3 lessons from a B2B Publisher who is Innovating Their Way to Success

Hats off to CFE Media (www.cfemedia.com/) for their stream of continuous innovation.  The company was founded a year ago to take over a number of engineering-focused titles that were shed by Reed Business Information. CFE is lead by a progressive team of two former Reed publishers, who decided to approach their editorial and advertising strategy differently.  Motivated by a B2B marketplace that was characterized by falling print advertising and limited online ad sales, the management team deployed some critical new ways to approach the B2B engineering marketplace that takes full advantage of proven consumer models, leverages the interactive nature of the internet, and retains the best parts of their existing Publishing model.  But above all else, CFE Media considered the concerns and issues facing their readership and focused on helping them make better business decisions.  Their approach has created valuable differentiation from their competitors and allowed CFE to grow their business despite challenging economic times.  Here are three important lessons for you to consider.

Lesson 1:  Whether you are a vendor or a publisher – remember to put the needs of your reader first

Too many companies have forgotten their customer and what it takes to make thing better or easier for them to get their jobs done.  As economic times have gotten tough, many have used the down economy as a crutch as to why their business has slowed.  Very often, the reason why the business has slowed is because companies have forgotten who they serve.  For publishers, this often means they have lost direct contact with their readers.  They’ve stopped surveying, meetings and calling readers to find out what is working well and what is not.  Luckily for CFE, this is not their business style.  The management team immediately deployed a strategy which called for heavy reader feedback and tools which allowed for an honest assessment of what is working and what is not.  The result has greatly changed the publishing product that CFE produces.  And if you watch the way change is deployed, it is not done in one major revision, but rather as a set of smaller continuous improvements.  I know that CFE’s offering will continue to evolve over the years because their business model recognizes that readers’ involvement with media is changing as well and their continuous interaction with the reader ensures that their products and services change right along with them.

Lesson 2: Know what you want to achieve and find ways to measure progress

In some ways, the CFE approach was amazingly simple.  With a strong focus on their readers’ interests, CFE went off to recast their publishing model.  Nothing was sacred…except their core focus.  First, they reviewed what was working from their existing processes.  If there wasn’t a way to measure how effectively a program was working, then a metric was created.   In some cases, automation was used; in other cases they simply called groups of readers to get honest opinions from their audience.  The results?  CFE came up with a wide variety of approaches that – while popular in the consumer market – have not been widely applied in the B2B space.  These range from content marketing, to creative use of video for education, to connecting readers with hard-to-reach industry experts and peers, and finally to providing educational materials that readers can immediately use in their day to day work life. 

Lesson 3:  Leverage the Power of Open Publishing

CFE is working hard to embrace the power and flexibility that Open Publishing brings to their customers.  Open Publishing is centered on the idea that content created in one place can be shared in multiple locations around the web (think YouTube videos) so that it is fast and easy for readers to discover.  Many B2B sponsors are looking to support content on a publisher’s website, but they also want ways to bring that content back to their own site.  CFE already delivers a number of content creation strategies which allow for this open publishing model to exist, but working with MediaSolve, they will soon be greatly expanding this offering with a set of unique solutions for sharing debate, webcasts, videos and more.  With CFE leading the way in the engineering space, B2B buyers and decisions makers will more easily be able to engage with high value engineering content from the sources they trust most at the websites they frequent most often.  

To learn more about CFE and to see some of their innovations in action, check out this recent interview that B2B Media conducted with Steve Rourke, CFE’s CEO  http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100812/MEDIABUSINESS/100809934  or visit their publications’websites at  www.controleng.com, www.plantengineering.com, or www.csemag.com .  Congratulations again CFE on your continuous innovation and product improvements.  Your work shows that the right type of innovation – that fits both the reader’s and sponsor’s needs – and is delivered in a package that is intuitive and easy to use is just the prescription needed to help ailing B2B magazines.

Top 5 Virtual Event Questions from Virtual Edge

Whatever happened to good old common sense?  I just got back from the VirtualEdge summit (www.virtualedgesummit.com) – where platform companies and users came together to discuss advances and best strategies for creating Virtual events.  Presenters did their best to explain what had worked for them and the audience, which was a mix of virtual event veterans and virgins, drank it up.  What surprised me the most was the type of questions coming from the crowd.  Remember, while some of the audience had never done a virtual event, practically everyone had done a physical event or other marketing program.  Here is my list of my top 5 most surprising questions:

1)      Do you have to promote virtual events?

2)      Do you have to create unique content for these events?

3)      Are they free to produce?

4)      Do we have to answer questions from the audience?  And if so, do we need to staff the event with our own people?

5)      We continue to have fewer and fewer people at our virtual events…is that because the novelty has worn off?

These questions came from marketing professionals who seemed to let all common sense fly out of the window as soon as the word virtual was placed in front of the programs that they’ve known for years. Now I know that anything new, like virtual event technology, can be a bit scary, and I am glad people ask questions because it is one of the best ways to learn.  But I also thought I could help virtual event newbies by supplying a Virtual Event Rule of Thumb–So here it is, “If you had to do it for your physical events – then it is a good guess that you will also have to do it for your virtual version.”

Here are some Virtual Event Rule of Thumb examples…if you invite people to physical events, then you will of course have to invite folks to your virtual version.   If you created presentations just for a face to face event, then you should plan on doing the same for your virtual event.  You could go straight down the list and answer each one of these question, but I do want to focus on number 5 for a moment.  If you’ve been doing virtual events and seeing declining attendance, then it is important to examine where things are going wrong (just like you would at a real event).

In general, attendance and support of virtual events has been growing and is predicted to continue to grow with compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 56% between the period of 2010 and 2015 (http://www.virtualedge.org/forum/topics/new-report-huge-growth-in), so if you are having an issue, then make sure you are handling the basics correctly.  Have you created compelling content?  Have you effectively promoted this material?  Are you engaging attendees and ensuring that they are coming back and inviting others?  Have you asked your audience how they feel about your events and how they suggest you make the experience better?  These are the important core questions that marketers must consider.

As for virtual events – they are simply another tool available to marketers and come with all of the familiar challenges and work that the other marketing opportunities create.  So continue to experiment and perfect your use of virtual events and ask your questions – but simply realize attendees will get out of a virtual event only what you put into it.
-Dan Hirsh, Partner, MediaSolve Group

“Make and Sell” or “Sense and Respond”

Recently I was caught off guard by an article in “Marketing Management” by Stephan Haeckel called the “The Post-Industrial Manager.” At first glance I thought this was incredibly old news, a feeling that was re-enforced when I read the article’s featured quote from Peter Drucker from 1992 where he said that “No new theories on which a big business can be built have emerged.  But the old ones are no longer dependable.”  I doubled checked the date on the publication I was reading and while I thought I had accidently grabbed something out of the ‘90s archives, it turns out it was from 2010 and it was shockingly right on the money.

The article focused on the state of many large marketing departments in multi-billion dollar companies, or even Fortune 100 companies; explaining that they have not yet emerged from the post-industrial age.  The article contends that it is the executive management style of these large companies that is preventing marketing progress.  Haeckel asks companies to think about their style with some clear categorization.  He says that most of us fall into one of two buckets, and asks:  “Are you a “Make and Sell” company, or are you a “Sense and Respond” company?  Amazingly, in the age of social media, individual content contribution and customer engagement, there are still many companies executing marketing strategies in the “Make and Sell” mindset.

Then there are the companies that BELIEVE they are sensing and responding but they are only “sensing and responding” to their own internal drum.  These companies are even more destructive with marketing strategy because they become more of a sheep in wolves clothing—only talking amongst themselves about community, understanding the customer, thought leadership and industry awareness, but they never really empowering or allowing their marketing teams the luxury of engaging with their audiences because they have them in the constant loop of engineer-make-deliver product launch syndrome.

So what is a company that is stuck in the Make and Sell mentality to do?  While it is not easy to evolve to the more responsive and agile Sense and Respond strategy, the effort is worth the investment.  Sense and Respond gives companies a critical timing advantage to address consumer needs early in the adoption cycle where business is most profitable.  Communication with the community often reduces development and investment risks and allows for faster and more targeted iterations of products.  But the change requires developing the ability to focus on individuals which often requires different thinking supported by different marketing systems, and different measurements.  Xerox understood this when they required a “reconceptualization of the purpose, structure and metrics of “customer sat.  Responding rapidly to the unpredictable requests of tens of thousands of individual end users dictated against a process approach…..Now, with the deployment of advanced analytics, Xerox is able to learn continuously how to improve its offerings.  Because they know earlier than their clients what is happening at the end-user level.”

The silver lining in this age-old marketing challenge is that if Xerox – a venerable battleship in the market – can quickly turn its resources, infrastructure and thinking around to successfully engage in a “Sense and Respond” marketing approach then nearly anyone else can do it too.

Written by:  Michelle Palmer, Partner, MediaSolve

Hello Sales, My Name is Marketing

I am not sure when it happened, but a turf war began long ago between sales and marketing.  Unlike an all out “Call of Duty”- style war where the good guys and the bad guys are marked for easy recognition, the smoldering war between sales and marketing happens quietly.  Sometimes you are not even sure that it is happening at all, but the fights over roles, people, budgets and metrics of success is alive and well at many company today.  To help test if this issue is happening at your place of work, here are a few signs that are sure fire indicators:

  1. Sales and marketing do not talk on a regular basis
  2. Sales seems to endlessly complain that marketing is not doing the right stuff
  3. Marketing complains that sales doesn’t read/use the materials that they provide
  4. Sales says that the leads that marketing programs yield are junk
  5. Marketing says that the sales team does not follow-up on leads or provide feedback
  6. Sales guards against marketing having direct contact with customers
  7. Marketing doesn’t make sure that they have direct contact with customers and listens only to sales for all market feedback

Even writing this short list makes my blood pressure rise.  This type of unproductive bickering can go on forever unless the cycle is broken and, especially during a time of economic challenge, the faster this issue is addressed the better off we all will be.  To me, the biggest challenge facing sales and marketing is an unclear set of objectives.  Each function has a completely different set of objectives and once their roles are well understood, both can focus and get down to business.  The surprise to me is how easy it is to understand the unique roles of both of these functions.

Perhaps the easiest way to illustrate each role is to think about the sales funnel.  The funnel is designed to show movement in the market with uninformed suspects moving in to the wide open top of the funnel.  Those that are not qualified are pushed out of the funnel for further development and those that are labeled prospects and are channeled into the narrowing funnel because they now know about a company and its product but are not ready to engage with it.  Those prospects that have a direct need for a company’s products or services are labeled Qualified Prospects and move to the still narrower part of the funnel.  Ultimately these qualified prospects are handed off to sales where it is their job to close all that they can.  Marketing is directly responsible for the first three steps in the funnel – which include market education and conditioning, brand awareness and development, and prospect engagement.  Largely, opening the door for Sales and making it easier to get in front of the customer.   Sales is responsible for the close – which includes objection handling, final pricing, and terms and conditions.

While the roles should be clear, neither should be performed in a vacuum.  For example, if you are in Marketing, you should be working alongside your sales team to understand their ideal customer and the qualifying criteria to change the status of a lead from prospect to qualified prospect.  Sales, it is up to you to work with marketing and alert them when a new competitive challenge arises or consistent feedback can be found from your efforts to close accounts.  It is important to understand that the process works best when marketing and sales work together, share win/loss information, and customer feedback.

With a new appreciation of roles and responsibilities, sales and marketing can collectively set targets and goals that will be meaningful to the organization and its ongoing success.  This will help eliminate low value initiatives for both sides and ensure that little time is wasted on internal battles.  So be prepared to offer an olive branch and watch your organization carefully for signs of discontent.  If your head of sales and head of marketing are having lunch together on a regular basis, then you are probably just fine.

By Dan Hirsh, Partner, Media Solve

Content Never Dies

I recently read an article traveling in American Way about a social media start-up.  While that hardly sounds like news today—it was a VERY unique startup.  The startup, WEB 2.0 Suicide Machine at www.suicidemarchine.org, is the antithesis of social media today.  Instead of striving for more followers, friends, connections or contacts, suicidemachine.org annihilates all the data and connections in social profiles and exterminates a person’s social media presence.

Why would honest and legal citizens want to wipe out the existence they worked so hard to create and connect?  The founders of WEB 2.0 Suicide Machine started the site because they thought people might be getting “fed up with maintaining all these virtual friendships.” Or, maybe it was the visibility of the person’s life with people they never knew that well, or never really liked; or, scarier still, could it be that after all the time invested in building a social community, the return on the time invested wasn’t worth the effort of maintaining the very entity they spent time creating.

In B2B, I believe we are all still struggling with the amount of power, relevance and ROI social media will deliver moving forward.  My advice: keep it about the content.  If companies develop great content that help prospects and customers do their jobs better, it won’t matter if you tweet, Facebook, discuss in a LinkedIn group, post in a blog or send in a direct mail (OMG PRINT!) piece—if the content is relevant, people will still listen.

-Michelle Palmer, Partner, MediaSolve