Ask the Expert: Ruth Stevens on the Four Pillars of B2B Marketing

How Content Marketing Can Contribute to the Sales and Marketing Mission

May 16, 2015

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In our most recent Ask the Expert post, we learned how Margaret Molloy is mastering social media, and how you can too. For our latest edition, we are joined by Ruth P. Stevens, eMarketing strategist and B2B guru. Ruth consults on customer acquisition and retention, teaches marketing at business schools in the U.S. and abroad, and is a guest blogger at HBR.org, Biznology, and Target Marketing Magazine.

For B2B marketing insights straight from a savvy, experienced pro, see what Ruth has to say about her four B2B marketing pillars, marketing automation, customer retention, and lead nurturing in our Q&A below.

Q&A with Ruth P. Stevens, eMarketing Strategist & B2B Guru  ruth stevens profile

LinkedIn: If you were just starting a B2B content marketing program, how would you address the four pillars of B2B marketing? Should brands look to build their pillars simultaneously, or are there certain ones that need to be addressed first?

Ruth: The four pillars I identified are thought leadership, lead generation offers, search engine rankings, and lead nurturing touches. These are, in my mind, the top four applications of content marketing to the B2B go-to-market process.  That said, content marketing also can be applied in other areas, like customer retention.

How to prioritize these top four applications is a question of marketing strategy, so it’s hard to generalize.  Most B2B companies are looking for leads, in which case developing content that is useful for lead generation and nurturing would be the place to start.  Search engine rankings these days are best accomplished through the natural course of marketing communications, so this application can be viewed as a by-product of other activity, at least at the onset.

Thought leadership is usually about building awareness and a positive company image, which provide valuable leverage to lead generation—and to everything else. It’s certainly easier for a sales person to get an appointment if the prospect has already heard of their company!  But, awareness-building activities are harder to tie directly to revenue, so I would likely rank thought leadership second, after a lead program.

LinkedIn: You recently published an article on the LinkedIn publishing platform titled, “Marketing Automation Is Not Marketing Strategy.” In your opinion, what is the most common mistake brands make with marketing automation?

Ruth: Thinking that it’s a silver bullet, which was the main point I made in that article, is a mistake I see being made. Another is insufficient focus on the data that underlies the marketing automation system. Without accurate and complete information for targeting customers and prospects, automation is nowhere. Marketers get excited about the campaign planning and the messaging, and somehow ignore the issue of getting the campaign to the right person.

This is why Theresa Kushner and I are publishing a new book in June 2015, B2B Data-Driven Marketing: Sources, Uses, Results. Our goal is to help B2B marketers take control of the data asset that drives marketing success today.

LinkedIn: You specialize in both customer acquisition and retention. In your eyes, how can B2B content marketers do a better job of retaining customers?

Ruth: Great question. I often rue the fact that B2B marketers focus so much on new customer acquisition—leads—while the bulk of profits come from current customers. Year after year, surveys show that only 15-17% of marketing budgets go to retention. This is nuts. It’s also understandable, though, because in many companies customer retention is more the province of sales, versus marketing.

Wherever customer retention is managed, content marketing is a hugely important resource. For decades, informative newsletters have been a proven tactic for staying top of mind with customers. Client conferences and events, too, are all about educational content. These days, social media provide quick and low-cost vehicles for deepening and growing customer relationships.

So, to the question of doing a better job at retention, I would point to two principles. First, make retention a focus area for your company’s marketing. Second, support the retention effort with a steady stream of useful content designed to help current customers solve business problems. Building a content library that provides account managers with a set of assets they can send to current customers may be the best way to start.

LinkedIn: What are the B2B brands that excel in lead nurturing doing differently than brands that struggle with lead nurturing?

Ruth: They recognize its value, and plan a robust nurturing program as part of every lead generation campaign. Too often, marketers get caught up in the excitement of the campaign’s front end, and forget to think through what will happen after the response comes in. It’s at that point you need a lead qualification process to determine which leads are ready to send to a sales person for follow up.

Typically, fewer than 15 percent of campaign responses will qualify right away, so the other 85 percent need to be put in a nurturing program. Once they’re there, stay in touch until they are ready to take up the valuable time of a sales person. An excellent lead nurturing program includes:

  •  A lead nurturing process based on what you know about the prospect and the account.
  • A variety of touches. Don’t rely entirely on email. Mix in telephone, social media, postal mail, and even face-to-face events.
  • Informative, non-salesy messaging. Nurturing isn’t about selling. It’s about staying in touch and positioning your company as a valuable partner in solving the prospect’s problems. The content should be timely, educational, and highly relevant to their needs.
  • A steady, but responsive, cadence. Don’t bombard. Consider nurturing an efficient but highly personal set of interactions, designed to help the prospect along the buying journey.

Ruth’s new book, B2B Data-Driven Marketing, will be published in June 2015. Learn more at ruthstevens.com.

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