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Whilst the heading of this article discusses the need for a specific resource for online business development, I only discuss this at the end of the article. Please indulge me and read the following content first which provides context and a motivation for my recommendation.
According to a recent report by Larisa Bedgood of Customer Think, titled The Ultimate List of Marketing Statistics You Need to Know for 2016:
- 76% of digital marketers will produce more content (Source: Top Rank Marketing).
- 51% of digital marketers will increase their content marketing budget (Source: Top Rank Marketing).
- 67% more leads will be generated by companies with an active blog (Source: Top Rank Marketing).
Segmentation and personalization is a top priority for marketers in 2016:
- Econsultancy and Adestra’s Email Marketing Industry Census report says 78% of their respondents believe that in the next five years all email communication will be personalized (Source: Econsultancy).
- Email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter (Source: Campaign Monitor).
- Email marketing ranks highest on ROI compared to other marketing strategies (Source: Chief Marketer).
- 78% of consumers rank email as the most preferred communication platform (Source: Marketing Sherpa).
My key observations when analysing the information presented above are as follows:
- Production of good content continues to be fundamentally important for B2B companies to be noticed by prospective clients and to establish themselves as a thought leader.
- More marketing departments are gearing themselves around lead generation, using the company blog to host content.
- To differentiate and stay relevant, marketing departments need to get segmentation and personalisation right.
- Email has to be top priority for all marketing departments due to its effectiveness at acquiring new customers, its ranking in terms of marketing ROI and consumer preferences.
Looking at the statistics and forecasts mentioned above relating to email communication specifically, any B2B company who sells products, services, solutions and the expertise of their people need to concentrate on the following 5 elements:
Build a substantial email subscription list
Considering that 78% of consumers rank email as the most preferred channel, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers and email marketing ranks highest on ROI, companies need to encourage decision makers at their clients and prospects to subscribe to receive email correspondence. This can be done by:
- Connecting first on LinkedIn and providing a compelling reason for your LinkedIn connection to subscribe to receive email correspondence.
- Reach out to all staff members who have existing relationships and ask them to forward an invitation to their email contacts.
- Include PROMINENT calls to action on all your owned platforms, inviting people to subscribe.
- Use paid advertising on all websites your clients and prospects visit.
- LinkedIn provides a service where you can target specific individuals via adverts and Inmail.
- Purchase mailing lists from reputable providers.
- Use email to build relationships and nurture clients and prospects.
It is advised that “To differentiate and stay relevant, marketing departments need to get segmentation and personalisation right”. When building your subscriber base, ask for information which will enable you to segment appropriately when interacting with subscribers. Ask for information such as industry, job title, management category, communication frequency (how often do they want to hear from you) and country.
Do not send newsletters from a corporate account but rather personalised correspondence from a personal email address to which subscribers can reply. Doing this regularly establishes the sender as a known person with whom people build an online relationship. Start your email communication with a salutation (ie Dear Paul) and end with the email signature of the sender.
Lose the marketing jargon and word your email as if you were addressing an individual face-to-face. Use a subject line which attracts attention and start with an opening paragraph which draws the reader into the body of the email. Share content which is “skimmable” and conveys information concisely. Include a call to action which will encourage the reader to engage further by accessing more detailed content or contacting a thought leader.
Ensure that any email correspondence is targeted and relevant. The more targeted and relevant, the greater your open and click through rates and the lower your unsubscribes and complaints.
Only share value-adding content which is interesting, educational, compelling, presents solutions to business challenges, enables the recipient to do his/her job better and which they will ideally take into the next board meeting.
The quicker you respond to any reply the better. This will be valued by your subscribers and you will establish yourself as a trusted “go to” person should the subscriber require assistance. Irrespective of the person’s role within the organisation, treat every subscriber the same. It is advised to monitor all “Out of Office” replies after each email campaign. These campaign valuable information such as changes to email addresses, retirements, resignations, deaths, etc. Remember that you are using your email channel to build relationships and trust. This takes time, but once earned, you will see tremendous benefits.
If a subscriber asks to be referred to someone else in your organisation, make a point of following up afterwards to ensure the connection has been made and your colleague has fulfilled the request of the subscriber. These actions on your part will be appreciated and will further strengthen the relationship with the subscriber.
Provide feedback on a regular basis
If you are communicating effectively with your subscribers, focusing on personalisation and relevance, you will get good open and click through rates after each email campaign. After each campaign, produce a report, reflecting which subscribers clicked on links to access thought leadership and share this information with the client service persons responsible for each company or individual. This is an ideal way to provide client-facing staff members with “conversation-starter” opportunities at their clients and prospects.
They will be going into a meeting with a client with a specific agenda (i.e. to discuss points raised in a thought piece in more detail). If you are sharing value-adding content with targetted subscribers every week, you will be providing your business with ongoing opportunities to engage offline to build relationships and ultimately sell your products, services, solutions and/or the expertise of your people.
Hire an appropriate resource
For marketing departments who will be making the transition from indirect online engagement with clients and prospects through the website, blog, corporate social media accounts, PR and newsletter to direct online engagement, my advice is to hire a resource who has the relevant skills, expertise and experience to introduce and manage the model and process and to empower other staff members over time.
The individual in question should have the following skills, expertise and experience:
Working in a team
The resource in question must be able to integrate and work comfortable with the existing marketing team and with representatives from all service areas in the organisation. The resource will add value to the existing marketing function by driving more traffic to the corporate website, blog, social media accounts and service areas by creating “conversation-starter” meetings for client-facing staff members, requests for meetings and information and requests for proposals.
Your resource will be dealing with decision makers and assisting your client-facing staff members with lead generation and interaction with their clients and prospects. A business development background with experience in interacting comfortably with C-Suite decision makers and a thorough understanding of the sales process is essential.
Strategic account management
The “buying centre” within a company can be complex, depending on the service your organisation provides. Decisions are made at various levels, which include C-Suite, technical evaluators, recommenders, gate keepers, financial sponsors, etc. The need to be understood for each strategic client, the necessary persons invited to connect and relevant content to be shared.
As the engagement is with strategic decision makers within your clients and prospects, it makes sense that the person responsible for interacting with these individuals can hold their own. They do not need to be subject matter experts but should be comfortable with their interaction and know when to involve the appropriate resources within your organisation.
Verbal and written communication
This is important as the resource in question may be required not only to prepare written communication (i.e. email, social media updates, assist with content creation) but also communicate verbally in meetings and presentations internally and externally
Content is the most important ingredient as it is the fuel for your online engagement and relationship building fire. The resource should have a good understanding of your business, products, services and solutions and know how to create and present content in a manner which attracts interest, resonates with readers and encourages them to want to find out more and engage with additional content or a thought leader.
A thorough understanding of email marketing with a sound track record with proven results is essential. The candidate should have at least 5 years’ experience in email marketing and completed an email marketing certification programme. Besides getting the subject line and content of an email right, there are numerous other factors which determine whether your long term email strategy campaign will be a success or not. Factors include legislative compliance, reputation management, privacy and security, metrics and KPIs.
Social media marketing
Engagement goes beyond email subscribers so the candidate should have a thorough understanding of social media and preferably completed a social media marketing certification Programme and a LinkedIn certification Programme. I mention LinkedIn specifically because it is the number one choice for business people and a great environment to connect initially with clients and prospects. Your resource should ideally have a significant presence on LinkedIn and Twitter and be engaged on a regular basis.
Employee advocacy and social selling
I have added employee advocacy as many B2B companies who have implemented employee advocacy platforms and are training their staff members on social selling are reaping the benefits. Employee advocacy enables you to democratise engagement with prospects and clients to your staff. Client-facing staff members can be presented with value-adding content on the employee advocacy platform which they can easily share with their social media connections/followers and email contacts.
As staff member’s social media profiles are exposed to their contacts and followers, it makes sense to educate them on social selling. Staff members will be trained on how to create a compelling social media profile, how to engage and interact productively on social media and how to measure and respond to social media “reactions” such as likes, comments and shares.
Your candidate should have ideally implemented and managed an employee advocacy platform and provided social selling training to client-facing staff members.
This is my take based on personal experience. I would love to hear your feedback and comments and will be grateful if your share this article.