Haystar Biz Blog | B2B Tech Marketing Primer

Perhaps it should not be surprising that there are thousands upon thousands of websites, infographics, eBooks, videos, white papers, training courses, books, articles, blogs, and more out there on how to market effectively in this data driven world. Marketers market. That’s what they do. So—yeah—not surprising that marketers have created a lot of marketing content on how to do marketing.

So why write this? Good question. It’s for selfish reasons. It’s my collection of B2B marketing thoughts, ideas, concepts, and experiences. It’s my own marketing pensieve (thanks JK Rowling)—somewhere to place and access what I’ve learned without having to work too hard to remember it. It is a high-level marketing primer of sorts—something that touches on all the different aspects of B2B marketing today without getting too bogged down in details.

If this is my marketing pensieve, why should you spend any time with it? If you’re new to this space, this will serve as a starting point. If you’re a seasoned marketer, this will give you a comparative perspective to your own marketing magic. Over time, I hope to develop this marketing primer as a robust repository of B2B marketing. Got improvement ideas? Send them my way.

B2B Marketing Objectives

Contrary to what some technical folks think, marketing does more than pick color palettes, write press releases, and order branded t-shirts, water bottles, and truffles. Like their coding counterparts, modern marketers must follow smart methodologies and effectively leverage emerging technologies to truly excel in the modern global marketplace.

What’s marketing’s job? Ultimately marketing efforts should culminate in sales revenue growth. Marketing can make a significant impact on a company’s financial success by increasing corporate credibility, creating awareness, enhancing the value perception of products & services, engaging with prospects & customers, and more. Companies who do not expect or empower their marketing departments to play a critical role in demand generation and the overall financial success of the company will fall short of their performance potential.

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Audience & Market

Seek Perspective. Marketers must understand their audience(s) and the marketplace that their products compete in (including how competitive products fit in that marketplace). Understanding your audience(s) starts with gathering data—from industry publications, competitor websites, customers, prospects, partners, and industry luminaries.

Each industry has a different set of respected publications and consulting organizations. Some cover a broad range of topics that extend beyond the industry you compete in. While others are very specialized. Analyze the experts that play in your space. Try to gain a solid perspective of their strengths, weaknesses, and biases. This will help you effectively incorporate their findings into your own conclusions.

Some of your best insights will likely come from your own research—both formal and informal. Multiple do-it-yourself (DIY) online survey and research tools are available for you to formally gather information from customers and prospects. If you need assistance, many vendors provide survey and information gathering services. If you go the DIY route be sure to keep your surveys short and focused. Ask yourself beforehand what you are going to do with the answers from each question. If you don’t have a probable action plan based on the data you want to gather, ask yourself whether the question's really needed.

Informal methods for gathering data and gaining perspective can also be very effective. Look for opportunities to engage with your target audience and listen carefully to what they say and don’t say. Side conversations while visiting a prospect or customer, an impromptu lunch at an industry conference, or a customer call with your support team—these can all provide valuable insights.

There’s much to be learned from everyday users of your products as well as from the executives that manage them. Don’t assume because you (or your CEO founder or your consulting team) used to sit where customers now sit, that you no longer need to ask questions and listen. Expectations changes. Challenges change. Competitors and the market changes. Listening carefully and often will help you and your company stay ahead of changes.

Paint pictures. Take what you’ve learned and transform it into a tangible structure that you can do something with. Take time to map out the market space that your product(s) is competing in. Who are the players? What are their strengths and weakness? How are they positioned within the market? You probably did this in biz school. What environmental factors are in play? What new developments are emerging that will transform the market place?

Create profiles for your your audience(s)—paint a detailed picture of each audience segment. How do your audience segments differ? How are they the same? What do they care about? Why would they value your product? How valuable would it be to them? What is the best way to engage with the segment? Which segment will most likely be interested in your product or solution?

Accurate depictions of your audience segments and your target markets are essential to the success of all other marketing efforts. Once you’re confident in your perspective, invest time in selling it to your marketing, product, sales, and (most importantly) executive teams. Organizational misalignment can undermine your best marketing efforts and limit a company’s financial success.

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Product Marketing

We could spend a long time covering product marketing. For now we’ll focus on 3 aspects of product marketing. (Note: from here on out I’m going to just refer to product for simplicity. But this could apply to services as well.)

Lipstick on a pig. They say (Who says? People say. I don’t know exactly who, but aparently people do say it.) if you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig. Now a pig with makeup is  presumably a prettier pig which is fantastic news if you are an image consultant for swine who are looking to make a splash on the Hot Hogs dating site. But beyond this application, a pig with make-up is still a pig—which is problematic if you were hoping to market it as something more.

While some may consider marketers simply as product make-up artists, I challenge every marketer to make sure that they are more. Here’s why. As a marketer, you’ll likely not own the product (product team) or develop the product (development team) or make critical resource or roadmap decisions regarding the product (executive team). But you will sink or soar with your product(s).

If your product’s bad, it won’t matter what business school you graduated from, what cutting-edge agency you worked for, what other incredible products you helped launch, or how cool your new product branding concepts and marketing campaigns are, that product will not soar. And its failure to take flight will sink you. So speak up, get involved, challenge the product and development teams to quickly address gaps and issues that will limit your product’s growth potential. Make sure that your company gives you the most competitive product they are capable of producing. Then show them all the amazing places you can take it.

Position of strength. Savvy product positioning can make marketing much easier. Based on your educated perspective of your audience and market, you must position your product to give it the best possibility for success. Evaluate how you match up to the competition, incorporate foreward facing trends, and plant your product where you think it will grow best. Here are a couple positioning suggestions:

Suggestion #1. Consider positioning your product to play off its strength. For example, a vendor who has been providing specialty business software for 20 years should highlight their existing market share and the products proven reliability. In contrast, an new vendor competing in the same space may focus on their product’s flexibility, modern cloud-based architecture, and cleaner user interface.

Suggestion #2. Avoid head-to-head competition with bigger, better funded competitors. Directly attacking much better resourced competitors is like making a mad dash across Asia with only a handful of armies in the game of Risk—you may inflict some initial damage, but you won’t have enough resources to last long when the counterattacks come. It’s not usual for tech startups to face competition from big, established tech players. The most common success route for these startups involves flanking the bigger players—taking angles that are too tough (or expensive) to immediately pivot to. Some big names in some, now, big tech segments employed this strategy to get a solid footing.

Suggestion #3. As you compete, pay attention to your cards, the competitions cards, and the market’s momentum. Switching board game metaphors, now think Monopoly. Depending on all the players properties, available funds, and location on the board, you may or may not trade for another railroad or sell-off properties to put hotels on Park Place and Boardwalk. Look at all the data on the table and then make positioning decisions that give you the best chance of success.

Once your product’s positioned and planted, watch it carefully, nourish it, and protect it from potential predators. Include mechanisms (metrics) that allow you to monitor how well your new product takes to where you've planted. Sometimes a struggling plant just needs more fertilizer or water, while other times more drastic change is needed. Remember moving a plant is easier when it’s young—stay on top of it and make iterative adjustments as you go.

Girl on fire. Great marketers bring out the best in their products. Think of Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Cinna (and Effie and Haymitch to some degree) took charge of helping the reluctant hero really standout in the competition. She had the core talents and attributes to succeed (or survive in this case—yes, it was a sadistically, twisted world she lived in). But her Mockingjay’s marketing team made her look good and positioned the girl on fire to play the audience’s sympathies. It's fair to argue that she would have failed without both their strategic and tactical skills.

So breakout your flaming dresses and breathtaking designs. Wherever your products make an appearance (websites, sales presentations, marketing collateral, advertising) make sure they show up looking their best and in the character you have defined for them.

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Call to Action

We already covered how important it is to understand and define your audience. And we walked through positioning your product within your market space. Now we shift our focus to action—how do we drive our target audience to take action? What compelling drivers will motivate them to purchase our product? How do we overcome barriers?

Sell concept. Sometimes you will need to sell the value of the solution concept before you sell your actual solution. For example, if you sell guest placement software to hotels, some hotels might recognize the value of this immediately. Perhaps they already have software in place to automate this process. In this case, you could skip directly to extolling the benefits of your specific solution. But perhaps a hotel manages this process using an Excel spreadsheet. They’ve always done it this way and don’t see a compelling need for automation. In this case, you’ll need to convince them of both the concept value and the advantages of your specific solution.

When developing product messaging, start by capturing the value of the solution concept. Then detail the specific benefits that your product provides—fleshing out all the new possibilities your product offers. Most prospects will not fully comprehend the opportunities that your solution offers them unless you illustrate it for them.

Pitch product. You must effectively educate prospects on the benefits and value of your product. If they don’t understand the value and benefit, why would they be willing to make the investment? If they don’t understand the value and benefit, how will they pitch the purchase of your product to other stakeholders and decision makers within their organization?

Each product has its own compelling and differentiating selling points. In conjunction with your product, sales, and executive teams, you’ll need to need to come up with prioritized product messaging (key talking points) that you all agree upon. Here are a handful of values that I see pitched often in relation to B2B technology solutions:

  • Reliability. Always a big deal. Executives have businesses to run. Can’t afford getting off track because a support system struggles or fails.
  • Scalability. What cloud service provider is not including this in their pitch? With reason, scaling your own data center is expensive and a pain.
  • Security. FUD sells. No one wants to be the next Adobe, Sony, or Yahoo and fall victim to the next big breach. Security is a must have for every solution.
  • Ease of Use. More common in spaces where there’s more competition. Tech solutions that border monopolies usually are 10 years behind in UI design.
  • Flexibility. Again more common with more competition. Larger vendors tend to dictate business process through SW design. But not always.
  • ROI. Every product pitch (especially at the sales level) should clearly articulate how the customer will recoup the value of their investment.

While the sales team owns engagement with prospective customers, marketing can play a critical role in setting up the sales teams’ success. They do this in two ways. First, consider that many purchase decisions today (even in B2B space) are made (at least tentatively) before the purchaser even contacts the supplier. We live in a DIY world. When companies need to solve business problems they start their exploratory and comparative research on their own using the Internet. Perceptions (often strong perceptions) are formed long before prospective customers reach for the phone and call potential suppliers. In a digital age where solution education comes from servers and not people, marketing makes the first sales pitch not sales.

Second, marketing can provide valuable direction and coaching to sales on how best to present the products. Remember marketing»s already done all that audience and product research and positioning that should be collaboratively incorpoated into the sales owned sales pitch. Think professional basketball now. Consider NBA all-time assist leader John Stockton. Karl Malone doesn»t become the second leading all-time scorer without Stockton»s assists. Marketing can be the Stockton when it comes to your sales teams» presentations; and your whole organization gets the win.

Remove barriers & provide incentives. People are generally risk-adverse when it comes to making big-ticket purchase decisions. Understandably so. Most experienced IT executives have seen and/or personally experienced a tech implementation gone wrong. Often you’ll have to provide prospects with additional incentives to move them past real and perceived purchase barriers. Marketing can help prospects feel good about big decisions that make them nervous.

Some technology vendors offer free trail-versions of their products to overcome prospective customers fear of the unknown; and to give them a glimpse into the benefits their product could bring. Similarly, many cloud-based solution providers offer test (or sandbox) environments for prospects to test drive. These types of tatics can remove buying barriers.

Offering free assessment consulting is another way to move potential customers closer to a buying decision. New technology implementations often disrupt how companies do business. Working through existing processes and possible process innovations can build trust and alleviate concerns.

Companies can balk at the high price of enterprise technology solutions. They may question the tangible return on their investment. For these prospective customers, an ROI calculator can help close the deal. At a minimum, make the ROI calculator available to your sales team to run the numbers for the prospects. If possible, create a web or worksheet based tool that allows prospects to run the numbers themselves. ROI data will help prospects understand value and sell that value across their organizations.

Although it’s not necessarily on marketing to execute these barrier-removing practices, marketing can play a key role in recognizing opportunities, defining solutions, and promoting them to the target audience.

For some, purchasing enterprise technology is like shopping at a third-world flea market or buying a used car in the US, there’s always wheeling and dealing and you never quite know if you’re getting the best deal or not. Today, most purchasing departments expect to receive a discount price on whatever technology you are selling them. Some corp IT buyers receive incentives based on the percentage savings (from list price) they drive during negotiation. When setting product pricing, plan for this.

Plan also for volume discounts. Volume discounts are logical for large purchases given that without them deal amounts quickly become unsellable. Consider though, the costs associated with supporting a customer over time. Basic math tells you that large customers will demand more attention, more resources. Make sure you set your pricing to cover these higher costs.

Sometimes prospects get tripped up over how they are charged. For a long time, B2B software contracts were based a perpetual license agreement model. Essentially, companies bought software licenses for a large upfront charge; and then paid an ongoing annual support fee (% of orginal charge). While that model still lives, most B2B software agreements now follow a SaaS inspired subscription model. With this subscription model, companies pay an ongoing fee (monthly, quarterly, or annually) to rent the software from the technology provider.

Generally tech providers like the subscription model because it makes it easier to forecast future revenues. Though for startups in need of early cash, the subscription model can make early cash flow tough. Most companies purchasing tech services also prefer the subscription model because there is no large upfront capital expenditure required. But not all companies operate this way. Some departments and companies would rather pay more upfront when they have budget available. B2B software vendors may want some flexibility to offer either option.

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Thought Leadership

The rise of digital marketing has brought a renewed emphasis on content marketing—generating content for the express purpose of driving interest in a product and/or company. New creation and distribution tools have made it easier than ever to capture the attention of your audience, educate them on the value of your offerings, and movitate them to purchase your products. The best content marketing efforts are based on developing thought leadership content that builds your audience’ trust in your company and your product(s). In this section we’ll delve into the value of trust, thought leadership, and types of thought leadership content.

The value of trust. In the B2B technology market, buyers generally place more value on trust than on purchase price. So many examples could be used to illustrate this. Say an upstart EMR (EHR) vendor came in and offered to transition a big hospital system to their electronic medical records system for 1/3 of the price of Cerner or Epic (the two 800 lbs Health IT gorillas), would hospital administrators go for it? Not likely. Hospital administrators are definitely risk adverse. They can’t afford a major implementation going awry—lives and dollars are at stake! They’ll pay more, much more, to just to say they went with one of the two best-known and most implemented solutions (this has been proven out again and again over last several years).

Every CIO in every industry factors in costs beyond the purchase price when making their buying decisions. They include overall implementation costs—what will it cost the entire organization to make this transition? They look the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO)—what will it cost me to support this solution over time? And they calculate the potential fallout if the implementation struggles or worse yet fails. CIO’s are not interested in gambling their with their jobs on implementations they don't fully trust.

Given the importance of trust, a smart marketer will spend a fair amount of time establishing the credibility of their company, technologies, products, and people—which leads us to the topic of thought leadership.

What’s thought leadership? Thought leadership does not focus on product features or benefits—or on any product specific information typically found on product web pages or datasheets. Instead, thought leadership focuses on business and technology topics tangent to the product and pertinent to audience. It tackles business challenges and opportunities that are relevant to both product and audience. Thought leadership content provides value independent of purchase or consumption.

Well-done thought leadership content provides more than educational value to its audience, it inspires trust. Prospective customers come to see your company as an innovative leader within your industry. Giving them this value-adding content for free generates goodwill for your company. Your thought leadership content provides prospects with an intimate look into your company and into how your company thinks—inviting them to indirectly explore a possible future relationship with your company without pressure or commitment.

Many big tech players have people or even teams dedicated to being the thought leaders in the industries they compete in. These thought leaders author blogs, generate research, speak at conferences, and build relationships across their respective industries. This reality should not intimidate small technology startups. People care less about where the content comes from and more about the insights and value that content adds. Any size tech player with knowledgeable, articulate, and engaging people can stake claim on the thought leadership title in their market space. If small companies execute well, thought leadership can be a great advantage when competing against bigger more established technology companies.

Types of thought leadership content. Many potentially fun and engaging options for creating and delivering compelling content exist. A security software company could create a security checklist infographic detailing what employees should and should not do to keep information on their computers and electronic devices safe. A cloud services company could offer up instructions on setting up a sandbox environment for testing a hybrid data center solution. In the ever-expanding, dynamic world of digital technologies, you could deliver thought leadership content in many different ways. Here are a few:

  • Case studies. Your audience shares many common challenges. Case studies use real world examples to examine how a common (or sometimes unique and highly interesting) problem gets solved through a combination of process changes and technology implementations. Case studies can be very effective; work with willing customers to create them. While the cases studies are not product focused, it is relevant and appropriate to touch the product’s role in solving the problem(s).
  • White papers. These scholarly-esque documents tackle tough technical and business issues relevant to your audience. They are not case studies. They focus on topics rather than a singular use case. Often white papers are built around surveys, studies, and other research activities. These can be compiled within your company or commissioned to outside organizations.
  • Videos. Do you remember Video killed the radio star . . .? Or how about that Madonna song We are living in a video world and I am a video . . . maybe that is not exactly how that one goes (yeah, kinda weak). Here's what's not dumb—video. Most modern demographic groups spend time watching videos on YouTube each week. If not on YouTube, then on some other social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. Pick one.) Whatever the medium is, more than likely the video they watched involved cats. The Internet luvs dem cat videos. ;-) No, seriously, people spend more time watching short video clips on the web than they do watching TV. Blame it on the MTV, it's a medium that works across Western civilization; and across the world.

    Find a way to make this medium work for your audience. Create quality, high-production value content; and kick-out simple but purposeful clips. Explore the possibilities. Produce an animated video that tackles a common challenge. Interview an industry guru on a pertinent topic. Film a case study summary complete with customer interviews. Show how cats love using your technology (people love cats). Post your videos on your website and social media; and make sure your sales team use them as a sales tool.
  • Infographics. Sweet, well-made, informative Infographics catch people’s attention and (even better) travel well across social media, which can be a very rewarding thing. Warning: producing an infographic of merit can be tough. Suggestion: feature cats. (Too soon? Agree. No more cat references. Promise.) Seriously, there are lots of infographic generator tools out there which can be helpful. You may also want to find a designer to assist. Remember, when it comes to creating a killer infographic, content remains king. The data must be valuable and organized in a way that presents an engaging story; beautification comes after that.
  • Training. Not uncommon for companies to offer free general technology training to enhance the overall capability of their audience; and, of course, to build trust. Intel offers all kind of thought leadership, trust-building incentives to its B2B audiences. One of my first Intel projects was producing web-based training for WANs (wide area networks)—a space that Intel was playing in at the time. Again the concept here is to find ways to build trust that are relevant to but not specific to your product.
  • Webinars. Webinars are popular. Live events from your own desk. Webinars can feature experts from your own company or external folks (customers, gurus). They are relatively low cost; they can be recorded and made available on demand. Tough part is getting people to attend. People have lots of competition for their time including many other webinars. Come up with a compelling topic and title and you should be good.
  • Journals or newsletters. If you’ve got access to internal and external experts (including awesome customers who will share experiences), consider putting together a simple journal or newsletter. It doesn’t have to cost much or take too much time. Make it monthly or quarterly—hit hot topics that provide value to your audience.
  • Miscellaneous tools. Look for ideas that your audience would find value in. Build a free online dictionary with industry specific terms. Compile a technical resource repository. offer free templates or tools. Comcast has a free tool for clocking your Internet speed—works from anywhere. Opportunities are out there. Find them.

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Leveraging People

Marketing represents the voice of the company. As educated, articulate and awesome you are, your target audience will always remain ambivalent about you as a mouthpiece. After all, underneath all the pleasantries and feel-good marketing, they know your job is to sell them something—regardless of whether or not that something is truly in their best interest. Given this reality, your greatest success may come from encouraging and amplifying the voices and opinions of those whom your audience knows better and trusts more.

Sales team. Okay, I agree. At first blush, it seems counterintuitive to put sales at the top of a trust list. (Think used car dealer.) But consider it further. Your sales people should be at top of this list! Building trust is at the heart of what they do. They should be spending everyday building positive long-term relationships with prospects and customers. Because you share their goals, they should be a great resource for helping create content and to reach out to customers.

Customers and prospects. Customers (and even some prospects) can be outstanding spokespeople for your company, the products you sell, and the solution concepts that your products address. The majority of your audience will trust what fellow travelers (their peers) have to say above what you and your marketing materials tell them. Your rock star customers—who love what you’ve done for them—can often, in their unrehearsed, unfiltered way, present a more compelling argument than anyone on your company’s payroll. So take time to invest in the emotional and relational bank accounts of both your customers and prospects. You never know when they will do what you cannot.

Internal experts. People want to hear from people who can speak on pertinent topics with confidence, intelligence, and authority. Enter your corporate team of empowered experts. Your audience wants to hear from your consultants because they’ve been there and done that. They want to hear your product team because these solution experts know their stuff. And from the executive team because—well, hey, they’re the executives. Enough said. There are lots of smart resources in your organization. Leverage them.

Industry experts. External experts whose opinions and experiences align with your company direction and product messaging can have a strong influence on your audience. Some of these experts may hold formal titles (Dr. Smart T. Pants of the Artic Circle B2B Institute), while the industry status of others may be self-made (such as bloggers). Explore different ways to engage these experts. While paying for their services or endorsement works, it is not necessarily the best approach. You could invite them to participate in a Webinar, sit on an advisory council, participate in product alpha testing, or contribute to a journal. Explore other possibilities.

Celebrities. Yeah, I’m not sure why pretty-faced, charming celebrities who know close to nothing about technology are good at marketing enterprise software. But apparently they are. Apparently they are good at marketing anything and everything. Perhaps our human obsession with fame is hardwired into our DNA. (Someone should do a study on why this is.) So go ahead and hire Kanye and Kim to announce the next version of your enterprise software. Seriously, this often expensive approach can work when you can effectively connect the celebrity, audience, and product through a unifying attribute or theme.

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Reaching Your Audience

You know your audience and you know what you want to say to them. How do you effectively reach them? In this digital age, more options exist than ever before. Moreover, there are many tools available to help you know which mediums are working better (or worse) for reaching your target audience. Let’s spend some time reviewing the communication vehicles for reaching your target audience(s).

Events. Even with the transition to an age of digital communication and transactions, we have not escaped the draw of real human interaction. Hence face-to-face events still happen. Large industry conferences. Regional events & trainings. Business lunches. Assorted excursions. The question worth asking is: Are these events worth it? And perhaps: how do you measure the value of them?

Fair questions because live events are not cheap in terms of time or money. Sure, your sales person might tell you that you must have a booth in that conference in Vegas. But how will it grow the sales pipeline? What does the data say? Justification for attending a conference that costs thousands has to be more then a fun night of free drinks and a night out on the town with a favorite customer.

Each event hosted/sponsored/attended must have ROI expectations assigned to it up-front. And those success metrics should be measured after each event. How many new leads generated? How many real opportunities developed? How many closed deals? What other benefits did it produce? Did it build our reputation as an industry leader? How so? Did we engage with potential partners? Did we outshine competitors there? Why did this matter? On a quarterly or annual basis, all events should be compared with each other and with other marketing activities to evaluate impact and relative effectiveness.

Web (SEO). In the modern marketplace, more people will know more about your company through your website than through any other means. It’s just the world we live in. When people want to know something we Google it first. We go online to find answers—about most everything. This applies just as much to enterprise software as it does to shopping for the latest coffee maker or drone.

So here are a couple important things to consider. First off, do you have a well groomed, attractive website with some substance to it? Some corporate websites lack serious substance and offer little value to prospects searching for information—other than cursory info about the products, management team, and contact info. If people end up at your site looking for answers related to the business problems or solution concepts that your product addresses, make sure they can find them.

Invest the time, money, and thought to make your website look compelling. Too many corporate websites still look like they were built using a cookie-cutter CMS platform designed in the 1990s. When you go to the big dance, you want to look your best. Everyday is the big dance on the Internet. Make an effort to look your best at all times. People notice.

Okay, you have a sweet looking website with serious content, now what? Unfortunately, the adage if you build it, they will come doesn’t apply here. Unless, of course, you build it with search engines in mind. Here’s the thing: intuitively, your audience’s user experience should be your top priority in designing your website. In reality, it should not.

While audience experience is super important, your top priority when designing and managing your website should be Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Why? It makes all the difference in where and how often your site will be found. Without a SEO, inquiring minds will end up at your competitors’ websites when they go looking for answers to questions and technology solutions. And well, you know, that’s not a good thing for you. There are lots of people who can tell you how to optimize your website. If they get your name, job title, and phone number, they will call and email you often. Just saying. And as I mentioned on the top of this primer, there have been a ton of things published on modern marketing. So there’s all that if you want to dive deep into it.

At a high level though, here’s how SEO works. Let’s say I run a tech company and I have a product called the Haystar Hotel Bed Management System. So I build a product page about that product; now when someone searches for the Haystar Hotel Bed Management System that page returns. Bingo! Awesome! There I am! I did that! I’m famous on the World-Wide-Web!

Yeah, great, um, that’s fantastic, but no one will ever in your lifetime type in Haystar Hotel Bed Management System when searching for a solution like yours—unless that person is you, works with you, or was told by you to search for that long detailed product specific phrase. Instead they will search for—well, what will they search for? This is the million-dollar question that you must answer for your company and products.

To succeed in SEO you must first understand the vocabulary of your audience. You must know the words and phrases they use and that will use when conducting online searches. Search engines match the words and phrases people are searching for with the words and phrases on your site—actually not with your entire site but with specific pages on your site. You must make it easy for your audience to find you when they find what they are looking for. You must come up with a prioritized list of terms and phrases and then design and build your web content around them.

So let’s say I figure out that the most common search phrase related to my product is “hotel bed management.” (Note: that Google and others have tools to help you determine which of the words and phrases on your list are getting searched most often.) So I build a page that structured around “hotel bed management.” Maybe this is what I name the page and I use this phrase for the page header. And I make sure the sub-headers, content, and links all tie into the “hotel bed management” theme. Now I’m off to a good start on building a page that my audience will quickly find.

But keep in mind that search engine algorithms use multiple variables to determine search result rankings. Your “hotel bed management” score will be ranked against competing pages. Search engines consider factors like what other sites point to your page and how long people stay on your page after clicking over to it. As you jump into this, Google the latest expert opinions on what criteria is being used and how it’s being weighted. Search engines like Google don't publish their exact algorithms and they change those formulas relatively often.

One more consideration. Let’s say 2/3 of your audience considers your solution a “hotel bed management” system, but the other 1/3 searches for “hotel capacity management.”  Will the 1/3 “capacity” searchers find your “hotel bed management” page? Chances are low. How do you handle this? If you manipulate your “bed” page (add more “capacity” references), chances are you will adversely affect the search results for both phases. Your best option may be building a second “capacity” page. Now how does this parallel page fit into your overall site without muddling your messaging and navigation?

It’s important to mention that just because your content ranks high today, doesn’t mean it will rank high six months from now or even a month for now. Even with the same algorithm in place, your search result ranking can drop for a variety of reasons some of which could be completely out of your control—like a competitive page suddenly gets audience attention that bumps up its credibility. SEO is something you must stay on top of for all the meaningful words and phrases that you believe may lead your audience back to your solution. While it may seem complex and time consuming, the investment is so, so worth it. Exceptional SEO rankings are the equivalent of a New York retailer getting a location on upper 5th Avenue. Even in the virtual world, sales (and lead generation) are often about location, location, location.

Web (Advertising). Digital advertising will surpass TV advertising in 2017 to the tune of about $77B. There’s a couple reason for the phenomenal growth in this digital medium: 1) people now spend more time online than on traditional mediums (like television), 2) digital advertising has potential to be much more effective. Digital advertising’s ability to target, track, measure, and adjust far exceeds any other advertising medium. It’s a medium that every marketer should embrace and celebrate.

Google Ads provides an easy, DIY, way to get started with online advertising. It can be very effective when managed well. Google Ads give you the ability base the presentation of ads based on search terms and phrases. If I want everyone searching for “hotel bed management” to see an ad on my product, I can easily do that. If I also want those searching for “hotel capacity management” to see my ad, it is easy to add terms/phrases and additional ads to go with them.

Google Ads give you the flexibility to adjust a wide range of parameters for targeting your audience and your messaging. For example, you can display ads only in certain countries, states, regions, cities. You specify what time of day or what day of the week you want the ads shown. You can publish multiple ad variations (A|B testing) to see what works best. After your campaign starts, you can easily make adjustments based on the data Google Ads pulls back.

Google treats ads in a similar fashion to search result rankings using an algorithm to prioritize ads that are most relevant to the search. This benefits both those searching and those placing ads. As an advertiser you don’t want to be spending money on ads that don’t get your target audience& or worse, ads that attract the wrong audience.

Google Ads is not your only option. Microsoft offers a similar set of tools and services for its search engine. And many online publications and blogs offer there own advertising options; or advertising through 3rd party platforms and services. If there are popular sites within your industry that have advertsing, contact them to better understand the options and prices they offer.

Before digital ad space, gather data and compare options. Remember that views and clicks are nice but they’re not the metrics you care about the most. Results are what you care about. If my “hotel bed management” ad gets a million views and no clicks, that’s a problem. If it generates 1,000 clicks but no qualified leads, I still am failing. Successful campaigns reach the right people, compel them to action, and at the end of the day result you want is an increase in sales revenue. Every advertising vendor should have data they can share regarding how well ads by previous customers have collectively performed. Evaluate how well the ad options match up with your target audience and the type of advertising you want to do.

Social Media. Like all other web mediums, social media (SM) provides an amazing opportunity target, track, and measure your marketing efforts. All the major social media players provide tools that can help you align with your target audience. Not all B2B audiences are easily profiled or segmented and some social media tools are better suited for this than others. Social media provides two broad mechanisms for reaching audience: 1) advertising and 2) organic message sharing.

Generally, the Web (Advertising) section applies to social media advertising. Keep in mind though that social media differs in climate from straight up web browsing and that each social media platform has its own microclimate. You'll want to craft your social media ads accordingly. For example, because I know my audience is searching for answers to specific questions or problems, I take a very direct matter of fact tone with my Google Ads messaging. But when advertising on Twitter or LinkedIn where it is unlikely my audience is actually searching for answers to business problems related to my technology, I will have to take a different approach. To be effective, ads must gel with the microclimate of the specific social media platform.

Also, remember to temper your expectations for B2B social media advertising. It’s a medium that’s built around individual interests and activities which align best with B2C solutions. Displaying an ad for “hotel bed management” while I’m looking at my friend’s Facebook post might not grab my immediate attention. With this said, I’m sure someone can show you examples of how B2B SM advertising has worked well.

Your best B2B social media results will likely come from content rather than advertising. Earlier sections of this marketing primer covered the value of thought leadership content and the importance of leveraging other people. These two elements of your overall marketing efforts can come together beautifully in this medium—like peanut butter and chocolate, like Sonny and Cher (pre-breakup), like Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnez (also pre-breakup)—okay, you get what I’m saying.

Generate great thought leadership content and then create compelling plugs for this content that are custom crafted for each major social media platform. Publish thest compelling plugs out to your social media platforms; and gently invite your people (sales, internal experts, customers/prospects, and external experts) to forward them along. If you been engaging well and building rapport with them, they will hopefully respond and help in your promotional efforts. Because most professionals don’t are not used to social media sharing in a business setting, you may need to do some coaching on the why, how, what, and when.

If your lucky, your network sends your message out to their networks. And their networks forward it along to their networks. Now even Kevin Bacon knows what you are up to and you’re on the verge of that elusive viral message thing. Suddenly, You’re an Internet marketing genius; that big digital media conference wants you as a keynote. And your boss has called you into to the executive team meeting to explain what has happened. Congratulations! Reality is that big companies pay millions of dollars each year with the hopes generating such Internet sensations. But viral home runs are tough to come by. No worries. Just think of all the bad movies your favorite actor has done to give you a few great ones. Keep swinging. You many not hit the fence, but you can still score runs with repeated base hits.

Email. Marketers love email because 1) it’s relatively inexpensive 2) it provides tracking and measurement capabilities 3) they get some positive tangible results. Email can be both a tough and rewarding medium.

Let's start with the challenge. Email has low barriers to entry, which has resulted in overuse and abuse. Efforts to protect people from unsolicited and overdone email campaign has adversely affected this marketing medium. Governments and email service providers have implemented laws and filters to reduce the amount of SPAM showing up in your inbox. Furthermore people have come (consciously or unconsciously) to mentally filter email as well. These factors dilute the impact and effectiveness of email marketing.

Yet, if the message is right, the execution is solid, and the audience is well targeted, email marketing can still be one of the best ways to get your message out. It is satisfying to watch real time data return from an email campaign. Who’s opening them? Where they’re at? Which A|B messaging is working best? What links they’re clicking on? Marketing automation and email marketing tools make this communication medium a metric nerd’s paradise.

People do want to hear about topics they care about—as long as you're not too repetitious in how you say it or in how often you say it. Realize too that if your audience stops reading your emails (for whatever reason), email engines (like Gmail) will notice and start sending your awesome emails straight to the junk folder. Once you’re on the naughty list, its tough to get off. So don’t mindlessly push crap out to your audience just because you can.

Direct Mail. Do busineses still do this? Good question. Yes. I’ve worked a bit with the Post Office lately, and I can tell you with great confidence that a ton of direct mail (DM) pieces go out everyday. So, this medium shares attributes with its digital counterpart. Overuse and abuse (aka junk mail) have diminished the effectiveness of this medium. Still when done right, it can generate positive results.

Successful direct mail campaigns start with an accurate and targeted distribution list. The best lists are the ones you build yourselves through your sales team, previous marketing campaigns, online presence, and events. Given that this home-built list may be limited, you may consider purchasing and optimizing an industry lists. A number of lists are available from professional associations and specialized list vendors.

Second, your direct mail piece must immediately capture the attention of your audience. Creativity and execution can make this medium work. A vendor used to send our marketing team a branded semi-useful office promotional items on a regular basis. These items always caught our attention and generated conversation across our team. I once sent prospects a cardboard tube with a product poster, branded pens and truffles, and an invitation to attend our big industry event. Ordinary doesn’t win here.

Finally, make your direct mail efforts trackable and measurable. You can do this by pointing your audience back to the web (or to a phone number) using a unique URL (or number) specific to the campaign or even to the individual recipient. Some marketers have even set up unique, company customized, landing pages for each targeted recipient. Once you move your recipients back into the digital realm, you can gather all types of data to help you understand how well your direct mail campaign worked.

Outbound Calling.. “No Soliciting” signs on the doors of have telephonic equivalents in CallerID and voicemail. And many corporate executives employ human call screeners called Admins or Administrative Assistants. True, outbound calling can be tough, but it’s a medium that can work when done with purpose and solid execution.

Success in this space starts with your calling list. Does it have the right audience? Do you have the right numbers?Do you have enough information about them? Who makes the call is also important. Who’s calling? You? Your inside sales team? An outbound calling company? You’ll want make sure you’ve got competent people calling who know how to engage well in English.

You’ll need to script out what you want said and how your callers should respond to potential comments or questions. Do you have a compelling message?—something that will catch the attention of your audience (or their human call screeners) and keep them from immediately hanging up? Perhaps structure your script around a survey. Or you could lead with an offer or promotion. This offer could even be as simple as asking them if they’d be interested in a free white paper on a hot topic in your target industry. Find a hook and use it.

Finally, make sure your outbound calling campaign includes call(s) to action that are trackable and measurable. It could be that the people placing the calls take care of all the tracking. Or the narrative of your calls could point people a website that takes over this important responsibility. But you’ll need to track and measure. And you should do this as you go—tweaking your approach regularly to increase your success rate.

Industry Publications. Most B2B industries have industry specific print and digital publications. Many broader focused digital and print publications have content focused on specific industries. These publications have already identified your audience (or a subset of your audience) and have captured their attention with a range of news and thought leadership content type information. So they’ve done a chunk of the work for you, take advantage of it.

We covered advertising through these publications in the Web (Advertising) section. Guidance for print advertising is roughly the same. Publishers may push their print subscription numbers, but remember it’s measurable action we care about. So ask publishers for a summary report of results from previous campaigns. In some circumstances print may still have an ROI that competitive with other mediums—especially if there specialized publications that are still popular in your industry.

In an earlier section, we covered the importance of leveraging external experts. Many industry experts find a home (or a partnership) with industry publications as writers, editors, and subject matter experts. Identify who these people are and what they bring to the table. Invest in building relationships with them and look for win-win-win opportunities. You could invite them to the industry event you’re hosting, connect them with other industry leaders, and offer them a chance to help publish something newsworthy. Publishers also want to establish themselves as industry thought leaders and are looking for compelling content opportunities.

Traditional Marketing Channels. . I once came across a competitor’s commercial on network TV. The Fortune 100 competitor had—among its many product lines—a product that competed with us in a very specialized B2B market. The commercial was awesome—Hollywood at its best. Must have cost millions to produce and air. What a waste, I thought. Given that the product competed in a very specialized B2B technology space, the value of the creative ad would have been lost on almost all of its broadcast audience. The commercial may have strengthened their overal corporate brand equity, which is great for them I suppose. But given that I owned a much smaller marketing budget for a competing product, I cringed. Oh, the things I could have done directly applying that large budget to our targeted audience.

Don’t get me wrong. Traditional advertising via mediums such as TV, radio, and outdoor can still be very effective B2B marketing mediums for certain purposes and in certain situations. Perhaps you’re Microsoft or Oracle and you have a product suite that’s used across all of corporate America and your data shows 80% of key executives watch The Bachelor—well, there you go. If you’ve got good reasons and the budget to do it, then do it. Of course if you go the TV, radio, or outdoor routes with your B2B marketing, remember that all the aforementioned marketing rules apply: target well, generate compelling content, and include tracking and measuring mechanisms.

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Marketing & Sales Automation

And now, after all that’s been written, we get to one of my favorite topics—marketing and sales automation. We live in the golden age of advertising, marketing, and sales. Why? New tools and technologies have dispersed data-less darkness and opened marketers&rs eyes to a much clearer and brighter data driven future. Are you a big fan of efficiency and continuous improvement? Do you love using data to discover, define, and set direction? Yes? Then this is a wonderful time to be alive. Really, it is.

All digital mediums worth using provide basic analytics and reporting to help you understand how your audience is interacting with your online offerings. Marketing automation tools are designed to help you manage and coordinate your lead generation activities and move them along your sales funnel. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions provide you with robust tool sets for managing your relationships with leads, prospects, and customers. Let’s cover all these topics briefly.

Basic digital analytics. All forms of digital content have at least basic digital analytics tools connected with them. These can be used to track activity, spot trends, identify gaps, and create a more accurate picture of your audience and your product’s place in the market you compete. You should gather data on every aspect of your digital presence on a regular basis (at least monthly), analyze it, summarize it, and use that narrative to help leaders across your organization utilize it.

The basic digital analytical tools you leverage will depend on the web, mobile, ad, email, and social media platforms your are using. Start by looking at the platforms you use and then consider additional 3rd party analytics tools that may provide additional information or perspectives. All websites and/or mobile sites should have at least Google Analytics level reporting. Google Analytics is a free, commonly used tool that allows you to easily monitor web traffic to your site and to gauge the health of your content.

In the Audience section of this primer, we reviewed the importance of having a clear, accurate perspective of your audience. Beyond managing marketing campaigns and websites, digital analytics tools can provide marketers and companies with a much more accurate, granular, and timely perspective of their audience than they could ever get without them. Instead of basing conclusions about market trends on conjecture and intuition alone, you see what concepts are capturing the most attention, what terms people are searching for, what topics are generating the most discussion on social media channels.

Marketing automation tools. Adobe (Omniture), SalesForce (ExactTarget), Marketo, and a host of other vendors offer marketing automation solutions for managing a wide range of digital activities. These tools unify your digital presence and marketing; and they provide much more robust sets of analytical tools for tracking behavior, measuring effectiveness, and shaping future efforts. Marketing automation tools help manage lead generation and, integrated with a CRM, will help you manage long-term engagements with leads, prospects, and customers.

Right or wrong, I sometimes image marketing automation tools as Operation Blackbriar from the Jason Bourne movies. There’s Pam Landy in a room full of soulless nerds with rows of monitors in front of them watching my every digital move . . .

Agent #1: “Derek’s scrolling . . . he’s scrolling down the page. Wait!”
Pam Landy: “Got something?”
Agent #1: “He’s hovering! Yes, he’s definitely hovering!”
Pam Landy: “On what? Talk to me!”
Agent #1: “Beckham! The David Beckham article!”
Pam Landy: “Alright, I want a team on Beckham, now! I want to know what he’s up to? Is he still playing somewhere? What underwear is he modeling?  And most importantly—how does this Derek guy connect himself to him? Is he a big fan? Is he traveling to the UK? Watching Spice Girls videos?”
Agent #2: “On it!”
Pam Landy: “And Agent #3, let’s target some of those Beckham fancy shampoo ads at this Derek guy.”

Okay, I know that this is not how digital marketing automation tools work. But sometimes when you write overly long B2B marketing primers your imagination starts screaming for attention.

Advanced marketing automation tools make a lot of sense when your business involves high volume digital activity. In these cases, small real-time adjustments can make a significant financial difference. Even if your B2B company doesn’t fit this profile, marketing automation tools can still help with lead generation and with coordinating your digital presence. There are a wide range of marketing automation options with varying feature sets and pricing. Explore the possibilities. If you invest in the tools, be sure to invest in the people needed to get the full value out of them.

CRM solutions. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions give you the tools to manage your leads, prospects, and customers as they cycle through your sales funnel. You can create profiles for your leads and accounts, set-up price books with products and use those to define opportunities and generate quotes, integrate marketing campaign activities, forecast sales, and manage all engagement all of your audiences. They offer robust feature sets for understanding, shaping, and managing all the data you associate with your businesses external ecosystem. SalesForce dominates the CRM space today, but Microsoft also has a play here, and there are specialty CRMs as well.

A company that doesn't leverage the strengths of a robust CRM leaves sales revenue on the table. Set up your CRM to match your business processes and make sure that all externally oriented team members are committed to using the CRM to capture and monitor all lead, prospect, and customer related activities. Some team members will not recognize the value of utilizing this tool. Sales may find it a pain to enter info. Marketing may see the CRM as a sales tool only. But a well managed CRM solutions can efficiently unite corporate efforts to drive demand and increase sales revenues. Executive teams should recognize the potential in this and use the CRM as the system of record for all related activites.

B2B tech sales cycles are typically longer than their B2C counterparts. They can take months or even years. Every prospect and customer will have multiple touch points (marketing, sales, consulting, and support) with your company over the lifetime of their transactional relationship with your company. This long-term multi-dimensional relationship needs to be managed and coordinated well or opportunities will be lost.

Both marketing and sales can add and gain a tremendous amount of value from the corporate CRM as they engage with leads, prospects, and customers. Marketing may engage with the prospect multiple times through marketing campaigns, Webinars, live events, case studies, newsletters, white papers, social media, and other activities and mediums. Sales may also engage with them many times with calls, site visits, consulting discussions, and solution reviews. All these touch points should be recorded in the CRM to help manage the individual engagement and to help assess and improve the collective engagement efforts by sales, marketing, and the rest of the company. CRM solutions facilitate a team approach towards moving the sales pipeline.

CRM solutions can provide tremendous reporting and analytic capabilities for the sales team. The flexibility and power tools will allow you answer many valuable questions: Where are my best leads coming from? Where are the bottlenecks in my sales funnel? What activities and content are most helpful in moving leads along? How long is the process taking? Based on trends, what will sales revenues be this quarter? Next quarter? Why is the southeast region doing so well? What are they doing different? Answers to questions like these can help sales teams adjust approaches and increase revenues.

Similarly, marketing can also pull data that helps shape their marketing spend. For example, based on CRM reporting may notice that the big Texas industry conference generated the most leads, but none of those leads progressed to qualified opportunities. You may also notice that the much smaller, less expensive specialized event in Seattle resulted in 5 new deals. Based on this CRM data, you (marketing) decide that moving forward your going to shift your event funds away from the large general event to smaller specialized events.

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Final Thoughts

When I first imagined this primer, I pictured a handful of pages that outlined everything you needed to know to effectively lead B2B marketing for technology solutions. As I dove into it, I realized that this topic cannot be effectively covered in such a succinct fashion. Each of the sub-sections could be its own large document with detailed instructions, examples, and references. And for now, I don't have that kind of time.

But I hope this primer has provided enough to get you thinking about what you should be doing, could be doing better or are already doing much better than anything I explained. If you have more questions, search the web. The truth is out there. Mingled, of course, with a bunch of other ideas that cloud things. But you are smart. You’ll sort through it.

Yes! I’ve successfully dumped 20+ pages of mental energy, observations, and recollections into this digital marketing pensieve. Now I will know where to find them the next time I need them. And as I collect more thoughts on B2B technology marketing, I’ll know where to put them.

Note: I collected the animated gifs used in this primer off the Internet. I don’t own them. They were added to break up text and to provide mild entertainment. Header image from unsplash.com—Zach Ingles is the photographer.

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