded people to learn what others (their trusted networks) are saying about brands, products and services.

I recently attended MarketingProfs’ #techchat on Twitter with Guy Kawasaki, the leading expert in social media. He brought up two thought provoking comments during the chat which inspired me to write this post. First, he said when it comes to social media, businesses should just throw something at it and see what sticks.

Second, he said, social media planning and strategy is an oxymoron. Maybe this was his way of stirring up controversy to see what others would say. A few years back, this would’ve made sense, but given how far we’ve come with social media in B2B and B2C companies and the data and success stories we now have, there is no excuse for companies to not adequately plan and build a strategy.

I recently spoke at a panel session sponsored by Enterprise Network where I had the pleasure to be among a stellar group of social media experts — Kathy Sacks, VP of Communication for InfusionSoft; Al Maag, Chief Communication Officer for Avnet; Ed Brice, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for Lumension, and Patrick O’Grady of the Phoenix Business Journal. For more details, you can read Linda Vandervedre of PR Valley PR Blog. Attendees consisted of entrepreneurs, marketers and business consultants all looking to get into social media, which takes me back to my original point — it’s not a question of if but how well, and doing social media well takes planning and a solid strategy that aligns with business objectives. Companies that are looking to launch social media have a tremendous opportunity to become thought leaders and drive social media forward. To do this, consider these points:

First things first, research: During the panel session, Kathy Sacks had an interesting twist when she said we are therapists, because we need to listen as part of social media. We need to monitor and listen before we do anything. Find out what people are saying about your brand, products or services or even competitors’ stuff. Companies underestimate the intelligence they can gather on customers, prospects, competitors and future markets through social media monitoring. The data points gathered through listening and monitoring will help you better understand where your communities are and where you need to be when mapping out your strategy and plan. Such examples are also crucial when making a case to your team and executive management.

Planning is the foundation for all things social media: Planning has several components. First, define your objectives —to simply listen, monitor, innovate, engage and/or build thought leadership? From there, you can outline what channels are relevant and why. For example, consider launching a blog and developing a presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn as well as YouTube. Understand your resources and what’s realistic in terms of fully committing to these channels to meet your objectives. Planning requires attention and time because social media is about authenticity, engagement, consistency and commitment. Under the leadership of Heather Loisel, SVP of Worldwide Marketing for JDA, I’ve had the pleasure of working our social media team to see the progression of planning and how that is impacting executive buy-in. A well-thought-out plan will serve as a compass for your strategy.

Strategy will determine your social media direction: “Before you journey, observe the wind carefully, detect its direction, and then follow it. You will get to your destination twice as fast with half the effort.” (Ching-Ning Chu). According to Sirius Decision, a coordinated strategy is in place in fewer than 20 percent of B2B companies that use social media. When building a strategy, everyone must work together to build an enforceable policy, education program, and what key channels you’re going to integrate into your marketing plan and deploy company-wide as part of your strategy. Your strategy should take into consideration how you’re going to integrate everyone into the mix — IT, HR, legal, executives and employees — into the fold. This is key for getting executives to buy into your plan for using social media outlets – getting their approval will allow you to align corporate objectives with social media strategy and goals.

ROI (Risk of Ignoring): Mitch Glasser said it best during the Q&A after the panel session about ROI — that it’s no longer about return on investment but the risk of ignoring social media. This is true. Today, you no longer control the brand; your customers do. And this is unsettling to many marketers. But you have to consider the risk of ignoring social media because if you choose to close your eyes to what’s happening in the social Web, your competitors will pass you by.

Additional Resources:

Linda Vandevrede’s Valley PR Blog: Local Communication Pros Discuss Social Media

Ed Brice’s Marketing Gimbal Blog: Six Social Media Sins

Mashable: 3 Things You Need to Know About Social Media Strategy

 Phoenix Business Journal Blog: Social Media Going Business to Business

Sirius Decision: Monitoring: The Foundation of a B2B Social Media Strategy

Win the Crowd and You’ll Win Your Dream Client

Marketing and PR is a tough market to be in, especially for full-service agencies. What’s more, the introduction of the social Web has thrown a wrench into the overall mix of the complicated world of agency life. The upside is more companies are outsourcing PR, advertising, marketing, copywriting, etc. due to internal budgetary restraints. According to The Black Book of Outsourcing report compiled by Brown-Wilson Group, outsourcing is forecast to pass the $3.5 billion mark in 2012, representing a 41 percent compound annual growth rate from $700 million in 2008 (via BtoB Marketing article by Debra Andrews). While this may be good news, it’s bad news for agencies that don’t get it. Over the course of the last eight years, I’ve interviewed dozens of agencies, from boutique, best-of-breed firms to large global firms, and have witnessed various approaches to trying to win over our account — from painful, cookie-cutter pitches to the best, most well-prepared presentations.

While an agency’s instinct is to be competitive, many fall short by not doing their due diligence and demonstrating value throughout the sales process. I want to provide a client-side perspective on key ways to win clients over. In the end, when you win the crowd (think: good PR), you’ll most likely win the client.

Get the Upper Hand on Your Client’s Business

Great news! You’ve received a call that a company wants to talk to your agency. But this is just the beginning. The first impression is everything — don’t overlook it. Rather than getting on the phone the first chance you get, gather your thoughts and have a game plan. This means the following:

  • Understand who the client is, what the company does, what markets it serves, etc. This will give you some guidance for your first phone conversation.
  • Send a nice note to the client when setting up your initial conversation, and send along information about your company, your success stories, a list of your clients in the same industry (to show you are more than equipped to bring expertise and knowledge of that industry to the table), and a list of questions that you would like to discuss during the call. This will give the client an understanding of how the initial call will be structured.
  • Research the client’s share of voice so you can provide some insight during your introductory call and demonstrate your willingness to do your homework.
  • Research their competitors – find out how they fare against the client’s current place in the market in terms of share of voice (I’ll dive into this a bit later).

Your Keys to the Kingdom

Your keys to the kingdom may lie in your comprehensive groundwork. The initial call should be used to make the introduction and showcase your agency and what sets you apart, but more importantly, to understand the client’s key objectives. What key attributes are they looking for in an agency, why did the last one fail, how is PR perceived and prioritized within the organization, what kind of value-add are they looking for, and how are they planning to support the PR efforts?

What does the client want in terms of support from an agency — drive thought leadership, raise brand awareness, provide analyst support, messaging, blogging? This will help you understand their perception of PR and whether it aligns with yours. Competitive intelligence is also key. Understanding who their competitors are is crucial to developing a magnetic plan that will win the crowd over.

It’s Show Time

After several phone conversations, now it’s time to fly your team to your client’s headquarters for the show of your life. Don’t go into it blind because you’ve had some good conversations over the phone with the person leading the search. Find out who will be there and who the decision makers are. This will give your team a chance to do some digging and background work on the key people who are going to be present at your face-to-face meeting. I’ve learned that it helps to make friends with the primary contact because he or she will be instrumental in guiding you throughout the process — telling you what to expect, who the players are, what to watch out for, and possibly even helping you structure your presentation to meet everyone’s needs.

This was the case with Lois Paul and Partners. Carol Hanko, now SVP at LP&P, established a strong relationship with me during the process and leveraged my knowledge and position to walk through the presentation before we had the face-to-face meeting. Great move! Now it’s show time. A few things to keep in mind:

  • Come dressed to impress – Even though the organization might be flexible and casual, this doesn’t mean you should imitate that. Dress in your best business attire and show your client that you mean business.
  • Show up early – Technology glitches can be nerve-wracking. By getting there early, you can set up and get comfortable, make your round of introductions, and have your team ready when the client’s team arrives in the boardroom.
  • Put your best foot or person forward – I highly recommend your VP on the account present, but segment the key areas to showcase the team’s skills rather than having one person talk the whole time. This instills confidence and trust. Why? It’s more than likely that your VP will not always be there, so having a well-balanced team helps a great deal.

Energize Your Clients

So you’ve done the whole song and dance at the face-to-face meeting. What comes next may be the make-or-break opportunity. You should always follow up with a nice note to each member who attended the presentation. 

  • Call your main contact and find out what he or she thought of the presentation. This will give you an opportunity to address any reservations.
  • Act like you’ve already won the account. You and your team should be looking at opportunities that might be a good fit and flagging them for your client. This means blogs, speaking, awards, media, analysts and social media. This shows leadership and true passion for the client.
  • Maintain top-of-mind awareness. When you continually maintain the flow of information, contact and follow-up, your client will see this as a key differentiator. I know I did.

Walk the Walk

One-dimensional agencies will not succeed. If you think PR is about media pitching or sending out press releases, you’re dead wrong! Today, PR agencies must make a shift and adopt new channels to deliver more value to their clients. And if you can’t walk the walk, it’ll show. To set yourself apart from the competition, you have to demonstrate why you’re the leading-edge agency. This means having an established presence in social media, powerful social website, blog, success stories, multi-media, interactive pressroom, etc. Being the leader in terms of new trends and technologies can be important in guiding clients to a successful PR strategy.

If you have any other tips or suggestions, please share. I would love to hear from you.

5 Powerful Steps to Optimize Your Business with LinkedIn

Post originally published on www.agencyside.net http://bit.ly/b2IraA.

With more than 50 million professionals entrusting their personal brand and identities with LinkedIn, the social networking platform has evolved into the largest business networking platform.  While LinkedIn is still largely used by professionals to connect with other colleagues, LinkedIn has added powerful capabilities to extend personal and business brand, enhance SEO, and engage with a thriving community.  LinkedIn goes a step further on networking by allowing you to build a community to share information, educate, discuss, debate, and build thought leadership for your brand. LinkedIn not only presents great opportunities for businesses but agencies that are evolving with the demands of their clients to leverage crucial social networking channels to build brand awareness, connect with a thriving community, build thought leadership and ultimately drive traffic to blogs or websites in a cost effective manner.

Why LinkedIn? Agencies should take note – it’s critical for brands to be present, be heard, be engaged, and be connected in order to build and sustain success. The Internet, and advent of Web-based tools, has provided us with a powerful tool in being all those things, often in real time.

In this blog, “Harnessing the Power of LinkedIn for Businesses”, I will cover key steps to guide agencies on the proper use of LinkedIn to provide the most bang for your efforts. For more information, please check out A Practical Approach to Building Brand and SEO through LinkedIn, my Q&A blog with Chris Hewitt.

1. Personalize Your Brand by Building a Corporate Profile

Similar to what you do on a personal level, encourage your clients to build a dynamic, engaging presence by launching a corporate profile. Start building a community of professionals within your niche market. Companies can promote within your organization to get their trusted employees and their colleagues to join. Key things when building a company profile, make sure to integrate key foundational channels to LinkedIn – your corporate blog, Slideshare, Twitter, and other appropriate applications so that you’re not only building a community, but enriching them with real time information on your blog, events, Twitter, and Slideshare, etc. LinkedIn allows you to showcase a supportive, engaged corporate culture by connecting and fostering your community. Further, you’re elevating your thought leadership position through information sharing, presentations and video sharing, as well as Twitter dialogue.

  • You can write a blog attach it to your profile or promote via your status update
  • Upload Slideshare and share relevant documents and PowerPoints
  • Create polls and questions for your blog, byline article, whitepaper, etc.

2. Engage and Build Your Network via LinkedIn Groups

This is a great tool on LinkedIn to not only engage but to promote your brand, grow your network/community, build trust, and thought leadership. You can start by looking under LinkedIn Groups and doing search using key terms relevant to your market. You’ll find all the groups that you can join. Look at the total number of members before you decide to join all. Be strategic in your approach. Once you have completed this, you can use this for several reasons – for monitoring and engagement, job posting, and driving traffic to your blog or corporate website (or designated site), and increasing your community outreach.

3. Strengthen Your Media Outreach

Analysts and reporters are using the groups to monitor conversations, industry issues, trends, and user pain points. This is a great platform for agencies to monitor respective groups and their media/analysts contacts and flag any opportunities to their clients/spokespeople. Further, have the client or appropriate spokespeople respond directly on the LinkedIn discussion board to build on that relationship with the reporter.

4. Building Trust through Authentic Brand Engagement

You want to set your brand apart from the rest, right? This is where authentic engagement comes in. You can truly make an impact through listening and monitoring discussion and in return engaging providing insightful information or lessons learned relevant to your industry. If necessary, link back to useful information (whitepaper, blog, webinars, etc.). Focus on providing valuable insight and relevant information to help further the discussion. Also, monitor your discussions and when someone posts comments on your discussion, be sure to respond in a timely manner. It’s also helpful to add the following signature for every engagement on discussion boards, dedicated messages, comments, etc.

  • Name
  • Company
  • Blog link
  • Twitter link
  • Group/community link

This way when others in the network are viewing your comments/discussions, they can visit other resources (links) to learn more or follow you on Twitter.

5. Build Thought Leadership by Launching Your Own Community

This may the most powerful feature within LinkedIn. The LinkedIn community organically generates high quality and well-qualified audiences that we, as marketers, would love to reach with our messages. Additionally, there are enough explicit and implicit profiling attributes to segment various audiences (e.g. industry, company size, region, skills, etc.).  Companies can reach their target audience as well as build their brand by launching a dedicated community. Grow your community by promoting it on other groups’ discussion boards. To make your community compelling and interesting for others to join, start by sharing interesting industry related articles, debate topics, or even posing a question around your blog content along with a link. Be sure the content is educational/informative, not company or product specific. You can also send dedicated emails to promote events, whitepapers, ebooks, blogs, etc. You can also create subgroups if you want to target via geos or different niche markets.

 How are you using LinkedIn to build your brand, SEO, and thought leadership?

CEO Blog: Should CEOs Stick to Internal Blogging?

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Forgive me…for I have sinned…I haven’t blogged for quite some time but given my recent journey, I’m going to ask for forgiveness and hope that this blog post makes up for it.  In my last post, I covered the first part of the CEO blog: Good for the Executive Brand and Thought Leadership with Guy Kawasaki, where he outlined some interesting points around this topic and whether CEO generated blogs truly garnered value versus the time and effort a CEO has to dedicate to his/her blog.  When asked the question whether CEOs should have an external blog, Kawasaki said, “It’s hard to provide a definitive answer to this because there are several key factors at play. First, is the company publicly traded? If it is, then the CEO must be very careful to limit the information in the blog—so much so, that the blog may be rendered boring. Second, can the CEO write well? If not, is she or he willing to use a ghost writer? Third, does the CEO truly have something significant to say? This is a ‘duhism,’ but not enough CEOs as themselves this question.” 

 

In a world where social media is revolutionizing the way we communicate, connect, and collaboate, more people are begging the question: “Should CEOs blog?”  Better question would be: “Can your CEO blog well?” It’s definitely an untapped opportunity for CEOs to get in on the action if their passion and time permit.  As Del Jones (@jonesdel) puts it in one of his interviews in USA Today, it’s about risk and readability. Further, it’s about the transparency of the blog. With that said, is it more beneficial for CEOs to stick to internal blogging for the sake of enhancing communications with their internal audience – the employees?  This question takes me to my second installment of the CEO blog series and why CEOs should stick to internal blogging.

I took this question to my colleague and good friend  Chris Hewitt who used to run his own marketing firm. He is also the author of his personal blog called What Does Marketing Really Do?  He’s makes a good argument as to why CEOs are better off having an internal blog to reach their employees and boost communications with their constituents. Read below:

Do you think CEOs should or shouldn’t blog and why?

Absolutely. I believe that CEOs should most definitely share their voice through blogs.  However, where to blog is the real question for me; I believe that CEOs should strictly create internal blogs for employees of their companies and not blog for the general public.  

While I understand that a CEO is the public face of an organization, I believe that there are plenty of other outlets for CEOs to meet those demands.  If a CEO is going to blog, that valuable time is better spent on topics that can motivate, inform, and organize the members within their organization.

How important is it for CEOs to blog? 
Continuing with my concept on internal blogging, I believe that it is critical for a CEO to embrace blogging as one of the developing concepts for communicating with their people.  

A CEO could use blogging as a method for supporting and encouraging dialogue with the members of their organization.  The asynchronous communication vehicle allows employees to read and respond to the CEO and vice versa…regardless of work schedule, time zone, or geography. 

Additionally, it is important for the CEO to share their thoughts…not simply rely on the talents of a ghostwriter.  Whether it is a video, audio, or written blog, the experience has to be honest and authentic – transparent straight from the CEO’s mouth.

Should you get other senior management to blog? Why or why not? 

Senior management should follow the spirit of internal blogging that is presented by the CEO.  Additionally, the roles of senior managers may demand externally blogging to reach targeted audiences.  Leverage this group to reach outside the company and reserve the blogging of the CEO as exclusive content for employees.

Do you think blogging by a CEO has a positive or negative impact to their overall brand? 

Based on my ‘internal’ blogging concept, I would say that CEO blogging has tremendous value with the ability to influence and affect the value of an organization’s brand.  Discussing core organizational and strategic concepts through a CEO blog – and encouraging open dialogue around those concepts can enforce brand positioning.  As employees (and their interactions outside of the company) are a powerful reflection on a brand, a CEO blog can directly affect that outcome through engagement and dialogue.

What other ways can it benefit the Company and it’s overall business objective?

Many internal communications are structured ‘releases’ thoughtfully created by teams of people. A CEO blog can create a meaningful dialogue among all people within the organization, especially large enterprises where employees can be many levels-removed from the CEO.  A personal voice to a message and an invitation for feedback could positively affect employee satisfaction and motivation.

Top 5 dos and don’ts for senior management and CEOs when it comes to blogging?

Do 

  • Authentically share insight and information 
  • Encourage and support feedback 
  • Respond and participate in the dialogue on an ongoing basis 
  • Invest the time in thoughtfully reflecting on blog topics (especially difficult or sensitive topics) 
  • Continually return value through content; take responsibility for developing readership (spend some time with your blog analytics)

Don’t

  • Assume you know what subjects are the most relevant; ask for ideas on blog concepts 
  • Overly ‘market’ the message 
  • Let someone else be your voice 
  • Feel the need to make every presentation formal 
  • Ignore your organizational culture; know your audience

Can bad blogging kill your brand? Any examples?

I definitely think that bad blogging can damage, if not kill, a brand.  Written communication, because of the general thoughtfulness and preparation, can be so powerful…especially when drawing out emotive responses.  The following are some examples of conceptual mistakes that can result in a ‘bad’ external blog:

  • Is not consistent with the brand positioning, customer approach, or messaging.
  • Ignores the needs, motivations, interests, or concerns of customers.
  • Introduces an important or potentially divisive topics without thoughtfulness or context.
  • Abuses trust, loyalty, or commitment of customers and readers.

Although not technically a blog, we can learn a lot from the recent controversy surrounding John Mackey’s (CEO of Wholefoods) comments regarding healthcare reform.  Regardless of your opinion on the subject, John’s comments were strong enough, on a highly volatile topic, to powerfully divide an audience.  Coupled with John’s influence as CEO of Wholefoods, the message collaterally affected customers, employees, and the business…forcing a burden that can affect those relationships.

Which CEO blogger do you admire most and why?

From an external blog perspective, I really like the authentic and consistently relevant writings of Jason Fried (founder of 37Signals – Web-based software).  As a small business entrepreneur, Jason is close to his business, his customers, and the evolving trends in the Web 2.0 marketplace.  The innovative approach he uses to drive his business is shared with readers; creating dialog and discussion from value-added content.  

In closing, here are my final thoughts – regardless of whether your CEO blogs internally or externally, it’s no small feat. Doing it well and blogging on a consistent basis can take great amount of time and effort. If properly executed, a CEO corporate blog can wield tremendous value to the brand and thought leadership. The question is, what’s the right platform for the CEO and what’s the overall objective.  To round things off, having a CEO internal blog can be a powerful tool for any company when it comes to bridging and building strong employee communication – especially when most people are, as Chris puts it, “many levels removed from the CEO” but the key to maintaining a successful blog is doing it well, being authentic, and being consistent…some of the key ingredients to a corporate blog.  Look for my next installment of the CEO Blog Series on whether CEOs should stick to other simple tools such as Twitter.