Being that we deliver a great tool for marketers, we’d be remiss if we didn’t also deliver some commentary into the trends and issues facing marketers today. To that end, we want to bring you some great insight from experts across the marketing landscape in a new series of interviews we’re calling “Seven Questions.”
Kicking us off is B2B marketing expert, John Fox, who is:
- Author of Marketing Playbook: The Manual for Growing Organizations–102 of the Best Marketing Plays to Get Your Sales Team Across the Goal Line, and
- author of 99 Questions To Jump Start Your Partner Channel Brain, and
- CEO of Venture Marketing.
John took some time to chat with us about efficiency roadblocks, marketing automation, and what software development has done for marketing…
1. Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you become a B2B marketing expert?
I guess you can consider me a bag carrying sales guy. I started my career at Intel after getting my engineering degree. I was in sales for several years and just really enjoyed the work that I did which was all in small business. I joined a startup by the name of US Robotics, which ended up being bought by 3Com. I have worked with probably six or seven startups in executive roles and have always gravitated toward business development and marketing.
About 15 years ago, I took all that I was doing and morphed it into a consulting practice where I had an opportunity to help small businesses do something that they generally don’t do a very good job of and that is marketing themselves. In the B2B world, that means giving the sales team something that they can use to open a conversation; get through the conversation; close it; and to re-engage existing clients or those that have gone inactive.
I live by the sales process. Very few businesses actually have one. I really believe that marketing has to be a sales support function and that it doesn’t take the lead. There are a number of folks that don’t believe that, but inevitably the sales folks are the ones that have to endure the customer relationship. They’re the ones that have to build it; they’re the ones that have to repair it; and my job is to make them look really good and to get them more of those kind of bodybuilding experiences with clients than they otherwise could have done on their own.
2. Your book, “The Marketing Playbook,” has been endorsed by such industry gurus as Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin. What inspired you to write it?
It’s from watching my clients, and to a certain extent my own business, make the same mistakes over and over again. None of it is profound. So many times when I would sit down with a marketing team, it was always with a clean sheet of paper and yet we had already done similar projects before. So rather than building templates and building checklists it was like we were starting all over again and that was really frustrating
My agency was all about “let’s try to get the most done,”; “let’s be frugal with our marketing,” and “everything we do should be useful at some other place.” In other words, once we’ve built something, it should be able to be sliced and diced and used in a whole bunch of different avenues.
Eventually, I wanted to template things out. Otherwise you can’t train people on how to do things. My book was essentially my way of giving marketers a process for each one of those things. There’s over a hundred different strategies on how to build a profile around a client and understand who your client is. It shows how to segment clients all the way through the sales process to where it starts to repeat again after a customer is already a customer and now they’ve gone inactive and you have to figure out how to bring him back. There’s a marketing strategy that can be applied at each one of those stages in the sales process.
3. What are the most common obstacles preventing marketing teams from getting things done efficiently?
Peter Drucker always said “the objective of business is to create customers.” So often we hear the objective of business is to make money; to build profits; to keep shareholders happy; all kinds of nonsense. I just found that in any business if you create customers, you’ve taken care of all of those things at once. If you’re always building more customers, then you are profitable.
So when I think about the mistakes that I see marketers make, I think the biggest is that they don’t understand what a customer looks like. If they stood next to one, they wouldn’t really be able to recognize it. It’s very easy to get in your cube and not see the outside world and not want to go out and talk to customers because they’re people and ‘Oh My God! I might say something wrong!’
When I was at US Robotics, we had a really strong belief that the best experience a customer could have was to actually talk to our engineers that made the modems. When we went to tradeshows, our engineers were right on the show floor with the marketing and sales teams. The whole company got to experience what it was like talking to a customer, especially an unhappy one because they were the ones that would seek you out and read you the riot act on something not working correctly. That was probably one of the most important things that I learned.
It’s beyond building these customer personas and profiles. It’s about rubbing your shoulders up against these folks and seeing what their problems are and that’s what really can make you successful as a marketer – when you know the customer as well, if not better than the sales team.
4. What role does technology play in overcoming these obstacles, particularly cloud technology?
The one thing that I believe gives the marketing department an unfair advantage that the sales team doesn’t have today is marketing automation – that I could put some code on my website and can actually see customers coming back; visitors coming back and eventually registering; where they’re coming from; and what time of day. I really have an opportunity to be a fly on the wall and watch how customers interact with our stuff. It not only makes me a better marketer because I can see where the holes are, but that kind of data tells me the stuff that sales people have been just dying to find out.
When you have the understanding of what a pre-click looks like in the customers’ mind, it’s as if you can stand behind them as they’re sitting at their computers Googling the information and you can read the keywords they’re using. That’s the power you get through marketing automation.
5. In an accelerated marketing environment, what management techniques have you found most effective? Do you see anything new and radically different that works, or are more “tried-and-true” methods prevailing?
Utilization of checklists and forms to systematize the projects that you already have is very effective. If you’re doing five logo projects a month, you probably should have a process where you click a button and it automatically creates all of that and you just update the assignments. There are tools like Asana, for small marketing teams and that’s all you need. It’s very simple to use. Even simpler are tools like CheckVisit.
What I see happening in marketing is very similar in what happened to software development over the last ten years; this whole notion of Agile development.
To me the cool thing about Agile is that it’s two things – one is that you’re relying on small commits; tiny little steps. So what happens is the development process isn’t waterfall or everything-all-at-once. You can get real quick sign off, like ProofHQ lets you do, and you’re not waiting for the “big event.” It’s little things. You can make mistakes and they can be small mistakes that are easily corrected.
The other thing I like about it is that it forces you to segment your projects. It’s really about putting things into containers and small little bits and pieces of software that are reused not only in that one project, but also in other projects.
I see that in marketing and it’s happening as people develop content. They’re realizing that a YouTube video has a whole bunch of different things inside of it – it has an audio component so I can suck out the audio and put it on iTunes; I can take the video and put it into slides; I could get closed caption; I could do all sorts of stuff with just one process.
I think that’s some of the things I see going on that’s really exciting. It allows you to do more things, to be more flexible and I think it’s much better development for the marketing team.
6. What’s one thing that marketing teams can do to instantly improve their efficiency?
I think the big thing that improves efficiency is that they understand the customer conversation. It’s beyond this idea of persona. It’s really about being able to understand and get inside their head. That takes time and it takes an understanding of why they buy and the psychology involved. You gotta spend time and get inside their head and know the questions to ask and be armed. That way, if you’re in a particular tradeshow, and talking to your neighbor, you can ask a few good questions and get pretty good answers as to how things are purchased.
7. What trends do you see shaping the way marketing teams operate in the next three years?
I think you’re going to see much greater collaboration with smaller teams and I think inevitably the person who’s going to make the most money is the person who really understands project management; the one who is going to not only figure out the customer conversation, but who can operate in the “Hollywood” mode. Like a movie is put together, they can assemble a team, put the movie together, produce it, and then they break up the team.
It requires someone to manage that project to the infinite detail and at the same time be able to keep customers informed on both sides of the table, internally and externally. They can put that stuff together really quickly and keep tabs without going crazy.
I really believe that marketing departments and agencies are going to look like the software business. You’ll close your eyes and say, “wow, this looks like a software shop and my marketers are doing a lot of coding!” Marketers already understand things beyond HTML5; they understand jQuery; they understand PHP; they have a basic understanding of frameworks from Code Igniter. They all know that stuff and I think you’ll see a lot of software folks come over to the marketing team and that’s going to be fun.