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A new mechanism has emerged to help B2B buyers who are searching online for products and solutions:  Ratings and reviews sites, where searchers can find out what their peers are saying about prospective products and suppliers, and compare product features head to head.  Just as consumers use Yelp and TripAdvisor, business buyers can check out G2Crowd, TrustRadius, Clutch.co, Capterra and others.   

These sites work best in fragmented markets, where it can be hard to stand out among the many competitors.  No surprise, in the B2B world, it’s software where the bulk of the activity lies. But other categories are being served as well, like business services, and more are likely to come.  

The value to buyers from these sites is obvious.  Peer reviews are highly prized in the purchase decision process, not only for validating the claims of the seller, but for showing evidence of the product’s relevance to the buyer’s own industry.  

They also point out otherwise unseen flaws.  “The stakes are high in B2B,” says Vinay Bhagat, founder and CEO of TrustRadius.  “Tech buyers need the whole truth before buying.”  Think of the consequences that might accrue if, despite due diligence, you install HR software that produces a critical error, he points out.  

On the seller side, it’s a mixed bag.  Clearly, B2B sellers want to be found, and praised publicly by their fans.  Chris Jeffers, founder of VisitorTrack, says his product’s strong reviews have resulted in inquiries from prospects, saying things like “I saw you on G2Crowd, and I’m calling because your reviews are better than the others I was looking at.”   The reviews also serve as mini-case studies and testimonials covering a variety of industries and applications that would have taken sellers enormous effort to assemble on their own. Injecting the voice of the customer into the selling process is a boon.  

But bad reviews can be a challenge.  The nightmare of PR people everywhere.  Review sites managers make extra effort to validate reviewers, to ensure that the reviewer really uses the product, and if anonymous, is a real business person.  

Wondering about the business model of these comparison sites?   Most offer free listings to sellers, and free viewing of the ratings and reviews to all.  They make their money from enhanced listings, from advertising and from a mixture of marketing services, like data on visitors looking at reviews in the seller’s category.  Many also offer support services, to help increase the number of customer reviews. Pricing ranges from hundreds to thousands of dollars a month.

Since their emergence in the early 2000s, these sites are becoming increasingly influential in the B2B buying and selling process.  Users will write reviews whether the supplier likes it or not.  So, sellers do well to jump in and proactively manage the channel to their advantage.  Here’s how to get the most value from this new resource:

  1. Get in the game.  Buyers are searching there.  Your competitors are there. You need to be there, too.  “Overcome your fear of loss of control,” says Mike Beares, founder of Clutch.  
  2. Encourage your customers to leave reviews.  “It’s a best practice to ask customers for a review just after a successful service call,” advises Tim Handorf, co-founder and president of G2Crowd.
  3. Test your way into the various upgrades and marketing services the site has to offer.  Some are especially innovative, like offering data on companies that are reading reviews of your competitors.  G2Crowd will produce an infographic for you based on pull quotes gathered from your reviews.
  4. Look into the site’s policies and practices in calculating rankings and authenticating reviews.  TrustRadius, for example, rejects about 15% of reviews submitted. Also make sure you are comfortable with the methods they use to encourage users to post reviews.   Site owners understand that trust is essential to their business models.
  5. “Embrace the transparency,” says G2Crowd’s Handorf.  Recognize that your product may not be right for everyone.  Respond to any negative comments with empathy, in an authentic voice.  
  6. Consider these sites a customer service tool, which can surface unexpressed problems that you can solve proactively.  Vinay Bhagat of TrustRadius suggests then asking the customer for a fresh review once the problem has been resolved.
  7. The reviews are also useful to product managers, to evaluate the popularity of various features, and uncover use cases you hadn’t thought of before.  According to Bhagat, some sellers data-mine the reviews to measure sentiment, and gain insight into customer needs.
  8. Use the software reviews sites to support your own martech or business services purchasing.  

This new channel is here to stay.  It’s up to us business marketers to get the benefit.  

The post Ratings and reviews sites: The new B2B marketing channel appeared first on Biznology.

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IT decision-makers rely on social media more than we think they do, according to research from IDG. Since video plays such a big role in social media, using video more effectively than your competition can pay big dividends.

IDG’s 2019 State of the CIO Report notes a “surge” of IT decision-makers into social networks this year. YouTube is now attracting two-thirds of IT execs to watch videos — up from 46% in 2018. Use of Facebook and Twitter by IT execs nearly doubled. The Twitter chat #IDGTechTalk draws hundreds of comments from IT leaders about hot button tech issues. 42% of executive IT managers post content on LinkedIn.

Why so much social media?

IDG’s Social Media Director Ginevra Adamoli said in an interview that she thinks the explanation behind the surge of social media interest is that IT execs aspire to be thought leaders, and want to associate their companies with trusted brands.

She suggests that marketers should try to insert their messages into these conversations “to piggyback on the credibility others have established.” Messages that succeed in social media should be short, and contain strong visuals. “Make it fun and flashy,” Adamoli advises, and not “overly technical.”

Obviously, short videos work best in social media. And you never want viewers to have to stop and think — you want them to go with the video flow. So, we can all agree that “not overly technical” is sound advice.

But, you don’t want to be underly technical, either — not if you’re talking to technical people. You need to be sure the message is clear before you make it flashy or funny.

  • If you’re not 100% sure your flash-and-fun will hit the mark, give it a miss. Short and informative always beats doubtful humor.
  • Come up with a headline/video title that tells the viewer why the video is worth watching. Put it on the opening screen (poster frame) or video button. That’s how you stop people from scrolling past.
  • Identify the smallest number of subjects you need to cover to make the video worth watching by the person it’s aimed at. Limit yourself to one subject, if possible.
  • End with a call to action.

The post Socializing Videos for IT Decision-makers appeared first on Biznology.

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Marketers are all about numbers, and brands are all about people. Focusing on both can result in better profits, while elevating company reputation in the process. It’s the hand-written note that comes with a shipment that tips the scales in your favor to go back to your online store, and the freebie flash drive with your logo that makes customers and prospects talk about your brand after the event is over. It all boils down to delivering on your brand’s promise and exceeding customer expectations: that’s what ultimately shapes customer experience, customer loyalty, and the desire to become your brand ambassadors.

However, for you to be able to provide customers with that stellar experience for years to come, you need the right level of growth to keep your company relevant, and on the map. This is where your employees come in. The people behind your brand, the ones that communicate its message daily, the ones that live out your brand’s purpose and continuously help your customers find what they need and the ones that shape your brand voice through various outlets – they are the ones that represent the very essence of your brand, and your business.

Having the right people to help your business grow means you’ll enable conversion rate growth as well, and base your existence on how you treat your customers. In addition to just saying you’re a “customer-centric” business, how you structure your customer service operations, your hiring practices, and your company culture all affect your bottom line. Here’s how you can boost conversions by impressing your customers with an excellent customer experience:

Be everywhere at all times

Waiting is not something we’re good at. We’re impatient, and growing even more so by the day. Your customers are typically in a hurry, eager to find what they’re looking for without a fuss. When they do have a question to ask, they are going to get frustrated if they don’t get a response in a timely manner, and it’s quite possible they’ll switch to a business that values their time more. You, much like every other modern business, need a team of customer service agents that is ready to respond when the customers have a need.

A survey showed that almost 70% of respondents found a speedy resolution to be the key factor linked to a positive customer service experience. Whether it’s on social media, via email, on the phone, or in person, or via any other means possible, communication should be straightforward and simple. From the customer’s perspective, you need to be an omnipresent entity, always at their service. In order to deliver on this expectation, you need trained and helpful teams that are eager to lead customers to what they need. Whether there’s a complaint, a question, or simply a kind comment, someone should be able to answer, pronto.

Mind the makeup of your business

Too many businesses rely on outdated hiring templates when they need reinforcements. The simple truth is that the world is brimming with opportunities, and many brands fail to include the right scope of candidates that can actually provide the perfect customer service experience. If you keep in mind that every single customer that comes through your door is a different, unique person, wouldn’t it make sense to reflect that same diversity in your own company culture?

Australian employers, for example, are incentivized and supported in a myriad of different ways to hire people with disabilities. As a result, brands turn to disability employment services in growing numbers as their own cultures bloom with the help of this diversity. This also allows them to discover talent they wouldn’t normally consider or have access to, which ensures a remarkable melting pot of skills, and builds a new reputation for your business. Diversity of perspective and skills can lead to greater empathy and a deeper understanding of and connection to your customers, ultimately impacting loyalty and the bottom line.

Simplicity is the name of the game

What do you do when you come across a chaotic website with too much information incoherently dispersed across its pages? You leave within a split second, fearing for your own sanity. A significant part of what constitutes exceptional customer experience in an increasingly digital world is how you present your business across all channels. That means a website that is easy to navigate, fast to load, and informative. Too often, brands opt for overly complicated design solutions trying to evoke an emotion from their customers, and end up being annoying their customers and prospects with a digital experience that is not user-friendly or easy to navigate.

No live chat feature? No easy-to-find contact page to show them how to get in touch with you? No social media buttons? No brief overview of what you offer? Then, no customer as well. Conversions can depend on your web design. You have between 3-5 seconds to leave a powerful impression, and you need to make those moments count. If you get customers’ attention long enough, you have a better chance at turning those visits into actual purchases.

Always listen to customer feedback

In addition to responding to customer complaints and queries quickly, you need to make sure you’re using that opportunity to listen, learn and improve to make sure no future customer would ever make a similar complaint. Furthermore, let your customers know you’ve made an effort. They’ll know you value their input and they’ll appreciate you taking their concerns into account.

The customer may not always be right, but the customer is entitled to your attention. Negative feedback can turn into a very successful conversion if you play your cards right. Train your customer service teams to communicate effectively across all channels, and of course, always deliver on your promise. A single negative review left unattended can deter many future potential customers from ever making a purchase from you. By taking your time to respond and resolve an issue, you will impress your current and your future customers.

Personalize whenever you can

There are already too many brands and too many customers out there. Customers know they have a choice, and they know they’re not your only customer, but they do like feeling appreciated all the same. Once upon a time, just using your customer’s first name in an email was enough to earn their attention. Now, brands need to go above and beyond in their efforts to personalize their communication with their customers and the customer experience overall in order to keep their interest and their loyalty.

To put things in perspective, personalization has the potential to boost conversions by as much as 20%. Use data to get to know your customers better, and implement personalized messages wherever you can. Share relevant content with specific customers to keep them interested, educated, and informed, and of course, whenever you can, personalize their orders and let them know you value their business.

Reward loyalty

Finally, it’s a well-known fact that it costs significantly more to earn a new customer than it does to earn repeat business from an existing one. However, it’s one thing to boost sales, and completely different to earn loyalty. That is why when someone comes back to your brand, you need to make sure they understand that they matter for your business.

Loyalty programs are excellent tools for increasing conversions and boosting sales from existing customers, and they provide you with a simple way to incentivize and personalize your offers for each person that buys from you. Teach your customer service teams to recognize opportunities with loyal and return customers so that you always seal the deal.

Exceptional customer experience results from a number of different factors and actions across brand marketing, digital, and social media, analytics, sales, communications and customer service. If you focus on the tips listed in this article, from building a stellar team to designing a great website, you will see your conversion rates reflect your efforts.

The post How to Increase Conversions by Providing an Excellent Customer Experience appeared first on Biznology.

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The chances of you being the next Dollar Shave Club guy or Will it Blend mad scientist are slim and none. (And Slim just left town …) That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t apply to your marketing the same ideas that made those campaigns so popular. Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

Redefine Viral

Even if you could afford it, do you really want a Super Bowl ad? Wouldn’t the cover of a trade magazine read by your target market be better? There would be a lot fewer unqualified “prospects” to wade through, making your sales efforts far more efficient.

Since your needs are different than the consumer brands who really do seek vitality, and your chances of “blowing up” the internet are pretty small, think in more tightly-defined terms. You don’t need the biggest audience, you need the right audience. So craft a story that the publishers of that trade magazine – and others like it – can’t say no to, and stop worrying about getting your face on billboards.

Micro Fame Works Wonders

Carrying that same notion a bit further, you don’t have to be a household name to be successful in B2B marketing. In fact, if the whole world is talking about you as a B2B marketer, chances are something’s gone very, very wrong.

The key to developing the kind of micro-fame that can drive sales is consistency. You have to be “the __ person,” and whatever fills in the blank has to be memorable, valuable to your target audience, and part of your differentiation.

Be Visual, Be Concise

It’s no accident that we talk about screen time on our devices. As in television screen and movie screen. Sure, phones and tablets can be e-readers, but that’s not how we think of them and that’s not how we can connect most deeply with our audiences. Video and animation are going to work best. Graphics, work too. Text on a screen – especially dense text – just isn’t going to cut it. (Which might mean it’s time to reconstitute this article as a video!)

In fact that’s true whether you want to be viral or not. Attracting your target audience requires big ideas and quickly digestible ideas, not the nitty-gritty details of your solution. That comes later.

Be Yourself

If you’re not comfortable being provocative, or if it’s not right for your brand, you’re not going to pull off an edgy approach. That doesn’t mean you can’t be a remarkable marketer. Be funny, be thoughtful, be profound. Make a big statement.

Whatever you do to grab your audience, make sure you’re being true to yourself.

Work at It

It may be the case that the viral marketing ideas you’ve seen were each created in one moment of brilliant inspiration, but I doubt it. Chances are, dozens of ideas were tossed around, tested, and sent to the scrap heap before the examples we all know and love started racking up clicks and likes.

The key to having good ideas is having a lot of ideas. So if you’re committed to standing out from the crowd, make standing out from the crowd a part of your brainstorming sessions. Maybe the kind of on-the-street guerrilla marketing that B2C startups sometimes use so effectively isn’t a good fit for your brand, but sitting down to create another slide deck probably isn’t going to move the needle, either. Find the balance that works, even though that likely means kissing a lot of proverbial frogs before you find the best tactics for your brand and audience.

The post Your Marketing is Not Going to Go Viral – And it Doesn’t Matter appeared first on Biznology.

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In case you missed it, Gen Y surpassed Gen X’s share of the workforce a couple of years ago. IDG recently published a report, Marketing Your Technology to Millennials, on communication preferences of 20–30-somethings as IT decision-makers (ITDMs). Here are a few highlights from IDG’s findings with respect to videos for marketing to millennials in IT.

97% watch tech-related videos

In general, millennials use fewer sources of information than their colleagues. It’s not that they’re uninterested or negligent — they may spend more time doing research, but they’re less likely to read your white paper or visit your website. On the plus side (for us video specialists :-), 97% of millennial ITDMs reported watching a tech-related video in the past three months. This includes how-to’s, subject-matter expert interviews, tech analyst reports, and product reviews.

Millennials get a lot their information about technology, personal and IT-related, from video. Source: IDG: Marketing Your Technology to Millennials.

It’s worth noting that “tech-related videos” doubtless includes product reviews and unboxing videos on popular channels like Marques Brownlee and UnboxTherapy, so a lot of this viewing doubtless goes to personal technology solutions (phones and drones), not the sort of enterprise technology solutions we specialize in.

For technology-related videos, YouTube rules

YouTube is top destination for viewing technology-related videos (79%), followed by vendor websites (64%) and tech content sites (58%), and social feeds (34%). Social-feeds-wise, it’s worth noting that this group uses LinkedIn for business much more than Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube. Vendor sales teams should take advantage by posting (and reposting) relevant videos routinely.

On a side note, the report points out that millennials are more likely to trust sources that appear in the first page of their search results (36% vs. 16% overall). So video can can help with trust issues, too, since Google search results tend to favor YouTube video. Even if you prefer to host your videos elsewhere, don’t ignore YouTube. And you might want turn up the energy level of your product demo videos a notch or two, given the predominant style of tech videos there.

Other significant stats

Millennial IT decision-makers are no different from their colleagues, and, like the rest of us consumers, they value a consistent and relevant buying experience across channels.

  • They download an average of eight pieces of informational content during the purchase process
  • 83% say they prefer vendors who educate them through each stage of the decision process
  • 63% prefer video or webinar demonstrations of products

The data adds up to this: technology solution vendors who want to communicate better with millennials on the buying team should 1) make more videos attuned to later stages of the sales process; and 2) make more user-friendly interactive demo videos with chapters, annotations and stories.

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I am adding my voice to the chorus of observers who predict various developments in 2019 for B2B marketing.  My policy is to avoid reflecting on my past predictions, which are likely unrealized and full of errors.  Instead I shall boldly go forth, with my sense of what we are likely to see this year, and damn the torpedoes.  My predictions—7 in all—range from marcomm to data.  Your comments are welcome!

  1. B2B marketing communications become more human. Our field has long focused on selling to entities—accounts, buying groups, with rational, specific needs—and so we tend to stick to the facts.  But it’s time to be more human.  To talk to the buyers as individuals, in a language that moves them.  So Forrester predicts, and I agree.  I applaud Gyro for taking the initiative on some very interesting research around this topic. The study reveals the feelings business buyers seek in response to our offerings, feelings like confidence, optimism and accomplishment.  Let’s give it to them! 
  2. An inevitable backlash against martech. The backlash is already starting, but look for it to pick up. I wrote about this in 2014, saying we must not confuse marketing automation for marketing strategy.  As martech grows, inevitably B2B marketers are realizing that it’s not the silver bullet they had hoped for.  Justin Gray, founder of LeadMD, points out that only about 1% of deals can be tied to MA. We’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
  3. Marketers will finally supply sales with the help they really need.  My fervent wish, anyway.  Tip of the hat to Gavin Finn, who eloquently explains this need in a recent Entrepreneur article.  If we marketers are not helping sales communicate a differentiated value, producing truly effective content, and developing insight into the detailed needs of the buying group, we should all fire ourselves.
  4. Broaden the use of social media.  Social is no longer a nice-to-have in B2B.  It requires thoughtful strategy, real budget, and a keen integration with the rest of the marketing mix.  Plus continued experimentation with new opportunities.  Video will continue to grow.  And B2B marketers will try new channels, like Quora, a place where people pose questions and get answers from other individuals.  It’s ripe for business problems to be solved. 
  5. Chatbots go mainstream. Perfect for B2B, chatbots serve global customers, around the clock, with fast, accurate and cheap service. This is all good.  But my favorite benefit for B2B marketers?  Chatbots give you a third method for turning your website into a lead generator (after webform-fill and IP address identification). And the AI continues to improve, daily.   
  6. Will CX be the B2B buzzword of 2019?  Like ABM in 2017, and intent data in 2018. I’m predicting a surge of interest in the power of providing superior customer experiences—not limited to digital, but across all customer touchpoints in B2B.  Think about it. We operate with a limited universe of customers and prospects.  We are burdened with long sales cycles, but the payoff is high-ticket sales.  We can’t afford to lose an account.  CX is the next competitive frontier. 
  7. As ever, B2B success is undergirded by data. Marketers will continue to understand, and act upon the need for clean, complete and accurate data coverage of their market opportunity.  This is why Theresa Kushner and I published B2B Data-Driven Marketing, soon to be available via Kindle.  A new study from MX Group confirms: The Number 1 characteristic of top performing B2B firms is “Have good data.”  What’s Number 2?  “Have effective lead follow-up,” of course!

Happy 2019 to us all. 

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The top reason why I love my work is the fascinating people I have the privilege to meet.  I’ve always thought B2B marketing attracts unusually interesting professionals. People who see the potential, embrace the complexity, and relish the challenges of our field.  Today, I am happy to introduce 10 of the many fascinating people I’ve interacted with during my adventures in 2018.  All of them are high-energy contributors to the advancement of our field. And a lookback shout-out to my fascinating contacts from 20172016and 2015

I’ve known Christopher Ryan, founder and CEO of FusionMarketing Partners, for years, but this one is a standout.  Check out his new book, The Expert’s B2B Revenue Growth Playbook. It’s practical and action-oriented, with a zillion tips on how to build sales—enhance your website, choose your key metrics, develop compelling content and more.  Chris even offers a free pdf copy.

Samantha Stone’s energy and good humor seem single handedly to keep the wheels of B2B marketing going.  She’s everywhere, providing advisory services to marketers grappling with how to go to market in an increasingly complex world.  Her website offers a treasure trove of resources to help the rest of us get a head start. 

Every year, Scott Brinker brings our attention to the growth of the martech, with his famous Marketing Technology Landscape graphic—now clocking in at over 6,800 point solutions. He’s the insightful blogger of ChiefMarTech and program chair of the informative conferences.  Great work, Scott! 

Shane Schick’s Toronto-based B2B News Network is a top source for up-to-the-minute news in our industry.  In this world of disappeared media, Shane deserves a lot of credit for running a successful publishing business.  I find his daily email newsletter one of the best around.  Somehow, Shane also finds the time to blog for Cision

A few years ago, Dan Konstantinovsky took the reins at R.H. Blake, a small Cleveland agency serving the manufacturing industry.  Since then, he has taken the lead in converting traditional industrial marketing into a modern marketing powerhouse. 

Talk about high energy. Sangram Vajre, co-founder of Terminus and FlipMyFunnel, takes the cake.  I was pleased to be invited to cover the conference this year, and shareda bunch of great ideas I picked up about ABM. With all that going on, how does Sangram also produce a daily podcast, I wonder?    

Jill Rowley, longtime martech sales leader (Salesforce, Marketo) and pioneer in the field of social selling, shared a big idea at the FlipMyFunnel conference.  She envisions a day when B2B sales are transacted entirely through ecommerce, and sales role will evolve to subject matter experts to buyers.  “I have eliminated the word prospect from my vocabulary.” She says.  Intriguing.  

Olle Leckne, a Stockholm-based LinkedIn advisor, has created a clever lead generation process for appointment setting with highly refined audience targeting.  His breakthrough: Measuring the time invested in generating and converting a lead, instead of response rates and media cost.  The goal is to get a lead from hours down to minutes to set an appointment. The icing on the cake?  Using GetAccept to track proposals as they make their way along the purchase path inside the prospective customer organization. 

Seattle-based Howard Sewell, president of Spear Marketing Group, consistently produces some of the best B2B marketing advice in the world. I am a subscriber to The Point, and recommend it to all my colleagues for its wisdom, clear thinking, and actionable tips. 

Most B2B marketers already know Bob Bly, prolific author and sought-aftercopywriter.  But this year I am extra admiring of Bob because of his unique approach to Facebook.  Instead of the throwaway comments the rest of us post, Bob uses the forum for thoughtful discussion of important and—dare I say, fascinating—topics.  Always a joy to read. 

Another great year in B2B marketing.  Happy new year to all! 

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This fall, I enjoyed a few months of teaching at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and learning much about Indian business and life. To get some insight into what’s going on in B2B marketing here, I tapped the brain of Sudhi Seshadri, who is dean and professor of marketing at MYRA School of Business in nearby Mysore, and has a PhD from Penn State. Sudhi has been teaching B2B marketing for decades, and knows the territory. I posed six questions to him.

1. I’m told that B2B marketing is still relatively nascent in India. How would you characterize the state of B2B Marketing here?

A bit of recent history is a good place to start. Prior to the ‘90s, Indian business was severely constrained, and B2B marketing didn’t really exist. Two waves of liberalization in ‘91 and ‘96 brought immense change. Firms were free to compete, but still they didn’t evolve much beyond hierarchical conglomerates.

With the early 2000s came a new national Competition Act in 2002, along with rapid globalization and demands from a growing middle class. The Indian economy has been fast restructuring, and market forces are changing interorganizational relationships.

So, whereas B2B marketing in the West is well over a century old, in India it has really come into practice in earnest only in the last decade and a half. So B2B marketing is a young field, but one that is at an inflexion point.

2. In the US, marketers perennially state that their top objective is delivering leads—lead quality and lead quantity. How do Indian B2B marketers see their top objective?

Lead delivery and “feeding the funnel” are right up there. But often lead management is in the domain of sales management, rather than a marketing function.

Since markets are “thinner” here, and fewer purchasing organizations are market driven, the top issue for B2B marketing is business development through value creation. The marketing organization focuses on developing customized offerings while trying to reduce the cost to serve. Think of it like the Toyota / Lexus model. You develop separate offerings for different buyer segments. Lead delivery follows from this, but is very different for each segment.

3. Much of B2B communication has gone digital in recent years. Are you seeing the same shift in India? What seems to be working best?

Interestingly, the term “digital marketing” is commonly used in India to mean e–commerce or, in B2B’s case, e–procurement. This channel is likely to continue to grow, as exchanges multiply, regulations relax, and SMEs enter the formal sector in larger numbers.

But I think what you’re really asking about is what we usually call multi-channel marketing. The short answer is that it’s not living up to its potential. A scientific approach would try to optimize by looking at elasticities for each and divvy up the tasks among hybrid digital channels. However, we are long way from that in India.

But it will come, especially as the experimentation going on in B2C pays off and catches the attention of business marketers.

4. Are trade shows and conferences still an important part of the marketing mix?

Yes, they are. The simple economics of trade shows and events such as conferences for lead generation in early funnel stages are unmatched. The relationship building advantages are also significant.

We know that most international marketing is B2B, whatever the countries involved. India also uses B2B marketing in building exports, and these sorts of interpersonal, traditional approaches allow foreign buyers to develop trust in unique ways.

In the software industry, where marketing is directed in a large part to a developer or collaborator community, the importance of conferences cannot be understated. All the major software platforms have long been using conference-type events in their marketing mix.

5. Ironically, much of the data used by US B2B marketers for prospecting and current customer marketing is generated by researchers in India. How are Indian B2B marketers using data themselves?

Prospecting from data provided by list vendors is widespread. Eventually, this will move from simple screening rules to predictive modelling. Furthermore, the growing service-oriented industry in data analytics and marketing decision science is now spilling over to Indian customers. Rapid growth of data driven business models in India is further fueling this emerging trend.

6. What are the particular sales and marketing challenges faced by the Indian B2B community?

Let me highlight three.

As a longtime educator, I might be biased. But I think the first problem is that too few talented and trained professionals are entering the B2B marketing community. Marketing education in India is almost entirely about consumer, directed at the FMCG sector. Most MBA programs do not teach B2B, or do not have the right sequence of courses. Therefore, all the learning is done on the job, and the important B2B frameworks are not widely known and understood.

Second, integration of marketing and sales in B2B has been difficult, both at the conceptual and at the practice level. This is not entirely the fault of the B2B practitioner community. It is only recently that purchasing and sales literatures are coming together and evolving joint marketing frameworks. This lack of perspective has historically kept marketing artificially distant from sales or purchasing functions.

Third, we need collaboration between education and practice, to support centers of excellence similar to Penn State’s Institute for Studies of Business Markets, to develop research and case materials in India. The financial contribution of B2B marketing has yet to be fully recognized at the CXO table. In short, we still need to make the business case for B2B marketing in India. 

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This fall, I enjoyed a few months of teaching at Indian Institute of Management Bangalore, and learning much about Indian business and life. To get some insight into what’s going on in B2B marketing here, I tapped the brain of Sudhi Seshadri, who is dean and professor of marketing at MYRA School of Business in nearby Mysore, and has a PhD from Penn State. Sudhi has been teaching B2B marketing for decades, and knows the territory. I posed six questions to him.

1. I’m told that B2B marketing is still relatively nascent in India. How would you characterize the state of B2B Marketing here?

A bit of recent history is a good place to start. Prior to the ‘90s, Indian business was severely constrained, and B2B marketing didn’t really exist. Two waves of liberalization in ‘91 and ‘96 brought immense change. Firms were free to compete, but still they didn’t evolve much beyond hierarchical conglomerates.

With the early 2000s came a new national Competition Act in 2002, along with rapid globalization and demands from a growing middle class. The Indian economy has been fast restructuring, and market forces are changing interorganizational relationships.

So, whereas B2B marketing in the West is well over a century old, in India it has really come into practice in earnest only in the last decade and a half. So B2B marketing is a young field, but one that is at an inflexion point.

2. In the US, marketers perennially state that their top objective is delivering leads—lead quality and lead quantity. How do Indian B2B marketers see their top objective?

Lead delivery and “feeding the funnel” are right up there. But often lead management is in the domain of sales management, rather than a marketing function.

Since markets are “thinner” here, and fewer purchasing organizations are market driven, the top issue for B2B marketing is business development through value creation. The marketing organization focuses on developing customized offerings while trying to reduce the cost to serve. Think of it like the Toyota / Lexus model. You develop separate offerings for different buyer segments. Lead delivery follows from this, but is very different for each segment.

3. Much of B2B communication has gone digital in recent years. Are you seeing the same shift in India? What seems to be working best?

Interestingly, the term “digital marketing” is commonly used in India to mean e–commerce or, in B2B’s case, e–procurement. This channel is likely to continue to grow, as exchanges multiply, regulations relax, and SMEs enter the formal sector in larger numbers.

But I think what you’re really asking about is what we usually call multi-channel marketing. The short answer is that it’s not living up to its potential. A scientific approach would try to optimize by looking at elasticities for each and divvy up the tasks among hybrid digital channels. However, we are long way from that in India.

But it will come, especially as the experimentation going on in B2C pays off and catches the attention of business marketers.

4. Are trade shows and conferences still an important part of the marketing mix?

Yes, they are. The simple economics of trade shows and events such as conferences for lead generation in early funnel stages are unmatched. The relationship building advantages are also significant.

We know that most international marketing is B2B, whatever the countries involved. India also uses B2B marketing in building exports, and these sorts of interpersonal, traditional approaches allow foreign buyers to develop trust in unique ways.

In the software industry, where marketing is directed in a large part to a developer or collaborator community, the importance of conferences cannot be understated. All the major software platforms have long been using conference-type events in their marketing mix.

5. Ironically, much of the data used by US B2B marketers for prospecting and current customer marketing is generated by researchers in India. How are Indian B2B marketers using data themselves?

Prospecting from data provided by list vendors is widespread. Eventually, this will move from simple screening rules to predictive modelling. Furthermore, the growing service-oriented industry in data analytics and marketing decision science is now spilling over to Indian customers. Rapid growth of data driven business models in India is further fueling this emerging trend.

6. What are the particular sales and marketing challenges faced by the Indian B2B community?

Let me highlight three.

As a longtime educator, I might be biased. But I think the first problem is that too few talented and trained professionals are entering the B2B marketing community. Marketing education in India is almost entirely about consumer, directed at the FMCG sector. Most MBA programs do not teach B2B, or do not have the right sequence of courses. Therefore, all the learning is done on the job, and the important B2B frameworks are not widely known and understood.

Second, integration of marketing and sales in B2B has been difficult, both at the conceptual and at the practice level. This is not entirely the fault of the B2B practitioner community. It is only recently that purchasing and sales literatures are coming together and evolving joint marketing frameworks. This lack of perspective has historically kept marketing artificially distant from sales or purchasing functions.

Third, we need collaboration between education and practice, to support centers of excellence similar to Penn State’s Institute for Studies of Business Markets, to develop research and case materials in India. The financial contribution of B2B marketing has yet to be fully recognized at the CXO table. In short, we still need to make the business case for B2B marketing in India. 

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There is no question that Millennials or Generation Y consumers (born between 1980 and 2000) are an unusual breed, with very different values, buying habits and attitudes that confound older generations. However, the most noteworthy trend is their decreased desire to own things or buy them through traditional channels. Instead Millennials are obsessed with having a memorable experience, which will have a reverberating impact on positioning brands in the future. They are just not buying stuff like other generations.

The obvious winners of this significant trend are industries like events, travel and dining. Millennials are increasingly spending money and time on concerts, social events, athletic pursuits and all kinds of cultural experiences. A happy, worthwhile life for them is more about creating, sharing and capturing memories earned through personal experiences. Their focus is not on possessions or career status. A recent study by Harris Poll supports this trend:

• 78% of Millennials would rather spend money on an experience or an event over buying something desirable.
• Most (69%) said they believe attending live experiences helps them “connect better with their friends, their community and people around the world”.
• 83% of respondents said they participated in a “live event” in the past year.
• Looking ahead, 72% said they would like to increase their expenditures on experiences in the coming year.

One company that has successfully capitalized on this growing desire for travel, dinners and engaging activities is Airbnb. Their promise goes beyond affordable accommodations; it is all about experiencing the lifestyle and charm of a local culture. Even big banks have recognized the opportunity to offer new experiential services that appeal to these Millennials. JPMorgan Chase recently launched its Sapphire Reserve, a premium credit card that offers generous rewards for spending on travel and dining. They positioned this brand as a “card for accumulating experiences”, and it has become a big hit with Millennials who today represent more than half of their cardholders.

So what has caused this dramatic change in spending habits that have led to this emerging “experience economy”? Probably the most influential event was the devastating crash of 2008. The repercussions were severe and broadly experienced – less spending as wallets were closed, job layoffs including the parents of Millennials, losing life savings, etc. Millennials obviously took note of the world crashing around them, and they haven’t forgotten. They don’t want to suffer like their parents and grandparents did. Today they prefer access over ownership. In particular, since younger consumers have more debt, fewer assets and less job security than previous generations, they don’t want to own as much and strongly desire more flexibility.

This terrible Recession of 2008 led to other related trends that will deeply affect how brands will be positioned in the future. One is the “sharing economy” which is linked to this growing desire for flexibility. The benefits are especially meaningful to Millennials – reduced waste, more authentic experiences and convenience.

Shopping has changed too. Not just more purchasing online, but shopping with a conscience and desire to reward a brand that is giving back to society. This often means buying less yet with good quality. Millennials are also sensitive to the environment and well-being of our planet. For example, they are very aware that most clothing goods are made overseas where workers are often not treated fairly. Another influence for new shopping patterns is the end of scarcity, or the overabundance of almost everything online where we can find and own practically anything we want, at any time. Hence owning something in the traditional sense is becoming less important.

The motivation behind selecting a product or experience is different today, as well. Instead of just a sense of pride from owning a product, younger consumers are more interested in how a product/service connects people to something or someone, what they can do with it that is worthwhile, what they can tell others about it, and finally what having it says about them.

What can brand marketers do to capitalize on these trends? In addition to offering flexibility that will embrace Millennials’ passion for individuality and their phobia for commitments, transparency is critical. One example of a company that has successfully made transparency changes to appeal more to Millennials is ConAgra. This food giant simplified its recipes and eliminated all artificial ingredients from many of its snacks and ready meals, clearly signaling it to younger customers who now account for 80% of its growth.

Brands must promise more than functional benefits in the future. Engaging customers with a related activity that offers a relevant emotional appeal, a customized version that acknowledges individual tastes and an authentic experience will be crucial for success.

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