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The Role of Content In An Account-Based Marketing Strategy

content-marketingFew things are as misunderstood as content. In many ways content, and by extension content marketing, experienced a rebirth with the creation and mainstreaming of Inbound Marketing and the growth of marketing automation. As an executive shared with me many years ago, “Don’t spend money on marketing automation if you don’t spend a multiple of that on the content to use with your automation.”

In an Inbound Marketing context, content is a critical linchpin for the dominant Inbound tactic - search engine optimization (SEO). Content, laced with keywords, enabled people to find you. The more (good) content you created the more traffic you gain and the more leads you’d generate (at least that’s what the theory says). In a world where SEO is important, identifying the most important role for content generation and utilization is pretty easy.

In our work with companies that work in more highly defined industries/verticals selling fairly large ACV solutions, we’ve noticed that their approach to content is still being driven by the same guideline and expectations. But, it’s not effective.
Here’s why:

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10 Elements of Effective Sales Emails

sales-emailsAs the old saying goes, “Emails...can’t live with them, can’t live without them.” (Okay, that’s not really a saying.) Despite the multiple, premature claims that “email is dead,” my experience and data from DMR show that the growth of email is not slowing down.

Email is, unquestionably, one of the most powerful tools in a salesperson or marketer’s toolkit. It is still a powerful 1:1 medium, giving the selling organization direct influence of what, where and when a message will be received.

It’s also one of the most challenging and dangerous tactics. The “inbox” is the most competitive place in the world. There’s a war between senders and recipients. As senders search for ways to get into the inbox, recipients are fighting to keep more email out (and the recipients are winning).

For more than 10 years I’ve been working with salespeople and marketers to improve the impact of their emails. I’ve also been studying those emails that work best and have the greatest impact.

Here are the 10 attributes that I’ve discovered have the greatest impact on the effectiveness of a sales email:  

1. Subject Line

A strong subject line is crucial to the likelihood of your sales email doing its job well. The "job" of the subject line is to stand out in the recipient's inbox and stimulate curiosity or relevance. Be sure your subject line answers the question "Why should I read this" in a strong, clear and concise manner. Strong subject lines are typically 7 - 12 words/35-70 characters.

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Creating A High-Impact Outbound Scoreboard


If you know me at all, you know that I’m a very competitive person (some have said too competitive, and I can’t really argue with them). I love to win and I hate to lose.

One of the great lessons I’ve learned about myself, and found applies to the vast majority of people (even those not as competitive as me), is how important clarity is if you want people to be engaged and motivated. A BIG part of clarity is the ease with which an individual knows whether they’re winning or losing the “game” they’re playing. I’ve often said that a key to someone being happy and engaged in their work is the ability to go home each day knowing whether they won or lost the day, and whether they’re winning the week, the month, the year and so on.

A scoreboard is a necessary element to creating such clarity. If you doubt the importance of “knowing the score,” just watch how the intensity changes when a bunch of kids are playing a game and start keeping score.

A strong scoreboard has five required components to be truly effective: 

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Move Beyond Thought Leadership to Break The Sales Barrier Myth

Teaching-Point-of-ViewFor the last decade, selling organizations have been nearly paralyzed because of research from CEB (now Gartner CEB) that highlighted that, due to a variety of factors, buyers were 57% through their journey before they were open to engaging with salespeople.

While sales leaders, reps, and demand generation teams have paid lip service to strategies and tactics designed to address this challenge, the reality is that they have, for all practical purposes, abandoned the early stages of the sales process and pushed harder and harder to the post-intent, high-inclination-to-buy late-journey stage. Demand Generation has become a buzzword as tactics rapidly shift to demand capture. And while demand is high and the economy is red-hot, the cost of this shift isn’t being felt (and in many ways, companies are experiencing positive reinforcement for activities that thrust them further into the commoditization trap).

I have never disputed the virtual revolution in buy-side behavior but, for as long as I’ve been in business, I’ve vigorously argued that the cause of this change was driven primarily because of a lack of value creation generated by sales and marketing in the early phases of a decision or purchase, and not because of some innate desire on the part of buyers to do away with salespeople.

Today, I’m happy to share, that I now have the data to back up my claim. A just-released research report from The Aberdeen Group, Demystifying B2B Purchase Intent Data shows that buyers are not only not avoiding sales reps at the beginning of the buying process - they are desperately looking for professionals who actually create value. Here are some of the highlights:

  • 50% of those involved in B2B purchases say they have incomplete, unclear or poorly defined criteria surrounding the business need they are addressing.
  • 73% of B2B buyers are more willing to speak with a vendor “earlier than usual in the consideration process” if:
    • They can help me define my problems and needs
    • They tell me something I didn’t know about the category of my competitors
    • They provide me with objective information and help me frame my decision
    • They challenge my way of doing business by highlighting a pain point or organizations need we weren’t aware of
  • 33% of B2B buyers will favor a vendor that “shows me a new way of solving an established problem”
  • 66% of B2B buyers say that vendors that have taken such an approach have enabled them to shorten the purchasing/decision/sales cycle

It turns out that one of the major reasons that buyers are doing more on their own is

because of the seller.

The Focus on Thought Leadership May Generate Clicks, But It Doesn’t Influence Buyer Behavior

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Strategy Kills

good-strategy-bad-strategyI’m in the midst of reading an excellent book at strategy. Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: The Difference and Why It Matters, by Richard Rumelt, should be consumed by any senior executive or advisor who is serious about business growth (h/t to David Cancel, Drift’s CEO for the recommendation). While some people may think a book published in 2011 is “old,” don’t let that scare you away. If anything it demonstrates that the fundamentals of good strategy are timeless.

I have a friend who likes to say that the problem with most strategists is that they don’t know what strategy is. And there is probably no word used more frequently and improperly than strategy. If you bring more than a couple of business executives together to talk about their business, it’s virtually guaranteed that the term will be used more than any other word and that it will mean something different nearly every time it’s used.

In its essence, strategy is all about making choices, and choices are all about making decisions. The word “decide” and the word “homicide” both have the same Latin root and mean the same thing - to kill. When you decide, you “kill” the alternatives.

Strategy, therefore, is all about killing options. It’s about reducing chaos and confusion to increase the focus on fewer, critical elements. And, this is why strategy is so damn hard and so rarely used correctly or effectively. Killing options is hard and scary.

The 3 Most Common Mistakes Made With Strategy

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5 Pieces of an Effective Conversational Marketing Strategy

Conversational-MarketingConversational Marketing is a hot topic today. Whether you’re in a book store,  in Times Square, following a bunch of marketers in a Twitter feed, or discussing with forward-leaning demand generation teams about where they’re focused today, conversational is sure to come up early.

I will freely admit that I’m still a bit cynical about whether “conversational” is truly an emerging strategy or just another buzzword designed to make something simple and natural seem complex and difficult so the companies spreading the message can more easily sell their products and/or services (see branding).

I am increasingly being won over that conversation is a worthy topic of focus for growth-focused executives. I believe this for 3 reasons:

  • Demand generation, sales, and marketing are losing their plot and seem to be forgetting their fundamental purpose

  • Buyers continue to change their expectations and desires, and sellers must keep up and create alignment with the buyer

  • The growing focus and capabilities of technology seem to be having the unintended effect of disconnecting

To be clear, (capital C) Conversational Marketing must be viewed through a larger context than “chat,” chat applications, and chatbots. It must be viewed through the holistic prism of corporate strategy. Simply put, the time has come for your company to become a Conversational Company.

This blog post is focused on the key elements necessary to develop and execute such a strategy. It is not focused on the tactical/execution elements. If you’re looking for a great guide to implementing some of the tactics of around Conversational Marketing, I encourage you to download the resource that Drift just released designing The Conversational Blueprint. It’s a great resource and thinking document to guide how you approach conversations in your DemandGen process.

Serendipitously, as I began writing this post, Mark Kilens, Drift’s VP of Content & Community (and before that the leader of HubSpot Academy) tweeted this about conversations:

Conversational marketing The job of a Conversational Strategy is to design and execute the structure to generate “friendly games of catch” purposefully, predictably and repeatably.

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The 3 Biggest (& Most Common) Mistakes Made With AI

AI in MarketingFOMO: The Fear of Missing Out

It was Bill Gates who said, “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.” Nowhere is the outlook more on display that when it comes to the topic of artificial intelligence (AI).

Make no mistake, technology in general and AI specifically are having a major impact on the work growth-focused organizations are taking. AI is absolutely something you should be aware of, and, to some degree, keeping track of. It is not, however, something that should be at the top of any small or mid-market growth company executives attention or worry list.

What Is Artificial Intelligence

Part of the difficulty with addressing AI is that it often means a bunch of different things to different people. What’s more, the term AI is often used to infer things that are not necessarily in place. AI is very confusing to many, so I turned to my friends at HubSpot, who published a nice piece on important definitions surrounding AI. Here are some of the key terms:

Artificial Intelligence: In the most general of terms, artificial intelligence refers to an area of computer science that makes machines do things that would require intelligence if done by a human.

Machine Learning: In short, machine learning is the ability of a program to absorb huge amounts of data and create predictive algorithms.

If you’ve ever heard that AI allows computers to learn over time, you were likely learning about machine learning. Programs with machine learning discover patterns in data sets that help them achieve a goal. As they analyze more data, they adjust their behavior to reach their goal more efficiently.

Deep Learning: On the far end of the AI spectrum, deep learning is a highly advanced subset of machine learning. Deep learning can find super-complex patterns in data sets by using multiple layers of correlations. In the simplest of terms, it does this by mimicking the way neurons are layered in your own brain. That’s why computer scientists refer to this type of machine learning as a “neural network.”

Natural Language Processing: Natural language processing (NLP) can make bots a bit more sophisticated by enabling them to understand text or voice commands. On a basic level, spell check in a Word document or translation services on Google are both examples of NLS. More advanced applications of NLS can learn to pick up on humor or emotion.

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The Accountability Game: Creating Clarity & Alignment In Your Business

Clarity and Alignment in BusinessI regularly write about a variety of growth-focused strategies, systems, and skills. Yet, while these areas are certainly important, the biggest determinant of success is an organization’s ability to execute. Give me average strategies, systems, and skills with dogged execution and I’ll beat anyone with average execution.

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5 Popular Sales Metrics That Destroy Sales Performance

Sales MetricsEditor's Note: This post originally appeared on the HubSpot Sales Blog

In 1997, Billy Beane became the General Manager of the Oakland A’s. The A’s had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball and in the four full seasons before Beane became GM, the A’s averaged less than 70 wins a season. Beane knew if he was going to build a contending team, he would not be able to do it the traditional way.Beane’s strategy -- as depicted in the 2011 film, “Moneyball” -- has traversed beyond the world of baseball to nearly all sectors of business and has become synonymous with making data-driven decisions.The tenet Beane and the A’s followed enabling them to average more than 93 wins per year for the following eight years had two components:

  • Discard highly valued “vanity” metrics that did not have a significant impact on winning baseball games.

  • Identify different metrics -- preferably those no one else was paying attention to but which had a significant impact on winning baseball games.

If Billy Beane were to take over a sales organization today, he would feel like he’d traveled back by about 20 years.Sales organizations today are dominated by metrics, but they’re rarely data-driven and even take actions counterproductive to the outcomes they desire. This results in higher costs, burnt out reps, high turnover, and frustrated customers.When noted economist Steven Levitt published the book “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything,” he shared the disproportionate impact structural incentives have on the behavior of individuals and their output.Structural incentives are those created by the structure of what’s being done. They are often referred to as the law of unexpected consequences and are generally more powerful than explicitly stated incentives.Structural incentives are also one of the primary causes of difficulty in change management. In sales, the most common structural incentives are the metrics used to assess performance -- whether tied to compensation or not.

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Just Say No To Shitty Emails: 5 Tips To Revitalize Your Emails

jsn-emailsWelcome to the first in our series of Just Say No to Shitty Sales & Marketing videos. Today, we're tackling shitty emails. There's probably no tactic that creates more anxiety among marketers, salespeople, and sales executives alike than the topic of email.

Email is a critical linchpin to managing relationships. If we don't have access to our target prospects’ or leads’ inbox, then we're going to be at a significant disadvantage to be able to connect, influence, or generate any type of action. We have to remember that email is a push communication tactic in a pull communication world. We can't do email the way we've always done it.

We have to realize how our target prospects and leads engage with email. How do they manage things so that we can position ourselves to be successful with our email communications?

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