Tag Archives: B2B

Finding B2B Clients: 4 Strategies We Use

Getting more clientsAs a B2B sales and marketing agency, we are often asked how VA Partners finds new customers. Here are four tactics we use on an on-going basis to build a funnel of potential clients.

1. Use Inbound Marketing

Using a mix of blogs, white papers, email newsletters, website content, social media and SEO, we have built a great inbound lead generation process at VA Partners. We generate close to 60 inbound leads every month, qualify all our leads and then add them to the sales effort.

2. Be a Leader in the Local Startup Space

VA Partners has been in business since 2006 and since that time we have worked hard to build relationships with many well respected organizations. This has led to monthly speaking opportunities, mentoring opportunities, and leading peer-to-peer sessions. This is not a one-time effort, but an ongoing and consistent pursuit.

3. Network and Attend Events

The team is regularly at startup or small business events through the Toronto and GTA region, including KW, Halton and Hamilton. This has been a great way to meet prospects and potential partners.

4. Look for Sales Triggers on Social Media

Social media is a wonderful tool for growing firms. Every member of our team has a strong presence on social media. One of the great opportunities from a sales effort is finding sales triggers that can then be acted upon quickly. Early this year we signed a new B2B customer and also helped a client close a customer through a conversation that started on Twitter and Linkedin. Both of these opportunities closed in less than a month.

What strategies does your business use to find new clients?

Need help getting started with sales? Download our free Introduction to Startup Sales white paper to learn about researching prospects, using LinkedIn for sales and handling sales objections.

How to make social selling easier for your sales team

According to HubSpot, 56% of B2B marketers are planning to increase their social media spend in 2013. But what does the customer-facing sales team think? Do they see the value of social media for sales?

Despite the fact that ‘social selling’ is a pretty popular concept right now, there still seems to be a good chunk of salespeople out there that remain reluctant to embrace business to business social media as a sales tool. Why is this?

In a business world where the average buyer is now 70% of the way through the decision-making process before they even engage with a sales rep, it’s just crazy to ignore the potential of social media on the buying process.

At its core, marketing is about education and influence, and marketers should view the task of onboarding their sales teams no differently than any other campaign they run. As marketers, we need to do a better job of selling B2B social media to sales. And since we all know salespeople love quantifiable benefits, here’s a few statistics that should help your case.

Here are 4 ways that marketers can make social media easier for sales teams:

  • Social Media Training & Onboarding Getting started with social media can seem daunting at first, especially for salespeople in traditional industries. This step is all about change management. Marketers need to provide both initial training sessions and ongoing support to salespeople as required.  As a best practice, every onboarding session should provide the sales team with a 360-degree view of social selling, starting with why social matters and culminating with account set-up and industry best practices. Who should salespeople follow? What keywords should they target? What tools should they use to monitor chatter? How should they engage? What should they avoid doing?
  • Set Objectives Setting objectives for the sales team is a great way to make social stick. However, trying to boil the ocean is the quickest way to fail. When setting objectives for social media, start small. Set weekly, monthly, or quarterly activity goals for sales reps that escalate over time.  Measuring shares, posts, likes, RTs, and followers is a great place to start for a new user. Over time, you can shift these activity-based objectives into goal-based objectives, such as inbound leads and booked meetings.
  • Develop Easy to Follow Processes Marketers must develop easy-to-follow business to business social media processes that can be easily integrated into a salespersons average day. For example, a daily LinkedIn company page update or tweets from the corporate account followed with an email reminder can help keep social selling top of mind for busy salespeople.
  • Work With Sales to Identify Content Opportunities Here lies the true opportunity for marketers. By creating a strong feedback loop with front-line salespeople, marketers can gain insight into what prospects really care about, what works and what doesn’t. Involving sales in this process can not only increase the accuracy of the information, but also help to establish a sustainable content program in the long-run.

Ultimately, integrating social media into the business to business sales process should be a key objective of forward-thinking startups and growing B2B organizations. If you’re a marketer looking for help getting your sales team onboard with business to business social media, I’d love to talk about your challenges. Feel free to reach out to me at any time.

Six STEPPS to Creating Contagious Marketing Content

What do hundred-dollar cheesesteaks, a golf ball destroying blender and a phone booth with a trick door have to do with creating great B2B marketing content?

In his book Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Jonah Berger uses each of these viral marketing sensations to help explore the question of why some products, ideas and behaviours succeed while others fail (a question at the heart of all marketing). While there isn’t a formula to ensure your B2B marketing content will be widely shared, there are six key ingredients that make up a recipe for contagious content. Collectively, Berger calls these the STEPPS.

  • Social Currency According to Berger, social currency manifests when “people share things that make them look good to others.” If you’ve never heard of New York bar Please Don’t Tell, you’ll want to check this out. From a B2B perspective, you can create social currency by delivering information that will make prospects look good when they share it with others, such as members of the C-Suite, managers, or colleagues.
  • Triggers Triggers are “stimuli that prompt people to think about related things.” When thinking about triggers for B2B marketing content, carefully consider context. Successful B2B marketing content is designed for every prospect’s unique environment, situation and business problem, helping to make things personal and keep the brand top of mind.
  • Emotion B2B marketing is often thought of as less personal, but B2B marketing content can still be rooted in emotion. However, as the book notes, content that is physiologically arousing (such as anger or excitement) tends to outperform content that evokes other types of emotion. From a B2B perspective, focus on highlighting core paint points and intimating how your expertise can solve a problem like increasing revenue, decreasing costs, improving productivity or decreasing risk.
  • Public As highlighted in the book, the late great Steve Jobs understood better than most that observability matters (hence why the Apple logo faces outwards on the top of its laptops). Designing your B2B marketing content so that it’s powerful enough to stand alone and leave a lasting impression is crucial. People tend to imitate and share because the choices of others help provide information, known as “social proof”. A great way to lend social credibility to your content is to include brief case study features that highlights the successes of your customer base.
  • Practical Value The simple idea here is that people like to help others and are more than willing to spread great content of practical value. Be sure to keep your B2B marketing content concise yet detailed, and remember to “package your knowledge and expertise so that people can easily pass it on.”
  • Stories Embedding B2B marketing content into stories can help to turn virality valuable. Stories, like ancient Greek tales, help to carry information in ways that straight content can’t. Focus on building Trojan Horses by embedding your content into a greater storytelling narrative that relates to the stage of the buying process your content is targeting.

The STEPPS framework is a good tool for B2B marketers to validate and develop marketing content ideas. If you’d like to understand more about marketing strategy and tactics, or need help developing great B2B marketing content, feel free to reach out to me.

What Starbucks can teach us about B2B marketing

starbucksI never used to understand the appeal of Starbucks.

Before becoming an avid coffee drinker, I couldn’t grasp why the alternative atmosphere, odd ordering system, or premium (sometimes crazy) pricing was so appealing to so many coffee loving consumers. It all seemed like a bit much.

Everything changed for me while at university. A lack of in-school study space and a need for caffeine suddenly made Starbucks a whole lot more appealing. As both a newfound coffee connoisseur and a marketing student, I spent a lot of time thinking about what makes Starbucks so successful. Howard Schultz is also a favourite of a lot of business school professors. Here a few of the top things I feel B2B marketing professionals can learn from the phenomenal success of Starbucks:

  • Start with Culture Great brands are almost always reflections of great cultures. As Bill Taylor has written for HBR, success is “about caring more than other companies — about customers, about colleagues, about how the organization conducts itself in a world with endless opportunities to cut corners and compromise on values.” A unique aspect of Starbucks’ marketing efforts is that internal culture is as much of a focus as external activities, and Starbucks is reknowned as much for its unique culture as it is for its coffee. To be truly successful, B2B marketing professionals should expand their thinking beyond the scope of traditional marketing and ensure everyone in the organization ‘lives the brand’ (through regular training initiatives and openness).
  • Create Authentic Experiences As I’ve written about previously, great brands are a summation of experiences created, conversations fostered, and feelings elicited. Where Starbucks excels is in creating a range of authentic customer experiences that are collectively designed to allow customers to satisfy their own unique needs. There’s no cookie cutter experience and a Starbucks experience is always an authentic, personal one regardless of where you are in the world. It’s been well written about that Starbucks’ goal is to become more than a coffee shop, striving to be a “Third Place”. Accordingly, the company structures itself from top to bottom with the goal of fulfilling that defining idea. B2B marketing professionals should take a similar approach to B2B products and services and design marketing programs that emphasize flexibility and relevance at every stage of the B2B sales cycle. Ensuring that ‘customer experience management’ is chief among the buzz words around your office should be a key B2B marketing priority.
  • Foster Communities At the end of the day, a great product or service will naturally generate a community of fans. But as Starbucks has proven with MyStarbucksIdea and other community building initiatives, great brands help to enable their most passionate brand advocates. From a B2B marketing perspective, fostering communities can help maximize the value of long-term customer relationships at minimal cost. Engaged customers may have information about your products and services that could be extremely valuable. Why not harness that knowledge for the benefit of all of your customers?
  • Marketing Tactics From 1987 to 1997, Starbucks spent less than $10 million per year on advertising as it expanded its empire across the globe. From a very early point, Starbucks understood that the most effective marketing tactics for the brand weren’t paid mediums, but simply word of mouth. Because of the nature of B2B business, organizations would be wise to place an equal emphasis on generating ‘offline’ buzz. Starbucks also excels at embracing opportunity with its marketing tactics, whether during holiday seasons or because of the performance of particular products. B2B marketing professionals should focus on utilizing B2B marketing tactics that are agile enough to adapt to changing circumstances and take advantage of market opportunities.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Venture Accelerator Partners can help your growing business with B2B marketing or startup marketing, please don’t hesitate to contact me or download one of our marketing white papers to continue learning.

Top sources of startup marketing wisdom

As part of my job at Venture Accelerator Partners, I’m tasked with curating great sources of startup marketing content to share with our prospects and customers.

Not only does curating great 3rd party content help build the Venture Accelerator Partner brand, but getting the chance to read so much great marketing material builds my own knowledge base and is helping me become a better marketer for our clients. I highly recommend building some time into your daily schedule to learn about leading marketing tactics and strategies; it can only benefit your business or startup, even if you don’t think you’re a marketer.

Here are a few of my favourite sources of great B2B marketing and startup marketing content:

  • B2Community B2Community is perhaps my favourite spot for insightful, original marketing content. B2Community’s mission is “to create an open community where business professionals can establish their thought leadership, increase exposure for their business/organization, and network with others.” It’s a great source of straightforward yet intriguing material.
  • HubSpot HubSpot publishes so much marketing content, at this point I’m unsure whether they sell software or are a publishing house. Despite the absolutely incredible number of emails I receive from HubSpot each and every day, it truly is a fantastic source of content. Their Inbound Internet Marketing blog is an amazing source of SEO, branding, social media, lead generation, email marketing, lead nurturing & management, and analytics content, and their eBooks are great to keep on file as quick reminders.
  • KISSmetrics In the words of those who run it, the KISSmetrics blog is “a blog about analytics, marketing, and testing”, and it’s doubtful you’ll find a better spot on the web to learn about how those three subjects relate to one another. Be sure to check out their awesome library of infographics on sales, marketing, technology, and social media.
  • RocketWatcher Run by startup marketing junkie April Dunford, RocketWatcher is a go to source for startup marketing content. Full of first-hand tactical and strategic insight from April’s time working with a number of successful startups, RocketWatcher has great advice for launching and growing new products and services.

If you’re interested in learning more about Venture Accelerator Partners can help your growing business with B2B marketing or startup marketing, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Why you should be using a social media content calendar

In a world of content marketing, the one with a plan is king.

Now that the production and curation of quality marketing content is widely viewed as the best way to engage customers and drive meaningful leads, it’s crucial to have a plan that lets you take advantage. And in a world where social media has become a primary means of communication, insightful timing and dogged consistency are the keys to success.

A social media content calendar, a detailed management schedule of how you plan to leverage social media to support your sales and marketing activities, will help keep you focused, save you time, and enhance your social media ROI.

Here are 3 reasons to create a social media content calendar:

  • Integrated Sales & Marketing Support Social media is a tool to support your sales and marketing strategy – not a sales and marketing strategy unto itself. Aimlessly tweeting or posting links to Facebook without an overarching strategy doesn’t add a whole lot of value. To be successful, social media can’t exist in a silo. It must be closely integrated with all other marketing and sales elements to be worthwhile, and a content calendar can help align your social media efforts with your greater strategy. For example, if you’re planning to launch a new product in February, use your content calendar to plan your social media efforts now. Plan to write a series of blogs that help define the problem and demonstrate the need for a solution; schedule a series of escalating tweets and Facebook posts that shift the conversation towards awareness and desire as the launch date nears; plan a Facebook contest that will spur continued engagement post-launch.
  • Better Efficiency & Organization As the number of social media tools used in B2B marketing continues to grow, it’s certainly a challenge to keep track of everything. At VA Partners, our social media content calendar lives in an Excel spreadsheet that gets updated and assessed on a week-to-week basis. Though seemingly simple, our content calendar saves us a huge amount of time and effort with regards to researching and scheduling social media activity. It’s a wonder for 3rd party content curation too, providing us with a guideline/template from which to source great material from top industry sources. Other key benefits are that it keeps us focused and on message, prevents overloading on a single topic, and keeps everyone on the team on the same page.
  • Take Advantage of Timing Different social media tools work best at different times. For example, research has shown that content posted to Facebook garners the most shares around 6:00pm, the most likes around 8:00pm, and Facebook also seems to be more effective at driving engagement on weekends. For its part, Twitter seems to be most effective at driving engagement between 3:00pm-6:00pm (in terms of RTs). Of course, the best time of day will vary for every company, but using a content calendar can help ensure you’re using the right tool at the right time to reach the right audience.

Given that it’s the holiday season, it also seems worthwhile to mention that looking ahead is never a bad idea. Identifying key dates throughout the year (whether they’re holidays, birthdays, customer milestones, etc.) will help ensure you don’t miss out on an opportunity to leverage a special day to engage with customers, employees, or partners.

Does your company use a social media content calendar?

If you’re looking for help streamlining your social media efforts, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

PR Fundamentals for Startups

Recently I attended a “PR Fundamentals for Startups” Best Practices session at the MaRS Studio. These great sessions are held monthly and provide entrepreneurs the opportunity to learn about sales and marketing for startups.

Led by senior executives at Hill + Knowlton, Canada’s top-rated public affairs and public relations firm, the session focused upon developing a media relations strategy and outlined a 4 step process to “tell your story” to the media:

  • Define Your Story An important first step in developing any PR strategy is articulating what you want to say about yourself and your company. Ask yourself the following questions:
    • What problems does your product or service solve?
    • What are your key points of competitive differentiation?
    • Who will buy your product and why?
    • How did your company develop? Where did the idea come from? Media outlets always love human interest stories, so don’t be afraid to injectyourself into the conversation.
  • Research & Target Before you can engage with the media, it’s crucial to understand the landscape. Take the time to get to know the relevant media in your industry and local environment. Find out who the best journalists, bloggers, analysts, and evangelists are in your industry and make an effort to get to know them. Remember that PR is not free publicity – you only own a small piece of the pie. To be successful you have to align your PR efforts with the goals of the media. Then, decide on a “hook” you can consistently use to attract and keep media outlets interested in your company’s development.
  • Contact & Follow-Up After defining your story and understanding the media landscape, you can start building relationships. It’s important, however, not to rush this step. Many startups reach out too early and their PR efforts suffer because of it. When you have newsworthy content, reach out to your media contacts and bloggers and share the news with your partners, employees, customers, investors, and as many other stakeholders as you can.
  • Build & Continue Utilize marketing tools that complement your PR efforts by providing the media with more opportunities to cover what you’re doing. These tools can include:
    • Social Media
    • Blogs
    • Tradeshows
    • Conferences
    • Articles, Case Studies, and Whitepapers
    • PR Opportunities with Partners

A well-developed PR strategy is a crucial marketing component for any tech startup. Solid media relations can enhance understanding of a complex product or service and start to build a reputation, as well as trust, credibility and longevity. Is your company ready for PR?

If you’re looking for help creating a PR strategy, please feel free to reach out to me at any time for some tips and guidance.

 

Understanding your value proposition

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending my first Entrepreneurship 101 session at MaRS in Toronto. Free to the public, the Entrepreneurship 101 lecture series covers topics crucial to starting and running a successful business.

The lecture I attended was led by MaRS Discovery District Education Lead Joseph Wilson and focused on designing meaningful value propositions. As defined by Joseph, a value proposition is a clear statement of unique benefits for a certain group of people. For those crafting a value proposition from scratch, it can help to think about the concept as a hypothesis that your product or service offering will bring certain values to a target customer. There are 3 key components all value propositions should include:

  • Your Product or Service A simple, straightforward statement of your product or service
  • For Whom (Target Customers) Also very straightforward. However, it’s important to remember that when developing value propositions for your products and services you should develop unique propositions for each unique target customer you want to go after. Some value propositions may translate relatively well between target customers, but as Joseph noted, your value proposition should speak to a specific group or person and thus should be specifically targeted.
  • Value(s) Remember, the value or values your products and services provide are separate from its features. From the perspective of VA Partners, our value isn’t that we provide comprehensive sales, marketing, and social media services. Rather, it’s that our services save our customers time while ensuring cost-effective revenue growth.  In general and from a B2B perspective, Joseph advocated that important values tend to be quantifiable, rational, and have a clear link to the bottom line (i.e. convenience, customizability, or quality). At VA Partners, we believe B2B value propositions should be rooted in 4 key areas: saving time, saving money, making money, and decreasing risk.

As an example, using the above method to define my company’s (VA Partners) value proposition, you’d get: “Venture Accelerator Partners provides strategic and tactical sales, marketing, and social media services to startups and growing organizations looking for efficient, cost-effective revenue growth.”

Along the same lines, Software Hamilton’s value proposition would be something like, “Software Hamilton is a community platform, organizer, and gathering space for members of the Greater Hamilton software community looking to connect, collaborate, and create a tight-knit tech community in Hamilton.”

After reading this post, I hope you’ll take the time to analyze your company’s value proposition. Run it through this 3 step process. It’s important to remember that a value proposition isn’t just an elevator pitch, a tagline, marketing copy, or a mission statement. It’s much, much more than that. Ultimately, creating a meaningful value proposition is a “translation game” that requires you to put yourself in your customers’ shoes. Features don’t matter; satisfying customer values does.

What is your company’s value proposition?

If you need help defining your company’s value proposition, please feel free to reach out to me at any time for some tips and guidance.

You can check out Joseph’s fantastic presentation here.

 

Create a More Engaging Email Marketing Newsletter

Email newsletters are one of the most commonly used marketing tactics by organizations of all sizes. A highly efficient and scalable marketing tool, its popularity among businesses shows no signs of slowing down as 67% of businesses plan to increase their usage of the tactic this year. When done right, newsletters can be great vehicles for engaging with your target market and establishing yourself as an industry thought leader. Here are 6 easy tips to help you create a click-through behemoth:

1. Etiquette It goes without saying that spamming is bad. Sending your newsletter to as many people as possible may seem like a great idea to increase your reach, but there’s no better way to feed the junk mail monster than by sending your newsletter to those who haven’t explicitly asked for it. Spamming might get you a few opens in the short-term, but over a longer period it will hurt both your subscription and open rates. Remember – a small, engaged audience is immensely more valuable than a large, apathetic one.

2. Study Your Target Audience This applies on several levels. Of course it’s important to target your newsletter to specific customer groups, but making an effort to understand these groups’ daily habits is crucial too. When are they most likely to open and read their daily email? How do they structure their workdays? What is the nature of their relationship with what you offer? Ultimately, a lot has been written on the mythical best time to send your email but really there is no one best time – only a best time for your audience.

3. Leverage Your Existing Content Chances are you’re already producing great content for your startup or small business using a blog, website, or social media tool. Your newsletter is a great opportunity to leverage the hard work you’ve already put in. Link people to your blog posts that are relevant to the topic of your current newsletter, pull great content from your social media tools, and offer opportunities to download your existing marketing content, such as brochures, fact sheets, or case studies.

4. Design for Success Never underestimate the power of great design. There’s nothing worse than an ugly or boring newsletter. Luckily for those of us who aren’t coding wizards, free or inexpensive newsletter management tools like Constant Contact and MailChimp have great free templates. When designing your newsletter, remember to stay on brand and integrate photographs and other rich media like YouTube videos. A recent campaign for one of our customers averaged almost a 10% increase in opens and click-through rates following a newsletter redesign that incorporated YouTube videos as content.

5. Conciseness + Consistency At the end of the day your newsletter is another marketing tool competing for your customers’ attention, so keeping things concise, to the point, and consistent is key. Let your audience know exactly what they’re in for by taking the time to read your content. Research has shown that shorter subject lines get more opens, but longer subject lines result in more click-throughs. Find a happy medium between the two. Click-throughs are more important to create engagement, but they won’t happen if no one opens your email.

6. Be Clever Most newsletters have open rates between only 13% and 23%, so to grab and maintain your viewers attention, be clever with your subject line and content. Don’t title your monthly newsletter “Widgets-R-Us Monthly Newsletter”. It’s just poor marketing communications. It’s dull, feels like a sales pitch, and won’t start many conversations. Instead, use impactful keywords, intuitive calls-to-action, or lead with your best content.

Follow these 6 tips to increase your newsletter’s open and click-through rates and ensure that your target audience no longer dreads receiving boring emails. Email marketing can be a great first step to closing more B2B sales. If you’re new to email marketing and would like to learn more, subscribe to our monthly startup and small business newsletter.

 

Pinterest for B2B: What to know and how to start

Many small businesses ask themselves the same question when deciding whether or not they should embark in the newest social media platform: Is it worth my time? I recently read an ebook by Hubspot on Pinterest for B2B. For those who are unfamiliar with Pinterest, it is a social platform that relies on the sharing of visuals images. On the surface, it is easy to see how Pinterest benefits B2C companies, but how may it helped B2B organizations?

Below are is a list of various questions you may be asking yourself about Pinterest. I have provided a few points that may help you make a decision about fitting Pinterest into your marketing strategy:

What is Pinterest?

  • Visual social media platform where users share, like, comment and follow people and boards to pass along information in the form of images and videos.
  • How popular is it? Pinterest saw 155% growth in one month, beating out Linkedin and Google+

How does Pinterest fit into the marketing strategy of B2B organizations?

  • What kind of businesses should be considering it? Businesses that highly utilize videos and images in their core messaging. Keep in mind that you want to be where your customers are. Do some research beforehand to see if your current customers and prospects are using the platform.
  • Pinterest provides connectivity to Facebook and Twitter. Users can sign up using their Facebook or Twitter account, therefore, posting their Pinterest activity to these separate social networks as well

I set up a profile, what now?

  • Optimize your profile: Include your company name, logo, brief description, links, keep the setting ‘hide your Pinterest profile from search engines’ checked OFF
  • Want to be successful? Avoid blatant self-promotion. Even a sales person will tell you that no one likes to be ‘sold to.’ Keep your content educational and informative.
  • Start by creating pinboards in order to build a reach and network. A pinboard is like a Twitter list; it is a tool used to consolidate information pertaining to one particular topic of interest. Remember to utilize your company’s keywords in the title of pinboards for SEO purposes and to clearly communicate what your board is for.

I’ve set up a profile. Is there anything else I should know?

  • There are 2 kinds of follows:
    • 1) Follow a board: Users will receive all information posted on a particular pinboard. It’s similar to following a list on Twitter.
    • 2) Follow a user: Users will receive updates every time your company posts an update. It’s similar to following someone’s Twitter handle.
    • When developing your pinboards, remember some of these great tips:
      • Feature visual content; Pinterest is a visual social network
      • Create pinboards about your company so users can see the people behind the brand. Example: Executive Managament board with headshots of your team.
      • Utilize strong visuals from blog articles to promote your blogs
      • Create a user generated pinboard; allow other Pinterest users to add to your boards
      • Utilize hashtags; Pinterest supports the use of hashtags.
      • Measure, Measure, Measure! Remember to measure your efforts by using a tool such as Google Analytics. Identify how many users are coming to your website from Pinterest and set goals for inbound traffic. For example, increase your Pinterest inbound traffic by 20% per month. Also use analytics to understand what works and what doesn’t; are people visiting your blogs from Pinterest and not your newsletter page?

Hubspot has a lot of great resources if you’re looking to brush up on your marketing knowledge, or if you’re interested in learning something new. Give us a shout if you need assistance putting your thoughts into action and want to start executing a strong marketing strategy. To get weekly tips, sign up for our RSS feed and take a look at our blogs on sales, marketing and social media.

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