Category Archives: B2B Marketing

Is It Really Possible To Measure Marketing ROI

In an increasingly competitive B2B marketplace every department must prove its contribution. Manufacturing output is relatively easy to measure as is the contribution of the sales department but what about the marketing department? Is it possible to measure marketing ROI?

There have never been so many tools available to measure the results of marketing activity. But do those tools really deliver reliable data on which to base decisions. Is spending time and resources on collecting a mass of data the best way forward or is there a better way.

The basic ROI calculation is (Return – Investment) / Investment over a specific period of time. The return could be sales, gross profit or some other variable.

Marketing ROI could, therefore, be measured using the formula (Sales – Marking investment) / marketing investment over a period. However, some of the sales growth may be organic. That is it would have come in regardless of marketing effort. For example simple repeat business.

A more accurate calculation may be (Sales – Organic sales – Marketing investment) / Marketing investment over a period. At a top level, this will deliver a number that should show in broad terms if marketing is delivering (or not).

The aim of the marketing department is simple. They need to maximise the sales number while minimising the marketing expenditure. They, therefore, need to know which of the multiple activities they undertake has the maximum impact and which are not worth the investment.

If marketing costs are to be controlled it is reasonable to assume some measurement data will be required. It’s logical to collect measurement data and make decisions based on that data but is that really possible. Investing in the wrong areas or minimising the wrong costs will reduce the contribution of marketing.

It may be activity X appears to deliver excellent results but how do you know that is not impacted by activity Y. What if some external factor (Z) that may be nothing whatsoever to do with marketing is having an impact. Can you actually isolate Y and Z and thus measure X more accurately. In essence, can you really make an accurate measure of X, Y or Z?

The Measurement Issue – An Example

Every year for as long as I can remember I have had at least three severe colds or flu during the winter months. That changed a couple of years ago when I changed my diet after a health scare. Since then no more winter colds – not one.

So it would seem diet and lack of infection are related but something could have changed over the same period. I have worked from home more and am around people less and (to be blunt) therefore less exposed to sources of infection. Could that be the reason?

Let’s assume a change of diet was the reason I then have two options. I could give thanks and not worry about which specific change (or changes) to my diet made the difference. Alternatively, I could spend time and effort trying to establish which items made the difference so I may eat more of them.

If I don’t worry about what caused the change I run the risk I could inadvertently drop a critical item from my diet and the colds may return. If I try to identify specific items that caused the change isolating those items is a far from simple task.

To reduce the complexity involved in identifying specific causes I could try to make some assumptions. However, that may introduce estimates and errors that make any conclusions I reach useless.

I could, for example, assume the change was down to the increase in fruit I eat. There is a widely accepted view that increasing vitamin C intake helps prevents colds. Is that assumption based on strong research data or is the basis for the theory (if any) lost in the mists of time?

I could stop eating fruit and see what happens but how long do I wait before I measure results? What may happen to my health in the meantime? What about Vitamin C I could pick up from a host of other foods. How do I build a valid test with suitable controls?

A vast amount of time and effort may not actually deliver a definitive result. Vitamin C may indeed have an impact but what if that impact is only delivered if factors X and Y that I am not measuring (or may not even have thought of) are also present.

The Problems With Data

There are many third party tools available for measuring the impact of various elements of the marketing mix. How can you be sure that a positive change in whatever is measured is not the result of some transient event you are unaware of (or have chosen to ignore). What about the long term fuzzy objectives like brand awareness how do you measure that?

Most measurement tools make various assumptions in their calculations. How do you know what those assumptions are? Without accounting for assumptions the data could be way off. There may be a widely held belief in a business that ‘X’ is an undisputed fact. The problem is assumptions can become recognised as facts over time (almost as part of the folklore) when they have no scientific basis.

There is no such thing as perfect information so where do you stop. Data can be used as a crutch or worse still an excuse. That shouldn’t have happened! The data said otherwise. With too much data, too much analysis a business can be slow to react to what is happening in the real world.

What’s The Alternative

At the other extreme a who cares about the specific cause if it is working approach may be employed. The business may run on something that is difficult to quantify – feel. There may be some very broad measurements of performance in place but that is all.

The risks of this approach are obvious. There is a lack of control. Costs could spiral with no checks and balances. If results hit a downward trend is it possible to establish what needs to be fixed?

A lack of data can lead to an increase in company politics. Did sales contribute the most to bringing in the order, or was it operations. Maybe the opportunity would not have existed in the first place if it was not for marketing. Did the design/engineering department come up with such an elegant, cost effective solution to a problem that it sold itself? Those best at playing the political game usually win the argument.

On the plus side, a business run on feel tends to be more able to react to the market. They tend to be far less bogged down in data and closer to what is happening in the real world. However, businesses that succeed with this approach tend to have a specific organisational structure and culture. It tends to only work in smaller organisations or in larger organisations that are able to isolate specific groups or teams.

Both the data and the ‘feel routes have their pluses and minuses. A mix of the two measuring a trend rather than an absolute measure of marketing ROI may be a more appropriate goal.

The rough measures (or no measure) approach tends to lead to a business that is faster on its feet and more tuned in to its market but it has obvious risks. The business with perfect data (if such a thing exists) and the courage to act on that data given the external forces and internal politics that may swirl around should make excellent decisions. The trouble is those decisions may be too late.

How To Create B2B Case Studies That Generate Results

Recent research from both CMI and IDM shows that B2B businesses see case studies as a key promotional tool. It is therefore a surprise that case studies from mid-sized B2B companies are not more widespread. The problem could be the time and effort involved or it could be many businesses simply do not know where to start.

So what is the science behind the power of case studies, testimonials and recommendations? According to Dr Robert Cialdini in his book ‘Influence – The Psychology Of Persuasion’ one means we all use to determine what is correct is to find out what other people think is correct. For further evidence just consider the number of advertisers who love to inform us when a product is fastest selling, or fastest growing (German Caffeine based shampoo the power of case studies in b2b marketsanyone!).

If several testimonials show our peers are using a particular product or service then maybe we should consider it too? Even more powerful if we read a case study on how one of our peers used a service to create a positive result then it is certain to have a positive influence on our own decisions.

Like all the best marketing strategies a process is required. The first crucial step is to define the target audience for the case study. Who do we wish to influence, where are their pain points and what types of solutions are of potential interest? It is often best to restrict case study collection to a selection of the customer base and to ensure that a number of studies are collected to cover all of the key product ranges or services delivered by the business.

The next step is to put a process in place to gather the required material to build the case studies. This, at some point, involves asking the customer if they will agree to a case study and that is a problem for many businesses. This hurdle can be overcome by taking a multi stage approach (read an example here) and asking first for customer feedback then building from there.

A mistake made by many businesses is to restrict the detail in the case study so it covers a maximum of two pages. This is a mistake as the case study must be of an appropriate length to really address the needs of the potential customer. The case study needs to show:

  • What the business was trying to achieve.
  • What barriers were stopping them from reaching their goals.
  • What persuaded them they needed to do something about the problem.
  • What did they try and (if possible) why did it fail.
  • How did they come across your solution.
  • How did they implement your solution.
  • What were the results and how did they match against goals.
  • What were the costs (time, resources, financial) and therefore what was the benefit.

A little promotional material written around the customer that provided the case study illustrating what they do and the benefits they offer is always worth including.

Any case study always needs customer sign off before publication. The issue then, given the considerable effort expended in generating the information, is to maximise its benefit. It should be published on the company website and wherever else it makes sense online. It should be used by the sales force as powerful sales collateral. It may be used in print media and brochures and spread liberally around reception areas and finally it may be used in E_Newsletters and even email signatures.

An Integrated B2B Marketing Campaign Vs The Ad Hoc Approach

It may come as a surprise but spending money on ad hoc marketing in a short term push to make the year-end sales figures is unlikely to succeed. Following the latest and greatest marketing trend just because everyone seems to be doing it is often not the best idea.  It may take longer, it may take more effort but in the end a integrated B2B marketing campaign is all that can be relied on to deliver medium to long term, consistent, results.

A structured approach requires a solid understanding of where the business is going, a plan and (crucially) the courage to abandon the short term view and allow the plan the time to produce. An integrated marketing process delivers:

  • Structure and measurement
  • Improved results
  • At lower cost

Structure And Measurement

Reactive marketing tends to focus on the number of prospects hit rather than considering if those prospects fit the target customer profile. A more sensible approach is to build a yearly promotional plan focussed on the marketing techniques with the best chance of engaging the target prospects

Using historic data, carefully considered assumptions or reputable industry data it is then possible to relate the promotional plan to expected (quantified) results. Assuming the plan is based primarily on marketing techniques with a measurable outcome it is then possible to measure results against the plan and make solid decisions on spend based on what is working well (and what is not).

Reduced Costs And Improved Results

It has been shown many times in B2B markets that a drip, drip consistent flow of marketing messages to customers and prospects is far more effective than one off, or short term bursts, of activity. It therefore follows that the ROI on marketing spend on a consistent plan must exceed that of the Ad hoc approach.

Activities that are reactive and short term naturally tend to cost more than activities that are planned in advance allowing time to consider the best suppliers, offering most value. Following latest marketing trend simply because everyone else appears to be doing it without thinking through the outcomes has been shown time and again to be a waste of time and money.

The Process

The first crucial step is to establish (top level) what it is the business delivers to its customers, why that product or service is needed and who needs it and why. It is also important to understand who else satisfies the same need (competition) and how they go to market.

Only with the above step in place is it possible to establish the best way to reach the target customer base. What are the best marketing techniques to deliver information to the point prospects may find it and engage with it? Once a prospect is engaged what are the best marketing tools and techniques to convert interest to enquiries and ultimately orders?

While the old outbound techniques such as telemarketing, direct mail and advertising all still have a place there is increased prospect resistance to these techniques and an ongoing shift to inbound marketing as a result.

Inbound marketing is all above producing useful information (content) and delivering it to the customer / prospect base by the appropriate medium at the right time. Inbound marketing dovetails with a variety of online marketing techniques that are often measurable and relatively cheap to implement.

An integrated B2B marketing campaign that integrates the best inbound and outbound marketing techniques to fit a given situation is far more effective than an ad hoc, inconsistent approach. However, it must be accepted that it does take time and considerable effort.

Generating Creative New Product Ideas – B2B Markets

In many B2B markets what was once a unique product or service is soon copied, often by low cost producers, making it a commodity and driving down price. The challenge then is generating creative new product ideas on an ongoing basis.

However, there is a problem concisely put by Claire Mason in a recent ManBitesDog post ‘despite the critical importance of ideas-led selling, B2B marketers face an uphill struggle to generate the big ideas their organisations need. Four in five marketing leaders believe that B2B marketing is facing a crisis of creativity according to our latest research’.

So what is the solution? The obvious may be to poll the views of the sales department or ask your customers but as outlined in our post ‘Customer input to the new product development process’ both routes have their problems. What is required is a person (or better still a group) with both an in depth understanding of the market and its needs and the creativity to deliver a product or service that offers a unique solution.

The problem is such people are in extremely short supply. Worse still when they do exist in organisations higher management often lack the vision and market understanding to back them and put the resources in place to develop their concepts further. The statistics on new product failure are well known and risk adverse organisations are often unwilling to take a punt on a new product concept.

Where new product ideas do often flourish is where the person with the idea is also the business owner. He or she does not need to convince anyone it will work or plead to management for resources (they are the management) but if the product is a success this route tends to bring problems further down the line.

The problem is many start up business owners are superb product people with a detailed understanding of the marketplace but are poor managing directors. They understood the product and market but sometimes also lack the capability to communicate their latest new product concept to company personnel leaving them as the only person to really take it forward.

The real creative product people often are sidetracked (or promoted) into a position where they can add less value. For a company to thrive this rare resource needs to remain on the front line, interfacing with customers, intermediaries and sales and marketing. The risks of new innovative new products are significant but perhaps the long term risks to the long term future of a business of not taking the risk are greater.

If that elusive person with the creative vision and the market knowledge can be found they should be backed, rewarded appropriately, and left in the position they can deliver the most value.

4 routes to increased B2B sales

It is all too easy for any B2B business looking for increased sales to opt for the short term fix of hiring new (or replacing underperforming) sales resource. Sales people with an existing potential customer contact base or from competitors are often seen as a low risk route to more B2B sales.

To be fair simply recruiting a sales person can sometimes work in the short term but to really achieve long term sales growth requires vision and the courage to see through that vision in the face of considerable risks. In this post we cover the four most common routes to increased B2B sales and consider the value and level of risk of each.

There are four main routes to increased sales over the medium to long term, they are:

  • Market penetration.
  • Market development.
  • Product development (upgrade/variant).
  • True new product development.

However, before setting out on any journey it is important to note your starting point, your destination (gap analysis) and a return route should you need it so it is important to have a solid strategy in place. Know your customer and have firm plans (and processes) in place to retain those customers.

Market Penetration

Market penetration strategies are based on delivering existing products to existing market segments. They are therefore primarily based on taking competitor market share and/or increasing the quantity, mix or value of product taken by existing customers      

This approach is by far the most common and explains the ‘new salesman’ approach outlined above. The dynamics are well understood and customers and their preferred products well documented. There is also usually an intimate understanding of the competition, their strengths and weaknesses and their key accounts.

There are limits to this approach. For existing customers to take more their business will need to be going well and that is not something that can be controlled. Opportunities may arise if a competitor drops the ball in a key account but in general they are not going to give ground without a significant fight. Concentrating on market penetration leads to a ‘me too’ approach that can only impact on price and margin in the medium to long term.

Market Development

Market development takes existing products to new market segments or converts current non users of the product or service to customers. A strategic approach is required to identify the best segments to attack but once in place market development usually delivers higher sales growth than the market penetration approach.

The challenge is to gain a foothold in new market segments probably against entrenched competition. Hiring those with specific expertise of the segment may be a short term (but expensive) solution but in general an awareness and credibility building campaign will be required before any real results materialise.

Product Development

Product development can be a route to sales growth. It may be a new market segment will require a variation of an existing product. Market niches may be identified that need particular products or variants. A classic example in the electronic component marketplace is taking a standard product and protecting it, screening it and qualifying it for use in extreme environments like the oil and gas industry.

The product development route, if implemented correctly, can reduce competition, increase sales and increase margins but a robust approach to market analysis and planning is required. Investment in product development will be required with that comes an element of risk. Combined with the market penetration and market development approaches outlined above it may be sufficient to deliver the required growth but if a step change is required then only a true new product development process can deliver.

True New Product Development

A true new product development is not simply a development of an existing product – it is something entirely new to the marketplace. However, it is not that easy, look around in any marketplace and there are not many products that are actually disruptive and really new and innovative.

Finding these new products is far from easy. A logical approach may seem to be ask existing customers but as Henry Ford said ‘If I had asked people what they wanted they would have said a faster horse‘. The product idea therefore often needs to come from within and those with the appropriate vision are few and far between.

If a new product concept can be identified the problems do not end there. Bringing a true new product to market carries significant financial risk but, if successful, the rewards can be substantially higher than those available from the other three strategies combined.

Should you wish to discuss growth plans for your business and how they may be achieved please call on 01670 513378. We cover the North East of England including Tyne and Wear, Durham and Northumberland.

Why All The Hype About Branding? – A Voice From The Wilderness

As a professional B2B marketer I get the value of branding but I also believe all the hype surrounding it is doing serious damage to the marketing profession. Taking a straw poll of both business owners and the public in general I believe would show most believe marketing is advertising or branding and that is a problem.

I am not saying branding does not have a value but to give an example from our ancient ancestors. Art flourished in the ancient Greek, Roman and Egyptian societies but less so in others. Why? Because in those societies food was plentiful and the society was well organised and structured. My point is this – if your prime focus is having enough to eat in the coming days and weeks and defence of your family you are not going to worry too much about your artistic side. Now swap branding for art and food for orders and perhaps you get my point.

In my humble opinion marketing prime purpose is to generate high quality and relevant leads for sales to close – that is it. That may not appeal to those with a creative side or have aspirations for marketing to be at the centre of every business but I am afraid it is time to wake up to the reality. If marketing can only talk brand it will have very little relevance to the wider business community.

Perhaps the problem starts at the very top. The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) has a major programme underway (#Marketing2025) to try and make itself more relevant. As a member of the CIM since the early 1990’s and a Chartered Marketer I read the recent article by the CIM Chief Executive on the subject in the CIM magazine.

Remember, this article was about making the CIM more relevant but in the entire (lengthy) article ROI was mentioned once and lead generation not at all. The word Brand was repeated many times and it may well be important to larger organisations but if the CIM wants to be relevant it needs to talk to the majority of businesses (and marketers).

Let me explain, I have spent over 25 years in the small business (from start-ups to businesses with £25m turnover) environment. As over 95% of the 4.9m businesses in the UK employ up to 9 people and 99% employ less than 250 people in (figures from 2013) then I guess I am not alone. Yet, all the CIM focus is on branding that is probably only a prime focus for perhaps <5% of the total business population.

In the SME world everything has to deliver a ROI. Business owners may get the value of authority to their business but not brand. It may be argued brand is at the central to any business but good luck selling that concept to SME’s. If I had any influence at the CIM (which I don’t) I would minimise the use of that word.

To use another example there is a phrase in football that goes ‘earn the right to play ‘. For the uninitiated it means that the creative players in a team (the ball players and goal scorers) don’t generally get a chance to have a major influence on a match until the early physical battles have been won. They may not like it but in the early stages of a game the quality players have to put in a shift running, tackling and closing down with the rest of the team.

Marketing may translate to the creative players but to really influence and be at the centre of a business they need to get down and dirty with the rest, do their share, get out there and understand customers and sales issues. Only then do they have they earned the right to play. Only then can marketing claim its rightful place at the centre of business and provide real value with strategic focus, vision and yes – brand. However, forget that prime purpose of lead generation and all that good work will be undone in an instant.

Current Best B2B Marketing Practice

Best B2B marketing and business development practice has changed dramatically in recent years driven, primarily, by increasing resistance to aggressive push marketing techniques and prospects access to all the information they could ever need via the internet

The Decline In B2B Outbound Marketing

When I started in B2B marketing over 20 years ago it was entirely push based. It was based on telemarketing, advertising, press releases, exhibitions and print / direct mail. More recently aggressive Email marketing was introduced to the mix to push the sales message.

With the growth of the internet, social media and all sorts of comparison and review sites the population in general have become conditioned to search out the information they need online before making a purchasing decision. Bad telemarketing and EMail practice in the B2C world have built a resistance to these techniques that spills over into the business world.

The Alternative – B2B Inbound Marketing

Current best practice in B2B marketing is pull rather than push based. It is based on deliveringbest practice B2B inbound marketing information to the point decision makers may find it. The information must be valuable, engaging, build credibility and gently guide the decision maker along a path towards the offering of a particular business.

The information (content) may be white papers, technical notes, how to guides, industry comment / trends, comparisons, regulatory issues of interest and much more. Some content may be created from scratch but as many businesses sit on a large amount of information that could be updated / amended to benefit customers and prospects this can simplify the task.

Inbound Marketing Is Resource Intensive

The problem with inbound Marketing are the resources required to deliver it successfully. With outbound marketing skills in a small number of disciplines may suffice but the same is not true of inbound. Today, a department (or person) implementing best inbound practice requires a wide range of skills in content creation, website design and build, blogging, social media and other delivery channels and SEO.

The time taken to build new content and/or re-build existing content should not be underestimated. The content creation process never stops and is a constant drain on resources.

A Inbound Marketing Plan Is Essential

If resources are not to be wasted a plan is essential. It is vitally important to analyze the market, carefully select market segments, build personas and create content specific to those segments.

With the basics in place it is then important to build a content delivery plan and to stick to that plan moving forward. Results should not be expected overnight, in fact to expect any meaningful results within 3 months of starting the process is wishful thinking.


Content marketing does not deliver results as fast as traditional push techniques and it does require significant resource to implement successfully but the resulting quantity and quality of sales leads tends to exceed that of push marketing.

The impact of push marketing then is decreasing with pull marketing the new focus. However, although pull marketing delivers more consistent and higher quality sales leads, it takes longer to deliver results and is resource intensive. Therefore push marketing techniques still have a place and can be selectively combined with pull techniques to deliver the best overall result.

B2B Market Penetration Strategies

In B2B markets growth tends to be based on either new product introduction or attacking new markets. In this post we cover how to execute a new market penetration strategy with the aid of a case study.

Successful new market penetration depends primarily on the nature of the market and the existing competition. It is notoriously difficult to obtain any foothold in static markets but a growing market does offer some opportunities. Entrenched competition will often be at the top of the experience curve having learned from their mistakes over many years, whereas any new entrant must accept that it will take time to generate any meaningful results and gain traction.

Potential Marketing Strategies to Employ

Two potential, relatively low risk strategies, to employ are to only attack a small market niche and once established grow out from there and/or to collaborate (to the benefit of both parties) in some way with an intermediary with an existing foothold in the target market

Perhaps the greatest opportunity exists if the target market has an entrenched competitor that is either complacent or in a weak (financial, mismanagement, loss of key people) position. If a solid strategy can be put in place to deliver the highest levels of service at competitive pricing then a market presence may be established in a relatively short timescale by stealing market share
New market analysis.
If attacking a new market is to succeed detailed market research is vital. An experienced and flexible sales and marketing team is also required and in many organisations this can be a real issue. The best sales teams tend to be focussed on the immediate future and marketing teams are often competent in their own market but stretched when it comes to addressing something new.

New Market Penetration – A Case Study

What follows is based on a two real businesses operating in a high technology B2B market. The market exhibited slow growth but did offer high margins. To preserve confidentiality the company names and details of the precise market have been excluded.

A U.K based business had built a strong presence in the marketplace growing from a small start up to a business with turnover exceeding £20m. The business owner was a technologist focussed on longer term market and product development who, after the first few years of growth, had employed a managing director to run the business on a day to day basis.

The business was the dominant player in its market niche but was starting to lose focus for a wide variety of reasons. Top level management was not exceptional and this was starting to be reflected in a slow decline in levels of customer service. The new product development process tended to be based on small revisions to existing concepts rather than any real product innovation.

The new entrant was USA based but already had some exposure to the market as they were a minor supplier to the target customer base with a different product range. They chose a niche distributor to take on the UK based business, offering them excellent support and training and higher margins on each sale than they could expect from their other lines. The chosen distributor had excellent relationships with the target customer base.

The new entrant copied and manufactured a limited range of the most successful product lines of the UK business without customer orders at a considerable cost and focussed their efforts on specific projects. With a higher level of quality, excellent delivery, good customer service and investment in low pricing (in the short term) they were able to take initial orders on a limited range of contracts.

The U.K business due to a mixture of complacency and poor management failed to identify the long term threat of the new entrant dismissing the initial level of their orders as insignificant. They failed to recognise the importance of the foothold secured by the new entrant and their ability to capitalise and build upon initial relationships.

Five years later with its business destroyed by a combination of mismanagement (and resulting financial pressures), bad luck and a loss of a major part of its business to the new entrant what remained of the U.K. business was sold to a competitor for a minimal sum. The new entrant built on their initial success by leveraging the relationships established to introduce a number of new product ranges.

Although blessed with excellent support from senior management and the backup of operations the drive behind the new entrant entry into the marketplace and their market penetration strategy was effectively one individual who spotted the opportunity and drove it through.

The new entrant executed a market penetration strategy perfectly. They identified a weak competitor and an excellent intermediary. They started with a niche, gained a foothold and built from there and they had a marketing and sales team (actually just one person initially) able to spot an opportunity and to build and execute a plan.

The amount of research carried out by the new entrant is unknown but it is not thought to have been extensive. This was a major risk given the amount of financial and other resources allocated to the project but in this case the strategy did pay off.

The Product Innovation Process

It’s a hard truth but without a product innovation process most manufacturing companies are destined to fail. In this post we discuss some tools and techniques to develop an innovative culture and the process of developing and screening new product ideas.

As technology moves forward, as new and innovative solutions enter the market, as economic conditions change businesses that fail to innovate to remain relevant in a changing market lose market share. Some markets may change very slowly but ultimately the end result remains the same

Innovation can take many forms. Myers and Marquis (1969) defined it as ‘not a singleOutput from the product innovation process action but a total process of interrelated sub processes. It is not just the conception of a new idea, nor the invention of a new device, nor the development of a new market. The process is all these things acting in an integrated fashion.’ In this post we deal specifically with product innovation

Any innovation process needs support from the top of the organisation, it needs resources and it must fit within the overall strategic framework of the business. A mistake made by many organisations is a failure to allow the process time to run its course without interference or mismanagement.

Generating New Product Ideas

Every product innovation process needs to start with a basic framework linked to the business strategy. A combination of Ansoff matrix, the value chain and competitive analysis tools can deliver an understanding of where the business is now and identify opportunities for growth that may be developed further utilising the techniques outlined below:

  • Brainstorming
  • Customer Input
  • Suggestion Box

Given a basic framework the product innovation process often starts with a brainstorming type activity. It is important that this is inclusive and not judgemental in any way if it is to be of value. Ideas that come out of this process may be rough and poorly defined but are the starting point for further work.

Customer ideas are also useful although our own experience shows customers are surprisingly poor at defining the products / services that may satisfy their future needs. Often the discussion turns to products offered by the competition today rather than future needs. Although the sales department may be the closest to the customer and have the best relationship they are not always the best at extracting the required information. Sales tend to be focussed on the next 6 – 12 months and achieving the sales forecast (rightly so) rather than what may help the business grow in future.

As brainstorming tends to be an invitational process and include mainly senior staff suggestion boxes (with incentives) can be useful as many good ideas can come from manufacturing operatives and junior staff who may be unwilling to raise their ideas in an open forum.

Idea Screening And Research

With a number of roughly defined product ideas in place it is important to develop a short but robust top level screening process to weed out those ideas that do not fit with business strategy. The process should not screen out ideas simply because they appear too difficult or do not fit with current manufacturing capability only those that clearly do not fit with the business long term objectives

Design of the top level (and subsequent) screening processes is essential as many good and valid ideas can be discounted simply because of a screening process that has not been thought through in appropriate detail and designed appropriately.

With several ideas in place a top level research process may then be undertaken to assess the market potential for the product and competition as an input to the second level screening process. A rough assessment should be made at this point of the investment required to take the product forward.

The process then repeats, screening out products that do not match the required criteria followed by more detailed market research before a final fine screening process which should result in only the best ideas moving forward to initial manufacturing trials, mock ups, prototypes and market sampling.

The importance of a product innovation may be clear but defining a building a process that delivers sound new product ideas that are worth further investment can be difficult. The key issues are adequate resourcing of the process, robust screening procedures and adequate market research with inclusion of all sources that may make a valuable input.

Addressing The Complexity Of B2B Marketing

There are many issues that add to the complexity of B2B marketing including the project driven nature of many B2B markets and servicing the needs of a large decision making team. This post offers some guidance on how these challenges may be addressed.

There are a number of reasons why B2B marketing is much more complex and challenging than B2C including.

  • Purchasing decisions made by a group rather than a single person.
  • Long buying cycles requiring ongoing delivery of appropriate information.
  • Project driven – changes and delays in the final project causing design changes, delays, objections and more competition.
  • Lower number of prospects increases the importance of each lead.
  • Relationships, at many different levels within a potential customer, are key. The more people in the decision making team the more chance of a poor relationship with one or more of those decision makers.
  • Product complexity leads to more objections and more information requests.

The traditional methods of dealing with this complexity were to have sales people able to identify the key decision makers and develop strong ongoing relationships with each of them. The sales process involved understanding needs, delivering information and dealing with objections on an ongoing basis until an opportunity arose to close the sale.

In many B2B organisations the same set of sales people were responsible for generating leads (with or without a marketing department) as were responsible for developing the sales process as discussed above. A more effective operation was based on splitting sales responsibilities between those responsible for generating leads, qualifying leads and establishing initial relationships (with the help of marketing) and those responsible for developing a sale to close.

Push marketing was used to promote a business and its products or services. Generally this involved delivering promotional messages on what a business offered, what made it different and why customers should buy via channels such as advertising, direct mail and telemarketing. Today, various studies show that push channels are less and less effective leading to a rise in the popularity of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is based on pull rather than push and, when delivered correctly, is a perfect process to address customer information requirements at various points in the sales process (see list of B2B marketing challenges above). Content marketing represents a large part of the inbound marketing process and is based on delivering useful, engaging, information to prospects via the most appropriate channel and at the correct point in the sales process.

Unlike push marketing the information delivered is not promotional in any way but simply services the information requirements of various members of the decision making team at appropriate points in the sales process. How this non promotional information material may be converted to sales opportunities will be the subject for a future post.

Content marketing then services the information needs of a diverse group of decision makers; it raises the credibility of the potential supplier and keeps them front of mind. Content may be delivered over an extended sales process and address objections and product complexity issues before they arise. Ongoing delivery of appropriate information also maintains relationships over the long term, reduces the cost and improves the effectiveness of the sales process. Today, Personal relationships are still of importance but are most effective when combined with an inbound marketing process.

The project driven nature of many B2B markets adds further complexity. It is all too easy to be well placed with one customer only to find that another potential customer wins the contract and all the hard work is wasted. Often many sub contractors (each a potential customer) bid for a single major project. It is important to cover each of these potential customers (sub contractors) and their decision making teams to avoid missed opportunities and wasted resources. A project tracking system, linked into the content marketing and sales process is one solution. How these may be constructed will be covered in a future post.

To be successful in B2B markets requires a well structured sales organisation and effective marketing. A specific type of marketer is required with industry knowledge, long term experience of the traditional B2B marketing process and knowledge of how to integrate what is best from the traditional approach with the latest best practice inbound marketing techniques.

Should you want to know more about the project tracking process then please get in touch.