Modern Marketing

B2B Marketing Thought Leadership: Tom Pick

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B2B marketing professionals in today’s economy are always looking for new ways to do more with less and still gain a competitive advantage within the marketplace. As part of a new feature on this blog, I will be interviewing industry thought leaders to provide expert advice on lead generation, making the most of your current leads with effective lead management, and increasing your marketing ROI.

Tompick_2 First up in our B2B Marketing interview series is Tom Pick of WebMarketCentral. Tom also writes for the WebMarketCentral Blog, providing resources and tools for the Interactive Marketer.

You’ve been a B2B marketer since 1992. Tell us about what you do and how you got into B2B marketing.

After 14 years on the client side of B2B marketing, primarily in enterprise software, I moved over to the agency side in 2006 as a Marketing & PR Executive with KC Associates.

What’s unique about KCA is that it’s the only PR/marketing firm in Minnesota, and one of few anywhere, that’s exclusively focused on working with B2B technology companies. I also write the WebMarketCentral B2B marketing blog, and manage WebMarketCentral.com, a site that connects web marketers with online resources and services.

From reading your blog, I see that you write a lot about marketing innovation. What are your top 3 tips to help business to business companies tackle the art of innovation?

First, if you sense that the pace of innovation is changing, that isn’t your imagination, it’s real. According to author Tim Harford in The Logic of Life, back around the time when your grandparents were young, the innovation rate was “one stunning idea every year.” In your parents’ youth, that increased to one world-changing idea every six months. Today it’s a significant new innovation — Wikipedia, YouTube, the iPhone — every two months, and the pace continues to increase. That means when it comes to new marketing tactics, there is no time to wait until something is proven before trying it. Blogs are already mainstream; podcasting is close if not already there; and video is fast approaching that status. It’s better to try something new fast, and run the risk of well-intentioned mistakes, than to wait and miss an opportunity.

Second, constant learning is more important than ever. This relates to the first point. Given the accelerating pace of change, the shelf-life of knowledge is becoming increasingly short.

Third is an old lesson but an eternal one: meet the needs of customers. Marketing and PR practitioners have actually, in many ways, been slow to get this. Buyers used to rely on marketing for product information because even though they knew the information would be biased, detailed product information was scarce and difficult to obtain. Today, information is abundant. People ignore — or do what they can to avoid — most marketing messages because they no longer need them. The solution isn’t to SHOUT EVEN LOUDER, it’s to take a step back and try to understand what kind of information your prospects really need. Listen and solve problems first, sell later.

What techniques and marketing tactics have you personally used to push the innovation envelope?

That’s tough, because again, with the increasing pace of change what’s pushing the envelope today is old news tomorrow. I try to experiment with new tools using my own sites, then apply what I learn to client work. I’ve been blogging since 2003, so as I’ve worked with clients in that area, I’ve been able to bring a decent length of real-world experience to it. I started experimenting with social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us and StumbeUpon for B2B marketing in early 2007. I’ve had some success with Wikipedia, although the editors there are so hostile to anything remotely commercial that it’s tough; I think Google’s Knol may offer greater possibilities.

A recent post on your blog discusses using blogs for social media. What opportunities do you see for companies to leverage social media and blogs to increase inquiries and improve Marketing ROI?

Blogging has brought meritocracy to the notion of expertise. The “best” writers aren’t necessarily employed by trade magazine or analyst firms; this is now determined by the wisdom of crowds in the marketplace.

For example, look at the Ad Age Power 150 blog rankings. Sure, a few of the bloggers like Seth Godin and Tom Peters would be B2B celebrities even if blogging didn’t exist because they are very smart and have written best-selling books. But how widely known would names like John Moore, Leigh Householder or Lee Odden be if weren’t for their blogs? These individuals have developed an audience by writing great stuff, and as a result, they have built exceptional credibility with their readers.

Marketers can tap it into that, but it has to be earned and it takes time. “Here’s my latest press release, please write about me” rarely works. But blogging, and developing relationships with other bloggers, is a powerful way to increase brand awareness and credibility.

In your experience, what do you see as the biggest opportunity for B2B marketers striving toward marketing ROI?

Make your company easy to “be found” when buyers are looking for what you have to offer. According to a recent study by MarketingSherpa, 80% of B2B purchase decision makers say that they found the vendor when they were ready to buy, rather than responding to a vendor finding them.

So here’s the test. Let’s say you sell blue thingamabobs. First off, your own website should be optimized as well as possible for that term. But beyond that, you need to have a presence on as many sites as possible that show up in searches for “blue thingamabobs.”

That means establishing relationships with the key bloggers in your segment, analysts, the trade media, YouTube videos properly tagged, photos of your blue thingamabobs that come up in image searches, and tagged content on social bookmarking sites.

What do you see as the biggest oversight by marketers in terms of lead generation?

The biggest challenge is in understanding and articulating the value of activities like branding and PR in the lead generation mix. Everyone loves search engine marketing (SEM) because it’s so measurable: impressions, clicks, conversions, conversion rate, cost per click — it’s all there on one nice screen.

Activities like blogging, blogger outreach, PR, social networking and bookmarking, or most types of advertising aren’t so easy and clean to measure. Yet the lead generation results that a company actually gets depend a great deal on these other activities.

So all of these activities are important to cost-effective lead generation, they’re just harder to measure.

In the B2B market, what do you see as the biggest hurdle to effective lead management?

Companies need to have the right tools in place (and Marketo’s marketing automation software system is one of the best) and then have the right processes in place to use those tools. First, every lead needs to be followed up on quickly; when a prospect reaches out to multiple vendors, the “first responder” has a tremendous advantage in getting the sale.

Second, typically 90% of leads aren’t ready to jump immediately into a sales cycle. Nurturing these leads properly over time has a much higher ROI than constantly churning to get new leads.

Wild Card: What question or topic would you like to address?

I recently heard someone make the point that “everyone is the media now.” That is, tools like blogs, wikis, forums, video-sharing and social bookmarking let everyone express themselves publicly. If a trade journalist you’ve never heard of writes a positive review of a product, but a blogger or someone else you trust online says it’s crap, who are you going to believe?

In that same vein, I’d say that “everyone is a marketer” now in most companies. When your developers, consultants or tech support people are able to answer industry-related questions or contribute something thoughtful to a discussion forum, blog post or social networking site, they are potentially performing valuable “marketing” for your company.

Every public exposure of your company, products or services has some impact — positive or not — on public perception. The people who actually have marketing or PR in their titles still have a vital role to play, but no longer have a monopoly on information dissemination. They can help guide these conversations but no longer get to do all the talking.

As we are all B2B Marketing experts in our own right, what tips can you share to overcome every day hurdles in effective lead management? Watch for our next interview series at the Modern B2B Marketing Blog.