I am a big fan of marketing automation.  It has a lot of great uses to streamline your marketing efforts, get you a wealth of insight and help you tailor the right messages at the right time to the right people.  But as with everything, there are exceptions.  One big exception is using marketing automation tools when you are trying to reach a C-level audience.  The typical CEO or other C-level person is extremely busy trying to run their business day-to-day.  The last thing they are going to do is read marketing emails or surf the web in search of information about a particular solution set.  And if they do, they certainly don’t want a vendor calling them up and trying to sell them the latest widget to solve their problem.

C-level people are best reached through live interactions or interruptive marketing techniques such as a slick direct mail package.  These are not the type of techniques that you can automate or score on.  I am hard-pressed to tell you how you can use marketing automation at all when reaching this audience.  The only way I can think to take advantage is to use marketing automation to reach the people that will sell you internally to their C-level.

The bottom line is that every technology has a time and place.  It is probably best to back away from the technology when you are trying to sell into most C-level audiences.  There is no shortcut to reach that target audience.

I was reading an article this morning about some investors who are underwater on their recent IPO investments.  Facebook, whose stock price is down 17% from the IPO, and Zynga (Farmville, etc.), who has lost more than half of its value in the last 16 months, are two examples that were cited. 

This got me thinking about fads vs. trends.  Facebook and Zynga seem to have some fad qualities to them.  They were very popular in the beginning because there were no alternatives.  So people poured a lot into them.  But as time goes on, other competitors have popped into the space.  They have the advantage of learning from those first movers and adjusting their strategy.

Social media, on the other hand, is a trend.  It’s here to stay.  The format and level of sophistication may change.  But it isn’t a fad that will go away in a few years.  The younger generations have embraced social media in its entirety.  The point here is that marketing strategy needs to be built around trends.  Social media is just a new channel with many tactics like Facebook in it. 

I suspect in the coming years we will see more and more new channels like this pop up.  The trick is to recognize the difference between the fad and the trend.  It can be very powerful to take advantage of a fad, but it should be backed with solid strategy around the channel so that you can easily switch the tactic within the channel.

A lot of marketers are still intimidated by social media.  There doesn’t seem to be a lot of clear direction out there for how to use it, how to track it and how to make it effective.  It doesn’t have to be that difficult.  Think of social media as just another way to have a conversation with your target base.  These conversations used to happen only in a coffee shop, with the stranger seated beside you on an airplane or in your backyard as you chat with your neighbor.  Social media just provides a way for people to connect with a larger group of people with similar interests or backgrounds and have those conversations more broadly.  If you approach social media as a marketer the same way you would if you just happened to be seated by one of your targets on an airplane, it should be very clear what to do.

First, have a conversation.  A conversation implies give and take, not one-way broadcasting of messages.  And not canned elevator speeches.  A conversation is a two-way communication about something of value or interest to both parties.  Provide some interesting information or valuable stats to your targets.  Ask them for their input or experiences.

Also, it should be obvious, but don’t just sell them.  No one wants to be stuck beside the used car salesman who is trying to sell them a car they don’t want on a 4 hour plane ride.  If I find you have a genuine need for what I can provide and offer up information about it – that’s different.  You would be interested in discussing that.  But to find that out, you first have to find out more about the other person.

Finally, you need to make sure you are being either relevant or entertaining in some way to keep their interest.  How long would I stand and talk to you if you droned on about a topic of no interest to me?  Attention spans online are even shorter, because I don’t feel the need to stand and nod politely while you talk – it’s much easier to walk away.

Hopefully this gives you some food for thought as you continue to navigate the murky waters of social media.

One of the biggest barriers to the marketing team’s ability to effectively influence revenue is often in their lack of ability to align with the sales team.  In most organizations, sales is the key function around which all else revolves.  It makes sense.  After all, if sales can’t sell your products or services, then you don’t have a company.  But many marketers see them as the enemy they are constantly fighting to get on board so they can be more successful.

The first step, as they say, is recognizing you have a problem.  The optimal marketing and sales relationship is not an adversarial one.  However, you need to recognize that it is your problem – not the sales team’s problem.  They could probably survive just fine without you – it would just make their job harder.  But most marketing departments would not survive without sales.  So you can’t expect sales to see alignment as a high priority or take action to remedy the problem.

The next step is to recognize that you have shared goals and start treating the relationship as such.  You both are trying to make more money for your company.  Start from that common ground.  Recognize that the sales team has access to key information that you need – what is getting your target audience’s attention and which of your messages/value propositions are resonating.  In return, you can help them be more successful at their job by providing better messaging, more qualified leads and nurture campaigns to keep prospects moving along their buy cycle.

Here are some specific ways you can align better with your sales team:

  • Attend sales meetings
  • Invite them to your marketing meetings
  • Invite sales feedback on your campaigns before you launch them
  • Give your sales team a way to give you feedback from customers and prospects
  • Go out on field visits to prospects with your sales reps (note – sales reps may have a very different view of the world than sales managers – take both views into account)
  • Create a shared marketing and sales steering committee to define the joint strategy
  • Setup Service Level Agreements (SLAs) between marketing and sales that clearly define the actions that are to be taken by each team, in what time frame and escalation points
  • Create a shared marketing and sales funnel with clear definitions and metrics for each stage
  • Share metrics and analysis with the sales team to provide value
  • Provide market research and further customer/prospect insights to the sales team to make their job more efficient
  • Focus on passing over more qualified leads to sales – put pre-sales qualification into place to ensure they will not need to waste their time on prospects that aren’t ready to buy

These are just a few ways you can start to work together better with your sales team.  Start looking at them as a partner with shared goals and you will find countless other ways to move forward together.

After a successful first half of her day and a good break, Janet is ready to tackle the tasks ahead of her.  At 1 pm, Janet reviews the latest campaign metrics.  She notices that one of her campaigns is not getting good response rates.  She calls the campaign manager into her office to brainstorm getting this campaign back on track.  It is determined that the messaging and offers should be tweaked.  The campaign manager goes off to make the changes and they agree to discuss the results in a few days.

Next she takes a look at the lead scoring results.  She notices many leads in “hot” status.  A quick look in the CRM shows that many of these leads have not been followed-up on by the lead qualification team.  She heads over to talk to the lead of that team.  The conversation is easy because the teams are in close alignment on strategy and incentives.  Everyone is working towards the same goals.  She determines that the issue is around having too many leads in hot status, but when the lead qual team follows up, not many are converting.  She discusses with her Marketing Automation administrator some changes she wants to make to the lead scoring criteria.  The changes will be made by the end of the day and they can review the results in a few days again to see if it helps.

At 3 pm, Janet interviews a couple of candidates for her team.  She is looking for a business analyst who can help with reporting and data quality.  This will be a key role to keep her team supplied with the right information and prospect data to be effective in their campaign efforts.  She is looking for someone who can not only crunch the numbers but also analyze the results and bring suggestions to the table.  She also wants someone who is familiar with data best practices that can keep their database clean and complete.

At the end of the day, Janet looks back at her dashboard to find some campaigns that are working well.  She shoots off some meeting invitations to business leaders to discuss how she might be able to replicate these campaigns with their content.  She updates the campaign calendar based on her earlier strategy discussions and shuts down her computer for the night.  She’s now off to watch her son’s soccer game secure in the knowledge that her marketing department is an effective and efficient piece of the company’s revenue engine.

Janet gets to the office around 7 am because she likes to work early to avoid interruptions and be done with work at a reasonable time so she can spend more time with her family.  However, her CFO feels the same way, so this morning she is accosted with questions as soon as she walks in about the effectiveness of her marketing spend.  Fortunately, Janet has this information readily on hand because she has a marketing dashboard that gives her real-time information about closed-loop marketing ROI.  She can tell the CFO exactly how much she has spent and what she has in both closed won and anticipated revenue for the month, quarter and year.

At 9 am, Janet has a meeting scheduled with her CMO to talk about the marketing strategy for the next quarter.  She walks in with information about what has been working for them and what hasn’t.  She also has some ideas about what they could try because she has been quietly testing out new strategies for the past few months and has information about what might work.  The meeting concludes promptly at 9:30 with a clear vision of the strategy for the next quarter and buy-in from the CMO.

At 10 am, Janet chairs a staff meeting where the Revenue Marketing team reports out on the status of current campaign projects.  With simple workflow tools and project dashboards, Janet can clearly see where everything stands and get tasks at risk of slipping back on track.  Everyone on her team has clear roles and understands how they are evaluating campaigns against revenue.

At 11 am, Janet sits down to review the latest content pieces the team has developed.  She has clearly defined personas and buy cycles for her prospects, so she knows what content will be effective in each stage of the decision process for each type of prospect.  That makes her job in editing the content easy.

At noon, she finally gets a break before gearing up for the second half of her day…

My first real experience with creating web pages was in the mid-90’s with the Purdue University Graduate School.  They knew they needed a web site, as it was the next big communication medium.  So I took their existing application forms, converted them to PDF, and added all the fields so an applicant could fill it out online, print it out and mail it in.  That seems crazy now, but that’s the best we could think of at the time.  They were just doing what everyone else was.  It’s not really a lot different from how most companies use video, social media and other new media today.

Granted, there are a few companies doing great things with these channels.  And we can learn a lot from watching them.  But until you can create something that is really adding value to your clients and prospects, just jumping on the bandwagon is probably not the right answer for you.  As your mother might say, “just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t mean you need to.”

That may seem blasphemous to most marketers today.  You should always be exploring new channels.  But you can waste a lot of time and money doing things just to blend in with the crowd.  What you really want to do is stand out from the crowd.  What if you bucked the trend and creatively used some “older” techniques?  What if you were the only company in your industry sending out hand-written letters?  What if you were the only one taking your product samples door-to-door?  What if you didn’t attend that industry trade show but instead hosted exclusive dinners of your own in cities around the country for those who couldn’t go to the show?

Yes, you need to make sure that you are doing efficient and effective marketing, but you may find that you can stand out more by looking for things that everyone else is not doing.  And if you happen to come up with a creative way to use social media or email to stand out in the meantime, go for it!  Just don’t limit your channel choices to only the latest and greatest trends.