Archive for the ‘Competitors’ Category

Blending the Art of Marketing with the Science of Technology

By Jeff Schick, Vice President, Social Software at IBM

Investments in IT have long been the domain of the CIO, but all of that is changing as CMOs increasingly impact IT investments in today’s social and digital world. Given the business realignment between marketing and technology, the CMO and CIO can no longer afford to operate on separate stages. To succeed, they’ll have to forge a shared agenda to deliver business results through innovation and efficiency.

CMOs: imagine your job, but with next-generation skills, expanded peer networks, and the tools and technologies to transform your profession. CIOs: think about sharing your expertise in enterprise IT integration and expanding your horizons further outside the firewall. Together you can approach marketing as an essential enterprise system that delivers innovation, business results, and better customer experiences.

One area challenging both CMOs and CIOs is how to leverage the growing social sphere.

Today’s CMO is struggling with how to better reach and engage with customers. According to the 2011 IBM CMO Study, 82% of CMOs say they plan to increase their use of social media over the next three to five years. We know today’s consumer has unlimited access to information and can instantly share it with the world. This immediacy has raised consumers’ expectations for 100% personalized communications and top-notch service.

At the same time, CIOs are facing a similar struggle within the organization’s walls. That same empowered consumer is today’s empowered employee striving to meet deadlines and deliver superior results at an even faster pace. According to IDC, employees typically see up to 30% increased productivity using social tools internally to complete their work. With a workforce that is socially oriented and geographically distributed, CIOs today are struggling to provide company data on every type of device for their on-the-go, highly motivated employees.

While social is a common denominator for today’s CMO and CIO, what does it look like when they come together to achieve their goals and in the end realize business value for their organization?

Here are some examples of organizations across the globe that are leading the charge, pioneering this C-suite social agenda, and as a result, delivering a superior social, digital brand experience for their customers and employees:

  • Taking advantage of cutting edge digital experience and social technologies, Wimbledon has transformed its web presence to meet the needs of the 16 million people who tune in online to the annual tennis championships. By visiting its website,, fans can share information, interact with, and connect to The Championships as though they were actually there.
  • is similarly embracing web experience technology to provide a 360-degree view of its entire business operations, enabling dealers to examine current inventory, change pricing, and manage photos, among many other business activities—ultimately providing better services to its customers. Today, has scaled to support 200 million unique visitors a year, an increase of 145 million visits since 2007.
  • Gruppo Amadori, a wholesale distributor of quality foods in Italy, has improved its online presence, enabling the company to communicate more directly with younger consumers and increase consumer loyalty. The organization can create new mini-sites up to 40% faster, saving time and costs. Amadori has also created an up-to-date database of consumer details, helping the company better understand the needs of its customers.
  • The region of Windsor-Essex, Ontario, Canada has created a community portal built to provide the region’s government and related organizations with the tools to help citizens with emergency and community services, transportation, health, utilities, and life events, such as getting married, having a baby, or retiring. Through the region’s innovative use of IBM technology, asthma attacks have been alleviated, a local automobile manufacturing plant diversified into the aerospace industry, and 250 tons of waste materials from a road construction project was made into new housing for those who needed it the most.

Despite a few trailblazers, like the organizations listed above, this collaboration between CMO and CIO is the exception and not the rule, but it’s clear that if your organization is looking to gain an advantage over the competition, this relationship is the ticket to success. It’s time as a marketer to knock on your IT department’s door and get collaborating!

8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success—#7: Ensure Value

By Kent Huffman, Author of 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success

“What’s the ROI from all that social media stuff you’ve been doing?” your boss asks. One of his favorite questions, right? Or if you’re a small business owner, you’ve probably heard that same question from your partner or CPA.

Generating reliable performance metrics for your social media activities—gathered and reported in an efficient, easily interpreted manner—has become a major priority for practitioners of social media marketing to help them demonstrate the value from participating in social media and validate their investments in it.

Your boss, partner, or CPA wants to compare the investment of personnel, time, money, and other resources to the return. But without supplying verifiable ROI data and analysis, any long-term relationships that marketers hope to develop and maintain with their social media communities are most likely in jeopardy.

So how do you go about ensuring that you’re deriving value from your social media marketing efforts—and that you can accurately measure that value? Obviously, tracking online “chatter” can help expose the bad as well as the good. For example, your fans and followers may publicly laud your products or suggest improvements to them, giving you the opportunity to respond quickly and address their comments or concerns. Also, there are now a myriad of technology tools available that can help measure the financial impact of social media on your organization, including lead generation, e-commerce revenue, etc.

The social media monitoring and measuring process is still in its infancy. However, in today’s hyper-competitive environment and relatively weak economy, generating measurable, repeatable value from social media is no longer an option for most marketers.

(This is an excerpt from Kent’s new book, 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success.)

Next: 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success—#8: Continue Listening

8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success—#1: Start Listening

By Kent Huffman, Author of 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success

I believe that listening is the single most important key for marketers who want to be successful in social media.

Although the average person spends about 45% of his or her waking hours listening, most of us are simply not very good at it. Various studies conducted over the years have shown that we comprehend and retain only about 25% of what we hear!

With that challenge so prevalent, applying good listening strategies and skills in the social media environment becomes even more critical. “Intentional listening,” as my friend and colleague Eric Fletcher calls it, should be front and center in your social media marketing strategy, as it plays an integral role in ensuring that you can find your target audience, hear and understand their wants and needs, and then effectively communicate with them in such a way that establishes trust and strong, long-lasting relationships.

At the outset of your social media marketing program—even before implementing your listening tactics—do your homework. Conduct surveys and focus groups. Gather responses and evaluate. And spend some quality time “lurking and learning” on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media channels to find out what your target audience has to say.

Finally, make sure you’re carefully monitoring your competitors as well. Are they listening to their constituents or just broadcasting marketing messages? You’ll have to do a little old-fashioned detective work, but remember that with social media, the playing field truly has been leveled. You don’t have to guess about who’s doing what—just listen.

(This is an excerpt from Kent’s new book, 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success.)

Next: 8 Mandates for Social Media Marketing Success—#2: Plan Carefully

The Trend: “Alone Together.” The Trigger? Web 2.0

By Berenice Ring, Professor at Fundação Getulio Vargas

There are now 2.1 billion Internet users on planet Earth—30 percent of the world’s population! And to access the Internet, we now have countless models of cell phones, laptops, tablets, and every other wonder technology has provided us with. We can no longer live without them!

Visiting friends recently, I witnessed an interesting scene in their living room. The father, an advertising professional, worked on his iMac. The mother, an interior decorator, chose fabrics on her iPad. The daughter, multitasking on a PC, searched the Internet to do her homework and listened to music on iTunes while still logged on to Facebook. And the son played video games. All of them, no doubt, had their cell phones on. A commonplace scene, no? The question is, were they actually together in the living room?

This is the latest trend emerging all over—”alone together”—driven by advances in technology and by Web 2.0.

Trends are behaviors that define change patterns that have been building for some years and are expected to last for another many years. Is this particular trend good or bad for society? As with everything else in life, there are several sides to the issue.

MIT professor and ethnography specialist Sherry Turke published a book earlier this year entitled Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other. Turk argues that, instinctively, we humans still need physical proximity, noticing the lack of satisfaction and increased alienation among users she studied.

With the recent explosion of technology and social networks, we might gather that human relationships are thriving as never before! However, what Turke suggests is that we are ascribing human attributes to objects and treating each other as things. She reveals the paradoxical picture of today’s human disconnect, caused by the expansion of virtual connections on cell phones and computers.

We are indeed alone in the room, alienated from our family and everyone in our milieu. And yet, when my family took car trips before the emergence of all this Internet paraphernalia, my daughter often announced that she was going to turn on her “isolation kit” (i.e., iPod) for the duration. So I ask, didn’t our Generation Y children already isolate themselves from the family in their rooms long before all these tools appeared?

And if, on one hand, we are alone in our living room, on the other, we are more united than ever with our friends through Facebook and Orkut, to people with common hobbies and tastes through communities in which we choose to take part, and to other professionals in our industry via LinkedIn and Twitter. Moreover, technology enables us to establish joint creative connections with other individuals through wikis, like the one that resulted in the fabulous phenomenon Wikipedia. The strength of like-minded masses even elected the American president! Using a reverse approach, Foursquare was created, already boasting 10 million users, bringing people together in the physical world—in bars and restaurants, for instance—with a digital “check-in” tool that enables us to inform people we know of our whereabouts.

It is worth keeping in mind that there is also a fraternization side to this story. A viral message received by a father, for example, may become a subject of conversation with his son, and vice-versa. There is surely still much to talk about regarding the consequences of this trend for both the family and society.

And what about corporations? Companies that keep an eye on trends are always ready to draw insights from them. Those that manage to deploy these trends constructively will be better equipped to see the direction where we are going and to build potential future scenarios more accurately. Their strategies to deal with the present will have a much greater chance of success! Not only that; by arriving ahead of others in the marketplace, they gain significant competitive advantage over their competitors.

There is no doubt that great business opportunities are waiting for us—in the physical, digital, and mobile worlds.

How about you? Have you begun thinking about your digital strategy?

How to Overcome Your Own Fear of Social Media

By Phyllis Zimbler Miller, co-founder of Miller Mosaic

Have you recently found yourself standing in the checkout line at a chain drugstore hearing an ad for a product that includes a reference to social media? For example, you may hear, “Follow us on Twitter or ‘like’ us on Facebook to learn about our new products.” And you say to yourself, “I’m so glad I don’t have to worry about those things for the marketing of my company’s products and services.” If you’ve been reassuring yourself thusly, you’re dead wrong.

Social media is here to stay. And if you don’t want your competition to trample you into the ground, you need to get with the program right now!

The irony is that, once you admit you don’t know enough about how your company can benefit from social media, and you resolve to learning more, you’re already on the way to harnessing some of the power of social media. Why? Because the most effective use of social media is sharing information with others, as opposed to selling your products and services.

A little secret that makes a big difference: when it comes to social media marketing, almost everyone has to start at zero. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve grown up with Facebook or without computers, the concepts of using social media effectively for marketing have to be learned. Why is that? Because effective social media marketing goes against the grain of traditional advertising/marketing. Instead of pushing out our company’s messages, we have to share information with our prospective clients and customers, be responsive to answering their questions, and think of the benefits of our products and services from their perspective and not ours.

For example, consumers in the age of Facebook are probably not very interested in how many employees your company has or what your headquarters looks like. But they probably are interested in how much easier or more fun their lives will be if they use your products or services. And you can show rather than tell this by sharing information on social media sites.

Let’s say you manufacture a revolutionary new food blender. Besides sharing the revolutionary benefits of the new features, you can also sponsor a food blender recipe showcase in which people share their own recipes on your company’s Facebook page. Your food blender gets publicity created by its own fans. And those fans can share their enthusiasm for your new blender with their friends on Facebook, who can share with their friends on Twitter, who can post videos on YouTube, etc. And the concentric circles get bigger and bigger.

It’s okay to start at zero knowledge regarding social media marketing, as long as you commit to moving forward to an ever-increasing knowledge base. If you do this, you and your company can look forward to connecting with your prospective clients and customers in ways you never could have imagined possible only a few short years ago.

Social Media: Still a Mystery to Most Small Businesses

By Amy Howell, CEO of Howell Marketing Strategies

Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t ask me about social media for business. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are all new media tools that can help bolster your Internet or digital “footprint.”

You can read all about how social media is ramping up the conversation by doing a simple Google search. But the more important question small business owners want answered is how to use social media to boost sales and get the phone ringing. I call it “turning on the water faucet.” Social media for businesses should mean one thing: free tools that can strengthen your organization’s SEO (search engine optimization), help get your message out, and engage with customers and prospects.

Now these tools may be free, but the time you must spend executing the work can be extensive. A lot of writers just re-hash what’s already been written, so what I find most helpful is to share what we help clients do in the trenches every day. Below are the main barriers to using social media and why it remains a mystery, followed by how to get started and what to do first.

The barriers for most small businesses using social media are:

  • Time and education: It takes time to read and learn about the ever-changing, growing tools online, and most business owners don’t have extra time to devote to this. I hear it every day, and as a small business owner myself, I certainly understand this constraint. Small businesses have limited resources and must focus on revenue development and all that comes with running a business. Social media can help a small business tremendously, but most owners have not had time to get up to speed.
  • Lack of resources: It takes a dedicated effort to employ social media tools. Most companies can hire help, but many simply don’t have the extra resources to do so.
  • Reluctance to embrace new media: A lot of people are just flat out skeptical of social media. There are legitimate reasons to ignore it, especially if you are in a regulated industry (banking, insurance, finance, etc.), as some governing entities such as the SEC have policies against any use of social media for work. I think that will change soon, as I’m already seeing some large organizations issue new policies on social media use.
  • Generational: Most people would be surprised to know that the average age of a Twitter user is between 40 and 55. Age isn’t an excuse to avoid social tools, but it is often an explanation.

How to get started if you want to add a social media strategy to your marketing toolkit:

  • Read, read, read. There are some excellent blogs (like this one) and other resources online that can tell you all you need to know. There is no “magic wand” that will do this for you. If you really want to jump in, you have to do the reading yourself. You can hire it out of course, but the ideal results spring from the business understanding social media and embracing it, even if it means only monitoring at first. Let’s take the Judy McLellan Team for example (@JudyMacTeam on Twitter). Judy hired my firm to help with a real estate marketing and PR strategy that included the use of social tools. At first, we did some of the tweeting and posting. But now, you can find Judy out selling homes while using her iPad and iPhone to tweet and spread information about her listings.
  • Pick one tool and learn that first. For me, it’s Twitter. Once I understood Twitter, I moved on to learning about some other tools. I think by mastering one tool, small businesses can see results faster. Let’s take Cheffie’s Cafe (@Cheffies on Twitter) as the next example. We helped Cheffie’s Cafe spread the word by using Twitter, along with traditional PR during the previous few months. A good Twitter strategy is key to a successful PR campaign.
  • Look at what your competition is doing. Get online and do a little research to see what your competition is up to in the social space. Let’s take OrthoMemphis, a successful orthopaedic practice in Memphis that adopted social media long before its competition did. We have helped OrthoMemphis (@OrthoMemphis on Twitter) use social media tools to not only market their sub-specialists (knee, hips, and shoulders), but also to launch OrthoStat, its acute care walk-in clinic. Combined with direct mail, PR, and patient communications, Twitter and Facebook have been tremendously helpful.
  • Get a social media policy in place and communicate it to your organization. There are some great examples online and free resources available. I suggest any small business that wants to use social media tools have a policy in place just like a media policy. Talking online is like talking in the newspaper, and it’s important to have a strategy and know the dos and don’ts of posting online. Good examples are Coca-Cola, Kodak, and Intel. (A list of these can be found on my blog.)

The smaller the organization (or flatter), the easier it is to employ social media. Even though they may have more resources, larger companies are often more bureaucratic and have more red tape. Larger companies are also usually slower to “get it,” and we have found that companies without all the red tape can move faster and are often more decisive. Social media gives the little guys a leg up and is a great way to have a big voice online.

Four SEO/SMM Strategies to Get Your Blog Listed on the First Page of Google

By Marci Reynolds, Director of Operations for Global Help24 at ACI Worldwide

Business blogs have become critical tools in any social media marketing tool box, and they are an excellent medium to share expertise and build your business brand. But just creating a blog is not enough. You must also focus on blog SEO (search engine optimization) to ensure that it receives top placement in Google, Bing, and the other search engines.

I began blogging in 2009, when I launched The Sales Operations Blog, and in 2011, I launched a second blog called Rat Terrier Mom. What do the two blogs have in common? They both appear on the first page of Google for multiple search terms and get the majority of their traffic from organic search engine links. Social media marketing nirvana!

Here are four strategies that I recommend and have leveraged to get my blogs listed on the first page of Google:

  • Focus and differentiate the content on your blog. There are thousands of blogs on the Internet, so if you want yours to stand out and appear on the first page of Google, it must offer something unique. Before I started The Sales Operations Blog, I did some research on blog competition and the popularity of search terms related to my content. I found that there were thousands of blogs on “how to sell” but very few on sales support. I also discovered that the phrase “sales operations” was one of the more frequently used search terms related to my topic. So before launching your blog, check out the competition, do some research on how potential readers search for your content, and attempt to focus and differentiate your blog.
  • Include a power search term in your domain name. Google does not like cute, it likes relevant. For this reason, I chose the domains and (Okay, Rat Terrier Mom is a little cute.) When choosing your domain and blog name, select a frequently used search term that aligns with your content. In my domain research, I have found that many of the most popular words or phrases alone are already taken, but if you add the word “blog” at the end, most of them are available. For example, is taken, but is still available. Check out to research domain options.
  • Identify and leverage the top 20 search terms in your blog content. Use Google Adwords or a similar tool to identify the top 20-ish search terms that readers use to find content like yours, and then use this intelligence throughout your blog. This includes your post titles, post content, categories, HTML image labels, and in-post HTML tags. Note that the search terms should enhance your high-quality, interesting blog content, not actually make up your blog content. In addition to using the Google Adwords tool, monitor the “real time” search engine terms driving traffic, as reported in your WordPress dashboard. Copyblogger is an excellent resource for tips on keyword research and blogging SEO.
  • Keep the content fresh. As part of your social media marketing plan, publish high-quality, relevant blog content, ideally once per week. There is a direct correlation to the frequency in which you publish content, your ranking on search engines, and your website traffic. Add your Twitter stream or another user’s topic-relevant Twitter stream to the home page of your blog. Every time a tweet is posted, your blog home page will get fresh content. Add a specific page to your blog that includes links to other similar, recent online content. Refer to the Other Sales Ops Articles page on The Sales Operations Blog for an example.

If you focus and differentiate, choose a powerful domain name, include popular keywords in your content, and keep your content fresh (and high quality), there is no doubt that your blog popularity and traffic will climb.

I wish you good luck in your adventures in blogging and social media marketing!

SXSW: 8 Essential Takeaways for CMOs

By Margaret Molloy, Chief Marketing Officer at Velocidi

Since attending the SXSW Interactive Festival in March, a number of CMOs have asked me for my key takeaways from the event. Articulating these succinctly has not been easy. After all, SXSW provided such valuable insights into new technologies, inspirational speeches, and fantastic networking opportunities. Upon reflection, I can summarize my key learning in a few words: get back to basics.

The pace of the technological evolution is dizzying—racing to keep up with it can cause us CMOs to lose site of the big picture. Digital platforms are not an end in themselves, they are tools that help us more efficiently do what we’ve been striving to do for years: engage customers, know them, guide strategy, and achieve growth and influence in our markets.

Based on this premise, here are eight imperatives to guide us through our rapidly evolving digital landscape, garner internal support, and achieve growth:

  1. Align all digital marketing activities with your company’s business goals. Focusing on the bottom line will help you choose the right platforms to engage your customers and build the digital initiatives to help you achieve the right results. (Remember that innovation and learning can also be excellent desired outcomes.)
  2. Manage your brand’s digital presence (web, social) with the same vigilance as your CFO manages cash flow. A well-executed digital presence—and the appropriate investment in it—will yield the customer data and engagement required to drive business strategy and impact your company’s valuation.
  3. Know your customers in a better, deeper, more textured way than your competitors do. Leveraging social media platforms to understand your customers’ personal interests, preferences, and motivations can provide you with data required to drive powerful new marketing campaigns.
  4. Embrace customer segmentation and pricing with discipline, or risk margin erosion. Given the degree of price transparency and ease of information sharing online, your margins need constant vigilance—not all customer segments require discounts to establish loyalty, referrals, advocacy, and repeat purchases.
  5. Channel your inner educator, specifically your economics 101 professor, when addressing digital marketing tactics with management. Train your executives on the strategic metrics for your business, or risk them defaulting to the popular definition of ROI (number of followers, website impressions, etc.). If management doesn’t know how to assess and measure the effectiveness of digital marketing initiatives, it’s not realistic for them to fund the programs.
  6. Strive to balance long-term customer relationship building with lead generation, activation, and sales objectives. Avoid the temptation to jump in and close a prospect on the first signs of potential interest, or risk losing them.
  7. Consider your brand a publisher and be clear on your content goals—education, entertainment, community building, etc. Draw on the entire spectrum of content (brand-generated, partner-created, user-generated, curated, etc.) to select the right mix to cost-effectively engage your customers.
  8. Be authentic in your customer engagements through all communications channels. Customers are smart, well connected, and can easily identify insincere behavior and expose questionable tactics—honesty remains the best policy.

Focusing on these imperatives will ultimately provide you with a compass to guide you through the evolving digital landscape and toward the digital programs that will help you achieve your business goals.

Fueling the Social Media Engine: How Building Relationships Online Drives the Growth of Brands

By Luis Gallardo, Managing Director of Global Brand & Marketing at Deloitte

The world’s most successful brands go the distance. Beyond logos, colors, and shapes, brands endure over time and geography, attempting to do what no other commodity or service offering before them could do—or better yet, promise.

Brands are expected to perform, and customers expect nothing short of that promise. In fact, one must think holistically about the brand by understanding how multiple stakeholders are interacting, sharing, and perceiving the value of the promise across hundreds of brand touch points around the world. Then, one must get personal by understanding how emerging media and other Web 2.0 communities impact the development and maintenance of meaningful relationships—an emotional bond and distinctive brand experience for customers and stakeholders.

Is your organization capitalizing on emerging media technology as a key brand-enhancing activity to help differentiate it from the competition?

At Deloitte, the largest private professional services organization globally, social media is not just another buzzword. We boldly anticipate the success of social media in helping our people and clients to step ahead in the marketplace. Pragmatic in our approach, we are building on the success of several social media marketing campaigns to continuously grow our brand within the professional services market.

Our recent success with the 2010 Deloitte Fantasy Football engagement program, for example, allowed our 170,000-member firm practitioners, as well as our clients, to highlight their pride in cultural diversity, their love for the game of soccer, and a relentless approach to staying a step ahead of the fantasy competition during every World Cup match game. In addition to being an all-around fun game, Deloitte Fantasy Football was a strategic brand-building initiative that relied heavily on the power of building relationships online via social media channels, peer-to-peer recommendations, and real-time collaboration among colleagues, friends, and clients.

Social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, in particular) played an integral role in sustaining the momentum and energy behind the campaign, week after week. In fact, the results of the campaign exceeded our expectations:

  • More than 80% of Deloitte member firms actively promoted this event, leveraging unique opportunities for local market fit.
  • There was a ten-fold jump from Deloitte Australia’s original 3,000 participant count in 2006 to an impressive 33,848 total number of participants who registered to play the game in more than 160 countries.
  • More than 61 percent of the Deloitte workforce participated in the competition, complemented by a respectable level of client participation at 34 percent.
  • More than half a million unique online visitors from 162 countries and territories came to the competition site. More than 15 percent of these visitors had not previously visited a Deloitte Web site.
  • Each visitor spent an average of 7.38 minutes visiting the Web site—an equivalent of more than 4 million page views.
  • The Deloitte Fantasy Football campaign directly impacted our overall social media profile. We grew our official Deloitte Facebook page during that time from a fan base of 2,000 to more than 77,000 active users. Deloitte now has the largest global Facebook presence among its professional services competitors.
  • More than 40 Deloitte member firm practitioners from the South African firm acted as “green dot” reporters by blogging about the spirit of the live games.

Deloitte continues to shift perception from being just one of the Big Four to being the market-leading private professional services organization—in a category of one. To help accomplish this goal, Deloitte Fantasy Football (as well as other brand engagement programs) allowed our network of member firms to build on the exciting momentum of the world’s largest sports phenomenon, while exposing stakeholders to a variety of brand messages that appeal to clients and talent. By supporting these relationships in online social media applications such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blogs, Deloitte continues to break away from the pack.

Using social media as part of the marketing mix, Deloitte is able to authentically embrace the interests of its people and clients in a non-traditional way. From weekly engagement levels provided by Facebook metrics to a whole new database of potential clients, social media is a strategic business driver with the potential to positively impact lead generation, brand reputation, and risk, as well as advancements in thought leadership and new product development.

Using One-to-Many Technologies to Create One-to-One Experiences

By David Harkleroad, Chief Marketing Officer at Hay Group

I’m re-reading Neil Rackham’s B2B classic, Major Account Sales Strategy. While written in 1989, it is still remarkably relevant—and he would have included a section on social media had it existed at the time!

Neil asked experienced B2B sales professionals about the hardest part of selling, expecting to hear, “getting a consensus of needs when several different people are involved in the decision” or “getting customers to see that the need is urgent enough to justify action.” Surprisingly, they said, “getting in the door in the first place!” He concluded, “if you’re trying to penetrate a new account, the easiest starting point is to find a receptive individual—somebody who’s prepared to listen.”

To find those receptive individuals, B2B firms traditionally rely on business developers—or, as any Mad Men aficionado knows, the Roger Coopers or Pete Campbells—who leverage relationships, cold call, or, in its modern day equivalent, spam (does anyone ever open those?) to get in the door. As an aside, many B2B business leaders confuse these prospecting activities (a one-to-one activity) with marketing (one-to-many), much to all of our chagrin.

Today, social media, as many thoughtful B2B marketing peers have learned, offers real opportunities for marketing success by, in essence, using one-to-many technologies to create one-to-one experiences. To build those connections takes time, creativity, repetition, and the right content—similar to any other marketing approach. The challenge is tweaking that content to raise brand awareness, and more importantly, to create sales leads and conversations. A few simple, cost-effective ways to experiment:

  • Make it easy for people to opt in to your content. Listen to what your targets have to say, and create content that both supports your marketing objectives and matters to your online audiences. At the same time, think through a clear call to action for every touchpoint you have online. Offer a clear and simple way to connect for additional information, and track those leads.
  • Have a content hub. A blog isn’t realistic for everyone, although that is the ideal. Consider creating a robust microsite as a center for information on a key topic. It’s a nice platform for external audiences but can also effectively rally internal audiences and salespeople. Or, for those without the corporate resources, a social media news release, such as those found at PitchEngine, can house a variety of multimedia content. Whatever the method, offer clear ways to connect or to solicit input.
  • Build relationships with bloggers. As Kevin Briody notes in The Very Basics of Blogger Outreach, you must identify the right bloggers—and get to know them. This is the time to roll up your sleeves, because there is no “easy” list. However, there are some sources that can help point you in the right direction: Alltop, Google Blog Search, and Technorati. Once you identify a few key bloggers, look around their sites for any helpful information on blog rolls or lists they might produce themselves, such as this one, which offers a robust community of management and leadership bloggers.
  • Engage on Twitter. It’s critical to build your followers before you launch a social media campaign. Adam Holden-Bache provides six useful steps to find your B2B audience on Twitter. Listen for a while. Check to see if your LinkedIn connections are on Twitter. Scan for any customers, prospects, key bloggers, and competitors.

At Hay Group, these efforts have already generated one-to-one meetings with organizations we want to do business with. And our consultants report much more receptivity to meeting requests, which is perhaps the most satisfying result, since it increases their confidence to go open some more doors.

What tactics have worked for you? Please share your successes, so we can all learn.

Engage Your Most Dissatisfied Customers for Radical Thinking

By Dr. Philippe Duverger, Assistant Professor at Towson University

I agree with Tom Quinn’s recent post on the SMM Magazine blog—By Invitation Only: Letting Your Customers in Behind the Velvet Rope—where he advocates for a by-invitation-only brand community that leverages customer engagement in a private and exclusive environment. Facebook Pages and other initiatives that inform and lead your consumer base (customers and potential customers alike) to follow your brand and try your services and products is a different strategy than listening to your most valuable customers. Both strategies are valuable and have their place in the social media environment.

A social media strategy using Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other open-to-the-public environments will raise awareness, trial, and traffic. But it will also allow competitors to listen in on the conversation. If you are in need of radical service ideas and want to mine your customer base or test new ideas, you should create a secluded environment where only trusted and creative clients can participate.

This is where the dilemma exists. Should you invite only your loyal customers to participate in idea generation through online brainstorming sessions? Or should you invite your most dissatisfied customers? I advocate for the latter strategy.

Your most dissatisfied customers are probably thinking about switching providers. They are more likely to feel underappreciated or have experienced sub-standard service from you. They might have logged a complaint, only to receive an unhelpful administrative response, which further enraged them, thereby increasing their dissatisfaction. So it is more likely that they can tell you what is wrong with your business.

You might not want to hear it, or you might dismiss the complaint as a rare occurrence or subjective to the customer’s unrealistic expectations. And you might be wrong. That customer could be a visionary who will feel compelled to find a service provider that will satisfy her needs. If none of your competitors provide it, the customer might decide to provide it herself (assuming she has what it takes), become your competitor, and drive you out of business. Too far, you think? Take entrepreneurs like Richard Branson (Virgin Group), Kemmons Wilson (Holiday Inn), or Howard Schultz (Starbucks). They all have a common characteristic: they did not like what was available in the market and went on to create it for themselves.

Interestingly, Starbucks recently engaged in a Web-based brainstorming exercise where anyone—including its competitors—could participate and watch. Starbucks collected thousands of ideas. Great… except that only one radical idea would suffice to make a winter-coffee company an all-season coffee and smoothies company. The Frappuccino, according to Schultz’s memoirs, was a customer’s idea and now accounts for almost half of Starbucks’ revenue.

Certainly, among the tens of thousands of participants, there are bound to be creative consumers, satisfied or not. But the most dissatisfied and creative ones either won’t participate or will be outnumbered by the conservative, happy, and loyal customers.

Cyberbullying is explained by the balance theory where a customer posting a radical idea might preface it with a complaint, leading others to defend the brand by bullying the culprit out of participating. The solution? Segregate your behind-the-velvet-rope communities between radical thinkers and those who only have improvement ideas. Or, more practically, have a radical-thinking community composed of your most dissatisfied customers. And then listen.

Three Questions the Savvy Executive Asks about Online Marketing Strategy

By Stephanie Diamond, Author of Web Marketing for Small Businesses: Seven Steps to Explosive Business Growth

If you’re a leader whose business has an online component, you’d probably like to find some guidelines that make it easier to develop and sustain an online marketing strategy. There are lots of conflicting ideas swirling out there about what to do online. If you followed many of them, you’d be spinning your wheels with no revenue in sight.

As someone whose has worked online since 1994, I’ve watched the marketing “shiny object” change from Web site to newsletter to blog to social media network. And on it goes. I know that getting locked into a tactic with no clear strategy in sight is a common mistake.

If you’re uneasy around the topic of social media strategies, you’re not alone. Because you’re not down in the trenches tweeting and posting, you probably don’t have the “hands-on” feel you have for other areas of marketing.

If you attempt to delegate, employees suggest all manner of tactics to engage customers. You’ve heard that you need to engage with Twitter and Facebook, study ongoing analytics, present sparkling content, and co-develop with customers. Great advice. But without the strategy behind it, your campaigns are destined to fail. Like every other area of business, you need to create the strategy first and make sure it flows down to everyone in your organization.

In formulating an online strategy, here are three questions to consider:

  1. Value. Do your employees know the real value consumers place on your products and services? If you don’t develop and constantly hone that message, your employees can’t communicate it in their social media efforts. In turn, all the ratings and comments that show up about your company will not engender the “word of mouth” referral power they could. If your customers aren’t selling for you, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful weapons you have today.
  2. Intellectual property (IP). Are you encouraging your employees to mine the intellectual property hidden inside your business to create information products and services? I’m not referring to the patents or formulas your company owns. The IP in companies today can be found in their vast stores of information. The key is to evaluate that information based on enhancement of the customer’s life. Think broadly. Consumers today are hungry for quality information that solves problems. Can your staff take that information and create videos, e-books, and other downloadable properties with that in mind?
  3. Competitive advantage. Do your employees understand who your real competitors are? I’m often surprised when I work on competitive strategies with my clients that they overlook several real online competitors. It’s a mistake to focus on only those who sell your exact product/service in exactly the way you do. The Web provides the opportunity for your customers to pick and choose from a variety of options. For example, if you sell sales training courses, your competitors are online video portals, coaches (both in-person and online), downloadable audio courses, etc. Make sure your staff has looked at all the possibilities.

One more note—there are many visual thinking tools (like mind mapping) that your team can use right now to gather ideas from all internal disciplines. Consider using these techniques to get ideas from programmers and marketers alike. In today’s marketplace, you can’t afford to overlook a great idea.