Marketing Automation Agencies: How To Hire The Right Agency

Marketing Automation tools are so powerful they can help you efficiently overload your sales team, spam your market, publish lots of content no one will read, and then get accurate analytics on how your marketing investment has been wasted.  If you think this might be happening don’t feel alone.

B2B strategy and execution is just starting to catch up to the potential of the software.  The mix of skills and expertise needed to create success crosses different marketing disciplines from content, to web development, to campaign planning, to email marketing, to analytics and more.

This post reviews the different available service options, what to look for, and how to identify what you really need. (more…)

B2B Marketing Content: website, sales collateral, email, blog, and more

This resource looks at how to plan B2B marketing content for your website, sales collateral, nurturing emails, blog, and social media.

Today’s B2B Marketing Best Practices include many powerful tools to help you acquire, nurture, profile and convert new customers. Marketing automation, lead nurturing, digital sales collateral, and social media can acquire and convert more customers for your business.

They’re all fueled with content.  Of course, the better your content the harder they work. Yet we often hear clients say things like:

“The content on our website is out of date but I’m not sure what to put on it.” “We need to update our sales collateral and I can’t find the time.” “We need a new case study and white paper but I’m having trouble choosing a topic.” “I started blogging but stopped after a few weeks after I ran out of ideas for posts.”

There’s more: “Where do we get content for our marketing automation, email marketing, or lead nurturing programs?” “I am not sure that Social Media like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube or SlideShare are worth the time and effort. How do I know if they’re working?” (more…)

B2B Lead Generation Best Practices: Reaching More Customers

The BrainRider blog often gets inbound searches looking for information on reaching more B2B customers, lead generation best practices, how to build awareness, get more customers, fill my funnel, create more customer demand.

These searches are the practical evidence of major changes in the B2B marketing mix. (see this post more data on this trend)

The truth is that B2B marketing and selling is quickly evolving. Across industries, the marketing and selling context has changed. Buyers are behaving differently, and the work required to make a sale is becoming more difficult. While tools like the web, search, social media, marketing automation and CRM solutions are driving much of this change the trend is not just about technology. (more…)

B2B Marketing: How To Get More Customers Using Social Media

Research from ITSMA and others has been highlighting how the B2B buying process is changing.  For example over 75% of tech buyers are using Social Media like LinkedIn and blogs as part of the buying process and buyers are making use of search tools like Google which often deliver Social Media results.

A recent example from Booze & Company’s B2B Marketing Survey 2010 highlights how B2B marketers are changing their marketing mix to follow this trend.

Growth of B2B Marketing Spend Shifting to Social Media and Digital

The benefits of using social media in your B2B marketing mix

While there is lots of buzz about Social Media and B2B the practical benefits of a marketing mix that includes Social Media are:

  • Search Engine Optimization
  • More targeted market reach using your network
  • More qualified inbound traffic

And when combined with a best practice mix of content, programs and pipeline marketing tools like Pardot’s Prospect Insight, Social Media can capture more prospects and deliver more visibility into your pipeline.

Along with these practical benefits, softer benefits like anecdotal market insight, corporate openness, customer engagement, and hearing what your customers are saying can also be valuable but BrainRider starts by focusing on how to use Social Media to attract and convert more customers.

The challenges in using Social Media for B2B

But social media also has some significant challenges.  We often work with mid-market companies who compete based on specialized knowledge or expertise–not price. That implies a longer buying cycle, a very targeted market and a need to focus their marketing resources.  For these client’s Social Media can be a challenge because of:

  • The large number of options and platforms
  • The demand for marketing content
  • The investment needed to manage a real-time environment
  • A lack of integration with their pipeline and sales process

However with the right approach these challenges can be managed and you can access the benefits of using Social Media as part of your marketing mix.

A best practice approach: Outposts and Anchors

Our recommendation is a low-hanging fruit approach designed to expand your reach and presence while managing your investment and channelling all your leads into your pipeline.  This B2B specific approach is based on Chris Brogan’s thinking about Social Media outposts and anchors but it has been tailored to fit the needs of our clients.

First, think of your Social Media presence as a series of marketing “outposts” setup in channels where your potential buyers are active and where search engines index for results.  This is a version of the age old recommendation to go where your customers are.

B2B Social Media strategy, LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogging, RSS

Use these outposts to share content designed to connect with prospects at each stage of their decision-making process.  This content can be re-used in multiple formats, types and outposts but it should be focused on what your customers want to know and your value proposition.  And because many Social Media channels can syndicate their content through feeds you can often efficiently post and cross-reference your content across multiple outposts automatically.   This is a smart way to efficiently reduce the time it takes to expand your Social Media presence.

We often recommend starting with a combination of Twitter, LinkedIn, SlideShare, and blogging.  These four social media channels are low hanging opportunities for most companies and they work well together.  But ask your customers what they are using and experiment with new channels as they get on your radar.  But don’t forget in each of these cases, the purpose of these outposts is to quickly connect with your prospects using light content and direct them into your pipeline by using an anchor offering more valuable content.

(To get you started here is a quick post on how to setup your LinkedIn profile to act as an outpost.)

Next create an “anchor” on your own website (BrainRider’s anchor is our .  Your anchor should be designed to help your prospects quickly find more interesting thinking, knowledge, and expertise as well as to encourage them to easily opt-into for access to even more content.   And because they are now on your website, you can use digital analytics and marketing automation tools to track a specific prospect’s interest in a subject area and nurture them through the decision process with additional relevant content.  Click here for some thoughts on nurturing best practice.

As more and more research is showing, Social Media can be an important part of your marketing mix, I hope this post and the outpost and anchor approach is helpful in getting you get started.  For more information or to discuss your specific needs please feel free to contact us.

For more insight on Social Media, B2B Marketing, and the Booz & Company research Courtney Wiley, Director of Digital Marketing over at INgage Networks has a terrific blog post looking at this trend and she leverages her own practical knowledge to share 7 great tips on what you can do for your own marketing efforts.

Or check out our resource center.

B2B Pipeline Marketing: 5 Questions Worth Asking About Your Pipeline

  1. What do buyers and customers find when they search for you?
  2. How many qualified leads visited your website last month and who were they?
  3. How many hand-raisers (ie buyers who are looking for information) are you connecting with and funnelling into your pipeline?
  4. What do your customers want to know at each stage of their decision proces and can they easily get that information from you?
  5. Which marketing tools are helping to nurture your leads and move them through your pipeline?

Please feel free to share this post if you think it is helpful or comment with missing questions, challenges, or examples.

And please check out our knowledge center for free B2B resources on how to optimize your pipeline.



“sharing what we know is what we do”

B2B Marketing Content: 3 categories of high-yield marketing content that target different stages in the B2B decision process

How to simplify the process of creating better content for your B2B marketing program.

Step 1: understand what your customer wants to know

Step 2: build a content plan that maps what your customer wants to know to your marketing and sales priorities

Step 3: focus what you know into marketing content that targets different stages in your customers decision process

3 categories of high-yield marketing content that targets different stages in the decision process

1. What your customer wants to know about your brand and offer.

This content already exists in most B2B marketing programs and just needs a little polish to get it to working.  It is often most relevant towards the end of the decision cycle as a customer is evaluating alternatives and making a final decision.  Click here for examples of high-yield brand and offer content.

2. What your customer wants to know about what you know.

Often buried deep inside your organization this content is really about why your customers work with you.  It is your expertise, your knowledge, what you know how to do for your customers.
How to understand and implement what you do.
How to add value to your customers’ business.  Or how to take away their pain.
How to define what they really need and then how best to make it happen.
What works and what doesn’t.
What is new and what is out of date.
Where the market is going and how to build competitive advantage.

This content is often most relevant in the early stages of the decision process for example when a customer is defining their requirements and researching solution alternatives.  Click here for examples of high-yield what your customer wants to know about what you know content.

3. Quick-hit updates about what is going on.

This category of content actually fits between the first two because it can include what your customer wants to know about your brand and offer or what they want to know about what you know.   But it is lighter and more conversational in style.  Think of it as the pop culture content of your industry.  Content that quickly catches your eye and is relevant for its news or update value.  It often directs you to deeper content resources but does not take much investment to discover, understand, or consume.  It can be relevant to any-stage of the decision process depending on its theme. Click here for examples of high-yield quick-hit update content.

Next Steps: Assess your own marketing content

Do a quick audit of your marketing content to identify which stages in the decision process you are targeting.  And where you have gaps.  And then try our content planning tool to help you fill in those gaps and get more customers.  And of course contact us if you have any questions or what to see these tools in action.

Finally don’t forget this terrific advice from Hubspot (we are huge fans!):

“match the way you market what you sell with the way your prospects learn about and decide to buy what you sell”

Please share this post if you think it is helpful and please comment with your own thinking, challenges, or examples.

Inbound & Outbound Marketing Strategy – the Revolving Door

Don’t get your knickers in a knot about inbound and outbound marketing strategy.  The ‘revolving door’ metaphor isn’t suggesting that your prospects and customers will be coming and going.  It is a nod to the types of messages and tactics you should be using as a B2B marketer these days.  Your department’s revolving door should be spinning off its hinges with simultaneous inbound and outbound marketing activities to acquire and nurture new prospects.

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’re either:

  • already doing this to some degree, and stand to benefit from some smart, easy-to-use, well-priced marketing automation tools that would make your inbound and outbound marketing life easier; or
  • in the shoes of a B2B researcher/buyer yourself, and trying to find a marketing automation tool that will help you with both your inbound AND outbound marketing strategy and plans; or
  • a vendor in the marketing automation space doing your homework. (A for effort!)

Point #1: the market for marketing automation is shifting, and the vendors need to catch up

There are so many new marketing automation tools out there tackling pieces of the puzzle, and none that I’ve found are doing a great job of the entire picture yet. Given the sheer number of new and old tools out there, I know I haven’t seen all of them.  But I *have* done months worth of searching, so the ones I haven’t found yet aren’t doing a very good job of making themselves easy to find.  (As the avid Twitter users might say, #fail)

What’s more, pricing seems to be all over the map, and I think the industry is in for a bit of a shake-up as small and medium businesses become  key target market segments for these vendors.  For some of the long-time (i.e. 3-5 years) leaders in the space, sky-high implementation fees and per-seat user fees have priced them out of the SME business as they have built their revenue model around the enterprise customer opportunity.

This post is not  an evaluation of marketing automation solution providers.  That’s what we pay the industry analysts for.  This is one B2B marketer’s perspective on where the solution vendors should be aiming their product roadmaps and pricing strategies based on the needs of the small and medium business segments that have massive appetite for smart, value-priced, on-demand marketing automation tools.

Point #2: inbound marketing and outbound marketing strategies necessarily co-exist in B2B

The first important recognition is that most small and medium businesses that are marketing and selling to other businesses need to do both inbound and outbound marketing strategy.  In fact, doing one without the other usually doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Outbound Marketing Strategy

Outbound marketing strategy is essential for any company that needs to nurture leads as a key marketing activity.  There are very few companies that could successfully make the case for every new lead being a sales-ready lead.  The nature of B2B buyers is such that they do a lot of research and analysis prior to making a purchase decision, and the buying cycle can be weeks or months.  So if you’re doing a good job of capturing leads, you should be capturing them at various stages of the buying cycle, and probably 70-80% of them aren’t ready (or interested) in talking to a salesperson.  That means your salespeople aren’t interested in talking to them either.  Outbound Marketing is also critical for companies that expand their footprint and revenue potential inside existing customers over time.  Mining your accounts for new selling opportunities is something that can be executed far more efficiently with well-planned marketing campaigns that identify new revenue opportunities for your account managers to pursue.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing strategy feeds the funnel.  If you aren’t generating and capturing enough new leads, you have nothing to nurture.  Today’s business reality is that B2B buyers aren’t traveling to trade shows like they used to, nor are they answering their phones as much.  They aren’t even reading very many unsolicited emails, because many don’t make it through the junk filters, and the ones that do still sink to the bottom of the inbox.  So the lead generation tactics of old are far less effective than they were even 5 years ago.  Most buyers and researchers are doing their homework online. Forrester recently reported that 91% of B2B buyers are using social media tools.   Inbound marketing tool vendor HubSpot recently published an interesting report on the The State of Inbound Marketing [PDF] that digs into the shift in marketing spend towards more inbound lead  generating programs.   B2B marketers are looking for ways to participate and add value in the B2B buyer’s research process.  What tools, content, and advice will strike a chord with B2B buyers who are considering your offering?  How do you get in front of them, into the information stores that they consider credible?  Then, when you do, how do you turn them into leads.  That’s where the new Inbound Marketing tools come in.

Point #3: the solution vendors already know the deal – you can see it in their offerings

I think the solution vendors know deep down that they need to offer both inbound and outbound capabilities, and there’s some evidence of this knowledge in their existing feature sets.

Leading inbound marketing automation solutions focus their features on SEO and SEM marketing activities with tools for keyword analysis, page ranking analysis, link analysis, and content optimization.  The good tools also include a lead capture capability that sits on top of a marketing database.  Once that’s included, it is a no brainer to also include on-site activity logging for prospects such as pageviews, form completions, search history, and more.  Secondarily, the inbound marketing focused solutions typically include some very (VERY) basic outbound functionality.  They may have a notification email blast feature so that prospects can ask to be notified by email of new content and resources that become available.  They may have a rudimentary broadcast email function that allows the administrator to send a generic, untargeted message to all prospects in the database.  So there is clearly recognition that the marketer using their system has the need to a) build a prospect database, and b) communicate with that prospect universe after Lead Capture and prior to passing to a Salesperson as an Opportunity.

On the other hand, leading outbound marketing automation solutions focus their features on profiling and segmenting prospects that are loaded into the marketing database, then running very targeted outbound campaigns to nurture, activate, or cross-sell/up-sell those prospects.  There is significant feature overlap of some outbound marketing solutions with inbound marketing solutions in the areas of lead capture and activity tracking.  Secondary features for these outbound marketing solutions consist of basic keyword analysis from your website data, sometimes integrated with a web analytics tool.  But there’s very little in the way of useful reports, metrics, or tools for identifying SEO and SEM opportunities, or for optimizing your existing and new content to win those SEO and SEM results.  It’s largely up to you to sift through other tools like web analytics and SEO analytics software to figure out for yourself how to get more new leads into the database so you can nurture them too.

Point #4: the agencies and service providers are further behind – you can see it in their offerings

There are a handful of service providers and agencies who have listened to the market and evolved their engagement models to better meet the needs of B2B marketers in search of expertise and outsourced manpower.  The big PR firms have started to roll out Social Media practices, some more productive than others.  Some boutique PR and marketing shops have beefed up their content creation capabilities and added social media and search engine expertise, but their industry-specific experience is limited to that of their client roster since it is expensive to bring in good content producers before you win the business.

Some of the marquee agencies seem to have more holistic offerings, but  they’re far too overpriced for most small and medium businesses.  Many of them won’t even pick up the phone for less than $100k/month over a minimum 1 year period.  They have tooled themselves to serve the big budget B2C clients who need to interact with millions of target customers who will each spend $1-$10,000, not the B2B clients looking to build relationships with hundreds or thousands of target customers who will each spend $10,000-$1,000,000.

However, the majority of agencies and service providers I’ve come across so far are still focused on one or two pieces of the puzzle and have yet to pull it all together in a meaningful way: SEO, content creation, interactive development and design, traditional PR, social media monitoring and participation, etc.

Point #5: this is what a B2B marketer wants to pay for

In a perfect world, I would be able to find all of these tools and services playing nicely together with a minimum number of vendor relationships to manage.  Perhaps one technology vendor and one service provider, but even more ideally would be a service provider who has done the homework on the tools and comes to me with an informed recommendation.

Inbound marketing components

  • keyword analysis to identify SEO and SEM opportunities and feed my content/activity/editorial strategy
  • content generation services of varying degrees of client participation (depending on available internal resources and expertise) to create multi-format content (blog posts, digital/physical documents, presentations, videos, podcasts, web seminars, etc.)
  • social media monitoring to identify opportunities for participation, engagement, and moderation

Outbound marketing strategy & components

  • lead scoring and segmentation based on both implicit and explicit criteria
  • automated campaign rules
  • email and direct mail fulfillment (with necessary whitelisting, deliverability measures, etc.)
  • full integration with popular CRM systems for bi-directional data transfer and reporting

Common components

  • progressive/conditional form fields for initial and subsequent visit lead data collection
  • multi-user content management tools for creating, storing, merchandising, distributing, sharing, and measuring interaction across all relevant content distribution channels (website, blog, social networks, media dissemintation networks, email campaigns, etc.)
  • marketing database that syncs with sales CRM
  • individual-level activity tracking (web visits, email actions, forwards/referrals, file downloads, etc.)
  • system-wide metrics and analytics so that measurement can span the full marketing and sales lifecycle
  • low/no up front costs — small and medium businesses test-then-invest
  • no long term commitment — retention should be value-driven, not contractually obligated

What have I missed?

Please add your thoughts in the Comments as to requirements and factors I have overlooked.  The sooner these tools and services become readily available, the sooner we can get back to focusing on marketing programs.