Through these special blog postings, our goal is to offer advice and insights from top BtoB marketers. Recently, I had a conversation with Russell Kern, president of The Kern Organization and author of S.U.R.E.-Fire Direct Response Marketing: Managing Business-to-Business Sales Leads for Bottom-Line Success. We talked about the usual - the economy, marketing and life. I truly hope you learn as much from Russell as I did.
1. The Kern Organization has grown quite a bit from its humble days as a five-person boutique shop. Tell us how your company has achieved a growth rate of 400 percent and landed at number 962 on Inc.'s 5000 Fastest Growing Private Companies in America?
The key was a combination of clearly defining our mission, formalizing our operating processes and procedures, putting in place measurement systems and providing rewards to the staff for behavior consistent with the values and goals of the organization.
It turns out these steps are the fundamentals for any business to succeed. In the case of most entrepreneurial firms, including TKO, it takes years for the business to gain momentum, and then to go back and re-engineer the processes to take the business to the next level.
We were fortunate to have a solid value proposition, excellent creative and strategic services, a strong sales organization and an outstanding implementation team. Together we were able to sustain rapid growth because the foundation and framework were in place.
2. What do you see as the biggest challenge for BtoB marketers and what is the solution?
The biggest challenge for BtoB marketers is creating valuable, exclusive content that can be used as an offer and bringing prospective buyers into the sales funnel. Original content that meets the needs of your target audience is difficult to create because it requires a deep understanding of your customer needs. Most marketers, especially BtoB marketers, are so busy just getting the work done, that there is very little time to do the market research and planning required to generate offers that will help leapfrog the business forward.
The solution is to commit to the future, today. If you don’t spend the time to invent new and innovative materials that attract the right audience today, your marketing efforts are eventually going to decline and you'll pay for the deferred investment tomorrow. No free lunches, even in marketing.
3. Do you think BtoB marketers are more inclined to want to work with sales now, or do you still see silos existing?
This depends on the organization and the culture of the organization. I know BtoB marketers want to work with sales. However, sometimes it's just not their jurisdiction. If the head of marketing and sales are not in sync, their organizations won't be, either. The marketing organization mirrors the action of its leaders.
Thus silos are common, but in general BtoB marketers understand it's their job to generate qualified leads. The bigger issues are to work with sales to determine the definition of a qualified lead and to set the business rules on when leads are to be passed to sales.
4. What steps should marketers take to create alignment with sales?
Have quarterly meetings to review leads. They should review a large sampling of leads and discuss the quality of the leads, the sales treatment for a qualified and non-qualified lead, the sales disposition of both types of leads and what refinements are required to make each organization more successful.
The VPs of each unit must be at these meetings and spearhead this initiative to effect the change required.
5. Marketers often find their toughest challenge is proving the ROI of their efforts. What advice can you give on accomplishing that task?
Don't give up. Use "Did you buy' surveys," OBTM (outbound telemarketing) tele-surveys on close leads, match-backs of leads against PO at 3, 6, 9 and 12-month intervals.
This is the single most important step to prove the value marketing brings to the sales organization, as well as the company. The ROI measures don't have to be 100 percent perfect, so sample sets of data can be used to get indications, but all measures to prove marketing ROI must be taken.
It is slow and painful work, but exceptionally rewarding in the end.
6. What is your advice for a BtoB marketer frustrated by the economy?
Now is the time to sell like crazy. Recessions will come and go. However, I know those companies that market during a recession, gain greater market share as the economy recovers. This is what TKO did in early 2000.
Use this time to focus on the value your product brings to companies. Realize the sales cycle will slow, however now prospective buyers are in a heavy information-gathering mode. It's a great time to do lead generation and then drop your respondents into a cohesive lead nurturing process over a 6-12 month time frame.
7. What business book have you recently read that you'd recommend?
I have recently attended Omnicom University, where we studied over 15 Harvard Business School cases. I can't recommend the Harvard Business Review enough to any business leader. I especially recommend its compendium of articles, "Leadership Insights: 15 Unique Perspectives on Effective Leadership." What I have become passionate about is understanding the critical difference between management and leadership. Further, embracing how difficult it is to be a great leader.
8. What's the best advice you ever received, and who or where did it come from?
The best advice I ever got was from my summer camp director on the first day of camp. He told every camper age 7 to 13, these words about camp, which translate into life: You get out of camp, what you put into it. Meaning, if you participate, if you get in the game, if you volunteer, sign up and actively engage, your experiences will be rich, rewarding and memorable.
9. What makes you happy about going to work every day?
I love trying to solve difficult problems. I love working with smart people and smart clients. I love making our services generate sales for our clients. It’s hard as heck, but hugely rewarding when it all comes together.