Content Marketing + B2B Sales Strategy = Success

While many B2B companies know the importance of content marketing, relatively few know how to properly integrate it into their sales strategy for maximum effectiveness. This is a situation often encountered by David Raab, veteran marketing analyst and principal of Raab Associates.

In a presentation given in conjunction with TreeHouse Interactive, David explained just how B2B businesses could integrate content marketing into their sales strategies:

Modify design processes

Many sales teams move their customers through a sales process, which is under constant review and revision as the team learns more about the customer and as the industry changes. As you design these processes and move customers through them, check if there’s any available content that can help influence the customer’s decision—whether promotional or educational.

But how can you know for sure if you need to create something from scratch or if you already have useful content available? By…

Creating a shared, searchable content repository

If you want your sales team to take advantage of your content, you have to make it readily available. That means a searchable, shared, and up-to-date library of every piece of content you create. The easier your content is to access, the more likely your sales team is to use it.

Integrated content planning matrix

Remember the first point, about modifying the design of your sales process? Well, you can do it the other way around, too. Take a look at your sales process and make a note of which steps need more content coverage. The fewer gaps you have, the better!

Track responses

Do your leads find your content useful or not? How does it affect their buying decisions? Tracking responses is critical to keeping your content relevant and timely. Have your sales team inquire about the content or send a quick survey.

Visit the TreeHouse resource library for the on demand presentation.

How to Get the Full Value from your MAP Software in 2015

A marketing automation platform (MAP) is a significant investment, yet few marketers get the full value. They limp through the year with a barely used MAP, and are then hard-pressed to justify the expense during the next year’s budget review.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Try a New Feature Every Week

Most marketing automation platforms come with a powerful suite of marketing automation tools. Unfortunately, not all marketers make use of the entire collection. In fact, many just stick to a familiar few and don’t even try out the rest. How do you know if a tool will be effective if you don’t try it out? The feature you’re ignoring could be the one to take your marketing to the next level.

But don’t just toy around with a feature for an hour and drop it. Make a commitment to try one new feature for a week every week. And ”trying” doesn’t just mean clicking a few buttons and opening a couple of menus. Spend the week learning about the feature. Examine use cases. Do trial runs and (if possible) create an actual scenario. You’ll learn more if you see it running in real life.

Then, at the end of the week, you’ll have a much more informed and realistic assessment of whether or not that particular feature works for you.

Expand Your Strategy to Match

Of course, using tools just for the sake of using them isn’t recommended. You need to first understand the features and capabilities and see how it can play into your current marketing strategy. If possible, you then expand your strategy in a way that you can make use of these tools. For instance, you have great content, but it just sits on your website. Using the MAP’s nurturing tools allows you to expand your content marketing strategy and push information out to customers in a timely manner. 

Also, good MAPs have tools that are meant to work together, not piecemeal. Using a collection of complementary MAP features will get you much more value than using them separately. Explore how the features connect, and you may get powerful results.

Include Others in the Loop

Marketing departments shouldn’t operate in a vacuum, and neither should your MAP. Marketing automation platforms can benefit teams across the entire organization, not just your own. For instance, the best MAPs include an option to integrate with CRMs to allow both the marketing and sales departments to share leads. Some MAPs also offer tools like surveys to collect customer feedback, which would be valuable to share with product development teams.

If you can incorporate more MAP features into your workflow, create supporting strategies, and integrate with more internal teams, you’ll be able to increase your marketing department’s value dramatically. Do it intelligently and consistently, and your marketing automation platform’s ROI will be measured in months, not years.

How Will Channel Marketing Evolve in 2015?

I was recently asked by the Channel Marketer Report to share a few predictions on what channel sales and marketing trends I expect to see in 2015. However, in order to look forward, we need to reflect back on the trends we’ve seen to date and how they may change or evolve this year.

In the last several years we have seen companies making great strides towards integrating their partners into their CRM ecosystem and using Partner Relationship Management (PRM) to make it easier and more profitable to do business with them. We are still seeing a considerable increase in PRM implementations.  Our PRM business is up 98 and 87 percent, year over year, for the last two years respectively.  We expect this trend to continue in 2015 for those who have yet to invest in PRM or for whom a homegrown PRM has out lived its usefulness.

In order to earn partner attention and loyalty these days, it takes more than a portal for just deal registration.  The best partners expect the manufacturers they represent to drive demand to them, help them create their own demand, and provide them with productivity tools.  This is why we see functionality like Partner Marketing Enablement technologies becoming more popular in 2015. 

Once companies have their base PRM system installed and begin to see the benefits, a natural next step is to find a way to make the partner experience even better.  On demand automated co-branding of collateral, on demand automated outbound demand generation campaigns, and advanced partner locators or marketplaces will become even more popular in 2015 because they help the partner create their own leads and better manage their business with a particular vendor.

As companies invest more in partner success, however, they will become more interested in partner performance.  Certainly vendors have always been concerned with direct sales performance.  For many, getting to a point where they can measure partner sales performance vs. targets is an attractive objective in itself.  For those who have already made that move, however, performance will be measured on more than just revenue.  Understanding partner performance in terms of training competency, certifications, lead acceptance rates, deal registrations submissions, close ratios, engagement with emails and web content will begin to be used for a more complete view of partner performance individually, and with respect to other partners in a program.  Fortunately, PRM technologies are evolving to meet these requirements and help companies better gauge partner performance and ultimately, achieve greater channel success.

To read the predictions shared by additional channel thought leaders, view the entire contributed article on the Channel Marketer Report website.

Erich Flynn, CRO
TreeHouse Interactive

How to Nurture Customers Without Doing a Thing

Nurturing campaigns are an excellent way to build a relationship with your prospect, without the “hard sell” tactics that may turn off a prospect. In it, you guide the prospect through the discovery process, feeding them whatever information that might interest them and being there when it’s time to close the deal.

Nurturing campaigns are tricky, because you need to be able to maintain a delicate touch, while being a constant presence, over a period of time. And when you have multiple prospects on a nurturing campaign, things can get complicated pretty fast.

That’s why automated nurture campaigns are the way to go. Many marketing automation platforms (MAPs) have features that take the pain out of nurturing campaigns and increase their effectiveness. They do this by:  

Collecting Prospect Behavioral Data

Most MAPs can tell plenty about a prospect’s behavior from a single email. Not only can you tell who opened an email, you can also see what particular links were clicked and how long they spent at that web page. Form submissions and responses can give insight on what a prospect finds important, and what the next step in the nurturing campaign should be.  

Guiding Prospects Intelligently

Armed with the information above, marketers can now set rules on the MAP to determine which nurturing email should be sent next. If the prospect expressed interest in saving money, then Email A should be sent next. If the prospect values convenience, then Email B would cater to that message. 

It’s a complex chain of branching reactions, but once it’s set up the marketer doesn’t need to do anything at all. The MAP system automatically guides the prospect down the path. 

Alerting the Right People

Automating the nurturing process means you can instantly notify the right people at the right stage in the process. When the prospect reaches a certain step, like downloading a whitepaper, you can instantly notify the right sales rep. That sales rep will then contact the prospect while the whitepaper is fresh in their minds. 

Nurturing campaigns result in more engaged and higher quality leads. And the better you are at helping them move down the funnel, the higher chance you have of getting them to commit to a purchase. Marketing automation platforms can help you execute nurturing campaigns that are timely, consistent, and effective, and can drastically improve your conversion rate. 

You Bought a MAP Solution! Now What?

Getting a new Marketing Automation Platform solution is a lot like getting a new tool kit. The moment you finish basking in its new-ness, you start looking for something—anything—to fix. As you DIY dads out there can testify, the urge to go and do something with your new tools is almost overpowering. It doesn’t matter if it’s tightening a few pipes or sending a few A/B emails. You want to take it out for a spin. And that’s okay. 

But what happens afterwards? You shove it in the broom closet and forget about it until something breaks. All those fancy tools, and you still only use it to fix the odd chair or send an occasional email campaign. Which is a shame, because MAP’s have the potential for so much more. 

Map Out the Possibilities

To really get the most out of your MAP toolkit, you have to create a plan that makes the most of what you have. Each of your MAP’s components has their respective strengths, weaknesses, and purposes. You can’t just use a lead scoring system on a few customers and expect results. You have to determine how you’re going to implement it across your database, figure out how to collect the relevant data, and strategize on how your sales team can best use it. 

And remember: while it’s important to use your MAP’s features to their best advantage, it’s even more important to use them to your best advantage. Use features in a manner relevant to your market. If your customers aren’t big on mobile marketing, then don’t waste energy on it.   

Which brings me to my next point:

It’s for the Customers, Not You

Yes, you’re going to be the one implementing your new MAP, executing your campaigns with it, and justifying the expense to management. But keep in mind that all of this is for the customer’s benefit. 

So as you create A/B emails and auto-responders and landing pages, keep this question in mind: “what will my customers experience?”

The MAP’s ultimate purpose is to help you give customers an enriching experience with your brand, whether that’s through learning about popular sale items or being taught the best way to use their new purchase. 

So go ahead and tinker with your new toolkit. Get comfortable with it. Explore its strengths and specialties. But while you do, do it in the context of improving your relationships with your customers and leads. Then, when your marketing strategies start taking a more solid shape, you’ll be able to steer them in the proper direction right from the start. 

Going Further With Your Nurturing

It can be hard to go from blasting email to identifying the ways your buyers engage, what stages they go through, and how to effectively prepare them to talk to a salesperson with nurturing campaigns. Even after doing this up front work, many marketers have a hard time executing because it can take an enormous effort to create the content necessary to fuel nurturing. It can take months to identify and create content that triggers off of popular downloads, demo offers, specific sections of your website or events common to your marketing mix. 

It is important not to stop here, however. You can easily get bogged down in optimizing nurturing paths once you have them created vs. leveraging nurturing concepts in other areas of your company. Nurturing concepts, along with technology used to execute nurturing campaigns, can be applied to critical processes within your company—ultimately expanding the value that a marketing team can provide.

Here are two brief examples of using nurturing concepts in departments outside marketing:

Sales Initiated Nurturing

Salespeople hold on to a lot of knowledge. They also send a lot of nurturing email you don’t know about. The most successful salespeople get good at having prepared messages they reuse at specific stages in the buying process. Many will use tasks or reminders within their CRM system to let them know when to send these messages. 

Here’s the bad part that hits your company’s bottom line: When that salesperson leaves your company, so does the knowledge of what nurturing works.

There are spots in the post-marketing buying process where things typically stall out or where the buyer exits because of a specific reason (budget, authority, timing as examples). What types of communication are your best salespeople using to re-engage people? Meet with your sales teams often. You’ll discover some content that makes you understand the buying process much better.  There could also be some that makes you cringe. If you can create re-engagement communication that uses the tactics and content from your best salespeople, you can begin to replicate results across your sales team.

To automate this and send the right message at the right time, you have to make it easy for salespeople. That means giving them a place within their CRM system to initiate the timed nurturing communication based on their personal evaluation of the buyer. This is a lot easier than it sounds. You can integrate your CRM and marketing automation systems today in a way that puts nurturing paths at salespeople’s fingertips in custom fields. Once they choose the nurturing path and save the lead record, the right communication is launched via your marketing automation system—giving you the ability as a marketer to monitor its effectiveness, refine as needed in collaboration with salespeople and send them down a completely different nurturing path if you see new behavior.

Customer Onboarding

For many organizations, customer onboarding can be an involved process. The interesting part is that those responsible for this within your organization likely do the same thing salespeople do—create communication that supports the buyer going through a process. While the type of communication often changes from persuasive to being more task oriented, the concept is the same. There is no reason you can’t create and refine onboarding communication for the different stages a buyer goes through to use your product successfully.  If you can't find those within your organization that help your buyers do this better than others, then replicate and automate the general process. You can use this as a starting point to increase customer satisfaction.

If those responsible for onboarding new customers use your CRM system, this typically means creating nurturing paths using the contact or account status as a trigger. If they don’t, your marketing automation system should have robust enough APIs to let you queue off of a change in any system to launch the nurturing.

There are very few walls today when it comes to integrating system across your internal teams and leveraging the technology you have in place. Start experimenting with creating nurturing that touches buyers throughout all areas of their interaction with your company. Does this give you some ideas? What groups within your company could use automated nurturing and how could that change your potential for revenue?

Content Marketing: Why It Should Be A Marketing Priority

Many of today’s marketers are focused on their outbound campaigns or events and grossly underestimate the power of content marketing. This needs to be a new priority for marketers.

The idea of content marketing is to get to prospects earlier in the buying cycle by providing them relevant content they can use to help them learn more about your category of product and how to be successful with it. Early in the buying cycle, prospects tend to be in information gathering mode. They are doing research, and in many cases are just trying to get a better understanding of the category in general. If you look at most company websites, you will find that the majority of documents are geared toward much later stages in the buying cycle. Items like datasheets and competitive guides typically get viewed much later in the buying process than items like white papers.

Consider recent DemandGen Report research that indicates a mere 22% of respondents still follow the traditional RFP path. The remaining 78% now narrow the field long before the RFP process (DemandGen Report, 2010). This means that nearly 8 out of 10 buyers are searching the web long before they get to you. The earlier you get to them in the buying process, the more likely you will be to participate in the end (i.e. make a sale).

The best content marketing programs I have seen leverage this knowledge to their advantage.  Here are some strategies they have in common.

  • Generate relevant content
  • Syndicate content
  • Track content usage
  • Track and measure related behavior
  • Behave responsibly

Generate Relevant Content

The first component of content marketing is the content itself. It has to be meaningful, helpful and geared toward the early stages of the buying cycle. In some of the best executions I have seen in this area, companies actually have a content plan for each stage in the buying process. For the rest of us mortals, I recommend starting at the beginning—you likely have content for the end stages in the process already.


The most obvious syndication vehicle is your website. There are, however, many others. Some important ones are industry-specific sections of social networks like LinkedIn, where groups of like-minded individuals in your industry are already gathered and where it is easy to post content. There are also many industry websites and blogs that accept content if you just ask. Also consider newly emerging services like the Ventana New Media Engine. (Full disclaimer: Ventana is a partner and we are a customer of theirs). Finding the right content outlets and doing content syndication yourself can be a time consuming task. Their offering is part service and part software that can syndicate your content through many relevant outlets very quickly. 

Track Content Usage

Essentially, many demand generation/marketing automation systems, including TreeHouse Interactive’s, can help you track who is downloading your content. This is critical to being able to provide follow-on nurturing and marketing automation that develops an initial content download into a lead. One word of advice: some marketing automation systems will require a form to be placed in front of each piece of content (for the record, TreeHouse Interactive’s does not). My rule is that the number of questions you ask on such a form is inversely proportionate to the number of leads you get. Therefore, keep the content gate to a minimum.

Track and Measure Related Behavior (anonymous website visitor tracking)

Tracking your anonymous visits correctly can help turn them into incremental revenue. If you choose not to gate your content (or even if you do) you can track the companies that come to your website and determine who they are and what content they are both downloading and viewing online. There are many tools that do this today. You can then take that information and use a service like or ZoomInfo to purchase contacts at those companies that match your likely buyer profile. This enables you to begin nurturing the right contacts at companies that have displayed interest or even directly reach out to them. In addition to the content downloaded, sophisticated companies are tracking individual web visits, anonymous company web visits, page views, email opens, link clicks and more. The complete behavioral picture on a company and individual level helps you nurture potential buyers more effectively. 

Behave Responsibly

We all want to react quickly to leads generated by marketing efforts. Sometimes, however, you need to be judicious in how and when you take action. Most of the top marketing automation systems can alert a sales person when one of their leads returns to the website. Before calling that lead, it makes sense to look at their contact history with you and determine if they are ready first. There is a company that calls me every time I hit their website. I have never asked for a call nor have I ever filled out a form on their website that would indicate I am open to one. The salesperson typically opens with something like, “Hey, I see you’ve been on our site today.” This has really turned me off to the company’s products and makes me sorry I ever downloaded anything from their website. So, be judicious in your approach and how you use the information you are gaining from content marketing efforts.

In summary, if you execute an effective content marketing strategy, you will get to buyers earlier in the buying cycle. You will increase your leads and web traffic, and ultimately increase your revenue as a result if you use both information and automation responsibly.

The New Partner Marketing Enablement

Marketing assistance is one of the most requested benefits that partners ask for from the companies they represent. CRN’s Annual Report Card found that resellers value “channel enablement” more than anything else. This is echoed by Everything Channel’s recent recognition of “Channel Champions,” all of which have implemented partner marketing enablement in their programs.

So what new trends are there in partner marketing enablement? How can you best help partners that are typically sales focused, have small marketing staffs and limited technical or financial resources? Here are some things partner programs are beginning to offer to stand out:

Automated Co-Branding of Collateral

With automated co-branding, partners log into your partner portal and specify what collateral they need. It gives them a preview of where their logo and information will appear in the document and allows them to download and print it on demand. If you have a cumbersome co-branding process now, this is definitely an eco-friendly change you can make that leads to more partner promotion of your products, increased loyalty and time/resource savings on your end.

Full Service Co-branded Campaign Execution

In much the same way as collateral, partners log into your partner portal and pick the pre-approved co-branded campaign they want to run. It can be anything from a single email to a complex campaign with landing pages, nurturing tracks and automation for lead alerts. The partner simply specifies their call to action and uploads both their logo and list of prospects (which you never have to see). The campaign is executed with push reporting sent to the partner automatically.

Partner Micro-sites

You create end user content that is packaged into a micro-site. This is augmented by lead capture and lead routing technology. Partners simply place a line of HTML code on their site to syndicate your content and receive leads from it as a result. As you make updates to the content, they are automatically pushed out to hundreds or thousands of partners at a time.

If you would like to learn more about these new partner marketing enablement methods and see them in action, download TreeHouse Interactive’s Partner Marketing Enablement webinar.

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Now that your positioning statement is done, what do you do?

You have spent weeks researching your markets, building competitive taxonomies and calling together disparate company stakeholders to get your positioning statement complete. Now what? This is a really good question. 

Just to refresh, the objective of positioning is to find a perception you want to create in your target customer’s mind—one that addresses customer issues and enables you to focus on the highly desired and highly competitive features of your product relative to your competitors products in your target market. Once you find the perception you want to create, you need to take steps to make it happen.

It is important to know what a positioning statement is, and what it isn’t. Let’s start with a few things it isn’t.

A positioning statement is not:

  1. A tagline
  2. An advertising slogan
  3. Marketing copy for websites or datasheets
  4. A company mission statement

A positioning statement is:

  1. A perception you want to create in your target customer’s mind
  2. Sets the competitive agenda
  3. Focuses on your solution’s most compelling attributes
  4. Is protectable over time
  5. Is consistent with product delivery
  6. Determines what is said and to whom
  7. Determines how messages are communicated
  8. Helps prioritize new products/features based on pleasing a well defined target customer

Your positioning should be used to help drive the underlying messaging in everything from website content to key points given to your CEO for press interviews and everything in between. Your marketing team will use it to build materials and programs that generate leads in the most attractive markets. 

If your positioning is truly competitive, your sales teams should be almost unbeatable when properly trained and provided with the sales tools needed to win business. Sales will be focused on your product’s most competitive attributes and looking for customers in markets where your company has the greatest likelihood of success. Even non-sales areas like development will be influenced. Target market requirements, for example, will put priority on the development of features most critical to your target prospects.

The bottom line is that positioning will touch most areas of your company. For marketing, this includes everything from social media and content marketing to more traditional print advertising. The positioning statement won’t likely be the message, but it will greatly influence the messages, strategies and tactics to create the desired perception in the target customer’s mind.  

How to Create Positioning That Works

One of the most basic and fundamental deliverables marketing teams need to provide is positioning for both their company and solution. The right positioning establishes the target markets, competitive agenda and key messages you will put forward for your solution. If you don’t have it, salespeople say one thing, marketers say another, press releases are off target, social media efforts focus on the wrong ideas and outbound campaigns miss their mark. The fact is, if you can’t succinctly communicate your solution’s unique value consistently on all levels of your organization, and through all the marketing channels available to you, then your efforts become diluted. It makes you less effective and either makes it tougher for you to succeed against your competition or opens the door for your competition to take business away from you. This is especially true if you’re selling in a crowded marketplace. Best-in-class companies clearly know what issues they solve, how they solve them better than their competition and how to both articulate and support those messages in all areas. 

This article outlines a way to create positioning that works. Take the ideas and adapt them to your company. Many of these ideas are adopted from the proverbial bible on this topic, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (Al Ries & Jack Trout, 2000), which is a must read for any marketer.

In short, positioning can be summed up into five parts:

  1. Research
  2. Market Segmentation
  3. Competitive Differentiation
  4. Positioning Statement Development
  5. Education and Distribution


Target Customers

This may be self evident, but you can’t position your products or services effectively if you don’t know who you are going after and why? Who are your target customers? Why would they choose your solution? What is your customer’s pain? What are their mandates, frustrations, roadblocks, etc.? Don’t be afraid to record business and emotional items. Consider both the strategic and the tactical. Once you have a list, prioritize it like your prospect would. 

Market Segmentation

Now that you understand the customer problem, it is time to decide if there is a market for solving it that is big enough to make it worth your while. It is best that this process occurs before a product is developed. Many times startups develop a technology then search for a market that the technology can fit into, only to find out there isn’t one. This process is very important when trying to justify a new product to an internal executive staff or to request funding from an external source like a VC. In most cases, the market is too big.

If your solution has the ability to span the Healthcare, Government, Entertainment and Oil and Gas markets, that doesn’t mean you should target them all. Segmentation success is many times defined by understanding what you are not going to do. Segmentation allows you to focus sales, marketing and development resources. Succeeding in one market first, establishing a beachhead and then moving to the next is a well established recipe for success (Read more in Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore, 1991, Revised 1999).

Competitive Differentiation

In this part of the process, you should do both an internal and external audit. I recommend developing a matrix with a feature-by-feature comparison of your solution’s key strengths and benefits against those of each competitor. Something that is often overlooked here is including the benefits of your company. Sometimes it is your service, or segment expertise (see segmentation above) that provides a real competitive differentiator.

Once you have your matrix complete, it is time to understand where your solution is strongest and where it is weak. Rank your strengths as your customer would. The top differentiators are going to be the key elements of your positioning statement. Do you have significant competitive advantages that are meaningful to your customers? If yes, you are ready to take the next step. If not, you have some work to do.

For example, can you define a smaller market segment where you are more competitive? Do you really have a product that can compete in your desired target market? If not, why? Can you make adjustments?

The Positioning Statement and Key Supporting Messages should be designed to create a desired perception in your target customer’s mind. Done correctly, it should be clear and succinct. It should play to your strengths, your target customer’s needs and your competitor’s weaknesses. It needs to be truthful and protectable over time. 

A simple format to follow includes:

  • Description of the target customer or segment
  • Description of the pain point and/or needs of this segment that our product addresses (from research phase)
  • Your solution’s name
  • The most compelling reason for a prospect to purchase your product
  • Then end with the main differentiator of your solution relative to competitors

Bad Example

For customers who need to transport people, Big Bird is a school bus that can travel at over 200 miles an hour. Unlike a Ferrari, it holds more people.

Of course this example is extreme, but it helps to easily illustrate common mistakes. In this example, while the company has defined a customer problem, it has not effectively segmented its market. Because the market is too broad (those who need to transport people), the company has no idea which customer benefit on which to focus. This, in turn, leads them to choosing speed as the key benefit and then comparing their solution to a Ferrari.

This comparison leads to additional errors. One, because the market is “transporting people,” the company needs to compete against all modes of transport. Second, because the key benefit chosen is not important for the real target market. Finally, this company has made the error of confusing posturing vs. positioning. It is doubtful that the school bus can go 200 miles per hour. They are committing to a brand promise on which they cannot deliver and one that will ultimately lead to low customer satisfaction and severely damaged credibility.

Good Example

For K-12 school superintendents and transportation managers in the contiguous United States who need to cost effectively and safely transport children to their schools, Big Bird is the safest school bus on the market. Unlike other school buses, it has the best safety record in its class and features both air bags and state of the art safety restraints.

Here we have a well defined target market: K-12 schools. This positioning excludes higher education and other commercial transport. It also allows us to target the decision makers in this well defined space with marketing efforts. Next, in researching this market, the product marketing team has discovered that safety is the number one concern of the decision makers. Luckily, the product happens to be the most competitive in this area. Big Bird has the best safety record in its class. It also has better safety restraints and air bags, both of which support its positioning as “the safest on the market.”

Now that you have a solid perception that you want to create in your prospect’s mind, how do you employ it in your marketing efforts? That is the subject of an upcoming blog post. 

What positioning have you seen that works? Have you gone through this same process?