Category Archives: Inbound marketing


Competing Without Instruments – It’s Possible, But Not Recommended

As I’ve written before, one of the ways that B2B marketing is similar to endurance sports is that both are relentlessly focused on metrics. We track every aspect of on-line marketing efforts in order to prove marketing contribution and ROI. Data such as total visits, new sessions, channel specific metrics, bounce rate, total conversions, and lead-to-close ratio give us B2B marketers an accurate view of our efforts and success. Triathletes have the same instincts. We track our heart rate, power output, and cadence as the key inputs, and speed (of course) as the key output. Well, what would happen in  a world in which we were competing without instruments?

Competing Without Instruments at the Patriot 70.3

Yesterday was my annual race at the Patriot Half triathlon. Since its inception in 2007, I’ve missed the race only once, and it always proves to be a lot of fun. Yesterday’s weather was ideal, so I felt confident even though my spring preparation was not up to standard because of the record snowfall and late New England winter.

Through a combination of oversight on my part, equipment failure, and just plain curiosity, I ended up competing without instruments. First, I found myself engaged in a chatty conversation as the 1.2 mile swim started, so I failed to start my watch. Next, my bicycle computer shut down for good about 1 mile into the 56 mile ride, so I had no idea of my speed. As I got comfortable with the idea of having no data, I simply decided not to start my watch as I began the 13.1 mile run.

What I Learned: It’s Possible, But Not Recommended

Competing without instruments is anathema to triathletes like me. The biggest factor in my overall time is my run. And to have a successful run, I really need to make sure I don’t work too hard on the bike. That was a bit of a challenge yesterday, when I had no indication of my speed. So I rode by feel, using my instinct to determine when I was putting in too much effort.

Truth be told, I actually prefer NOT to know my speed on the run. Having my per-mile pace is great when the run is going well. But when things aren’t, watching my pace get slower and slower only leads to disappointment and a further deceleration. So not starting my watch was no big deal.

race_1323_photo_20778244It turns out that I had a great race. I finished 75 seconds faster than my 2014 results.  My swim was 2 and half minutes faster. My bike was 1 minute faster. I averaged 20.9 miles per hour instead of 20.7 last year. But my run was 80 seconds slower (8:17 minute mile pace instead of 8:11 last year).  I finished 8th of 52 competitors in my age group this year, vs 3rd of 40 last year.  Which leads to another parallel between marketing and triathlon – it’s all about who shows up!

I wouldn’t recommend racing a triathlon without instrumentation, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend marketers to compete without instrumentation. Data is key to results in both areas. What do you think? Have you competed without instrumentation before? What were YOUR results?

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Patriot 2014 Still Life

Year End Roundup – Top 10 Posts of 2014

2014 has been a great year! A successful racing season. A great new job (well not so new any more). And some inspiring endurance events, near and far. With the end of the year right around the corner, it’s a perfect time to review the Top 10 Posts of 2014. Here they are, in reverse order.

10. Structured Learning in Career Transition

Tri bike InTransitionSince my new job as Chief Product Evangelist at Aternity has driven so much of this year’s activities, this is the blog to begin my list. A career transition is not like a triathlon transition. I found the advice in Michael Watkins’ book The First 90 Days to be extremely useful. Definitely worth a read.

9. Career Check-in at the Two Thirds Point – Heartbreak Hill

tf90d-book-coverThe clear follow-on to the first blog on the list provides 16 tips for the new exec to cover as he or she accelerates the ramp-up period to catch up with other members of the executive team in the first 90 days.  Just like in the Boston Marathon, where leaders are often caught at Heartbreak Hill. This blog provides more guidance from Watkins’ book.

8. Benefits of a Positioning Statement

At Aternity, one of my first contributions was to lead the executive team through a positioning statement exercise for the various markets we serve. We returned to this work over and over in the subsequent months. This blog covers a template for a positioning statement and the benefits for working through the exercise.

7. Creativity & Analytics – the Biathlon CMO

biathlon ski-79564_640Next up is a discussion of the two characteristics of successful marketing executives – creativity and analytics. Two completely different skills, like the aerobic and sharp-shooting expertise needed by biathletes. Just like in the sport, individuals tend to have natural strength in 1 of the 2 areas. Developing the area requires work.


6. Sometimes Metrics Don’t Matter

Cycling Crash John Kershner ShutterstockI know it seems to fly in the face of the previous topic, but sometimes having all of the B2B sales and marketing metrics at your fingertips doesn’t lead to a successful outcome. This post was inspired by the carnage at this year’s Tour de France, in which so many of the favorites crashed out. Chris Froome. Alberto Contador. Mark Cavendish.

5. Marketing & Strategic Alliances – Like Doubles Luge

As a small company serving enterprise customers who are deploying mobile as a component of their strategy, my company works closely with the leading Enterprise Mobility Management vendors, like Citrix, Good, and MobileIron. A big part of my job has been to articulate the value proposition of our joint solutions to our mutual customers.double_luge021110

In that way, my marketing efforts become an extension of our strategic alliance initiatives. And our strategic partnerships become an important route to market for our products and messaging. Marketing & Strategic Alliances – like doubles luge, except for the speed and the uncomfortable body positions.

4. Beware the Thing of Beauty – Drive up Acceptance

Next on the list is an equation that will help you ensure effective sales enablement tools. This blog covers a key equation, E=QxA, that says that the effectiveness (E) of any tool or program depends on both its quality (Q) and its acceptance (A) by your intended audience. For example, It does no good to produce a ROI calculator that covers every customer scenario,  but is too complex for the sales team to actually use.

3. Marketing Tips from Rowing: Cadence & Power

Boys in the BoatInspired by reading “The Boys in the Boat,” I realized that cadence and power impact the effectiveness of marketing programs, just as they determine the speed of a boat. Since October is also when the Head of the Charles Regatta occurs, this blog, and its companion contain examples of how to use frequency and power to drive marketing results.

2. Make Content Generation a Team Sport

TrackRelayHandoffBuilding a cross-functional team of social media contributors has been one of the highlights of my first year. As this blog suggests, making it easy for others to contribute compelling blogs, videos, and other social media efforts, is the key to generating compelling content. We now have a team of pre-sales, product management, and customer service team members who are regular contributors to our efforts. And with all of the great content being generated, we’ve now launched a fancy new company blog.

1. Racing Season – Time to Deliver Results

Patriot 2014 Run

Well, there really is no contest for determining the top blog of 2014. This blog covers my successful 3rd place finish in my age group at the Patriot Half Triathlon, while relating the swim, bike, and run legs to B2B marketing. I registered for the 2015 Patriot Half race on the very day that registration opened. It will be tough to duplicate last year’s results, but I’m sure planning to give it a try!

I hope your year was successful too! And I look forward to another exciting year in 2015. Thanks much for reading and commenting!

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Marketing Tips from Rowing

Marketing Tips from Rowing, Part 2 – Cadence

Well, they did it! And it was sure fun to watch! As I mentioned in Part 1 of Marketing Tips from Rowing, last weekend was the Head of the Charles Regatta here in the Boston area. Sure enough, the Cambridge Boat Club not only defended their title and won the Men’s Senior Master Fours, but finished only .3 seconds off the course record they set in 2013! Riding my bike on the closed streets along the Charles River, I could see them gradually opening up a lead on the other boats.  Although I wasn’t quite close enough to hear their coxswain call the cadence, I’m sure that, at some point, she called for “Ten Big Ones” of extra effort, as they stroked to victory.

Power Last Week, Cadence This Week

In my first Marketing Tips from Rowing post,  I equated rowing with B2B marketing by focusing on power and cadence as the key drivers of effectiveness for both. A boat’s speed depends on how powerfully the rowers pull the oars, and the rate at which they do so.

Similarly, power and cadence can also be considered the two major drivers of an effective B2B marketing strategy.  Last week I covered power – how the power of a marketing program depends on how precisely the messaging and selling efforts engage the target buyer. This week’s Marketing Tips from Rowing post will cover cadence – the frequency of activities relating to awareness, demand generation, and sales enablement.

Marketing Cadence: 5 Tips to Finish Off “10 Big Ones”

Boys in the BoatLast week I also mentioned the powerful impact of Daniel James Brown’s “The Boys in the Boat,” the story of the background of the members of the American rowers who won the gold in the Mens Eights in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

When extra effort was needed, the coxswain would call out, “Give me 10 big ones!” The rowers would respond with extra effort over ten strokes.  Here, then, are five tips that relate to cadence that will drive your B2B marketing effort forward.

1. Blogging Cadence

B2B marketers realize the importance of blogging as part of an inbound marketing strategy. Reaching your intended audience with compelling, useful information is a key way to drive them into, and through the inbound buying cycle.  The question is around cadence. How often should a company blog in order to maximize the impact on inbound traffic?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHubspot has published some great data on exactly this question. Check out the charts in the Hubspot post covering the impact of blogging frequency on website traffic.  The key data point is that companies that blog 15 times or month get 5 times as much website traffic as those that don’t blog at all. So, the answer, like in rowing, is that higher cadence drives better results.  But, also like rowing, the caveat is that cadence must not come at the expense of power. Just like fast sloppy strokes won’t make a fast boat, content must be of high quality in order to be effective.

Of course, the follow up question is how does a B2B marketer build a team to help develop that volume of blogs?  I covered that topic in a recent post called “Content Generation is a Team Sport.”

2. Refresh Customer Data to Validate Your Value Proposition

A key sales enablement initiative for any B2B marketer is to arm his or her sales colleagues with messaging and supporting data that will help drive buyers through the buying cycle.

Challenger Sale book coverIn past posts, I’ve written about my experience implementing the Challenger Sale  sales methodology.  One key to this approach is to identify and leverage a commercial insight. The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages, that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.

Whether you use Challenger Sale methodology or not, value propositions must be supported with actual customer data. Real results that customers have achieved using your product, that validate your unique advantages. Marketing messages are just words. Numbers add compelling context. Like Quality Guru W. Edwards Deming once said, “In God we trust. All others bring data.”

Ideally, you’ll gather supporting data for all of the key vertical markets you sell to, and in all of the geographic regions in which you sell.  You’ll have numbers that support each of the key use cases your product addresses.  You’ll put this into a searchable database that your marketing and sales team can access. And most importantly, you must continually add to the data set. I’ve found that the right cadence is quarterly updates for new case studies.

3. Reboot the Mission – Monthly

Along with your company’s moral, or core beliefs, your company’s mission statement is key to articulating your company’s business goals and differentiation. Your mission is  directly connected to your value proposition and competitive advantages.  Revisit these high level points with your marketing and sales teams frequently, at least monthly, so they remain top of mind.

4. Frequency of Touches – More is Better

There’s healthy debate as to whether or not it’s still relevant to discuss the number of touches required to convert a prospect into a qualified lead. In the world of inbound marketing, when most buyers are well educated about how to solve their problem even before sales engages, some inbound marketers believe that focusing on the number of touches no longer applies.  Others suggest that marketers should plan on between 7 and 13 touches to deliver a sales qualified lead. No matter what you believe, it’s important to keep up the cadence of interaction with your target buyers by providing them compelling content that educates them on the problems your solution addresses.

5. Check Your Splits – Weekly

stop-watch-396862_1280As the Cambridge Boat Club Men’s Senior Master Four pulled along-side the boat house after their win, I noticed their coxswain pull a packet of information out of her jacket  pocket. I learned that she carrier along with her the boat’s splits from the previous year’s race, so that she could compare their performance this year to their record-setting pace from last year.

Similarly, B2B marketers should compare metrics for actual attainment vs. plan, at least weekly, to track progress toward monthly, quarterly, and annual goals.  This allows for early course correction if the trends aren’t going in the right direction. Or identification of particularly effective tactics that can be repeated for additional success.

What Are Your “10 Big Ones?”

So, there you have it.  Marketing tips from rowing, brought to you by the Head of the Charles Regatta. 5 tips for marketing cadence here. And 5 tips for marketing power in the last post.  Tell me what you think regarding either one. Do you have other best practices for getting more power, cadence, or overall speed?


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Cycling Crash John Kershner Shutterstock

Sometimes, B2B Marketing and Sales Metrics Don’t Matter

Is it blasphemy to say that B2B marketing and sales metrics don’t matter?  Almost as blasphemous as saying that last year’s Tour de France winner and overall favorite, Chris Froome, will not only fail to repeat, but will crash on stage 4 and abandon the race on Stage 5. Or that two-time past winner Alberto Contador will also abandon the race on Stage 10. Or that Mark Cavendish, winner of 25 Tour de France stages (3rd all time), will be forced to withdraw in the very first stage, not only on UK soil, but in the birth place of his mother.  Are these poor outcomes the result of improper preparation, or just plain bad luck?

It’s common knowledge that having marketing and sales processes that are well defined and aligned routinely leads to successful results. Build an effective demand generation, lead conversion, and sales prosecution machine, and instrument it with the right marketing and sales metrics, then manage that machine to your quarterly and annual targets.  It’s really a science.

B2B marketing is now known as much for its analytical side as it is for its creative side.  A variety of great sources address B2B marketing and sales metrics, including Hubspot, Sales Benchmark Index, and Heinz Marketing. You have to know the average sales price for your products and market segments.  You have to know the conversion rates throughout the marketing process from inquiry to marketing qualified lead, to sales qualified lead, and to prospect.  Your have to build a disciplined sales process with well-defined outcomes to provide visibility at each stage.  (See my post on using your ears to get better pipeline visibility.)

It’s not that different than the training regimen followed by professional cyclists getting ready for the Tour de France.  Build endurance by putting in the right miles.  Develop the power necessary to break away in the final meters of the stage.  Establish the right team strategy throughout the race and during each stage to get your team leader onto the podium. Follow the right nutrition plan and get enough rest. Metrics and analytics, not to mention external monitoring, accompany every phase of the training process.

Like the carnage at this year’s Tour de France, the difference between making the quarter and not doing so sometimes comes down to luck.  You can instrument each stage of the B2B marketing and sales process with the right metrics, and expect to meet your quarterly numbers with just a week to go.  Then, something unexpected arises and a handful of critical deals get delayed. Your quarter is blown.

Just like Mark Cavendish suffering an unfortunate bump in the final meters of the opening stage, crashing, and dislocating his collarbone. Or Chris Froome crashing minutes into Stage 4, then again on Stage 5 in the rain, even before the cobblestones. Or Alberto Contador withdrawing mid-way through the climbs of Stage 10.

Sometimes the metrics don’t matter. Luck plays a major role.  What do you think? How has luck helped or hurt your business?  Let me know!

(Photo credit John Kershner Shutterstock)


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Triathlon bike positioning

Spring Training Fundamentals: 5 Benefits of a Positioning Statement

The calendar says that spring has arrived.  You wouldn’t know it from the frigid temperatures and mounds of crusty snow outside.  But if the calendar says so, then it must be time for spring training.

Baseball players aren’t the only ones preparing for the upcoming season by focusing on fundamentals.  We triathletes do too.  For us, it means getting the bike tuned up and ready to ride outside.  It’s not only a question of getting in the miles.  We also need to work on riding position.  Perfecting that tight, aerodynamic body position that delivers maximum power with minimal wind resistance.

Marketers getting ready for an upcoming product launch need to devote the same level of effort into positioning.   Building a  positioning statement is no trivial exercise.   Like in triathlon, getting the positioning statement right is the key to success, and it requires discipline.

Key Elements of a Positioning Statement

Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)
Positioning Template (Trew Marketing)

There are a variety of templates for a positioning statement.  I’ve used a template similar to the one shown here.  Although it is short, each area requires close examination and continual refinement,  just like finding that optimal riding position.  Nail the positioning statement, and you can expect at least five benefits.

1.  Identify Your Buyer(s)

A positioning statement begins with the buyer.  It therefore demands that you focus on the buyer persona.  For B2B software companies, it’s especially important to focus on the job title, company size, and target verticals of your buyer.  If you sell to multiple types of buyers, you may need to develop a positioning statement for each one.  You’ll be able to decide once you know whether there are differences in needs, benefits, and competitive advantages.

2.  Do You Need to Cross the Chasm?

Chossing-the-chasm-coverOnce you have identified your buyers,  the positioning statement has you move onto their needs.  Knowing where your buyers are on the technology adoption life cycle will help you understand their needs.   Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” discusses the psychographic differences between groups along the life cycle.

Visionaries appreciate technology for its own sake.  They often identify uses of technology not even considered by marketers.  Early adopters expect to use a new technology to get a jump on others in their industry.  They’re not looking for an improvement.  They are looking for a fundamental breakthrough.  Buyers in the early majority want to realize a gain in productivity for their current operations.    The positioning statement should reflect these instincts.

3.  Your Market – Clarify the Field You Are Playing On

seattle-277120_640This section of the positioning statement calls for another area that seems trivial.  But defining your market does require some thought.   Using a well understood existing market category has advantages, especially for buyers on the right hand side of the chasm.  But doing so will reqiure you to differentiate yourself from other vendors also in the market.  Creating a new market segment which you can own may help with differentiation, but it will require effort and time to educate the market.

4.  Leverage Your Commercial Insight for Competitive Advantage

I’ve written in previous blogs about my experience with Challenger Sale methodology.   The commercial insight is the content, based on your product’s unique advantages,  that sales uses to uncover a previously unknown problem in the current way the customer does business.   The commercial insight disrupts how the customer thinks about her business,  and ultimately leads to your product as the unique solution to the problem.    The commercial insight therefore shows up in two places in the positioning statement – the benefit and the unique differentiator.

5.  Crafting the Positioning Statement Gets Your Team on Board

The last benefit of building the positioning statement is that it helps to get all of the functional areas in your company on board with a consistent message.  Sales, product development, support, and marketing all see your company, customers, and product from a different perspective.  Distilling the relevant information onto a positioning statement helps get everyone pulling in the same direction in how they discuss your competitive advantages for your buyers.

Content creation is team effort

I’m not saying that getting everyone to agree on the positioning statement will be easy.  It won’t.  But having the various functional groups involved in creating it, or at least reviewing it and providing feedback, will provide benefits.

What about you?  What’s your experience in building positioning statements?  Do you have a favorite template, or different approach?  Let me know.  I’m interested in feedback.

Triathlon photo credit:  Rena Shild/Shutterstock

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biathlon ski-79564_640

The Biathlon CMO: Creative and Analytical

I have to admit it.  I just cannot get enough of biathlon!   How can you NOT love a mash-up of endurance sport and shooting?  As I watched Slovakia’s Anastasiya Kuzmina repeat as Olympic gold medal winner in the 7.5km sprint last weekend, I was amazed at the combination of skills the sport requires.    The competitors are absolutely full throttle anaerobic while skiing the course.  Then they glide into the shooting station, and must immediately calm their heart rate in order to hit the targets at 50m and avoid a time penalty.    Two completely opposite disciplines are necessary for success.    Just like today’s CMO, who must be a master of both creative and analytical skills.   The biathlon CMO.

Content -the Engine of the Biathlon CMO’s Creative Side

In today’s inbound marketing world, content is the key to a compelling, creative demand generation program.   An effective program requires knowing the buyer persona, identifying the latent pain, and building content to address those pains with your unique approach.

Effective B2B marketers then use a variety of avenues to distribute that content to their target audience.   A well crafted program can re-purpose the same basic information through a variety of channels, including social media, ebooks, case studies, blogs, white papers, surveys, webcasts, videos, as well as in-person events.

Content creation is a big job, but it can be made easier by getting a broader team involved.  Functional groups outside of marketing have great insight that can be built into compelling content.

Metrics Show Whether the Biathlon CMO Hits Her Targets

Big data and analytics have made their way into the B2B marketer’s world.  As a result of this, CMOs now have the data they need to communicate results and show value to the rest of the business.  As has been written in StoryMETRIX and Branding Strategy Insider, this allows the CMO to better align with their CFO colleagues.

The metrics exist.  The business can be instrumented to show value.  A key question is which metrics to use for which audience.  That is a subject for another post.

Are you a biathlon CMO?  Or, are you strong in one area but not the other?  Do you take too many penalty laps because you’re not hitting your targets?  Or, are you running out of gas in the last part of the race because you’re short on content?  Let me know what you think!



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Driving on Ice: BMW Branded Content and Bobsleds: 8 Marketing Tips

BMW, known for producing the “Ultimate Driving Machine,” could also be known as the “Ultimate Branded Content Machine.”  This Sunday, I took a break from watching football to catch the BMW produced documentary/commercial “Driving on Ice.”  This short film provides a behind-the-scenes view of how BMW worked with the US Bobsled and Skeleton Federation to completely redesign the two man bobsled for next month’s Olympics in Sochi.

Was it a compelling story?  Absolutely.  Will it result in a gold medal?  We’ll find out.  But as the New York Times summarized, what “Driving on Ice” absolutely shows is how BMW continues to advance the use of branded content in its marketing.  It also provides us B2B marketers with eight cool tips.

BMW and Athletes Both Have Something to Gain

Since 2010, BMW has been the Official Mobility Partner of the US Olympic Committee.  Aside from financial support and advertising, both sides have gained from vehicle-to-athlete technology transfer.   The bobsled team leveraged BMW’s expertise in light-weight materials and aerodynamics to improve the twenty year old previous design.

BMW marketing has delivered a compelling branded content story that cuts through the clutter of the myriad of car commercials and provides an emotional response to the BMW brand.

High Stakes Promotion of the Ultimate Sliding Machine

This is the third time that BMW has used technology transfer to help the US Olympic team.

swimmer underwater-79592_640In advance of the 2012 London games, BMW provided USA Swimming with underwater camera motion tracking system.  The system tracked the performance of six body parts as swimmers exploded off the walls with powerful dolphin kicks.  US coaches used this data to find how to shave off every last hundredth of a second in time from their starts and turns.

One one-hundredth of a second makes all the difference.  Just ask Michael Phelps.  That was the margin of victory as he out-touched Serbia’s Milorad Cavic in the final stroke of the 100m butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

BMW also provided real-time velocity measurement to USA Track & Field to help optimize the performance of long-jumpers.

With this technology transfer, the stakes are higher, both for the bobsledders and for BMW.  The US hasn’t won an Olympic gold medal in two man bobsled since 1936.   The first two cases of technology transfer were behind the scenes software.  This time, with the focus on aerodynamics, control, and materials, there’s a direct connection to vehicles.   So the corresponding impact to BMW’s brand will be huge.

Eight Cool B2B Marketing Tips

Here are eight points from “Driving on Ice” that relate to B2B marketing.

1.  Know the Customer Experience First Hand

Before taking on the bobsled work, designer Michael Scully rides in a two man sled on a real course, to experience the violence, vibration, and G forces involved in the sport.   Nothing beats direct exposure to the buyer’s pains, persona, and journey.

2.  Focus First on the Critical Few Metrics

Scully focuses the redesign on two areas.  He improves the aerodynamics by making the sled smaller and narrower.   And he modifies the weight distribution of the sled to improve handling.  Numerous modifications follow as the details are addressed, but all of the tactics support these goals.   Similarly, B2B marketers align their tactics to big major goals, like revenue contribution.

3.  Start with a Low Risk Trial

The first prototype of the new sled is done on the relatively tame course of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.  Of course, the first trial results in a myriad of modifications.    Similarly, B2B marketers get customers started in a low risk way with freemium models.

4.  Iterate Often, based on Customer Feedback

The designers get input from the athletes after each run.   Like in agile product development, the changes come fast and furiously.  The athletes receive prototype #2 with no time to practice on it before their next  race.   More work is clearly needed.  An improperly placed steering cord causes the driver to crash into the wall immediately after starting.

5.  Uncover the Underlying Need

After the unsuccessful run, designer Scully meets with veteran driver Steven Holcomb to discuss the steering problem.  Holcomb wants more of a range of motion, but Scully isn’t sure whether that means on the steering handle or in the runners.  By clarifying the underlying need, Scully is able to make the right adjustment.

6.   Creative and Analytical:  You Need Both

One set of skills is not enough.  At the US Olympic Trials, driver Elana Meyers emphasizes the need for mental toughness, as well as physical strength and skill.  All of the work in the gym and on the track must be augmented with calm and courage.   Similarly, B2B marketers must be both creative and analytical.

7.  Adjust on the Fly

Optimizing performance is a continuous effort.  At the Olympic Trials, constant tinkering is done to the sled to fine tune its performance based on real-time track conditions.  B2B marketers must make similar adjustments to their demand generation and awareness tactics based on their own real-time metrics.

8.  Keep Your Eye on the Prize

With a month to the Olympics, the redesign appears to be on track. The US is ranked #1 in the World Cup standings.   But success will be defined by who gets the gold in Sochi.

I think BMW achieved its goals with “Driving on Ice.”  The BMW commercials interspersed throughout the film relate directly to the points in the film.  As cars drive through snowy roads, messages of the technical proficiency, advanced materials, and handling are clearly reflected by what was shown on the bobsled track.

What do you think of BMW’s branded content strategy?  Want to pull 5 Gs in turn 8 on the Sochi course?


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Six sigma, inbound marketing

Six Sigma and Inbound Marketing – Only When Pigs Fly?

Oh yeah, I know what you’re thinking.   Six Sigma and inbound marketing? Is that a joke?  Six Sigma is for manufacturing.   Old school.  Narrow-minded.  That rigid process analysis run by geeks with thick, black glasses and pocket protectors.  The very antithesis of the creative, fast-moving, collaborative effort required by marketers to drive awareness and demand.

But I’ll bet you’ll think otherwise by the end of this post.  As evidence for my position,  I’ll cite Hubspot, synonymous with inbound marketing.   I have yet to see pigs in the sky, but those thick black glasses, they’ve gotten pretty trendy lately.  Thank you, LeBron!

Inbound Marketing aside, what does Six Sigma have to do with Endurance Sports?

Now, that’s a lay-up!  Six Sigma focuses on defining success, measuring the critical inputs, and finding opportunities for continuous improvement in order to achieve goals.  It’s the same type of mentality with which endurance athletes train.  We’re always looking for ways to get a little more streamlined, a little more power, a bit more energy.  Incremental improvement in inputs, extended over the course of a triathlon or ultra-marathon, can produce massive gains in finishing time.   There is almost no detail too small for an endurance athlete to analyze and optimize.  Take it from a guy who trimmed his watch band to save weight while running the Western States® 100 Mile Endurance Run.

A New Way to Think about Defects

six sigma, defects
Not the way marketers should think about defects

Six Sigma is all about reducing defects.   Don’t think of a defect as that big pile of scrap that sits at the end of an assembly line.   Think more broadly of a defect as a failure to achieve what is acceptable by the customer.   Isn’t inbound marketing all about attracting the right buyer personas, providing them with useful, compelling content in order to move them along the buying cycle?  Think of a defect as a failure to accomplish this goal.

Once you accept this definition of a defect, the association of Six Sigma and inbound marketing begins to flow.  You have to admit that the following examples are defects:

  1. Your target buyer comes to your website, but doesn’t find what she needs.
  2. You write a compelling blog, but don’t have an obvious call to action (CTA).
  3. A reader of your blog follows your CTA, but finds your registration form too onerous, and abandons.
  4. Your inside sales rep gets a lead on the phone but lacks the training to easily qualify the prospect’s need.

5 Steps that Relate Six Sigma and Inbound Marketing

To identify and correct defects, Six Sigma uses a five step DMAIC process – Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control.  Here are just a few ways this process relates to inbound marketing.

1. Define:  Six Sigma says the “voice of the customer” defines what is acceptable to the customer in order to meet their needs.   For us inbound marketers, this translates to understanding the buyer persona.   This Hubspot example of a non-profit buyer persona goes way beyond just the buyer’s voice to cover her demographics, values, goals, pain points, etc.   The key point common to both Six Sigma and inbound marketing:  focus on the customer, not on your product or service.

Six Sigma practitioners often use a process map in the Define stage to understand the precise steps necessary to deliver a product or a service.   Similarly, inbound marketers must map the customer’s buying process to ensure that they provide useful content to convert an opportunity to a lead and then to a customer.

2. Measure:  The next step is to measure the current state of the process in order to identify opportunities for improvement.   For inbound marketing, this step involves reviewing the website to ensure that it provides compelling content to the buyer personas all along the buying process.   As StoryMETRIX says, it also involves gathering detailed metrics on website traffic by source, conversion ratios, and the effectiveness of sales enablement material.   Creative folks, engage your inner geek, because this step requires a variety of data gathering and basic operational definitions.   For example, marketing and sales must agree on terms like Marketing Qualified Lead and the SLAs for lead follow-up.

3. Analyze:  Here’s where you identify the potential corrective actions to problems.

World famous practitioner of  "The Five Whys"
World famous practitioner of “The Five Whys”

Take a lesson from your three-year old at bed time, and use “The Five Whys.” The idea behind this technique is that you cannot stop the first time you ask “why” a given problem exists.  You have to take the answer you get, and again ask “why.”  If you ask “why” long enough (usually five times suffices), you’ll ultimately uncover the root cause.   See this great example.   Try this with your team the next time your webinar doesn’t get the expected number of attendees.

Oh, and don’t accept “because I said so” as an answer.

4. Improve:  In this phase you implement your changes and measure the results.  A/B testing to determine different subject lines for blog posts or email campaigns.   Different CTAs and registration forms.   Different subject lines for blog posts.   Using video instead of written content to see what works best.   The list goes on.

5. Control:   Here’s where you lock in the gains by documenting best practices and training your team.  No gain is permanent, especially in a changing market, but you have to put in the effort to ensure you propagate your improvement tactics across your team.

A Proof Point from Hubspot

As you read this KISSMetrics article on Hubspot, you’ll clearly identify actions that Hubspot takes that align to each of DMAIC stages.   Creative types, even Hubspot takes an impressively analytical approach to building a scalable sales team.

Convinced yet?  Let me know.   As a marketer, endurance athlete, and Six Sigma Black Belt, I think there’s great opportunity for applying some of these techniques to our jobs.  Just don’t get hung up on outdated impressions of what Six Sigma is all about.


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buyer personas, oxygen

Ignoring Buyer Personas – Is The North Face Climbing without Oxygen?

One of the first tenets of inbound marketing is to build buyer personas to ensure understanding of your customer.   Marketers use research, interviews, and surveys to construct these archetypes of target buyers, and then craft messaging and content to appeal to them.   Buyer personas typically include the following:

  1. Background:  relevant information on job role, size and type of company
  2. Demographics:  gender, age range, household income, where they live
  3. Goals:  what they are trying to accomplish
  4. Challenges:  what gets in the way of accomplishing their goals
  5. How you help:  how your product or service helps them accomplish their goals
  6. Objections:  what you expect to hear from them as they consider your solution
  7. Where they buy:  what resources they use when researching and purchasing
  8. Jargon and quotes:  specific terminology they use when describing themselves, their problem, or desired solution

Here’s an example from Hubspot and one from

Marketers use the buyer persona to build a  buying process map to illustrate the the stages of the buyer’s journey from awareness through purchase.   The goal is to ensure your website provides compelling content to each buyer persona at each stage of the buyer’s journey.  Marketers also use the buyer persona when building their sales presentations,  using the information to arm sales with a commercial insight  tailored to the unique capabilities of their solution.

Makes sense, right?  Well, apparently, not to one of the most well known consumer brands on the planet.   According to a recent New York Times article, The North Face pays no attention to key demographic information of their customer base.  Not their age, not their income, and certainly not their goals and challenges.  Instead, they focus their marketing efforts on four key activities:  mountains – hiking, trekking, climbing, snow sports, running and training, and the broadly defined “youth activities.”  Along with beautiful ads on-line, in catalogs, and in stores, it uses incredibly produced videos of serious athletes in the mountains – climbing, skiing and boarding, and running.  Their Never Stop Exploring integrated marketing campaign personalizes the  meaning of outdoor exploration in these areas.   So, does The North Face know something we don’t know?

In the Beginning, the Buyer Persona was Clear as the Mountain Sky

Two hiking enthusiasts, Doug and Susie Tompkins, started The North Face in San Francisco in 1966 as a retailer of high-end ski and camping gear.  From the very start, in choosing The North Face name, they focused on serious outdoors enthusiasts, since the north face of any mountain is the coldest, iciest, and most challenging to climb.  In 1968, Kenneth Klopp acquired the store, moved it to Berkeley, and began manufacturing mountaineering products.  It maintained its focus on the serious outdoor market even as it entered the sports wear market in 1996.  Promoted with the slogan “Cotton Kills,”  its all-synthetic Tekware® line kept climbers dry, warm, and safe by wicking away sweat.

Mainstream Expansion:  Massif Market Share and Exposure

The North Face was purchased in 2000 by North Carolina based VF Corporation, an $11B apparel and footwear company, which also owns Lee®, Wrangler®, and Nautica® brands.   The North Face is the leading brand of VF Corporation’s Outdoor & Action Sports category, which comprised 54% of total company revenue in 2012.  With major investment in advertising and branded stores, The North Face’s sales grew to $1.9B in sales in 2012, and its logo is now ubiquitous in cities and suburbs around the world.

Although still leading in market share against outdoor apparel competitors like Patagonia, Columbia Sportswear, and Mountain Hardware, The North Face risks alienating serious outdoor enthusiasts.   Its pervasive visibility  has begun to cast it as a “beginner’s” brand among those who are experienced in the outdoors, according to a Bloomberg article.   To counteract this trend, The North Face has increased its efforts on innovation, and close relationships with elite athletes to develop the technical features they require.

The Mainstream and the Long Tail:  Can Activity Based Marketing Address Both?

There are clearly two broad customer categories:  world class athletes, and the rest of us.   Perhaps activity based marketing makes sense for an aspirational brand like The North Face.  As long as it develops the technical features that serious mountain enthusiasts require, the rest of us may continue to aspire to, and be inspired by, those athletes.   Our demographics, goals, challenges, and jargon don’t matter.  We’ll continue to buy because we want to be like them.

For  global brand, this approach can be more flexible.  It allows expansion into other geographies, like China, as well as expansion into gear for seasons other than winter.    Perhaps The North Face isn’t ignoring buyer personas at all, but is taking an approach that doesn’t require them.

What do you think?  What is it about The North Face approach that makes sense to you?

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Content creation is team effort

Content Creation for Inbound Marketing: Build a Bigger Boat

Necessity is the mother of invention.  The phrase is ascribed to Plato, and as the solo marketer in a stand-alone business unit within a large company, I lived and breathed it. To succeed at content creation for inbound marketing, I knew I couldn’t do it alone.   This week’s Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) illustrates how to build a bigger boat to get it done.

Organize your Content Creation Plan

Choose your channels.   Are you rowing sweep (one oar) or are you sculling (two)?  In a single, double, four, or eight?  Similarly, choose your social media channels based on your strengths, resources, and intended audience.  We used Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and blogging.

Find your contributors.  As the marketer, I was the coxswain of our effort, steering and setting the cadence.  Just as a cox can’t move the boat without rowers, marketing can’t be the only function doing content creation for your inbound marketing effort.   Below, I discuss who took up an oar in our content creation boat and what they provided.

Drive to a schedule.  It takes about twenty minutes to finish the three mile HOCR course, but boats can lose major time navigating the 180 degree turn that starts at mile two.  Our content plan had a schedule for each of our channels.  Every week, members of our sales, business development, and product management teams suggested content to me.  I used their suggestions to build an inventory of tweets that were scheduled using HootSuite and distributed to the rest of the company using GaggleAMP.  I recorded one YouTube video each week on technical topics determined by the field.   Our thought leaders contributed to our corporate cloud blog at least monthly.

Build content for the whole customer buying cycle, just as rowers vary their output over the race course.  At the start, they accelerate with a furious stroke rate, then they settle into a more sustainable pace at the B.U. Bridge.  With a half mile to the finish, they go all out once they pass the Eliot Bridge.  Don’t limit your effort to thought leadership content for awareness and consideration.  You need a variety of content for subsequent stages in the cycle.

Track results.  Just as rowers follow a specific plan of workouts leading up to the regatta, we tracked the results of our efforts.   We analyzed which tweets got the most amplification, and which website content was most popular.  We shared the contributions and Klout scores of our team members, to generate competition.

The Oarsmen in our Content Creation Boat

Several groups played a role in content creation.   Here’s who pulled an oar in our eight, from stem to stern.

1.  Product Management:  In the bow seat, our product managers created short YouTube videos covering the our product’s business benefits.  Avoiding detailed discussion of features, these videos highlighted our competitive advantages, and targeted the preference stage of the buying cycle.

2.  Strategists:  Our strategist provided thought leadership content, in white papers and blogs, for our corporate site and popular sites for our targeted industries, like MSP Mentor.  If your vertical market experts aren’t visible on the industry blogs your prospects read, you won’t expand your awareness beyond your current customer base.   

3.  Sales:  As sales met with customers and partners, they tweeted photos and key points, which were then promoted via Twitter and LinkedIn to help drive the purchase stage. We also used this information to write industry specific blog posts such as this example from the CRM software space.

4.  Business Development:  Responsible for the partner eco-system, the business development team recorded short customer videos, highlighting the quantified business benefit of our product.  We not only created a repository of customer videos on our product page, but we also tweeted them out regularly.  These proved to be our most popular tweets, since the profiled customers aggressively promoted them as well.   Create videos for all of your vertical markets and target use cases.

5.  Pre-sales:  Our pre-sales experts recorded YouTube videos on technical tips and tricks.   Targeted to existing customers, these videos helped customers expand their use of our product, helping us cross-sell and up-sell.

6.  Customer Support:  No team is better positioned to understand what customers struggle with, so it was easy for support to address FAQs on our LinkedIn user group.

7.  Executives:  We engaged our leadership, especially on controversial news-jacking opportunities.  The best example is a blog showing how  our customer supported a massive increase in traffic to Boston Magazine’s website after it published unauthorized photos in the Boston Marathon bombing case.

8.  Customers and Partners:  In the stroke position, the most important in the boat, are customers and partners.  After all, it is their experience with the product that drives the business.  Add them as guests on your blog and lead generation activities, since their credibility and direct experience will be more convincing to prospects than your own.

My job as marketer is just like that of the cox:  drive to the schedule, insist on quality output, and constantly demand more effort.

What do you think?  Are you getting the most out of your colleagues when it comes to inbound marketing content creation, or do you have a few empty seats in your boat?

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