Does “generational marketing” really matter in the B-to-B world?

For marketers working in certain industries, an interesting question is to what degree generational “dynamics” enter into the B-to-B buying decision-making process.

Traditionally, B-to-B market segmentation has been done along the lines of the size of the target company, its industry, where the company’s headquarters and offices are located, plus the job function or title of the most important audience targets within these other selection criteria.

By contrast, something like generational segmenting was deemed a far less significant factor in the B-to-B world.

But according to marketing and copywriting guru Bob Bly, things have changed with the growing importance of the millennial generation in B-to-B companies.

These are the people working in industrial/commercial enterprises who were born between 1980 and 2000, which places them roughly between the ages of 20 and 40 right now.

There are a lot of them. In fact, Google reports that there are more millennial-generation B-to-B buyers than any other single age group; they make up more than 45% of the overall employee base at these companies.

Even more significantly, one third of millennials working inside B-to-B firms represent the sole decision-makers for their company’s B-to-B purchases, while nearly three-fourths are involved in purchase decision-making or influencing to some degree.

But even with these shifts in employee makeup, is it really true that millennials in the B-to-B world go about evaluating and purchasing goods and services all that differently from their older counterparts?

Well, consider these common characteristics of millennials which set them apart:

  • Millennials consider relationships to be more important than the organization itself.
  • Millennials want to have a say in how work gets done.
  • Millennials value open, authentic and real-time information.

This last point in particular goes a long way towards explaining the rise in content marketing and why those types of promotional initiatives are often more effective than traditional advertising.

On the other hand … don’t let millennials’ stated preferences for text messaging over e-mail communications lead you down the wrong path. E-mail marketing continues to deliver one of the highest ROIs of any MarComm tactic – and it’s often the highest by a long stretch.

Underscoring this point, last year the Data & Marketing Association [aka Direct Marketing Association] published the results of a comparative analysis showing that e-mail marketing ROI outstripped social media and search engine marketing (SEM) ROI by a factor of 4-to-1.

So … it’s smart to be continually cognizant of changing trends and preferences. But never forget the famous French saying: Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Employee churn rates underscore the volatile nature of e-mail contact databases.

Most marketers are well-familiar with the challenges of e-mail list maintenance. In the business-to-business world in particular, e-mail databases can become pretty stale pretty quickly, due to the horizontal and vertical movement of employees inside organizations as well as jumping to other companies.

Whether they’re moving up or out, often they’re no longer good prospects.

Based on my experience, my personal rule of thumb has been that approximately one-fifth of any given list of B-to-B names will “churn” within a 12-month period, meaning that any such contact database will rapidly lose its effectiveness unless assiduously maintained.

And now we have a new report from Salesforce Research that confirms this basic rule of thumb.

Salesforce looked to LinkedIn, exploring this social platform’s data from more than 7 million records over a 48-month period to gauge the lifecycle of the typical “persona.”

The research considered not only changes that result in the deactivation of an e-mail address, but also circumstances where individuals may keep the same e-mail address but still should be removed as a target because a horizontal or vertical change within the same organization places them in a different employee function.

What the new research found was that the average annual B-to-B churn rate for such “personas” is ~17%.

That figure turns out to be fairly close to my basic rule of thumb based on years of observing not only e-mail contact databases, but also the postal mail databases we’ve worked with in my company or with our clients.

Beyond the broad average, there are some small but meaningful differences in the B-to-B churn rate depending on the product focus and on the type of employee function.

In high-tech fields, the average annual churn rate is higher than the average. And it’s across the board, too:  23% churn in marketing … 20% in sales and in HR personnel … 19% in IT, and 18% in finance.

People employed in the retail and consumer products industries also clock in at or higher than the overall churn average, but the annual churn rate is a tad lower in the medical and transportation fields.

Another interesting finding from the Salesforce evaluation is that annual churn rates are somewhat lower than the average for personnel at director levels and higher in companies (around 15%). For managers, the churn rate matches the overall average, while “worker bees” have a higher churn rate averaging around 20%.

Considering the critical importance of e-mail marketing efforts in the B-to-B environment, Salesforce’s finding that it takes only 4.2 years for an e-mail database to churn completely means that the value of these marketing assets will decline dramatically unless cultivated and maintained on an ongoing basis.

The volatile nature of e-mail contact databases also helps explain why so many companies have adopted a multi-channel approach to marketing, including interacting on social media platforms. Yes, those platforms do have their place in the B-to-B world …

The full report of the Salesforce findings can be downloaded here.

If there’s a drumbeat among B-to-B marketing professionals, it’s grousing about cross-channel marketing attribution.

If there’s one common complaint among business-to-business marketing professionals, it’s about how difficult it is to measure and attribute the results of their campaigns across marketing channels.

Now, a new survey of marketing professionals conducted Demand Gen (sponsored by marketing forecasting firm BrightFunnel) shows that nothing has particularly changed in recent times.

The survey sample isn’t large (around 200 respondents), but the findings are quite clear.  Only around 4 in 10 of the respondents believe that they can measure marketing pipeline influences. As to why this is the case, the following issues were cited most often:

  • Inability to measure and track activity between buyer stages: ~51% of respondents
  • The data is a mess: ~42%
  • Lack of good reporting: ~42%
  • Not sure which key performance indicators are the important ones to measure: ~15%

And in turn, a lack of resources was cited by nearly half of the respondents as to why they face the problems above and can’t seem to tackle them properly.

As for how B-to-B marketers are attempting to track and report their campaign results these days, it’s the usual practices we’ve been working with for a decade or more:

  • Tracking web traffic: ~95%
  • E-mail open/clickthrough rates: ~94%
  • Contact acquisition and web query forms completed: ~86%
  • Organic search results: ~77%
  • Paid search results: ~76%
  • Social media engagements/shares: ~60%

None of these hit the bullseye when it comes to marketing attribution, and that’s what makes it particularly difficult to find out what marketers really want to know:

  • Marketing ROI by channel
  • Cross-channel engagement
  • Customer lifetime value

It seems that a lot of this remains wait-and-wish-for for many B-to-B marketers …

The full report from Demand Gen, which contains additional research data, is available to download here.

B-to-B content marketers: Not exactly a confident bunch.

In the world of business-to-business marketing, all that really matters is producing a constant flow of quality sales leads.  According to Clickback CEO Kyle Tkachuk, three-fourths of B-to-B marketers cite their most significant objective as lead generation.  Pretty much everything else pales in significance.

This is why content marketing is such an important aspect of commercial marketing campaigns.  Customers in the commercial world are always on the lookout for information and insights to help them solve the variety of challenges they face on the manufacturing line, in their product development, quality assurance, customer service and any number of other critical functions.

Suppliers and brands that offer a steady diet of valuable and actionable information are often the ones that end up on a customer’s “short-list” of suppliers when the need to make a purchase finally rolls around.

Thus, the role of content marketers continues to grow – along with the pressures on them to deliver high-quality, targeted leads to their sales forces.

The problem is … a large number of content marketers aren’t all that confident about the effectiveness of their campaigns.

It’s a key takeaway finding from a survey conducted for content marketing software provider SnapApp by research firm Demand Gen.  The survey was conducted during the summer and fall of 2016 and published recently in SnapApp’s Campaign Confidence Gap report.

The survey revealed that more than 80% of the content marketers queried reported being just “somewhat” or “not very” confident regarding the effectiveness of their campaigns.

Among the concerns voiced by these content marketers is that the B-to-B audience is becoming less enamored of white papers and other static, lead-gated PDF documents to generate leads.

And yet, those are precisely the vehicles that continue to be used most often used to deliver informational content.

According to the survey respondents, B-to-B customers not only expect to be given content that is relevant, they’re also less tolerant of resources that fail to speak to their specific areas of interest.

For this reason, one-third of the content managers surveyed reported that they are struggling to come up with effective calls-to-action that capture attention, interest and action instead of being just “noise.”

The inevitable conclusion is that traditional B-to-B marketing strategies and similar “seller-centric” tactics have become stale for buyers.

Some content marketers are attempting to move beyond these conventional approaches and embrace more “content-enabled” campaigns that can address interest points based on a customer’s specific need and facilitate engagement accordingly.

Where such tactics have been attempted, content marketers report somewhat improved results, including more open-rate activity and an in increase in clickthrough rates.

However, the degree of improvement doesn’t appear to be all that impressive. Only about half of the survey respondents reported experiencing improved open rates.  Also, two-thirds reported experiencing an increase in clickthrough rates – but only by 5% or less.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping improvements.

But here’s the thing: Engagement levels with traditional “static” content marketing vehicles are likely to actually decline … so if content-enabled campaigns can arrest the drop-off and even notch improvements in audience engagement, that’s at least something.

Among the tactics content marketers consider for their creating more robust content-enabled campaigns are:

  • Video
  • Surveys
  • Interactive infographics
  • ROI calculators
  • Assessments/audits

The hope is that these and other tools will increase customer engagement, allow customers to “self-quality,” and generate better-quality leads that are a few steps closer to an actual sale.

If all goes well, these content-enabled campaigns will also collect data that helps sales personnel accelerate the entire process.

B-to-B Buyers: Who’s Engaging with What Content?

Different Types of ContentIn my work with manufacturing companies and other B-to-B firms, I’m often asked what type of informational content is the most worthwhile and valuable from a marketing standpoint and for attracting and converting customers.

The question is relevant for most companies because there are limits on marketing resources (both time and dollars), while the methods companies can use to communicate with their target audiences are far more extensive and varied than they were in the not-too-distant past.

The answer to the question about the best information content is always one of “degree” … because the most valuable piece of content for any single prospect or customer is the one that sparks him or her to buy.

And that one piece of critical content could be one of many things.

Helpfully, we now have a new survey that can help with a bit more quantification.  The research, which was conducted by content marketing firm Eccolo Media, surveyed technical buyers (engineers, managers and directors).

It’s a relatively small sample (fewer than 200 respondents), but the directional results are worth consideration.  I also think that the results can be applied to other B-to-B buyer types as well.

One finding that came as a bit of a surprise to me was that most buyers read just two to five pieces of content before making their decisions.

What kind of content do they consult most often?  Here’s what these respondents reported:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~57% consult this type of content
  • E-mail communiqués: ~52% consult
  • White papers: ~52%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~42%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~42%
  • Technical guides: ~35%
  • Custom magazines/publications: ~35%
  • Video content: ~35%
  • Social media content: ~34%
  • Webinars: ~34% 

As for which of these types of content are considered the most worthwhile and influential to buyers, the ranking is somewhat different:

  • Product brochures and data sheets: ~39% rate as highly influential content (top five resources)
  • White papers: ~33%
  • Case studies/success stories: ~31%
  • Technical guides: ~23%
  • Competitive vendor worksheets: ~22%
  • Videos:  ~17%
  • E-mail communiqués: ~15% 
  • Social media content:  ~14%
  • Custom magazines/publications:  ~14%

The Eccolo Media report draws this conclusion from its research:

“Marketers have been good at producing large volumes of content, but not quality content and not the right type of content … The more content we produce, the more likely it is to fail.”

One thing the research clearlyshows is that companies need to spend more effort in collecting and publishing customer case examples and success stories, because those appear to have a disproportionately higher degree of influence over potential buyers — if only they are available to consult.

More broadly, the types of content that are of greater value to buyers tend to be the ones that require more time and effort to prepare.  The adage that “success is 20% inspiration and 80% perspiration” appears to apply to marketing content development as well.

More summary findings from Eccolo Media’s 2015 B2B Technology Content Survey Report can be accessed here.

What are your thoughts as to the relative merits of different types of content?  Whether you’re a B-to-B marketer or a B-to-B buyer, please share your thoughts with other readers here.

B-to-B e-mail marketing: From sleepy to creepy?

Unwanted e-mails from businesses and brandsThe amount of information that companies know about the behavior of their customers has been growing, thanks to the “digital footprints” people leave all over the place when interacting with companies and brands via web surfing, e-mail and e-commerce.

Still, up until now, there’s been a polite dance wherein the companies don’t acknowledge the degree of that knowledge. Call it a sort of digital politeness.

But that seems to be changing, as the stakes have grown higher for engaging with customers via online, social and e-mail communications rather than traditional advertising.

Take Pitney Bowes in the B-to-B world, for example. In recent months, its marketing staff has sent out e-mail communiqués to their opt-in customers containing messages like, “We notice it’s been a while since you opened an email from us.”

That creepy little missive is as impertinent as it is likely false. Considering the wide swath of people who use the Microsoft Outlook e-mail platform – and many of those use preview panes and have set their default preferences to block images – in reality Pitney Bowes doesn’t actually know if its customers have been reading its e-mail messages or not.

It’s also unclear whether Pitney Bowes really wants its opt-in recipients to go away rather than just browbeating people into engaging with their e-mails more.

This has manifested itself in e-mail messages sent asking if customers are still interested in receiving e-mails so they can “continue receiving the latest from PB.” But despite this implicit threat to be dropped from Pitney Bowes’ e-mail database, ignoring those e-mails doesn’t seem to result in that actually happening.

Rather, it’s just a continuation of more borderline-creepy e-mails with messages chiding the recipient for potentially missing out on “valuable information about supplies, offers, discounts, new products and thought leadership pieces.”

Thought leadership pieces? The leaders of Pitney Bowes may think quite highly about their company and its “vaunted” position in industry … but self-describing itself as being the fount of industry-leading knowledge is a surefire way to get laughed out of town.

Just like the obnoxious teacher’s pet in school or the crashing bore at a cocktail party, no one enjoys interacting with a know-it-all who just can’t wait to corner you and tell you all about his or her latest feats of accomplishment.

In a world where most businesses are spending more effort than ever trying to collect e-mail addresses for ongoing engagement with customers and prospects, here’s a little reminder to them: Try disseminating content that is actually of value to people … which is what will get them to engage with you.

More often than not, that content won’t be about their products and services.

Sometimes “permission slips” aren’t enough when it comes to e-mail deliverability.

Bounced-emails-undelivered-emailsIn case you’ve been wondering how much marketing e-mail actually reaches its intended targets, a recently released benchmark report from e-mail scoring and certification services provider Return Path has some answers. It finds that only about 75% of “permissioned” e-mails are actually making their way through.

That means one in every four e-mails are either hitting a spam or junk folder, or are being blocked by ISP-level filtering.

The report was based on analysis of data from Return Path’s Mailbox Monitor service, which tracks the delivery, filtering and blocking rates for more than 600,000 e-mail campaigns.

Interestingly, the delivery stats for business-to-business marketing e-mail aren’t much lower than for business-to-consumer e-mail. This was considered somewhat surprising because of company-level filtering systems like Postini, MessageLabs and Symantec that are installed at many large corporations. Presumably, they do a more thorough job of filtering e-correspondence.

The Return Path report also included a few cautionary notes for marketers:

 Many e-mailers believe that whatever gets deployed and doesn’t bounce must be reaching inboxes. But senders are notified only when the e-mail is a hard bounce – not if it has ended up in a spam or junk folder.

 Relying on rented e-mail files in the B-to-B world can be dangerous, as those files can be riddled with spam traps. Commercial entities are always on the search for new prospects and leads … but merging a good in-house list with a few of these bad boy rental lists can result in compromising the entire database.

 In the consumer sector, many marketers aren’t paying close enough attention to inbox placement rates. For example, data about Gmail shows that while many marketers are ostensibly achieving a 90%+ deliverability rate, fewer than one in five of those emails are actually being directed to the “priority” inboxes within Gmail as designated by the recipients. And you can bet that precious few of the other ~80% are getting any sort of attention at all from consumers.

More details about the Return Path report can be found here – well-worth checking out.