I have rowing on my mind these days. October brings the Head of the Charles Regatta to the Boston area. My good friend and training buddy, Greg, rows for the Cambridge Boat Club Senior Master Fours, who are defending champions and course record holders. I’ve also been riveted by “The Boys in the Boat,” Daniel James Brown’s story of the American rowers who competed in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The book not only covers the backgrounds of the University of Washington rowers as they struggle through their ruthless training regimen, but it also provides the historical context of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and, of course, the rise of Hitler.
What does rowing have to do with B2B marketing? You’re right to be skeptical, but it turns out that the factors that drive a fast boat also drive an effective B2B marketing program.
Power and Cadence: Keys to a Fast Boat, and Effective Marketing
Moving an eight-oared boat through the water requires a complex choreography of physical effort and coordination. But the simple fact is that a boat’s speed depends on two factors: how powerfully the rowers pull the oars in the drive phase of the stroke, and the rate at which they do so. A rower’s power depends on how accurately he sets his oar blade in the water at the “catch,” and how precisely he engages his legs, back, and arms to pull it through during the “drive.” Cadence is driven by the number of strokes per minute. Stronger pulls and more strokes per minute mean more speed.
It is the coxswain’s job to watch the competition and set the race strategy by dictating the power and cadence for the rowers.
Power and cadence can also be considered the two major drivers of an effective B2B marketing strategy. Just as the power of the stroke is driven by the accuracy and strength of the oar blade’s engagement with the water, the power of a marketing program depends on how precisely the messaging and selling efforts engage the target buyer. Cadence of a marketing program is set not by strokes per minute, but the frequency of activities relating to awareness, demand generation, and enablement. Just like a winning boat, a successful marketing program must have the right combination of power and cadence.
Driving Forward: “Give Me Ten Big Ones!”
The 1936 US Olympic eight achieved its success by waiting until the last possible moment in races to drive up the stroke rate. Because of their conditioning, the team could maintain contact with their competition at a high power and moderate stroke rate, then raise the cadence in the final moments of a race and break away to the finish line.
Occasionally, the coxswain called for the rowers to increase their power for a fixed number of strokes in order to stay within striking range of their competition. Hearing “Give me ten big ones,” the rowers applied extra strength for ten strokes while maintaining a set cadence, thus vaulting the boat forward. Here are the “Ten Big Ones” that relate B2B marketing to rowing, under the headings of power and cadence.
Marketing Power: Engaging the Buyer
Just like a rower applies power through the rowing cycle, from catch, to drive, to recovery, the power of a marketing program is driven by the engagement with the target buyer through the buying cycle. Many factors impact marketing program power, but here are the five with which I’ve had the most success.
1. Identify Your Moral, then Leverage It
My company has been lucky enough to work with Small Army, self-described story-tellers masquerading as an advertising agency. The Small Army team has helped us articulate our moral, or core beliefs, and leverage them in our awareness, demand generation, and enablement materials. Since so much marketing language sounds the same, core beliefs can often be a company’s key differentiation.
2. Focus Relentlessly on Target Buyer Personas
Buyer Personas help you get the most out of your marketing programs by focusing on the demographics, behavior patterns, motivations and goals of your key prospects. Your marketing program will deliver more power by crisply articulating the problems your prospects have, their objectives in solving the problem, where they go and the experience they want in seeking solutions, and their common objections.
3. Develop a Compelling Commercial Insight
In a previous post on the Challenger Sale Methodology, I discussed the importance of developing a compelling Challenger Sale commercial insight. “A compelling, defensible perspective from a supplier that materially impacts a customer’s performance and directly leads back to their unique capabilities.” 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.
Identifying the Commercial Insight truly takes a team, as I discussed in the earlier post. Engage your colleagues in sales, pre-sales, product management, and support to be sure you have it nailed.
4. Quantify the Business Benefit
In addition to having a laser focus on your target buyer and a compelling, unique value proposition, you need to have numbers. Words can be confusing, generic, and nuanced, but numbers don’t lie. On a rowing erg, average wattage shows exactly what the output of a rower is. Similarly, prospects want to know what business benefits can be achieved using your solution. Increased revenue. Better customer satisfaction. Faster customer service time. Lower operational cost. Fewer problems. Like average wattage, these are the metrics that matter.
Marketers need these metrics for all of the vertical markets they serve, and for all of their key solution areas. Maintain a database that can be searched by geography, vertical market, and problem area, and maintain it over time, so it continually grows. Nothing is more compelling to a prospect than a story of how someone just like them, in the same industry, addressing a similar problem, achieved a significant, quantifiable business benefit.
5. Move Forward Faster with Effective CTAs
Just before a rower’s oar blade exits the water to begin the recovery and set-up for the next stroke, she applies a strong “finish” to get every last bit of propulsion out of her effort. A strong finish is needed to deliver the maximum benefit of the preceding stroke.
Similarly, a strong Call to Action is needed to maximize the benefit of a web page, or call campaign, or sales presentation. Delivering compelling CTAs will enable marketers to successfully drive their prospects through to the next stage in the buying cycle.
Next Up: Marketing Cadence
This post covers the first category of marketing tips from rowing – power. The next post will cover cadence. I’ll wait for the completion of the Head of the Charles Regatta for that. I may just finish “The Boys in the Boat” by then too. In the mean time, please tell me what you think.