A Business Technology Place

The B2B Lead Generation Puzzle

It’s the classic sales and marketing dilemma. How can I generate more leads to turn into more sales? When I worked in a marketing technology group one of my responsibilities was to connect digital media with B2B leads. I wanted to provide a framework and toolset to create leads for the sales team.

The question I kept asking myself was “where do business buyers research information at the beginning of their purchasing decision?” I wanted to insert credible information in front of buyers that created leads for my colleagues in sales. As I reflect on it, I wanted the answer to the question to have digital media somewhere in it. I wanted to justify marketing spend in areas of online content, social media sites, online groups, and online forums. At the same time I knew that successful sales employees create their leads through a strong network of people relationships, not electronic tools.

My plan was to use digital media sites and forums to plant information about products and services and then measure which ones were more effective in generating leads. To do this I first looked at membership in online forums, the content of the conversations, and the type of postings. I learned a few things and validated some others.

Know the etiquette of the location.

Don’t post sales ads in an online forum that is setup for discussion to solve. Online forums are for helping people solve problems and to present solutions to problems. Online forums are for learning and sharing.

Sales ads with call-to-actions for offers and promotions are more commonly accepted with email, printed materials, and case studies.

No surprises here.

Email can be a Trojan horse.

At the time many social media sites were blocked by corporate firewall and proxy servers. I could not create leads if prospective and buyers couldn’t participate. But email was a way to get to an inbox. All I had to do was to make sure that I didn’t violate spam rules. Recipients voted with clicks. If the content and offer were compelling then we could get click and maybe a lead.

The basics.

Bring value to someone by solving a problem for them. Business is based on the exchange of services that provide value to both sides.

Solving the puzzle

I don’t think there is one right answer or one right prescription. People, industry, tools, and products are all part of the equation. I don’t have the answer but often consider the puzzle. Kudos to those that find a niche.

Email delivery isn’t guaranteed

A recent service incident with email provided a reminder to me that email delivery is not guaranteed for message delivery. In the incident, the sender was using email to deliver a specific 1-to-1 message. It was not a marketing campaign. Since the distribution list was large, they chose to send the emails in batch through a provider. The problem was that some of the recipients never received the email message even though the ESP stats showed 100% delivery rate.

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kaisaris

Photo credit: Dimitrios Kaisaris

There are multiple factors that affect email delivery and some of them are out of the control of the sender. The sender can control attributes such as subject and message content but they can’t completely control what happens after the email is handed to an ESP on behalf of the recipient. From that point there are spam/bulk mail rules at the ESP as well as personalized mailbox rules for the recipient that affect the message delivery.

By chance, I was registering for Peachtree Road Race (10K) which requires a lottery for registration. I noticed the following statement on their explanation of how runners would be notified of the lottery results.

All individuals within the “Group” will be informed of their selection into the 2013 Peachtree by March 25 via email or through the searchable results on peachtreeroadrace.org and ajc.com/peachtree.

Email is efficient, fast, and low cost. But email delivery is not guaranteed. So when we use email to deliver specific B2C or B2B messages that require some type of acknowledgement, it’s a good idea to augment the message with another form of message delivery such as a postal mail piece or electronic posting on a web site.

Distance education continues to expand

The need for business innovation is constant.
I was talking to a friend this week about changes in the banking industry sparked by advancements in technology. The conversation topics included the importance of physical bank branches today and the future of branches for banks in the future. During our discussion I said that all industries must continually reinvent themselves through innovative changes.

Now I realize that wasn’t a breaking-news revelation. But within the context of our conversation it was meant to summarize the changes in business over the past several years brought on by the rapid advancement of technology. Who would have thought that brands like Borders Books and Circuit City would have hit the wall? Our banking discussion was about the impact of technology on banking transactions and why people still needed a physical branch. Many banking industry analysts are talking about this in great detail including Jim Marous and Brett King.

What about education?
New models for providing higher education are appearing now and already beginning to challenge the traditional model for education that we all know. What’s not to like about completing high school and then leaving home to grow-up and find yourself all within the safety of an educational environment? But several things are happening to challenge this model. One is the cost of a college education continues to rise and not only are many families seeking alternative ways to obtain a degree, but universities are searching for new models to help manage costs.

Some of my friends have sent their kids to local community colleges to complete the early core classes. Then later they may transfer to a larger school away from home. More and more of my friends are keeping their kids at schools in-state because of the higher priced tuition for out-of-state students.

What about remote education delivered to you on-demand?
I recently read a Google+ post from my alma mater Georgia Tech about a relatively new startup named Coursera that is partnering with universities to provide courses online for free. Why not? We have wide spread availability of high bandwidth. We have tools to capture video and display it for common use both immediately and recorded. It doesn’t require additional physical infrastructure for schools, it’s scalable to more reach more students, and it provides reach beyond local geographic boundaries. The challenge for Coursera, as with many businesses offering the core service for free, is how to make a profit with the business model.

Remote course delivery is now an important piece of the overall education portfolio for colleges and universities and will continue to grow in the coming years. But as with Coursera, the bigger challenge of remote content delivery is not with the technology. The challenge is rooted in the business models and marketing used to attract and retain students while still making a profit.

My first-hand experience.
I was on the leading edge of distance education when I entered and completed an online masters degree from Auburn University. The program had two options to receive content: DVDs for taped class room lectures or online streaming. Exams were mailed by the school to my place of employment where a local human resources manager would proctor the exam (I reserved a conference room). I had the ability to converse with other students through online tools and email.

Watch this trend in the coming years. Look to see how universities reach students through remote delivery. Maybe the discussions about the future of the on-campus college experience are not wide spread right now, but as tuition costs continue to rise above inflation and communication technology continues to advance, competition in the education industry will continue to create alternative models.

How to create an archive of Google+ blog posts

There’s a growing movement that supports Google+ as a next generation blogging platform due to it’s built-in interactive aspects, audience reach, search indexing, and digital capabilities. One of the biggest proponents of the movement is +MikeElgan and he recently posted about his support of Google+ as a blogging platform. Traditional blogging platforms provide methods for auto-generating an archive of posts. Archives can be chronological or topical and provide readers with a quick way to link or search into the contents.  For writers using Google+ as a blog publishing platform, +ShawnHandran posted a way to create an archive of the Google+ blog posts.  Handran’s method was to manually maintain an archive in a public Google doc spreadsheet.

That made me think about my recent post of automating my digital life with the tool from If This Then That. Using this service, it’s possible to automate a RSS feed into a Google doc spreadsheet.

So putting the automated service together with Shawn Handran’s idea, here are the complete steps to create an archive for public Google+ blog posts.

1. Create an RSS feed for your Google+ public posts.
There are many tools to do this. One that +MikeElgan recommends is Pluss Feed Proxy for Google+. When you visit the site you can choose the option to “Login with Google”. This will generate a URL for your RSS feed.

2. Create an account on If This Then That.

3. With the ifttt profile create a recipe that uses the RSS feed from step 1 as the trigger.
There are two options: a) All RSS posts b) Posts that contain specific keyword phrases.
I recommend using the option for keyword phrase matching because you may want to create public posts that are not blog posts.

4. Then for the output choose a Google Doc spreadsheet.
Note: You don’t have to use Google Docs as the output. There are a variety of platforms that provide service to make a document accessible via URL (Evernote, Sky Drive, etc.)

5. Share the google doc spreadsheet.
Do this by clicking the share button in Google docs and making the file publicly viewable.  Get the URL of the file.

6. Add the google doc archive to your Google+ profile.
On your Google profile in the links area add an entry for Blog Archive and put the URL of the public Google Doc.

That’s it! The recipe on IFTTT does not trigger automatically. But if you create a Google+ post and share with public using your keyword, then you should see the archive within 30 minutes or so.

Let me know if you have any questions.

eMail marketing vs social channels

My daily routine of working in the marketing department includes planning and executing communications on digital platforms. What’s not to like about this work? It’s full of experimenting with message formats, exploring new channels, researching customers, and tracking results. Good stuff.

But ultimately marketers are measured on the success of the communications they create. So it goes beyond experimenting having a little fun. The work needs to produce a return. I may create digital messages on five different platforms and feel good about it. Yet success is measured by some connection. The connection might lead to a sale, solve a complaint, answer a question, etc. No one aims to produce noise, irrelevant messages, or content that is otherwise not useful.

In recent days, my group has had more success with the older email communication channel than with newer digital platforms such as Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. The metrics we use to measure were so lopsided that I recently told my boss that eMail is our trojan horse through the corporate firewall.

What I meant by this was that my research showed limited use of some digital networks during business hours for B2B communications. While I don’t have specific numbers, I believe that many of our clients are restricted from using those digital sites due to corporate firewall and social media policies. But email is allowed. Email is a way to get through the internet usage policies and to deliver messages.

Of course the message must still be relevant. But we can get a sense of that from eMail tracking. Unlike paper based mail, we can not only track deliverability but we can see open, render, and click-through rates as well. I can’t tell you how many people read a tweet. I have to look for some other evidence such as if they respond to a message, retweet it, use a coupon code,etc.

The eMail inbox is different though. People are in the habit of reading or at least scanning the subject line of every message that is inside their email inbox. That’s not true of other digital media such as status updates on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc. I know at least with my own habits, that I don’t review and read every message from every contact on social sites where I have a profile. I typically see a status feed of the most current events. If I haven’t looked in a few days then most likely I never see the social message. That’s the email difference. It’s still a place where most people attempt to scan every message because they don’t want to miss those messages that are personal to them.

Melissa Campanelli of Online Marketing Strategies and Tactics summarized a Forrester study on email usage. Her summary includes points made by Forrester about email volume growth including cost and effectiveness. It all adds up to supporting evidence for companies to continue to use eMail for B2B communication.

I found the question of eMail Marketing vs social media posted on LinkedIn as well.   The points in that discussion are great:
* Email isn’t a replacement communication device but part of a larger overall strategy.
* Message content, audience, and relevancy are critical

Bottom line? Find what works. Experiment. Then make connections. What’s not to like about that kind of work? 😉