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B2B Marketing: Embracing customer centricity

June 21st, 2011 3 comments

The pressure for B2B marketers is on. Buyers are empowered with an ocean of information available to them online through search engines and social media sites. They are researching their purchasing decisions on their own instead of engaging with Sales early on. Trepidation exists among the marketplace because of a struggling economy, making it more difficult to close new accounts.  Winning over modern B2B buyers requires organizations to revolutionize their marketing approach, and adopt a truly customer-centric approach.

At MarketingSherpa, we have just launched our annual B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey to identify key tactics B2B marketers can use to adopt customer centricity, and ensure success in an increasingly  challenging environment.

Let’s hone in on this concept of customer centricity. What is this and why is it so important to us now?

In today’s marketplace, the B2B buyer has the power. They can research their purchasing decisions before we even know who they are. They have instant access to peer and third-party opinions of our products and services through social media sites, and information coming directly from the company is received with more skepticism than ever before. We have to earn the trust of our buyers if we ever hope that they will choose us over the competition. This brings me to my next question:

How well do you know your customers?

I am currently in the middle of our B2B Marketing Workshop tour, and the number of attendees that do not yet have buyer personas established for their audience continually surprises me. This is a critical first step towards embracing customer centricity and achieving B2B marketing success. Before you can deliver content to your audience that is going to build trust and drive conversions, you must have a solid understanding of their interests, needs, motivations, etc.

A buyer persona is a detailed profile that represents an actual, real-life group of your target audience. It includes common interests, motivations and expectations, as well as demographics and other behavioral characteristics. Buyer personas enable you to deliver highly relevant content to your audience that will build trust and drive qualified conversions.

In a perfect world, we would be able to develop one piece of content and have it appeal to your entire audience. In reality, it is likely that your market can be broken up into multiple buyer personas. You will need to first identify these personas, and then develop unique content for each profile.

So, how can you get started with the first step, identifying your buyer personas?

This process is far too complex to cover in detail for one blog post. Plus, you’re busy – so I’ll just give you the highlights:

1. It’s going to start with research, and a lot of it. Start by talking to customer-facing departments. Ask them about motivations, challenges, common objectives, etc., for your best and worst prospects and customers.

2. Next, talk directly to your audience. Get your prospects and customers on the phone and ask them directly about their interests, motivations, challenges, etc. Ask them what types of content they want, and what format. Be sure to be in contact with best and worst prospects. You will want to be able to distinguish the differences that exist between these two groups.

3. You can also mine your in-house database. Look for common traits that exist for customers with large deal sizes, shorter timeframes to purchase, most repeat purchases, etc. Then identify common traits for customers that make returns, have the smallest deal sizes, or are for some reason less profitable. What is the difference between these two groups?

4. You can also conduct a survey of your audience, asking them about their interests, challenges, etc.

This research will get you started on identifying buyer personas, and adopting a customer-centric mentality. You will then be able to develop content that will be uniquely relevant, interesting and valuable to those groups in order to build trust and drive qualified conversions. You will also be able attract more of your ideal customers, instead of customers that make returns and are not a fit for your solution.

Related Resources

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 – in San Francisco and Boston

B2B Email Marketing: Why renting third-party lists is among the worst tactics

B2B Marketing: Combining sales and marketing knowledge to improve lead qualification

MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report

B2B Email Marketing: Why renting third-party lists is among the worst tactics

June 17th, 2011 22 comments

I heard an offhand comment the other day from an agency marketer who said most of her B2B clients focused their email marketing on rented third-party lists (despite her advice). I thought to myself, “Really? That can’t be very effective.” I looked at some data and found I was right.

Although 46 percent of B2B email marketers use third-party lists:

  • Only 11 percent score the tactic at “four” or “five” on a five-point scale of effectiveness, with “five” being the most effective, according to the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report.
  • 57 percent score the tactic at “one” or “two”

These numbers almost completely reverse when we look at B2B marketers emailing to a house list. About 95 percent of B2B email marketers send to their own lists.

  • 67 percent consider the tactic a “four” or “five” in terms of effectiveness on a five-point scale, with “five” being the most effective.B2B email marketing love your audience
  • 5 percent consider it a “one” or “two”

For me, these stats help underline the point that high-quality email databases are workhorses in marketing departments, and that marketers need to steer away from thinking about email marketing as advertising.

Love and Respect Your Audience

To elaborate on a point that Brad Bortone made in yesterday’s post, I would like to emphasize that effective email marketing is based on relationships. These relationships hinge on expectations, promises, and trust.

This might sound like fluffy marketing-speak, but bear with me. Specifics are coming.

First, people have expectations when they opt into your email program. You need to clearly set these expectations during the opt-in process by describing:

  • The content they’ll receive in your program
  • How often they’ll receive emails

Once they opt-in, you’ve officially promised to meet these expectations. If you fulfill your promise and only send what they’ve agreed to, that will build trust. Subscribers will trust your emails will have something they want. That trust translates into higher open and clickthrough rates and helps build an effective program.

If you move outside of the expectations, you are assuming subscribers want something else. You’re breaking your promise, harming your relationship, and undermining trust. You’re encouraging them to click “spam,” ignore your emails, or (at best) opt-out — none of which are good.

So you cannot assume people want your emails. You have to clearly set expectations, keep your promise, build trust and establish good relationships to get good results.

Email Marketing is Not Advertising

Strong email relationships can only come from your house list. On a third-party list, their expectation is to not hear from you. They never opted-in. You’re assuming they want something they’ve never asked for, and you’re encouraging them to click “spam.”

Sure, sending to third-party lists can work. But look at the data above. You’re likely better off investing in your database, segmentation, and relevance.

The mindset that “we’re just going to reach people, even if they’d rather be doing something else,” is an advertising mindset. That’s what marketers do on television. I’d rather be watching Pawn Stars, but instead I’m stuck watching ads.

Advertising is great, but it’s not good email marketing. Good emails are anticipated by subscribers and are relevant to their needs. This is why a good house list is so valuable. Bad emails arrive out of nowhere and interrupt people when they’re doing something else. This is why emailing third-party lists is among the least-effective B2B email marketing tactic today.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report

Email Marketing: Three lessons learned at the MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop

Chart: Top tactics organizations use to improve email relevancy

Email Deliverability: Always test emails that link to third-party sites

MarketingSherpa Email Marketing LEAPS Advanced Practices Workshop

New Technology Tracks the Eyepath of Website Visitors

June 14th, 2011 7 comments

A recently published research paper may prove to be of great interest to marketers. “No Clicks, No Problem: Using Cursor Movements to Understand and Improve Search,” by Jeff Huang, Information School University of Washington; and Ryen W. White and Susan Dumais of Microsoft Research, takes a look at the correlation of eyegaze on a webpage and cursor placement.

This research found a high correlation between where the cursor was placed on a page and where the user was actually looking, and created a tiny JavaScript capable of running invisibly on a webpage that tracks where the cursor is in real time providing information on where that webpage visitor is looking and, possibly more importantly, pausing throughout the visit.

This is from the abstract of the linked paper:

In this paper, we examine mouse cursor behavior on search engine results pages (SERPs), including not only clicks but also cursor movements and hovers over different page regions.

We: (i) report an eye-tracking study showing that cursor position is closely related to eye gaze, especially on SERPs; (ii) present a scalable approach to capture cursor movements, and an analysis of search result examination behavior evident in these large-scale cursor data; and (iii) describe two applications (estimating search result relevance and distinguishing good from bad abandonment) that demonstrate the value of capturing cursor data.

Maybe most intriguing for marketers is the final line of the abstract, “Our scalable cursor tracking method may also be useful in non-search settings.”

The JavaScript code that drives this online tracking tech is a mere 750 bytes and had a negligible effect on the load time of webpages hosting the script. Although this technology is not yet commercially available, it should eventually present another interesting avenue for marketers to test website visitor’s behavior.

Click to enlarge

Jeff Huang, the team member who implemented and deployed the cursor tracking code, mined the cursor data, and wrote parts of the paper, took a few moments to answer several questions I had about this intriguing technology.

Tell me a little more about this research.

Jeff Huang: We examined mouse cursor behavior on search engine results pages, including not only clicks but also cursor movements and hovers over different page regions. In an eye-tracking study, we showed that cursor position is closely related to eye gaze. We developed a scalable approach to capturing cursor movements, and an analysis of search result examination behavior for over 300,000 queries from around 22,000 people. Finally, we were able to use cursor movements to estimate search result relevance and distinguishing good from bad abandonment.

Marketers are probably familiar with click and heatmaps, and this seems closely related to that technology. Do you think this technology can be useful for more than search?

JH: Cursor movements can create heatmaps with a similar appeal as click maps. While click maps show only the regions being clicked, movement heatmaps can also show regions that received attention by proxy of the cursor position. Often clicks are not available for smaller sites so movements can provide richer information.

Could marketers utilize this tech for webpage research to improve, say, the eyepath of the page? Is cursor movement correlated with a page visitor’s eyepath?

JH: Yes, as we mention in the paper, the cursor is typically within 200 pixels of the eye gaze. The most common position for the cursor is to be slightly below what the user is looking at. We also found that the cursor follows the eye gaze by around 200ms [milliseconds] (although the data for this is highly variable).

Does this technology offer other applications for marketing efforts or webpage testing?

JH: Sure, having records of the cursor movements allow marketers to replay the user’s session on the Web page. For example, they can see which order a user filled out a form even if they did not complete the form and left the page instead. We have developed an efficient method to record the cursor movements so they take a minimal amount of space and can be collected without disrupting the user.

Is this tech publically available, and if not, when is commercial roll-out expected?

JH: This was developed as part of an internship at Microsoft Research last year, and deployed to internal users. I will return to Microsoft again this summer, but I cannot comment on its commercial availability.

B2B Marketing: Combining sales and marketing knowledge to improve lead qualification

June 10th, 2011 5 comments

Few issues create more conflict between sales and marketing than lead qualification criteria. In the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Benchmark Report, 72 percent of marketers listed generating higher-quality leads as their single biggest challenge, up from 69 percent the prior year. In most cases, Sales and Marketing each see lead qualification from very different perspectives, both of which have value.

In sales, management spends considerable time, including extensive one-on-one coaching, teaching sales people about lead qualification criteria, often dissecting specific sales calls, contacts, opportunities, and accounts. Good sales people soon learn that qualifying prospects takes significant skill and judgment.  Invariably, the best sales people are superb at this skill.

In contrast, the best marketers look at a sophisticated combination of techniques for delivering more qualified prospects to sales:

  • Targeting. By soliciting the right audience, fewer out-of-market prospects inquire.
  • Messaging and calls-to-action. The right message and supporting content will attract the most qualified buyers.
  • Explicit user-supplied information. Registration forms enable marketers to ask qualifying questions, questions that can evolve as the prospect moves deeper into the buying cycle.  Unfortunately, prospects are unwilling to fill-out a lot of information on a registration form so this tactic must be used with great restraint. MECLABS has one case study, for example, that shows a 189 percent increase in registration largely by decreasing the amount of information on a registration form.
  • Implicit data. Increasingly, marketers are drawing inferences about not just an area of interest, but the likely depth of interest, the role of the responder in the buying process, and similar qualifying information, all based not on what a prospect says but on what he or she does, primarily via his or her clickstream behavior but also via other media and transactional information.
  • Data Hygiene, enhancement, and consolidation. The cloud is creating very scalable and cost-effective tools for cleaning up inquiries, appending additional or better business card or firmagraphic information to each record, and consolidating duplicate accounts, contacts or areas of interest. The right processes will typically identify 14 to 21 percent of the lead pool as either duplicate or not usable (e.g., the visitor enters “Mickey Mouse” for a name).
  • Lead Scoring. Lead scoring uses any and all of the implicit, user-supplied information along with explicit and appended information to identify and prioritize records worthy of human follow up.

Leaving aside tele-qualification as a marketing function, the key difference between the approach of sales and marketing is this: marketing uses largely quantifiable techniques, primarily driven by highly scalable business rules and automation while sales uses qualitative techniques that are extremely nuanced and very subjective and invariably much more exacting for a given account.

In other words:

  • Marketing improves the probability of success across a pool of responders.
  • Sales identifies the probability of success for a particular responder.

Customers and prospects hedge, withhold information intentionally, change their minds, and/or misunderstand and even fabricate information.  Sales people use, not just the words of a customer, but a range of information, including someone’s tone, body language (in the case of on-site sales calls), the perspective of others within the account, external sources, and many other tools to evaluate the probability of purchase. While lead scoring is improving every day, it obviously has a long way to go before replicating the qualification techniques of sales people.

The truth is these two approaches are highly complementary

The more sales understands the tools and limitations marketing uses, the more insightful their suggestions can be; likewise, the more marketing understands the criteria and methods the best sales people use, the more marketers can improve their own upstream practices.

Related resources

MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 – in San Francisco and Boston

B2B Marketing: Building a quality list

B2B Marketing: The 7 most important stages in the teleprospecting funnel

Members library – B2B How-To: 5 lead nurturing tactics to get from lead gen to sales-qualified

Free MarketingSherpa B2B Newsletter

Review: B2B Marketing Best Practices – MarketingSherpa 2011 Handbook by Lee Odden at TopRank online marketing blog

Strategic social media marketing advice from your peers

June 9th, 2011 1 comment

To truly gain ROI from social media marketing, you need to take a strategic approach…as you would with any other marketing discipline.

So, at 1 p.m. EDT in today’s MarketingSherpa webinar (sponsored by Facebook) – Intro to Strategic Social Media Marketing: Get your business or agency started with an ROI-based approach – I’ll be moderating an hour-long session with Todd Lebo and Zuzia Soldenhoff-Thorpe from MECLABS and Tamara Rosenbaum from Facebook, to arm you with some ideas as you embark on a strategic approach to social marketing.

But before we share our research, we asked your peers what advice they would give fellow marketers to help you transform your efforts from random acts of marketing to a strategic approach. Here are a few of our favorite responses…

Relationships are based on an open and honest conversation

The best advice I can offer is to look at social media as an extension to your Acquisition, Engagement, Retention, and Growth strategies. The majority of companies look at it as a function of PR – what about marketing, sales, and support? Isn’t a happy customer worth more than a random fan?

Don’t forget the most important part of social media: listening. Look at all the companies that pride themselves in having thousands of followers/fans but in turn only “listen” to a couple of hundred… that’s more of a monologue isn’t it? Don’t measure your success by the number of people listening to you.

Relationships are based on an open and honest conversation. Listen, and only then “talk” about things that are relevant to your audience. Do it in a timely way. Measure reactions to your conversations.

Using social media as just another channel to “get your message out” is not the way to build the dialog needed to create and nurture a close relationship with your prospects and customers.

– Roberto Lino, Skype Enterprise Global Head of Ecommerce, Skype



Research, strategize, and then get going

My top 3 tips for success in social media would be…

1. Do some research to find out where your customers are having the conversations before trying to join every single social site. Monitor what’s being said about you and your competition.

2. Go in with a strategy!!!

Who will be in charge of this effort? How many times a week will you tweet? What kinds of content will be useful for your audience?

3. Start small so you make sure you have time to keep it up. What we find is many companies have such limited resources to devote to social media marketing that time is wasted in the wrong groups, content is too weak, and schedules get too busy and the first thing to drop to the bottom of the priority list is the social stuff. Consistency is key when it comes to social media, so it’s important to find a way to keep it up.

I look forward to hearing everyone’s advice and joining the webinar!

Michelle Etherton, Creative Director, Nurture Marketing



A dissenting opinion

My advice to marketers is to not transform your efforts from random acts of marketing to a strategic approach. Social media is all about being random and experimenting. Show up. Participate. Be random.

Social media marketing differs from traditional marketing in that you don’t just set it and forget it. Successful social media marketing requires interaction. It requires actively networking, meaning you are responding to others and your status updates are more than predetermined calculated scheduled posts.

By being random, you will find new and unique ways to gain ROI. I think you take all the fun out of social media marketing if you are rigid with strategy.

Lara Nieberding, The Data Digger



Related Resources

Free webinar, Today June, 9th 1-2pm EDT — Intro to Strategic Social Media Marketing: Get your business or agency started with an ROI-based approach

Social Media Marketing: You value (and earn ROI on) what you pay for

Social Marketing ROAD Map Handbook

Inbound Marketing newsletter – Free Case Studies and How To Articles from MarketingSherpa’s reporters



New Marketing Research: 3 profitable traffic sources most marketers are ignoring

June 2nd, 2011 5 comments

If you’ve been reading this blog for just about any amount of time, you already know that landing page optimization is an effective way to increase the ROI of your website traffic.

But when most people think of landing pages, they think of pages tied to certain traffic sources. The most popular of those sources are generally PPC ads and email messaging.
But there are a few other opportunities to capitalize on your traffic with landing pages. Take a look at this marketing research chart from Boris Grinkot’s 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report:
dedicated landing pages chart

According to the chart, most marketers aren’t optimizing traffic from:

  1. Social media sites
  2. Referring sites
  3. Organic search

Now right off the bat, you might be thinking that the reason those traffic sources aren’t capitalized on has to do with the fact that most websites aren’t getting traffic from those sources.

However, this data only factors in marketers who have traffic from these sources.

So for example, of the E-Commerce sites that are currently receiving organic search traffic, only 31% of them are capitalizing on it with dedicated landing pages.

The fact that some marketers are dedicating landing pages to these particular sources of traffic is a good indicator that they are working to convert that traffic, but that most marketers are simply missing out.

This one chart signals that there is a tremendous opportunity to get ahead of your competition and start capitalizing on more of your traffic.

Get 41 more charts like this one…FREE

This is simply one insight from one chart in the Benchmark Report. If you really wanted to, I’m sure you could get a lot more out of this chart. You’re only limited by your own business intelligence.

For the next few days, the entire chapter from the Benchmark Report this chart is in can be downloaded for free thanks to a generous sponsorship from HubSpot. All you need to do to get your 41 free charts including Boris’ insightful analysis is click the link below, fill out the form on the landing page, and download the chapter.

Get your free chapter now…

Landing Page Optimization: 2 charts describing the best page elements to test and how to test them

May 31st, 2011 1 comment

Optimization testing can be daunting. With so many elements on a Web page, and so many ways each could be customized, knowing what to test and how to change it can feel like testing spaghetti the old college way (throw it at the ceiling and see if it sticks).

But optimization does not have to be daunting or random. Some marketers will receive a crash course in landing page optimization at our Optimization Summit this week. If you can’t make it, don’t fret. There’s always next year. In the meantime, MarketingSherpa just published the 2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report.

I pulled two charts from the report to give marketers some reference points when designing their tests. Hopefully they will help keep crusty pasta off your ceiling.

Landing Page Optimization Chart Top page elements to test

This chart lists the four page elements that rank most consistently as having a “very significant impact” across three optimization objectives. Note that a different page element ranks highest for each objective:

  • Direct lead gen: The highest performing element is the form layout at 44 percent
  • Incentivized lead: The highest performing element is the body copy at 41 percent
  • Ecommerce: The highest performing element is the image content at 43 percent

The chart lists only four of 17 page elements measured by our analysts, so there are many other elements that can be impactful in your tests. Your results may not mimic this data exactly, but this chart points to elements that other marketers are seeing as having the most impact.

Landing Page Optimization Chart Top Segmentation and Relevance Tactics

Once you select a page element to test, the big question becomes “how do we change it?” This chart lists tactics you can use to segment your audience and add more relevance to your optimization pages. Each tactic is ranked by its effectiveness, ease of use, and usage rate among marketers.

The far right of the chart features the most effective tactics: segmenting based on purchase history and other CRM data. Customizing landing pages to a customer’s purchase history appears to be an opportunity for marketers. It is the most-effective tactic listed and appears relatively easy to implement.

In the report, our analysts also point to another opportunity: messaging in the referring ad or page.

“Using the messaging in the referring ad or page can be especially easy to apply when the marketer also controls that messaging, making it a highly efficient way to segment,” according to the report.

However you go about your optimization tests, it is important that you test accurately and continuously learn from the results. The data in these charts can provide reference points to guide your plans, but only your team can uncover the best tactics to fit your audience and your brand.

Related resources

Optimization Summit 2011

2011 Landing Page Optimization Benchmark Report

Marketing Research Chart: Top website objectives to determine optimization priorities and tactics

Landing Page Optimization: Minimizing bounce rate with clarity

Optimization and A/B Testing: Why words matter (for more than just SEO)

Members Library — Campaign Analysis: Optimization expert lists 5 tweaks to boost an email campaign’s conversions

Members Library — Landing Page Optimization: How to serve 2 markets with 1 page

Members Library — How to Plan Landing Page Tests: 6 Steps to Guide Your Process

B2B Marketing: Building a quality list

May 27th, 2011 3 comments

Teleprospecting, email campaigns, drip marketing, lead nurturing — all of these marketing tactics have one very important element in common. Each one begins with a list, and the quality of the data in that list has a direct influence on the success of each tactic.

Looking at the top of the funnel

“Data is so top of the funnel, yet it is so undervalued,” says Brandon Stamschror, Senior Director of Operations for the Leads Group, MECLABS (the parent company of MarketingSherpa.)

He explains that creating a quality list begins with an organizational philosophy that places a high value on data quality. This might require a philosophy shift in some companies, and it will likely require leadership support in the idea that data quality is important and that this importance might need to be proven by testing.

“A lot of times I see that marketers think they have this really robust, large database, but soon find out that because of data quality issues, they only have a small segment of their actual ideal customers that they wanted to be focusing on,” says Stamschror. “They are kind of getting lost in the quagmire of trying to manage untargeted data.”

Pay more, gain more

Stamschror says the solution may be to spend more on data to reap the benefits of higher-quality lists.

He explains you want to:

  • Be specific about the data you need to focus on
  • Don’t collect more data than you really need on your ideal buyer profile or persona

If you don’t do these two things, it can become overwhelming to manage a very large list. And if your data quality is low, you might have a list of 50,000 contacts, with only 10,000 who are relevant to your business.

Data hygiene is an ongoing process

Looking at data quality isn’t something you can do once and be satisfied that you’ve completed a task to take off the “to-do” list. Stamschror recommends data remediation projects every three to six months if there is no other data hygiene process in place.

Even though it’s not cost effective having your lead generation and prospecting staff spend time tracking down bad entries in the list, or engaging in a wholesale data update, it is beneficial to create a process where your team is regularly updating and appending account information as part of their day-to-day activity. There is little, to no, additional investment for staff to update contact fields as they discover missing, or incorrect, items. Stamschror adds if controlling data quality isn’t feasible as an internal process, you should find a data quality partner you can trust.

He explains, “It is always important to have someone who has some distinct responsibility for data quality.”

Stamschror says that as many as half of all lists he’s encountered contain duplicate information because there is no data hygiene or remediation process in place to keep the database clean.

“It really gives you a false sense of security,” he says. “You think, ‘I have all these contacts that I can run email campaigns or teleprospecting campaigns off of,’ and then you find out once you get into it that your list isn’t really as big as you thought it was, or as robust as you thought, and worse yet, you are spending a lot of time just wasting time (with the bad list).”

Less can be more

Stamschror says it is much more important to have a very clean, but smaller, prospect list, as opposed to a bloated list full of bad and/or irrelevant data. He states this is particularly important for B2B marketers who should be focused on a smaller group of highly targeted prospects.

Stamschror offers a piece of final advice, “You know the companies that you really need to be focused on. So focus on the right one.”

Related Resources

(Members library) CRM and the Marketing Database: Data hygiene, behavioral analysis and more

(Members library) Cause Marketing: Marketer builds email list with 20% conversion rate

New Chart: Most effective email list growth tactics

Email List Hygiene: Remove four kinds of bad addresses to improve deliverability

B2B Marketing: The 7 most important stages in the teleprospecting funnel

Photo credit: Donovan Govan


Social Media Marketing: Facebook news feed optimization

May 24th, 2011 No comments

Much of Facebook’s core functionality centers on its news feed. The constantly updating list of status updates, photos, links and videos helps drive interaction between friends on the network — and between your audience and your brand.

But not all posts are given equal priority in a news feed. Facebook uses a calculation called EdgeRank to determine which updates are prioritized and which are buried.

EdgeRank calculates the “value” of an interaction with a post. Posts with a higher number of valuable interactions are more likely to reach the top of a user’s news feed.

Facebook released the “unweighted” version of its EdgeRank formula at last year’s F8 conference:

A few definitions of Facebook’s terms:

  • Object — each item in a news feed is an object. An object can be a written status update, a photo, a video, a link, etc.
  • Edge — every interaction with an object is called an edge. This includes comments, likes and tags. As you can see above, some edges are of greater value and more greatly affect EdgeRank.
  • Affinity score — when a user regularly messages another user, views their profile, comments on their photos, or interacts in other ways, those interactions increase “affinity” toward that user over time. Users are more likely to see posts that have an “edge” from users for whom they have a higher affinity.
  • Time decay — an edge’s value decreases over time.

Focus On Your Audience

Sounds strikingly similar to Google’s PageRank, doesn’t it? You bet. Some marketers are considering which factors drive Facebook’s EdgeRank in hopes of getting more attention to their posts — much like how marketers have worked for years to improve PageRank.

Be careful not to focus too closely on EdgeRank, though. I recently spoke with Justin Kistner, Sr. Manager, Social Media Marketing at Webtrends. Kistner leads product development for Webtrends’ Facebook products. In a recent call, he reiterated that the above calculation is un-weighted and is an “over simplification.”

“For example, we know PageRank for Google could all be boiled down to inbound links. Basically, the more inbound links you have and the better quality links you have, the higher you rank. There is certainly a lot more nuance to the algorithm than just that.”

Not only is the above formula an over simplification, but it is truly secondary to an effective social media marketing strategy. By focusing on the types of content and interactions your audience enjoys, your “objects” will attract more “edges” and will be prioritized in users’ news feeds. Scores and metrics are important to consider — but they should not be the sole driver of your strategy. Your audience, your brand, and your content should be priorities.

Related resources

Social Media Marketing: Online product suggestions generate 10% of revenue

Social Media Marketing: How to optimize the customer experience to benefit from word-of-mouth advertising

Social Media Measurement: Moving forward with the data and tools at hand

Social Media Measurement: Big data is within reach

Social Media Marketing: Tactics ranked by effectiveness, difficultly and usage

B2B Challenges: Marketing to a long sales cycle

We just launched the registration landing pages for our upcoming MarketingSherpa B2B Summits — the first will be held September 26-27 in Boston, and the second October 24-25 in San Francisco — and looking toward those events got me thinking about all the learnings I’ve taken away from these last months of digging deeply into the complex world of B2B marketing.

Since I began covering the MarketingSherpa B2B beat toward the end of last year, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with many marketers, industry experts, and our internal researchers and thought leaders here at MECLABS (MarketingSherpa’s parent company). One area that really separates B2B from B2C marketing has come up many times — the complexity of the B2B sale and the length of the B2B sales cycle.

Our research, based on interviews with 935 B2B marketers in the MarketingSherpa 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, found marketing to a lengthening sales cycle as a growing concern, and the third-most-pressing challenge for B2B marketers today (trailing only quality and quantity of lead generation):

Click to make larger

That same report shows that more than one-third of B2B sales cycles from first inquiry to closed deal last seven months, or longer:

Click to make larger

During my B2B beat reporting I’ve learned quite a bit about three very interrelated marketing areas that address this challenge — the strategy of lead nurturing, the tactic of drip marketing campaigns and the use of marketing automation software tools.

Growing the lead into a sales-ready prospect

A lead generated is very rarely a lead ready to hand off to Sales, and when your sales cycle is measured in months, or even longer than a year, you want to have a lead nurturing program to keep in touch with that potential customer and turn them into a sales-ready lead.

Brian Carroll, Executive Director of Applied Research, MECLABS, explained to me that most lead nurturing programs don’t have an impact on conversion before at least five meaningful touches, and that the important thing is to continue nurturing leads whether it takes five touches or 25 touches to get them to the sales-ready point.

He says, “If you have a nine-month sales cycle, you should nurture a lead in those nine months, and that’s at a minimum level. So that means nine nurturing patterns during the course of that lead.”

Here’s a table from the 2011 B2B Marketing Advanced Practices Handbook outlining some lead nurturing basics:

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If you notice, content is a major aspect of that table. That’s because content marketing is a key element in lead nurturing. New information about your product is a good reason to reach out to the nurtured lead. So is a vendor-agnostic article from an industry thought leader that provides usable information or advice on your business area.

Other touches might include an invitation to an event, such as a webinar, or maybe an executive summary and key takeaway list from an event along with links to video or audio excerpts from the presentation.

Content marketing is not the only piece in a lead nurturing campaign, but it should be an area of high priority focus.

Keeping those touches coming

If lead nurturing is an overall strategy to meet the challenge of a long sales cycle, drip marketing is a specific tactic to execute that strategy. Drip marketing involves automatically sending marketing messages to your list via email or other methods. The messages are “dripped” in a series based on the specific behavior or status of the recipient.

Here’s Jeanne Jennings from a SherpaBlog post on drip marketing:

Drip campaigns take their name from drip irrigation, which saves resources by allowing water and fertilizer to be consistently delivered directly to the roots of plants. There’s less waste than with sprinklers and topical fertilizer application; drip irrigation also provides a consistent level of moisture to the soil, rather than the “soak and dry” experience that sprinklers provide.

Drip marketing campaigns are most commonly delivered via the email channel because of its short turn-around, quick delivery time and cost-effective nature. A drip campaign involves a series of messages that are sent or “dripped” in a predefined order at a predefined interval. Each message in the campaign stands on its own but also builds on the missives that have come before it. A drip campaign is a response to a specific behavior or status of the recipient – and it encourages a specific action.

… and then SkyNet took over

Actually April 19th has passed and I’m pretty certain no terminator robots are heading back in time as I write this post, but lead nurturing does have a powerful tool that makes the entire process much easier to manage — marketing automation software.

Marketing automation offers many benefits for marketers:

  • It provides a trackable database and measurable analytic results for marketing efforts
  • It, well, automates many marketing tasks that previously had to be handled manually
  • For a long sales cycle, multi-touch lead nurturing campaign, it allows marketers to focus on determining the creative elements of the effort — email copy, content with each touch, etc. — and setting the timing and triggers for each touch, and the software handles the actual execution of the campaign

A small business with a handful of leads to nurture can most likely run the campaign manually. A large corporation with hundreds, thousands, or even many more leads will require marketing automation to run an effective lead nurturing program.

Related Resources

Members library – B2B How-To: 5 lead nurturing tactics to get from lead gen to sales-qualified

Members library – How-To Increase Relevance: Integrating drip marketing into an email campaign

No Budget and Less Time? Lead Nurturing in Five Simple Steps

Lead Marketing: Cost-per-lead and lead nurturing ROI

B2B Marketing: Calls-to-action and the business buying cycle

Members libarary — How and When to Use Content in the B2B Sales Process