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How Storytelling and Relationships Are Essential in B2B Marketing
Marc Carnes is a sought-after strategist who uses marketing, fundraising, teaching and community building to tell stories about the world around us. As a senior associate for Incite Marketing, Marc shared how his experience in non-profit fundraising helps him effectively market to B2B companies. He also provided some insight into the importance of building and maintaining personal relationships with customers, influencers, and the business community.
Tell us a bit About Your Background
How Have you Become so Skilled in the Marketing Arena?
Asking someone to donate a million dollars is a daunting task. It’s the culmination of days/weeks/months/years of developing a relationship with an individual using the power of storytelling. I cut my teeth on the fund development side, both at the grassroots level with health causes and at the institutional level with large arts organizations. I learned a lot of lessons from the non-profit sector about being donor-centric (a.k.a. customer-centric) and really paying attention to the nature of your relationship with an individual.
A fundraiser’s biggest weapon is the ability to tell a powerful story and create an emotional connection with an audience. When practiced well, it paints the picture of a positive outcome centered on the actions of a potential donor. In this case, the non-profit becomes the vehicle between the donor and the outcome, rather than the cause itself. That gets lost sometimes in the marketing world, especially with SMEs, who often get too reliant on a rational, me-first message (i.e., “here are 10 reasons why my company is so great, or why my product is better than the others” vs. “here’s how your life will be better because of my product”). People tend to make emotional decisions first and then back them up with a rationale, so marketing should reflect that.
What’s the Most Important Aspect of a Marketing Strategy Than Many Companies or Organizations Tend to Overlook or Underemphasize?
“If Nike wants to sell you red shoes, they’ll spend hundreds of millions of dollars convincing you that you want red shoes. Most businesses don’t have that luxury.” It’s a favorite line of Ted Kouri, one of Incite’s founders. What he’s getting at is the importance of research and how it’s often underemphasized in marketing. If companies don’t have Nike money to create demand for their product and services, they need to research where they can meet the needs of the market. Without research, companies live in a sort of echo chamber where they rely on what they perceive and what their most vocal stakeholders (e.g., certain customers or salespeople) reinforce. Using the shoe analogy again, if the echo chamber says they want blue shoes, but research reveals that the larger market wants green shoes, it might be a better use of a limited budget to sell green now and try to move to blue over time.
Finish This Sentence: “One of the Biggest Misconceptions about B2B Marketing is Trying to Treat it Like B2C Marketing by Focusing on…”
This answer might stir the hornet’s nest a little bit: social media. I will qualify this by saying that it can be a great tool for certain applications (like HR or internal marketing) and definitely in certain sectors. But there is also a digital graveyard out there of failed corporate blogs, inactive Twitter accounts, depressing Facebook pages, and abandoned YouTube channels featuring all of 30 views (mostly from people who work in the marketing and sales department).
What I see a lot of B2B companies tending to do, especially ones with small to non-existent marketing departments, is set an expectation that social media is a necessary tool but then treat it like a side-of-the-desk project rather than a strategic focus with the proper resources behind it. It can be a great tool for distributing and engaging in content, but if the company isn’t generating enough content, these channels sit dormant. Ultimately, it comes down to understanding the audience before deciding if it’s worth putting the time and effort in. If the audience isn’t using social media for professional purposes, maybe it’s not worth the time unless you have the resources to dedicate to really driving that channel and pulling an audience into your activity.
How can you use Touchpoint Analysis to Improve the Customer Experience?
Imagine going to the hot new restaurant in town. It’s taken weeks to get a reservation. The website looks amazing. Instagram is blowing up with amazing photos and rave reviews. You get there with high expectations. The room is beautiful and the food is exquisite… but the rest of the night doesn’t live up to the meal. Your reservation is late. Your host is overwhelmed and dismissive. There’s a chip on your wine glass and you didn’t notice it until after you finish the wine. The bathroom is a disaster. It takes 30 minutes to pay your bill.
No matter how good the core product is, it doesn’t take much for us to lose trust in a company, especially when there are a lot of alternatives to choose from. What reinforces that trust is the experience that happens around the product. By working with a team responsible for delivering a customer experience from end to end and mapping out how their actions can leave a positive or negative impact on the customer, they can mitigate the negatives and put extra emphasis on the positive ones. The goal is to deliver the best experience you can to a customer, no matter if it involves the accountant, the person at the front desk, or the person most responsible for delivering the product or service in the first place. Everyone is a marketer in a company, whether they call themselves that or not. Touchpoint analysis helps insulate against moments of weakness, and also finds new and unique opportunities to shine.
Other Than Simply Facilitating Introductions, How do you Help Build Strong Relationships Between Your Clients and Potential Partners, Industry Influencers, and the Business Community?
A strong relationship is anything but transactional. It’s an exchange of value (and value-add) and a commitment to helping each other. By helping clients understand their customers’ centers of influence and devising meaningful ways to engage with them, we open opportunities to take a more strategic approach to network-building. Instead of trying to build a network of anyone and everyone to find the needle in the haystack, we spend that time and energy building strong, value-add relationships with the right customers and influencers who will show you where the needle is. Communicating your value to the right people and delivering upon it consistently is what makes you highly referable, which is the most effective form of marketing.
What Types of Leadership Skills are Important in Order to Successfully Build and Nurture Productive Relationships?
I think Dan Sullivan (The Strategic Coach) sums it up nicely with his four referability habits:
- Show up on time.
- Do what you say you’re going to do.
- Finish what you started.
- Say please and thank you.
Drawing from lessons I’ve learned from fundraising, I’ll add:
- Give more than you take.
- Be an advisor, not just an order taker.
- Be there for them through the good times and the bad.
- And most importantly, be a really good listener.
How can Leaders get the Buy-in From Their Employees and Improve Staff Engagement for Being Good Brand Ambassadors?
It’s less about getting buy-in from staff and more about creating a culture that empowers them to wear the brand proudly. To me, that means:
- Encourage and support your team to get involved in their community and professional groups.
- Create a vision for the future and share it in a way that the team sees how they each fit into it.
- Create a culture of peer coaching and leadership where anyone is capable of leading, regardless of job title or department.
- Be transparent about big decisions and new directions, and openly welcome questions and conversation from everyone as part of the process.
- Make it safe to fail, so long as the attempt was genuine. Find the takeaway lesson and share the findings.
- Show appreciation, champion your team, and celebrate all forms of success in small, genuine, everyday ways (in addition to grand gestures).
- Have fun and look for the positive, even when times are tough.
What Types of B2B Marketing Approaches and Initiatives will be the Most Successful in the Future?
Content will continue to be valuable as companies adopt more effective strategies and dedicate the proper resources to disseminate it, right down to newer tools like web personalization. And as markets continue to globalize, there will be growth in predictive analytics to help create ordering and supply chain efficiencies. Ultimately, though, there will be a continued strong emphasis on creating relationships with customers that maintain a human element. Even with high-powered analytics, automation software, or multi-channel communication tools, there’s something to be said for a familiar voice answering the phone with a warm hello or receiving a handwritten note thanking you for your business.