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Sunday, January 25, 2009

ProductCamp Austin Winter 2009


I went to the ProductCamp Austin on Saturday. It was an interesting experience because I don't have much of a background in Product Marketing or Product Management. A big part of why I wanted to attend was so that I could learn what distinguishes product marketing from the areas I'm more familiar with, marketing communications and lead generation.


From the sessions that I attended, product management and marketing deal extensively with customers. Much of the work is around understanding the customers needs and how they interact with a company's products and services. From a marketing perspective that puts a significant emphasis on customer personas -- how you create them and how you use them.

My biggest take-aways from ProductCamp were these:

1. Listen. Listen. Listen. -- Don't create the personas that you want, don't solve the problems that you wish customers had, don't tell stories that focus on your needs.

2. Data should always be used to monitor trending. An interesting point came up about personas being re-created every so often to reflect current customer needs. I don't think that point would be disputed by anyone. What I would build onto the practice of updating customer personas is building a model to follow trends in how those personas have changed over time.
- Are there specific aspects or attributes of your customers that continue to change with each iteration?
- Are the needs of your customers following industry trends or do they move in a different direction?
- What problems do you continue to see surface for your customers, or about your products?

I'm definitely glad I was able to attend this year's ProductCamp and looking forward to next year already.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals: Introduction

I've written a 4-part series about Lead Nurturing. This is becoming a major trend for 2009 and I believe that marketers need to be more than just informed about it, we need to be advocates for making the changes in our ogranizations that will allow this to happen.




Part 3: Content

Part 4: Technology

All links from this series are on Delicious.com with the tag Lead+Nurturing.

I encourage any feedback. Leave your thoughts, challenges, or success stories.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Foundations of Lead Nurturing -- Technology

I've put off technology for the end because I've been trying to figure out how I want to write this post.  


My friend Rebecca pointed me to a post by Mike Volpe of Hubspot, from last year, about about lead nurturing. I like his point and his passion for building relationships with his potential customers.

I wanted to take hold of this concept but couldn't shake a nagging sense of pragmatism. While his example is a great anecdote, if he spent that much time of his time with each customer, he wouldn't be able to effectively grow his business. As I was doing some more research, I ran across a post about why most customers suck (they exaggerate for effect). 

The lead nurturing process has to scale in a way that doesn't hinder building a personal relationship.

And it's at this point that we can start talking about marketing automation. However, I decided that I don't want to do just a review of marketing automation platforms. There are a lot of options out there, each with different capabilities and limitations. The only real way to know what will work for you is to research them.

Using marketing automation as a tool in a B2B lead nurturing program can help the prospect be prepared for a sales call. The goal is to get them away from the automated portion and into conversation. Using the technology can play an important role because it gives you the chance to maintain contact with prospects until they are ready to advance.

How can you use marketing automation effectively then? 

1. Lead Scoring
Using lead scoring during your lead capture process will help you start defining who are your top 20%, who are in the middle 60% and who are in the unqualified 20%. Lead scores can be simple - based on demographic information - or more sophisticated. With scoring in place you can start determine how you filter your leads, including where you draw the line for MQL (marketing qualified lead)

2. Define a goal/threshold
This veers back towards the process side again. But, using marketing automation allows you to dynamically update prospect lead scores based on their activity after you've collected their information (and given them an initial score). What you are looking for is an optimized point when leads should be passed over to sales for personal attention. Setting a threshold forces you to move leads through the system, think of it as the accountability. If prospects are reaching this threshold and still not ready for sales, then you've got some work to do. 

3. Create a path
Building on the point above about lead scoring, you need to clearly define what path you will be presenting your prospects. You want to encourage them to continue engaging with your company, that mean determining what lead nurturing content you will use based on initial lead score and where you want them to end up. Each step on your path should include a call to action that gets your prospect closer to understanding why they should buy your product or service.

Caveat: I feel that I need to point out that capturing someone's email address and subscribing them to your corporate newsletter is not a lead nurturing path. You'll need to build it out just a little further. (And if you are going to include your newsletter as a piece of content in lead nurturing, make sure you have a call to action that allows your prospects to keep moving.)

4. Measure and Test
I'm going to put these two together because they go hand-in-hand. One compelling aspect of marketing automation is that, if integrated with your back-end sales system (I definitely don't want to take that for granted) you get closer to closed-loop marketing. The window between leads generated by marketing and sales activity is too often opaque. As marketers we should always be striving to measure not only the CTR or conversion rate of a campaign but also the closed sales deals.

Set your KPIs and measure how your leads are progressing based on the criteria that are important to you.  If you are just implementing marketing automation, or lead nurturing, or measuring your marketing efforts, I recommend that you spend some time getting a baseline. It's tempting to want to start changing things immediately and just try to beat the previous number. But establishing a baseline for your marketing campaigns will give you a much stronger position when you have to prove your results later. (Assuming you were able to drive them upward.)

When you begin testing, look at what's already been done for similar campaigns. While I don't recommend you follow everything, previous research can give you ideas for what you should test first in your own campaigns. Remember, testing is a continuous process. Continue looking for small and major changes that you can make to your campaigns and nurturing paths to continue to increase your response and, ultimately, closed deal rates.

Links on Delicious.com tagged: Lead+Nurturing

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lead Nurturing Fundamentals -- Content

Having been through the exercise of defining what a lead is, the role of content is to help you move those leads through the B2B buying cycle.
This means two very important things for the content that you use for lead nurturing.

  1. Content should be appropriate to your prospect's stage in the buying cycle.
  2. Content should include a call to action that moves interested prospects closer to being sales ready.
Let's break it down to the individual steps and see what applies.

1. Identifying the problem -- You don't have a nurturing role here but certainly marketing can be instrumental in helping shape the discussion around problem-identification. This is not to imply that you should be creating problems so you can sell more product but if you have insight into your industry and can identify where companies are failing then bringing that to light benefits both sides.The content that you would want to focus on is less targeted and more traditional publishing. Speak at key industry events, get quoted in trade publications, and write your own blog.

Call to Action: Find out more information about your company and products from your site.

2. Defining the criteria -- While discussion about a solution may still be at a very high-level at this stage, experience with existing companies and products will influence the input given.
The work you have done in branding your company and products will bring your value into the discussions, even before your name is actually mentioned.

Call to Action: Find out more information about your company and products when doing research.

3. Researching the options -- This is a key step. At this point in the cycle two crucial things happen. First, the responsibility for moving the process forward is typically delegated to a lower level within the organization. And second, you may get your first contact with a new prospect. I'm probably going to run afoul of Sales people everywhere but there is a real danger if you try to take prospects at this stage and skip right to the Purchase stage. For some prospects it might work, however as a strategy you're going to lose more than you keep.
Image Credit: Viewoftheworld
The content you want to have for prospects in this stage is high-level information. White papers serve this stage well if they are positioned as research or insight into broad needs fulfillment. Content at this stage should be easily accessible, either living outside your lead capture mechanism or behind only the lightest of touches.

Call to Action: Engage with your company by providing information in exchange for something of value.

4. Evaluating Products/Services -- In my experience this is probably the most critical stage in the buying cycle for marketing, especially in the context of lead nurturing. In this stage, information has been gathered, both generally about the industry and specifically about companies. The prospect is now comparing products against each other; looking for the strengths and weaknesses of each product when lined up side-by-side.
By this time your prospects should be engaged with a sales person. But marketing can still contribute to closing the deal. Content for this stage should reinforce what they are hearing from sales. Case studies that show how similar problems were solved or spec. sheets that detail the features a prospect needs can be effective. You can also use high-engagement content like webinars to keep yourself at the top of the evaluation list.

Call to Action: Contact your company, or sales person, with specific questions about your products or services.

5. Trial/Test Period -- This can be a tricky case. If your company offers a low-barrier free trial that prospects can use on their own, then marketing should have a trigger to re-engage with the prospect before the trial period ends.
This is a good time to ask if the prospect needs more time to continue their evaluation or if they want to speak with someone about your product/service in more detail. This step can also help you determine which prospects may never be viable for your company and allow you to shift focus away from them.

On the other hand, if your trial requires a commitment, such as a physical installation, then you're in a good position having gotten in the door. While your prospect is going to be heavily engaged with sales, and possibly a sales engineer, marketing can still contribute.

If you have a customer-support area of your site that facilitates either customer-to-customer interaction or easy access to your own internal support, you should provide your prospects with information about how to participate and some pointers towards areas that might be most useful to them.

Call to Action: Extend the benefits gained from the trail by purchasing your products or service.

6. Purchase and Implementation -- After the deal has been completed is a good time to make sure you have clean, viable data. Check if the initial contact is still going to be active in the on-going relationship. If the primary contact is changing, make sure you have updated information about the new contact. If there are going to be additional contacts after the sale, make sure those are also captured and associated with the deal. With a more complete picture of how you will be used within your customer's company, you are in a better position to make cross-sell and up-sell offers.
When you do win a new customer, have a welcome package ready for them. The contents of this will vary but should include contact information to key areas of your company. You can use this touchpoint to ask for an opt-in from any new contacts as well.

Call to Action: Opt-in to continued communications from your company. Explore additional products or services that may be of benefit.

Links and additional resources at Delicious: Lead+Nurturing