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Thought Leadership with Rick Kean

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by: Will Schnabel (@wschnabel)
26 May 2009

Through these special blog postings, our goal is to offer advice and insights from top B2B marketers. Recently, Rick Kean, managing partner of the Business Marketing Institute and former executive director of the Business Marketing Association, responded to our questions. From his responses you'll learn what strategies he has seen work the best for connecting sales and marketing teams and what business practices he'd like to see disappear. Enjoy.

1. What's the main goal of the Business Marketing Institute?

To educate and train B2B marketers in the knowledge and skills necessary to execute marketing programs. B2B marketing people are rarely professionally educated or trained for their jobs. Imagine that occurring in accounting, engineering or even sales.

2. What strategy have you seen work the best for connecting sales and marketing teams?

CRM, because it holds both marketing and sales accountable. The powerful collaborative planning, execution and analysis tools in CRM systems promote transparency in the marketing and sales process. That makes it easier to not only track, measure and assess the progress and status of every marketing program, but the subsequent sales productivity as well.

3. What kind of results have you seen from marketing teams that are required to report directly to sales? And would you like to see this practice radiate to more B2B companies?

There's a lot of noise these days about how marketing staffs have to defend their turf in companies, and how marketing managers need to justify their function - for example, by measuring the ROI of their marketing efforts. I see desperate marketers grasping for these straws whenever the marketing manager has separated him/herself from their obligation to serve their company's sales team. And the fact that this is such a popular topic tells me there's a lot of ineffective marketing going on out there. When their ads and mailings are pulling good sales leads, I never see marketing managers thinking they have to justify their roles or quantify their marketing programs. I only see it when sales departments are grumbling that their company's expensive, fluffy advertising program isn't generating any actionable sales response in the form of qualified sales leads and inquiries. When a marketing manager is working with sales to develop ads, mailings and other deliverables that effectively sell their company's product, and these marketing activities are keeping the company's sales team supplied with a steady stream of high-quality leads, and the marketing manager is out front, looking for ways to open new business opportunities in the marketing program, the marketing department is never asked to justify itself.

4. What are the most beneficial business trends you've seen emerge in the last year?

A trend back to where we came from: sales support. B2B marketing exists for the same reason it always has - to generate sales response in the form of inquiries, sales leads, orders and new business for your company's sales team. Sales leads are the currency we have to deal with.

The first step in developing marketing programs that generate sales response is clear, effective presentation of your company's products' or services' most compelling benefits. And this clear salesman-like presentation, when used in copy and layout for all marketing projects and combined with strong offers and a call to action, tells the reader:
-What you're selling
-What's so good about it
-Why you need it
-And what they need to do next to buy it

5. What business practices would you like to disappear?

All the people infected with jargon that continually try to make our business more complicated than it is. You'll find them everywhere. They're at both B2B marketing companies and on the agency side. They're the "experts" who will tell you that "you need to re-contextualize your business model," by "maximizing the brand experience," to "mobilize the user clickpath," so that you'll be "acquiring mindshare," when what you really need to do is figure out how to get your marketing program back on track and get your sales up next month. If you're a young person in B2B marketing, my best advice is to tune out every expert you meet and do your best to unlearn most of what you were taught in your college marketing classes, if you actually ever had a college marketing class.

6. What's your advice to company officials who view marketing as a discretionary budget item during a recession?

CEOs tend to be left-brain thinkers. They believe that profitability is a direct result of something they do - like speeding up production or cutting costs. And like their peers they were, in the recent past, obsessively devoting themselves to managing the supply side of their businesses, property, plants and equipment. All that mattered was managing these industrial-age assets to earn higher financial returns.

It's hard for them to acknowledge that profitability is a product of what customers think and do. Where does all of our revenue come from? From products? From brands? From our loyalty programs? No, all of our revenue comes from customers. And finding customers for the products and services we have available is what the business is all about and what marketers are supposed to be doing. When marketing becomes less about "top line" revenue and more about "brand" or "awareness," linkage to the sales teams and their needs to actually drive revenue breaks down. In many cases, a huge inefficiency actually starts to occur as sales, left without any real support on the preference and purchase phases, creates their own marketing services organization, frequently called field marketing. Marketing should serve a two-pronged role in B2B: It is both the staff service function to sales in the here and now, and the advance new business-building function for the company. We need to make management understand that.

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

"Tested Advertising Methods" by John Caples, a classical master of ad copywriting in the 1930s, '40s and '50s. His principles were that plain words and basic appeals sell products. And, by staying focused on reality in your advertising copy, you can make simple, plain and direct ad sales approaches that beat creative "impactful" or emotional appeals every time. Times may change, but people and their motivations don't. Any marketing program can be made more effective by using the same basic appeals, updated of course with modern production values. The hottest ticket in marketing today is Google AdWords-type keyword and search engine marketing programs, where advertisers write short, text-only ads designed to draw clicks from targeted keyword searches relating to specialized products. And where do you think the top copywriters who write these tight, compelling, must-sell-it headlines and one-line copy tags go for copywriting ideas and advice? Yep, they've studied and copied the techniques of John Caples and others that were used more than 50 years ago.

8. What makes you happy about going to work every day?

It's our turn. Companies need marketing...again. The end of the supply economy and the beginning of the demand economy demands growth, and particularly organic growth. That's the big agenda item today. Companies have made tremendous improvements in quality and productivity by working and re-working the tangible parts of their business, like manufacturing, pricing and distribution, but the opportunities to drive incremental growth are drying up. And in the quest for organic growth, marketing has become the change agent, transforming companies from the classic, industrial-age "selling what we make" organizations into customer-centric value providers.




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