THE QUICK SUMMARY
Preview of contents—or if you don’t have time to read.
- Be Responsive, Not Reactive: Build a baseline of tried and true techniques, rather than throwing spaghetti at the wall and hoping it sticks. Gimmicks are popping up everywhere, each touting their importance. If you’re doing your best at the basics, you can ignore most of it. Don’t get distracted by the stoop sale on the way to the Broadway show.
- Segment for Better Sales Letters: Email is still incredibly effective in general, but most firms aren’t segmenting their mailing lists well enough to make THEIR emails effective. The email is only as good as the list segment it’s going to.
- Clean & Purge Lists for Better Delivery: Your emails only work if people SEE them. The best subject line in the world can’t get someone to open the message if the message hits the filter. Periodic cleaning & purging is essential. Once/year is great.
- Honor What People Actually Seach For: If search is still a primary way people find a vendor, and Google is involved in around 2/3 of all B2B transactions at ALL stages in the sales funnel, it makes sense to take into account EXACTLY what people are typing INTO search engines at each stage in a sale. Read: what they are typing, not what we WISH they’d type.
- For Godsake Teach Something! What people buy is a solution to their problem. Telling them we’re the solution isn’t convincing, because they ALWAYS have multiple options, or will by the time we produce that page or that video. We must frame OUR buy argument in the context of THEIR story—the thing THEY are facing.
- Winning is for the Bold: Putting our brand out there is a gamble. When we say anything (at all), we risk being misunderstood, and so risk a little of our reputation. But all the best work is being done with that risk in play. When it’s in check, and brand rep is an absolute, the vacuum is invariably filled by lesser entities that simply outdo each other in the carnival of ‘interesting to gawk at’, even if they’re a train wreck.
Be Responsive, Not Reactive
Dip your toe in the ocean of marketing trends, and it comes back barnacled with search engine gimmicks, new social platforms, and blogger tips. e.g. Google’s new Core Web Vitals and Web Stories. Most of this designed to a) create urgency to ‘change’ because frequent change is what drives billable consulting hours, or b) pump a byline, because consultants need to break through the noise with ‘hot’ advice framed in language that’s difficult to ignore: “10 things you MUST do now” (to keep search engines happy, avoid pissing off your spouse, have a healthy pet, etc). All of this feeds desperation to “try” something—to throw spaghetti at the wall and see if it sticks. The seduction is loudest as we get close to New Year’s Day, and the decisions are about as successful as the average New Year’s resolution.
Marketing efforts at scale have a longer lifecycle and rely on a baseline of tried and true approaches that have years (not months) of data to support them. For instance, once you set aside political material and small B2C consumer content, email still has a higher engagement rate than all social channels combined. Search is still the primary way people find businesses. And LinkedIn + Google are still involved in 50-80% of all B2B buying decisions at some point in the funnel. We’re nearing Thanksgiving, but I’m still thinking about Columbus Day. Columbus didn’t get halfway to “India” and break out canoes because maybe that would shorten the journey. At least, that we know of: there may well be a few bones at the bottom of the Atlantic, but there’s a reason we don’t know the name of that mutinous rabble. Wrap a brand in a great story (“Age of Exploration”), keep the deck polished, and rely on what sailors always have (a favorable wind), and you make landfall, even if it’s San Salvador and not the spice islands of Asia.
Segment for Better Sales Letters
Pop open any streaming channel (Netflix, Prime Video, Hulu) and search Neil Gaiman, and you’ll find this author of magic realism novels like American Gods, who near-singlehandedly made comic books interesting again (with The Sandman) is having a good decade—second only to Stephen King. Asked how one gets to be that successful, he said ‘I’ll tell you, and not worry at all that you’ll become my competition, because almost none of you will do the following. It’s 3 things: a) Finish what you start. b) Send it out (to market) immediately. c) When it’s rejected, send it out again (and again, until it hits). That’s it. That’s the whole thing.’ In other words, it’s not talent per se—talent isn’t all that rare in fact—it’s being relentless—continuous, unrelenting, not losing heart. In short, it’s not for the faint of heart. Sales emails and marketing messages are just like that. But here’s something that significantly boosts the likelihood of sales letters succeeding, and yet almost no one will do it: segmenting.
Most mailing lists (email lists) are either a) a mess—of leads, half-leads, purchased leads (back when that was legal), and leftover contacts from various executives’ college days, etc. or b) one big bucket, with no differentiation between even customers, leads, and current conversations—let alone industry, business size, and role level within the company. The invention of ‘tagging’ has made this so much easier, but often that’s deployed haphazardly by multiple people within the organization, over time, so that it’s nearly impossible to target a consistent set of manageable tags. E.g. should the “role” field contain “HR Director”, “Director of HR”, “HR VP”, or should there be just a tag for “HR” or a tag for “Director”, etc? Relative to your business, is HR a target industry or a stakeholder role?
Whether you have the bandwidth to actually write and send separate emails to different targets is a separate issue. There’s nothing wrong with an email blast to everyone now and then. But that’s the only option you HAVE if no one is managing the segmentation strategy for your list. Inevitably, companies a) throw up their hands and ONLY send blasts to the whole list (not bad, just not as effective), b) take a stab at segmentation, realize the work involved, and stop halfway through or then let it devolve back to haphazard again in a few months, or c) bite the bullet, accept the pain, and keep the list clean.
Clean & Purge Lists for Better Delivery
Periodically, you want to remove people from your email list if they’re not opening your emails. Most bulk-send tools (like Mailchimp) have engagement scoring. Typically you can filter by people that are both NOT NEW (e.g. they have been on the list long enough to get your last half dozen messages) AND are LOW ENGAGEMENT (they never or rarely open the message). Cutting those out means a higher open rate—which isn’t just about making your marketer LOOK GOOD, but also garners better treatment from email servers deciding whether to toss the message into a bulk mail filter or SPAM folder. The more people open your stuff, the more likely your future messages are to skip the filter. Purge smartly and carefully, but do purge. Once a year is usually fine.
That said, overall email deliverability is important. There are email tools that hit the filter 50% of the time JUST BECAUSE the message was sent from that tool (e.g. a lot of bulk mail tools are KNOWN for frequent spammer use). So consider switching tools, if yours is one of those. The list changes periodically. Right now, if you’re sending from Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Campaign Monitor, or ConvertKit, you’ve no worries on that front. There are others, but that short list works pretty hard to ensure deliverability. If you ever purchased a mailing list and tried to upload it to Mailchimp, only to have it say “No way, friend. We think you BOUGHT that list and those people never legally opted in.” that’s why. They’re guarding YOUR deliverability by keeping people from abusing the system.
But don’t rest on your laurels or switch willy nilly. The tool is just one link in the chain. If you’re not following best practices for email deliverability (e.g. reducing the number of links and images, cautious image placement, avoiding spammy words like “deal”) DO THAT STUFF FIRST, before either switching tools, purging lists, OR deciding you’re fine. If a message LOOKS like a newsletter or promotional email, it’s likely to go to the filter no matter what your list looks like or which tool you’re using. You don’t have a true test of your open rates until you get several emails under your belt that are optimized for maximum delivery.
Honor What People Actually Seach For
Search engines play a role at MULTIPLE stages of the sales funnel. People don’t just Google in order to FIND a vendor (top of funnel), they do so in order to LEARN ABOUT individual vendors (looking at your footprint, presence, pattern of communication – i.e. middle of funnel), and to assist final vendor selection during the proposal, contract, and negotiation phase (bottom of funnel). A LOT of emphasis is placed on ‘get leads, get leads’ which pushes SEO people toward an EXCESSIVE focus on TOP of funnel messaging. But any B2B salesperson will tell you the sale gets closed repeatedly at these multiple points, and AGAIN at the VERY BOTTOM of the funnel in the actual service delivery phase. Setting new client expectations is, therefore, PART (but an important part) of the overall messaging in an effective B2B business.
If you’ve been working with MadPipe, you’ve already heard the gospel of substantive content decimating keyword-content designed “just” for search. But BETTER isn’t enough. ON POINT is important. We run the risk of drinking our own Kool-Aide in creating content for search that doesn’t match the real world of WHAT & HOW people search. For instance, there are endless posts talking about the “quality of customer service being our passion” at a given company. Check it out, if you doubt this. Scroll down and look at the bolded verbiage on a random selection of the 8-million search results. Now ask yourself, when’s the last time you looked for a vendor by going to Google and typing in something like “shipping solutions – passion is quality of customer service”.
Instead, we want to be working our way up the ranks for 1) specific PROBLEMS WE SOLVE (at top of funnel)—in the way sales prospects typically describe them in emails or out loud to our Sales professionals, 2) specific CRITERIA FOR SELECTION—in the way our Salespeople hear that criteria weighed and weighted in competitive RFPs, and 3) specific focuses from bottom of the funnel—like case studies and support cases that help close the final deal, build enthusiasm, and avert buyer remorse. This is why it’s so crucial (and central to MadPipe’s messaging theme) that SALES & PRODUCT unite to drive marketing messaging. The role of marketing is to listen and extract key messages that channel the desires and aspirations of sales prospects all the way through their lifecycle to loyal, devoted, delighted brand evangelists.
For Godsake Teach Something!
People buy a solution to their problem. As a consumer, my life has been advanced radically by searching for things like “automated robo-investing”, “home-made food for dogs”, “alternative to Google Hangouts”, or “give to charity without admin overhead”. In each case, I find vendors actively working on the problem I want to solve—each approaching it in a somewhat different manner. I’m an early adopter of lots of services and products, but I don’t just point and shoot. I need to trust the vendor and to understand how the thing will fit into my life in the real world. Even if they offer a trial run, that requires attention and time on my part. There are far too many “try us” offers to do them all.
Teaching solves both things neatly. Invariably I select vendors with excellent teaching materials (even if they don’t frame them as such). If they’re good at this, it means they’ve THOUGHT about the customer experience deeply, and understand they need to demonstrate how their product or service is going to fit into my life with use cases. That both garners trust AND reduces barriers to adoption. From a marketing standpoint, it reduces decision-making time and effective frequency (the number of times they have to put messaging out there to get a buying response). So many videos and write-ups are puff pieces that tell me what THEY like about their product but don’t answer my need to quickly narrow the field.
Teaching doesn’t have to be formal training. A simple use case or case study can do the trick. It’s not limited to a particular format. We’re adults—we can consume a video or diagram or written page just as easily. For a longer sales cycle, even a podcast might be helpful (again, given that decisions occur at every stage in the funnel). I don’t need the vendor to treat me like a total newb; anyone that’s bought a few things on the web is multimedia friendly. Just spill it. How does this ACTUALLY work in the context of what I’m trying to do? Walk me through. It’s appalling how many “Help” and “About” pages I click on that have a top of funnel video in which a cartoon describes software I’m not allowed to see, or a guy keeps telling me the problem I have is super important (trying to amp up my felt need) and then says “buy our stuff” as if they are the one and only solution for anyone with Google access. “We solve it” is not a REASON to buy; it’s the condition of me looking in the first place. Teach me, for godsake. Show me, and I’ll believe.
Winning is for the Bold
We’ve all heard the phrase “nothing ventured, nothing gained”. Last night I was watching an episode of the BBC series Poldark (my second time through the series). Poldark is an exemplar of this: “I would rather fail fighting than throw up my hands”. His competitors are those members of upper society that prioritize reputation (over everything) and risk nothing that would jeopardize it. We laud people like that in fiction. But out here, we often prioritize protecting brand reputation over the possibility of brand achievement. “What can I do with high impact, low risk?” Yeah. The answer to that is we can already be rich, famous, and not have to work if we don’t want to. Of course, that’s not winning; that’s not needing to play at all.
No one wins protecting their reputation as an absolute. They win putting it out there. All marketing efforts, sales efforts, product innovation is risk. It’s a bet. We may chafe at the comparison with gambling but gambling is anything that isn’t a guarantee. We want to place INTELLIGENT bets, obviously. I have a colleague, a high ranking exec at a B2B firm, who shall remain nameless, that I interviewed in August for an article. It was supposed to be published as just text, but I thought he had such a great ‘on-air’ presence, that I asked permission to publish the audio of the interview as well. He squirmed (I did the first time I went ‘live’ too). But he ‘bought it’ (just kidding—he trusted me), and. man-oh-man, the piece is awesome. His people rallied with almost gleeful jealousy. Each team member has told me how excellent it is. So that’s the INTERNAL audience at the firm. EXTERNAL results? His piece is (STILL) on the first page of Google for that topic—Organic result #10. He wins the MadPipe Summer “Baseballs of Steel” award for putting himself out there. My point is, to quote an actor “The future doesn’t belong to the fainthearted; it belongs to the brave.”