MAD Perspectives Blog

Voice of Customer drives Relevance

Peggy Dau - Thursday, February 17, 2011

I've been talking with colleagues about successful communications versus unsuccessful messaging.  Its funny how many companies, even with the rampant use of social media, still define a message and push it across all platforms regardless of relevance or context.  There is a lot of online discussion about the voice of the customer.  Imagine - the customer has a voice!  The customer has interests, questions, concerns and opininions that he would like to have addressed by vendors.

Does your company invest in research to understand its customers needs?  I'm sure it does. Does your marketing reflect those insights?  It should.  However, many times marketers get caught up in supporting a corporate message that doesn't actually resonate with their customers.  They deliver this message across every communications channel, regardless the kind of information the customer may really want to consume.

For example, should a blog consistently reiterate feature and functionality of a companies products?  Or would it be more interesting to discuss market trends that influence product functionality?  Instead of only tweeting links to product information, it might be interesting to debate industry announcements. The goal is to align the right content to the right channel to the customers using that channel.

The social web provides tools and platforms to gain insight to what your customers, competitors and industry influencers are saying and where they are saying it.  The most robust tools can be expensive and they don't necessarily make it easy to interpret all the data gathered, but they can provide  insight into trending topics which should be addressed by your content marketing.  Don't forget social media is supposed to be about authenticity and transparency.  Simple reinforcement of existing marketing messages isn't enough to drive increased customer interaction which can lead to leads and ultimately to customer acquisition.

Take the time to listen to your customers' online interactions.  Then take more time and think about the context of what they are saying and how they are saying it.  I bet you will gain some valuable insights that may surprise you!

What's your perspective?



Influence B2B Buying Decisions with Social Media

Peggy Dau - Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What actions do you take to encourage your customers to make a purchase?

The goal for any company is to drive revenue, manage expenses and earn profits.  Companies employ a variety of strategies to encourage customers to purchase their products or services.  These strategies increasingly incorporate different types of digitial media, from online advertising, SEM and SEO to social media, from online video to video conferencing.  Use of any of these customer centric efforts is to motivate customer action.  The ultimate desired action is for the customer to make a purchase, however, there are many other actions that may lead to that purchase.

Much emphasis is placed by B2B companies on lead or demand generation.  The basic premise is that the larger the funnel of opportunity, the greater the number of closed deals.  However, how does a B2B company inspire action through social media?  B2C companies offer special promotions or discounts to their fans and followers.  B2B companies have not, generally, seen increased sales directly related to limited time offers or discounts.  However, they have seen increased webinar attendance, increased whitepaper downloads and website visits when using social networks to enhance the visibility of the companies' programs.

North Plains, a digital asset management vendor (see North Plains case study), participates in many DAM related LinkedIn Groups.  By promoting their educational webinars in the groups, they increased anticipated attendance at their webinars.  Increased attendance equates to increased awareness and potentially increased sales.

The goal is consider what phase of the sales cycle your audience  is in.  Are they building knowledge?  Are they assessing vendors and options?  Or, are they in the decision making phase?  Aligning your content efforts with these different phases can help drive a desired action.  TechTarget shared the following findings in 2009 as related to IT buyers interest in online content based on stage in the buying process. 



This study provides some interesting insights that can help you target your content efforts to drive the desired action.  It reinforces the need for an integrated marketing strategy that incorporates social media, streaming media, marketing collateral and whitepapers, shared across a combination of your corporate website and social outlets.  It reinforces the need for a strategy that aligns content development efforts with all phases of the buying cycle.  It reinforces the need to understand your customer's needs when creating content to drive a specific action.

Social networks are a relevant source of information.  They can help a potential customer increase his/her knowledge of your company and its products.  They can faciliate community discussions.  They can inform a potential customer on where or how to find more detailed information, but can they actually convince a cusotmer to make a purchase in the B2B space?   In my opinion, the jury is out on this topic at this time.  While there have been many reports indicating that B2B marketers have found success increasing awareness and knowledge, I have not seen clear evidence that shows Twitter or LinkedIn, much less Facebook, are driving significant sales of B2B products and solutions.  Companies such as IBM claim to have sophisticated listening tools to help them uncover leads, however that is not a sale.  Perhaps it's a matter of time.  Perhaps it is dependent of understanding key drivers influencing the buying decision and aligning that understanding with the right social networking.

How well do you know your customers?  Stay tuned for further discussion on this topic.

What's your perspective?



B2B Social Media - just more Push Marketing?

Peggy Dau - Thursday, January 13, 2011

So, it's 2011.  How are your social media efforts working out for you?   2010 was a watershed year for companies adopting social media as a part of their overall marketing strategy.  Large companies, small companies, mid-size companies - they all jumped on board and started tweeting and blogging and posting...and wondered about the benefits. 

Many social media marketing firms talk about the benefits of Pull Marketing over Push Marketing.  Just as a brief reminder, Pull Marketing is the development of content, messaging or ads directing at the end customer who will make a purchase decision.  The content is created to drive an action by the customer to inquire or purchase your product.  On the other hand, Push Marketing is the development of content, messaging or ads directed at a distribution channel or other intermediary that provides your products, with the intent to get them to promote your product on your behalf. 

social media pundits emphasize the benefit of social media marketing in giving companies an opportunity to interact DIRECTLY with their customers.  This means they can implement a greater number of pull marketing strategies.  They can interact with customers to understand their needs, provide discounts and other incentives, not available through other channels,and inpsire action by the customer.  This works reasonably well in the consumer space, but how about the B2B space? I have talked to companies who have offered free software, free iPads, free services to fans or followers, without any meaningful result. Therefore, we could state that Pull marketing does not have the same impact in the B2B space.  And,  I would argue that the implementation of social media by B2B companies is an extension of Push Marketing, rather than an increased use of Pull Marketing.   Is this a problem or is this ok?

Right now, it's probably ok.  Many B2B companies have adopted social media to increase brand awareness, to be perceived as thought leaders, or to address customer service issues.  When we look at the goals for these types of communications, measures of success are not centered around customer action (except for customer service).  To date, measures of success have been about numbers of fans or followers, but not about actual sales. Social media is yet another communication channel through which the company can educate its target market about the company culture, industry trends, product developments.  These companies may sell their products directly or through a distribution channel of some sort.  Regardless of the purchase model, they want to increase knowledge about their products.  They do want to be "top of mind" when potential buyers are defining their requirements and considering potential solutions.  Social Media provides the opportunity to increase the volume of communication.

Social media continues to be one part of an overall marketing strategy.  The focus on a 360 degree integrated strategy is still very important.  I have mentioned before, that it is very important to tailor your story to your audience and the channel through which they hear your story.  While it is reasonable to re-purpose existing content for use through social channels, it is important to remember the origin of these channels.  They are personal.  They are meant to be interactive.  Adapt your social media marketing to reflect the culture and personality of your company.  It's ok for social media to be another push marketing channel, but think about ways to drive meaningful interaction with your customers.  Think about what will have real impact on your business?

I'll be blogging further about inspiring customer action, measurable benefits and meaningful storytelling over the next few weeks.  Stay tuned!

What's your perspective?



Let your Personality Shine!

Peggy Dau - Tuesday, December 21, 2010

'Tis the season to be jolly.... People are walking the streets and the shopping malls with a little extra bounce in their step this holiday season.  That may be due to stress or it may simply have to do with the joy of the season.  Do your communications to your customers and partners also enjoy a bit more "bounce" this time of year?  If there is anything that social media has tried to teach us over the past few years, it is to let your personality shine!

People relate to people regardless of the medium.  Yes, we want to share valuable insights about our company, our business, our industry.  However, people buy from people.  Think about walking into an party where you don't know anyone.  Who are you drawn to?  It's usually the individual with a compelling personality.  I've been told that I have a very identifiable laugh.  I do enjoy a good chuckle, but probably lean towards a guffaw if the topic really amuses me.  My point is that when you are passionate about your topic people are drawn to you.  So, simply re-iterating your product feature and functionality won't create a community or a loyal following.  However, the company that can inject a business conversation with relevant commentary and personal anecdotes creates a memorable interaction.  They show a passion for their subject that is infectious.

Your company's social persona should reflect your passion for your products and customers.  Who do you want to be?  I worked for HP for a loooong time.  For many years, the joke in Silicon Valley about HP and its marketing efforts was that HP would market sushi as raw dead fish.  They meant that HP was candid to a fault.  HP was not know for its marketing capabilities, they were a company of well engineered IT products (as well as test & measurement, analytical & medical product, at that time).  I think we can agree - they've come a long way! 

What is your company's personality.  Is it open?  Is it technical?  Is it fun?  Is it intellectual?  A company with a serious intent (say, pharmaceutical) can still be social in an interesting way.  Understanding what drives the R&D teams who are so committed to developing life altering drugs, can help put a face on the company.  Your company has its culture and it has a personality.  Let it shine through - especially in your social interactions!

What's your perspective?



Building Business Relationships a la Digital Media

Peggy Dau - Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Business is about building relationships.  In the past these relationships were developed in buildings with offices, desks and phones.  They were fostered over lunches, dinners, holiday parties and golf outings.  We only have to watch "MAD MEN" to be reminded of that while these relationships seemed solid on the surface, they often crumbled under the pressures of other business needs.

Bottom line, business relationships are about one party fulfilling the needs and desires of the other.  The challenge is understanding those needs and desires.  In today's social business world, relationships can be initiated via various social networks.  However, the foundation for a relationship still evolves from a face to face meeting.  However, it is often maintained through the use of many digital media solutions.  These solutions include desktop video conferencing, webinars, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, newsletters and more.

I met with a client last week.  They are a small, privately held software company.  Their customers are global, yet their sales force is centralized.  You may be scratching your head wondering why.  I know I did.  However, they have found their salesforce to be more effective if they can leverage the knowledge gained from each other through discussions about their potential customers.  They fulfill their customer's desire for face to face meetings via desktop video conferencing.  They provide software demos using online tools such as GotoMeeting.  They provide product updates via email newsletters and weekly blogs.  They have leveraged the many solutions available to them to maintain their customer relationships in an efficient, cost effective manner that fulfills their customers needs.

How do we understand those needs?  We listen!  Thanks to constantly evolving social media platforms, companies have a unique opportunity to hear more than ever before.  In fact, this has become a daunting proposition for many companies.  Customers are very candid in the social stratosphere - they share the good, the great, the bad and the ugly.  However, it is critical for companies to gain social intelligence about their customers needs, goals and concerns.  They will gain competitive insight and candid feedback that can influence business process, product roadmap, market awareness and help build stronger business relationships.

By incorporating the many digital media tools available today, businesses can communicate in the manner best suited to their many audiences (c-level, marketing, purchasing, engineering, etc.).  In combining traditional business interactions with digital communication channels and social interactivity, companies will build a new kind of relationship with their customers.

What's your perspective?



The Social Web - Empowering Customers

Peggy Dau - Monday, October 04, 2010

Last week, Nigel Fenwick, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester spoke in a joint Forrester/ NewsGator webinar.  The topic was Boosting IT Productivity with Social Technologies.  However, Nigel validated several thoughts that had been bouncing around in my brain. He speaks about the influence and shifts in mobile devices, social technologies, pervasive video and cloud computing.  Each of these converge to enable a more intelligent and influential customer, the empowered customer. I have been thinking about the shift from a focus on customer satisfaction to customer experience and how this has changed, dramatically, with the usage of social platforms.  While I often talk to clients about employee empowerment to use and leverage social technologies, I had not thought about the flip side – that of empowered customers.

Thanks to the social web, customers have access to more information than ever.  It is not just information developed and distributed by various corporate marketing teams.  It is information from individual employees, customers, business partners, competitors, supply chain vendors and anyone else who may interact with that company, its products or employees.  The online customer support forums of the early millennium have evolved to include live online discussions (by text or VoIP) with support staff and interactive chats with fellow customers.  If we are not satisfied with the support we receive, we tweet or Facebook immediately – and usually get some kind of attention from the company’s support team.

Thanks to the social web, prospective buyers can research, investigate and analyze products, services, reputations, ethics, roadmaps and competitors.  They come to you, the vendor providing their product or service of choice, armed with intelligent questions.  They are ready to make decision, but have perspectives based on the information that have gathered and interpreted.  These perspectives will influence their discussion with you (and others!) regarding features, functionality, delivery and pricing.

Thanks to the social web, your company and its employees can also be empowered. Your employees can access the same information as your customers.  As mentioned by Nigel in the aforementioned webinar, they use social technologies to get ideas for their job, to research key topics, to collaborate externally to solve a problem.  Your company may say that they already provide them with the tools to collaborate and investigate.  If they do, this is great, but are they using the tools and the platforms that your customers are accessing?  Can you as an employee gather the same kind of insights so that you can understand the customer’s perspective? Tthe ability for employees to understand a customer's motivation can only help them represent the company to its greatest advantage.

Companies used to control the message.  Subsequently the need for employees to participate and monitor online activities was limited to specific initiatives (i.e., customer support).  However, the social web has changed how information is shared.  It is still shared on websites, but customers are seeking authentic insights and finding them via blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn Groups, Slide Share, and Scribd.  If your company is just getting started with social technologies, empower your employees to learn in the same fashion as your already empowered customers.

What’s your perspective?



Company Culture and Adoption of Social Networking

Peggy Dau - Monday, August 02, 2010

You’re thinking about social media.  You’re convinced you need to have a plan to add social media to your existing marketing and/or communication strategy.  You’re thinking, well, we’ll just tiptoe into this effort, participate in a few social networks and see what happens.  There is nothing wrong with this plan, except you should think about  your corporate culture.  Of course, there are other details you also need to consider, but for the sake of this conversation, let’s focus on corporate culture.

Does your culture inhibit executive or employee adoption of social networking tools?  Do employees feel empowered to publically communicate on behalf of the company?  Do executives understand the openness of social conversations?

I’ve had comments to several of my blogs related to B2B social media, emphasizing the importance of culture.  So, I’ve done some thinking on this and refreshed my memory as to the different types of corporate cultures (it’s been a long time since those undergrad and MBA courses on organizational theory).  Culture is a combination of shared values, attitudes, assumptions, beliefs and behaviors.  Culture is grounded in the assumptions about how people interact.

A successful social media strategy is best achieved when there is a corporate culture that balances tops down direction with bottoms up initiative with external (customer) facing communication.  However, existing corporate cultures can inhibit this balance and subsequently the success of a social media strategy.  Which of these cultures best reflects your company?

Adaptive – just like it sounds, this company tries new processes, solutions, business models to see what works best.  This company is usually very externally focused and will adopt solutions that help them communicate effectively and efficiently.  This culture will easily adapt to social networks for business use.

Inert – this type of company is very internally focused and struggles to deal with new ideas.  In technology parlance, they are a laggard when it comes to adopting new technology.  This culture will be one of the last companies to adopt social networking.

Networked – this is a sociable company, but employees exhibit little company loyalty.  This company may lag a bit in adopting new ideas solely due to high employee turnover.  Once this company has decided to use social networks, employees will take advantage of it and it may foster employee retention.

Mercenary - this culture is ruthless and highly competitive.  If the new solution doesn’t fulfill the goal to win, it is not considered.  Without a strong ROI argument, this kind of company will not leverage social networks at the business level.

Fragmented – this company is a loose alliance of independent workers (i.e., law firm).  If a solution can be easily adopted by these workers and help them achieve their goals, it’s a winner, but it is unlikely that all workers will utilize the solution at the same level.

I’ll be writing more about company cultures and organizational dynamics as it relates to B2B social networks over the next few weeks.  Do these cultures resonate with you?  What kind of culture does your company exhibit? 

What’s your perspective?



6 Tips for B2B Blogging

Peggy Dau - Monday, June 21, 2010

Many companies recognize the potential value of blogging, but struggle to organize their thoughts and the actual writing of the blog.  Subsequently, the blogs imply doesn't happen.  Yet, according to the Business.com 2009 B2B Social Media Marketing Study, 74% of companies surveyed maintain one or more blogs.  What are all these companies blogging about? And, how do they manage it?

When I look at companies or sites who are blogging regularly and considered leaders in their industry, I've learned the following:

     1. Empower Your Employees - Encourage your employees to blog and share their insights, their smarts, their personalities.  Invite employees from different business groups to write about what's going on the industry.  They will have unique perspectives given the groups they represent (i.e., marketing, sales, engineering, R&D, support).  Their perspectives will be interesting to your current and prospective customers.

     2. Share Your Policy - Many companies will be concerned with giving their employees a public voice.  This is where establishing a policy will alleviate many concerns.  The policy is basical the rules of engagement for your employees...and for your customers.  It should provide guidance to your employees about what is acceptable or unacceptable blogging behavior.  By sharing your policy publically, your customers will know what to expect when engaging with your blogs.  Here are some examples from HP, IBM, SAP and Intel.  My thanks to the high tech community for being so open about their policies!

     3. Enable Comments - Invite and encourage readers to comment!  Comments are what make blogs interactive.  They enable the conversation.  They provide you, the company, with honest, candid, immediate feedback.  It may be supportive, discouraging, antagonistic or enthusiastic.  Aside from concerns about foul language, do not disable comments for fear of negative comments.  common sense must be employed to determine the best approach to addressing negativity, but that negativity can have positive results.

     4. Invite Guest Contributors - Every industry has its pundits.  They exist in the form of analysts, columnists, technologists and executives.  Inviting these thought leaders to contribute to your blog can bring a new perspective to a hot topic, insight to emerging trends and clarity to industry debates.  Your alignment (or lack thereof) with these pundits may attract new readers to your blog.
 
     5. Establish an Editorial Calendar - Creating a plan can simplify the effort associated with managing and writing blogs.  While it is often useful to allow the blog to just "happen" in response to industry trends or to incite new discussion, it is also beneficial for it to reinforce annoucnements or events.  Laying out the calendar will help define the need for content or resources, and give you time to fill that need.

     6. Be Interesting - This is most important.  Think about what you would want to read.  What kind of information are you seeking that only a blog can fulfill?  A blog is not a product or press release, allow your personality to shine through.  As always when thinking social, be transparent and authentic.

What companies or blogs did I check out when thinking about this blog?  After 25 years in high tech, I folow blogs from the companies reference above.  However, I also check in with Marriott, Nike, and Whole Foods.  With my focus in digital/social media, I read streamingmedia.com, Mashable, Social Media TodaySmart Blog on Social Media and more.

Does your company blog?  What's your blogging experience?  I'd love to hear the good and the bad!

What's your perspective?




Let Your Customers Help You Tell Your Story

Peggy Dau - Monday, May 17, 2010

Once upon a time...  These are the infamous words that start many a fairy tale.  But, it is also mean we about to hear a story.  George Lucas used similar words to launch a trilogy and then a prequel of stories about a galaxy far far away.  His Star Wars movies are considered some of the best stories of my generation.

We read stories to our kids before bedtime.  We go to the movies to become enthralled with drama, comedy, horror or adventure stories.  We go online to watch webisodes of programs created specifically for Internet consumption. How do you tell your story? The most common methods have been to write product briefs, whitepapers, case studies and press releases.  However, the past few years have shown that customers want to be part of the story.  The ability for customers to comment on products, blogs, facebook or twitter, has give customers a greater share of your public face.

This is good news! Your customers have a unique perspective of your company and it's products or services.  I've learned a lot about how to tell my story, both personal and professional, by listening to my partners and customers.  My customers want me to tell my story in a way that integrates with their PR strategy.  That's ok for me, my services are complimentary to the services offered by most PR firms and, in fact, should help drive incremental revenue for these firms. 

My customers want me to share my background in high tech and in communicating in B2B environments.  By including my background as a core part of my story, they realize that I can relate to the challenges they face.  They want to understand how I made the decision to leave corporate america and pursue independent consulting as this helps them understand my motivations.  They find comfort in understanding that I too, had to figure out how to tell my story, just as I'm helping them figure out what solutions will help them tell their story.

It's also about how to tell your story.  Do you tell you story on your company website?  Via your personal blog or industry analysts or in press releases or webinars or online video?  Depending on how your customer consumes information, your story can be told in many ways...and many times.

Listen to your customers.  They will provide you with great insights on what parts of your story are interesting to them, or not! They will help you prioritize your efforts and perhaps help you reduce some aspects of your marketing budget.  They will let you know who they listen to and perhaps influencers you should also listen to and influence.

Are your customers helping you tell your story?  Share your experiences with me!

What's your perspective?



Social Media facilitates customer retention

Peggy Dau - Monday, March 15, 2010

Last week I talked about how social media can facilitate the sales process.  Let's take that one step further and talk about how digital media can help you improve customer retention.  We touched on the topic of customer support as part of the sales process.  This topic is even more critical when it comes to customer loyalty.  A happy customer can become your best advocate

What is a happy customer?  Simply put it is customer who have not defected to a competitor.  It is customers who intend to purchase more goods and services from you.  It is a customer willing to recomment your company and its products to others.  It is a customer making incremental purchases or increasing their average order size.  It is a customer sustaining customer support or renewing their warranty.

business people by Business Planning Software.

What does customer support entail?

Customer support is more than enabling customers to contact you when they have a problem.  Customer support is getting ahead of the curve and proactively notifying customers when their are issues, product changes, special offers, in person events and more.  The goal once you have attained a new customer is to encourage them to buy more or for your cusomters to recommend you to their business colleagues and partners.

A few facts about B2B buyers:

- they depend of 3rd party feedback in purchase decisions
- they want to be part of the product or solution development process
- they trust colleague opinions particularly where those colleagues are using the target product or service

How does social media fit here?  Social media = an objective 3rd party opinion.  In addition, social media allows and enables real-time interaction.  It fosters an environment to inform while building trust and creditbility.  Whether it is a LinkedIn group around a specific category of product or the customer support forum on your company website, ad hoc interaction with your existing customers allows you to get honest feedback regarding customer satisfaction, IT needs, purchasing plans.  Companies can use social platforms to alert customers to supply chain issues, product releases, training sessions and more.  Being proactive is an element of the authenticity often mentioned around social media.

Your ability to LISTEN to your customers as they participate in online forums or to invite their feedback regarding product performance or features, enhances the relationship. Extend your conversation with your customer beyond the actual sale. Acknowledge, respond and champion their involvement.  It can turn customers into influencers of product roadmap and new purchasers.  Social platforms allow companies to have direct, immediate and interactive communication with many accounts.  Take advantage of these tools to sustain your customer base.

What's your perspective?