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B2B Thought Leadership with Bret Starr

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by: Will Schnabel (@wschnabel)
24 February 2009

Through these special blog postings, our goal is to offer advice and insights from top BtoB marketers. Recently, Bret Starr, partner, Starr Tincup, responded to our questions. You'll learn what he views as marketing's biggest challenge and why he thinks marketing should never be seen as a discretionary medium.

1. How did you get your start in marketing?

Armed with a degree in American literature, I had absolutely no formal training in marketing. But I did understand that marketing professionals were spending tons of money on immeasurable activities. Therefore, I developed a pragmatic, unique approach that included branding but with accountability through the use of metrics.

My first marketing job was with Data Junction Solutions, now Pervasive, a high technology software company, in the 90s. From there, I went from start up to start up, and have been highly sought after for my ability to build marketing infrastructures from the ground up in a pragmatic way. I recognized early on that the typical B2B sales cycle, which is 18-24 months long, could be shortened if marketers applied relevant marketing and sales processes.

2. What marketing challenges do you foresee in 2009 and what's your victory strategy?

Unrelated to the economy, the biggest marketing challenge I've seen for the last 3-5 years at least is marketers who only use traditional media. Traditional media only has the ability to tap a small percentage of any market. The solution is for B2B marketers to gain access to a much more engaged audience, which can be done through social networks. People who join social networking groups are there because they want to present their challenges or offer solutions to other people's problems. They are usually open to communication as long as it's done in a respected way.

3. What's a common problem that businesses seek Starr Tincup out to solve?

Starr Tincup is a marketing firm for companies who sell human capital solutions. What we've found is that marketers in this space have way too many options to focus their attention and budget on. That leads them to making decisions about which avenue to pursue before they fully understand all of the pro's and con's that are associated. We help harried marketers of human capital solutions with marketing strategy, marketing execution, media sourcing and staffing services. Unlike general agencies, Starr Tincup is all about human capital - we've worked with hundreds of companies in the space.

4. Your Web site doesn't have a strong "business" look and feel to it. How did that come about?

Largely, we focus on a small market niche, and we're the most recognized brand in our space. Our business is 95% referral driven. Therefore, the business is not reliant on branding and awareness. For us, it's about community, so we've created a place where everyone - clients and prospects - can connect and feel comfortable.

5. What advice do you have for marketers who want to implement an effective lead generation campaign, but don't know where to start?

The first thing B2B marketers need to do is define their lead generation goals. Many marketers jump in head first without knowing what they want to accomplish from their lead generation activities.

Secondly, know your marketplace. You have to know what exists in your target space. This is important because your lead generation goals must be in sync with your marketplace. Do a "reality check (research)" to make sure the market can sustain your goal.

Most important, you must have the right infrastructure in place. Generating leads is fairly easy. Responding to them in a timely manner is more difficult. When someone registers for something on your site, you only have a short amount of time to respond before they are lost. The basis of a good infrastructure is a three point integration system—your marketing automation solution, your sales force and your Website.

6. What would you say to someone who says the current economic crisis makes marketing a discretionary medium?

If they're in business, I'd tell them to consider becoming an artist or a forest ranger. With an attitude like that, they shouldn't be in business. And probably won't be for very long.

Warren Buffet says it best: "Be fearful when others are greedy, and be greedy when others are fearful."

The time to develop relationships and nurture leads is right now. If you don't, someone else will. And the best way for marketers to stay connected to their audiences is through marketing automation solutions. Marketing is as discretionary for this economic downturn as fuel is for cars.

7. What business book would you recommend to B2B marketers?

The best book I've read in the past five years is "Mastering The Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm," by Verne Harnish. The concept is a pragmatic plan to make sure things get done. It provides a solid framework for a marketing plan.

8. What's the best advice you ever received and where did it come from?

My dad gave me the best advice I ever received. He was not an entrepreneur. He was a "roughneck." He told me: "There is no such thing as 'it's just business.'"

At the beginning and end of the day, people are humans, and they should be treated with the same courtesy and respect I demand for myself. This lesson has served me well over the years.




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