Want to really know your customers? Just listen.

It’s not often someone who isn’t family, a friend or a postman knocks on our door. On this occasion it was the local representative of the Green Party. In the run up to this years General Election he wanted to know how I felt about local issues, the council and so forth. Now, this doesn’t happen very often, I can count on three fingers the number of times a member of a political party has knocked on our door in the 7 years I’ve lived in Brighton. To be honest, he put me on the spot. I haven’t really given a great deal of thought to the political climate of late, let alone local government issues. Nevertheless, here was someone from a major political party on my doorstep interested in what I have got say. Some quick thinking provided him with some feedback on refuse, recycling, free schools and rail fares for commuters. I then wished him luck and he moved on to the next house. 

Two weeks later I received a letter from Caroline Lucas MP addressing each of the issues I’d raised. I was, and am impressed. Someone actually listened. A couple of friends quipped how its probably a template, and it could be. It might be that a lot of people and potential voters in my area raised the same issues. But that doesn’t concern me. It was written to me addressing issues I’d raised. And from what I can tell it’s a genuine, hand-written signature. Template or not, effort went into compiling the letter, signing it off and posting it. And that’s what matters. That’s what makes a difference. 
The best bit was that this party member wasn’t there to sell me The Green Party, he was there to listen. Only by listening can he understand the issues. Only by listening can he begin to learn what makes his voting audience click. I don’t expect him to have the answers there and then. And to be honest I wasnt even expecting a response. But I do expect him to listen. 
As marketers, what can we learn from this?
1. Listen more, sell less. 
By listening you are in part selling. You’re selling a human quality that too often gets overlooked. As Stephen Covey pointed out “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” So as marketers, we can learn a lot by simply shutting up and hearing what our customer has to say. And I do mean that in the literal sense. 
2. Make listening part of your marketing programme
As modern marketers we are spoilt for choice.  Hashtags and keywords can tell us lot about what’s being said online and the sentiment thereof towards a brand or service. Survey tools like Survey Monkey mean that we can execute surveys in minutes and get responses in hours.
However, I don’t think there is a genuine substitute to replace face to face time with customers. There are many ways to do this from the relatively easy phone call and meet up at a mutually beneficial conference to the more-challenging customer days and advisory boards. In my experience the activities that have included a face to face discussion have been the most rewarding.  You can even add it into your annual KPI’s to meet a customer every three months by joining a sales meeting or simply picking up the phone for a check in.
3. Take Action
You’ve listened. Now you need to digest and action, where applicable. For example, to support a Customer Advisory Board programme, you can create an internal support team comprising of key functional heads who are responsible for the investigation, resolution and delivery of the various outputs that would be generated from the CAB. You can then communicate progress on a quarterly basis with the members of the CAB via a conference call and a follow up newsletter.  
A clue in understanding the power of listening is that you have two ears and one mouth. Heed that ratio. As B2B marketers we’ve never had it better but we still have many things to learn and improve on. If a political party can get it right, then so can we.

Why I Love B2B Marketing.


I fell into B2B marketing. It was the Video Game Retailer or the B2B ISP. The video game retailer went bust 3 months later. Was I lucky? Perhaps. Did I achieve what I set out to do when I graduated? Yes and No. Yes, I got my first marketing job, proper. No, in so much as I didn’t set out to get in to B2B marketing. Marketing, yes. B2C, almost certainly. B2B marketing, unlikely.

That said, I have no regrets. My career in B2B has had its ups and downs. But it has also given me a wealth of opportunities and experiences and for that I will always be grateful. And that, in part, is why I love B2B marketing. B2B marketing has had a rough time. Throughout my career its always been the slightly misunderstood sibling of B2C. And yet, I continue to work with great people in the space. Great marketers, agencies and partners who are as passionate about the 18-24 month sales cycles as I am. We can see the opportunities in building a relationship and nurturing leads, especially in the days before automation.

And it is the relationship. It’s creating an emotional connection with people. People who have everyday challenges. Who have targets and KPIs. People who make considered purchases, behave rationally. They explore, research, display enormous levels of patience. Seek proof. People who want to know what success looks like in their terms. But also where it will take their department, division, region. Will ask “so, what?” so often, you are always on your toes, thinking, adjusting, amending, learning.

And when that contract is signed. When the direct mail, email, event sponsorship, Customer Advisory Boards, hospitality, meet-ups, case studies and videos have all chipped away at the DMU. When you have reinforced why you have the reliable and innovative service they need. And when you have convinced the higher-ups, the C-suite, that you are the strategic partner, a trusted advisor, that is why I love B2B marketing.

At the end of the day, we are talking to people, other human beings, not businesses in glass buildings. B2B marketing has come a long was since I started out 16 years ago. We can do as much and perhaps a little bit more than our B2C counterparts. Look at what caterpiller, Volvo, Marketo, Thunderhead, Xuber, CBRE to name but a few have achieved and are doing in this discipline. That’s why I love B2B marketing.


My favourite TED talks

I was reading an article the other day about how to stand out in business and in your workplace, a kind of manifesto on being remarkable. One of the many suggested ways was to not reference TED talks. The justification was that anyone can do it, it’s not clever and in many ways it’s myopic. I didn’t agree with much of the article but that comment stuck. Primarily because I wholeheartedly disagreed with it.

It got me thinking about TED. It’s a much discussed topic. It’s also one of the ultimate pieces of content marketing. And let’s face it, despite what that blog post said, it’s a great way of finding common ground with people you know and don’t know as it did with me when meeting new colleagues at the end of last year. There was an immediate common ground and in a way a common goal. We want to learn more, know more, investigate more, sate our curious minds. Ideas Worth Spreading as it says on the tin.

There are around 2000 of these talks. I’ve not watched all of them (obviously), however, those that I’ve listed below are the ones that immediately came to mind. And are the ones that I’ve often shared.

Ken Robinson – Are schools killing creativity?
I first watched this many years ago, and I suspect it was probably the first TED talk I watched and the first time I became aware of TED. Since then I’ve become a Governor at a local school, and I’ve revisited this talk several times. However, the message isn’t just about the education system, it also applies to parenting and to business: Are the systems we have in place the most appropriate for nurturing creativity in the modern world?

Jason Fried – Why work doesn’t happen at work.
I mentioned this talk in a previous post and with good reason. Jason talks a lot of sense.

Rodney Mullen – Pop an ollie and innovate
Rodney Mullen is one of my sporting heroes. Skateboarding was my first real passion. As an 8 year old in a leafy English commuter town, skate videos (yep, VHS) from the States where our escape and inspiration. Rodney talks about creating content through context. Essentially, there’s an obstacle, what can I do with this board to overcome or make the most of the situation. Test, fail, learn and adapt.

Photo Credit: Gisela Giardino via flickr

B2B Barometer 2014 – key takeaways.

Having worked in B2B for the last 16 years, I’m proud that B2B marketing is growing in reputation. From the the work being done by CBRE (architecture) on instagram to the more widely recognised output from SaaS vendors such as Adobe and Marketo there has been a seismic shift in creativity and investment in B2B marketing. So it was with interest that I read the 2014 B2B barometer from the IDM. You can download your copy here

Key takeaways:

1. 31% of respondents have a budget of 1% or less than turnover. That’s a lot! I guess my first impression is clearly b2b marketing is not at the top table. I’d love to see an additional data set that correlates budget with industry, would it all be SaaS vendors and professional services in that top quartile?

2. It was unsurprising to see 34% of b2b marketers identifying content as a major trend. And it is, however, I think we shouldn’t lose sight that whilst content is very much the foundation on which us marketers generate leads, it’s also a means to end. I was also surprised to see lead nurturing much further down the list, especially given the role marketing content plays in the nurturing cycle.

3. 30% of respondents identified a lack of resources as a major challenge. Again I’d like to see this data overlaid with budget allocation.

What were your takeaways?

Photo Credit: BROGGERS via Compfight cc

Getting Things Done: 3 books I recommend

I can’t remember when I first become aware of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology but suffice to say I’m a fan. Below are three books (with affiliate links) that are in my opinion the best sources for adopting and learning the GTD methodology.

1. Getting Things Done by David Allen

Yes, it’s obvious and it’s the benchmark. As David Ogilvy said about Roman-Raphaelson’s  book ‘Writing that works‘, “Read it three times”.

Here is David Allen’s TEDx talk on the subject of getting things done. Interesting to hear him say that the GTD concept is not so much about getting things done, rather its doing things with focus.

2. The Productivity Ninja by Graham Alcott

Graham Alcott takes the GTD methodology and brings its bang up to date. The principles of productivity are the same, however, Alcott specifically argues that productivity is not time management, rather its attention management that is the problem for the modern worker. The GTD methodology primarily works on the basis of context so that you can quickly decide how and what you work on i.e. at the office, at the computer, calls to make. Context is an underlying principle of productivity, and Alcott builds on this by asking you to look at your levels of attention and matching your actions with those of three levels of attention: proactive, active and inactive. Read ‘Work based on your attention levels’ to find out more on the topic.

If you’re inclined to the buy the book, I would recommend the hard copy. I have the kindle version and whilst it’s perfectly fine, The Productivity Ninja is essentially a reference book and the one thing I think the Kindle falls down on is being able to quickly look for sections and passages.

3. Re:work by Jason Fried

This is now a modern business classic. You can breeze through it in an hour or two and whilst not a productivity guide in the true sense, it still has some wonderful insights in how to run a business in a lean and scalable manner. To get a taste, here is Jason Fried talking about how work doesn’t get done at work: 

What productivity books do you recommend?

Dick’s Sporting Goods by Derek Cianfrance

I have no idea what Dick’s Sporting Goods is like as a retailer. How it’s positioned in the market. What it’s good at or otherwise. But what I can tell you is that it can tell a damn good story.

It loves sport. It loves sporting apparel. It understands what it’s like to be a pro-sportsman. They know every play, fake, feint, call, eye-signal. Whilst (and I could be wrong) pro-sportspeople are unlikely to shop at Dick’s Sporting Goods I assume they have the product range, knowledge and, perhaps the heritage, to pass their expertise on to the sports fan, runner or hiker.

This ad is directed by Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond The Pines) and I think it’s one of the best, and most beautiful, ads I’ve seen in a long time.

Six newsletters that won’t see me hitting unsubscribe.

I recently culled a load of newsletters. Usual criteria applied: unread, unopened, boring. Some of which I hadn’t even subscribed to. (One was from a company who I had recently applied for a role. Anyhoop, despite several attempts to follow up the application, I didn’t hear from them. Then I did hear from them. They had subscribed me to their newsletter. Which was nice.)

Unsubscribe Graffiti

I digress. I typically don’t subscribe to pure b2b marketing newsletters, simply because I use twitter to find good articles, or rather, because I manage my following and lists pretty well the articles find me. So the list below is a mix of this and that. Nevertheless, I hope you find the same level of inspiration in them that I do.

1. Battenhall. A generalist yet solid and consistently good range of insights into social and comms. If you subscribe you can expect to get ad-hoc updates throughout the week and a monthly roundup. Such as this.

2. Longform. They have perfectly judged the length of it’s content and the time of delivery. So unsurprisingly it pops into my inbox on a Saturday afternoon (Morning if you’re in the US). This means I have time to read it. That said I typically save them to Instapaper which in turn pings them to my Kindle. It’s also my current favourite site.

3. In over your head. First thing I should say is that it isn’t a newsletter. In fact it’s the only blog to which I subscribe outside of my greader/feedly. Why? Because of this post, one of my favourite posts of all time. That aside, I’m a big fan of Julien’s no-nonsense approach to writing.

4. SEOMoz. Perhaps an obvious one. Nevertheless, they have nailed it.  Their monthly Top 10 is absolute gold. They balance their own content with curated content really well. In a nutshell, the best 10 articles on Inbound marketing, design, UX, customer experience.

5. 37 Signals.  Called ‘Incoming Transmission’ it covers topics such as business, web and design. Again they balance their own content and curated content really well so you’re as likely to read something by one of their designers on UX as your are about what happens to a face cloth in space.

6. Brain Pickings. I’ve only been subscribing a little while but blimey there is some fascinating stuff in there. Pure Inspiration. Such as this. I don’t always read it week to week but it’s one of those newsletters that if I unsubscribed I’d probably forget it existed and that wouldn’t be a good thing.

Which newsletters do you refuse to unsubscribe from?

Photo Credit: incurable_hippie via Compfight cc

Three Presentations for the Modern B2B Marketer

Let’s say you woke up from a very heavy 12 month slumber. And, I dunno, the first thing you wanted to do was find out the direction modern B2B marketing is headed. Here are 3 presentations that I think give you a good grounding whilst you sip your first coffee.

#1: A mantra for producing great content as much as it’s a call to arms for the preventation of crap content. @velocitytweets
#2: A great insight into how tracking behaviour can help you develop micro segmentation or segments of one.@jwatton
#3: A great reminder that customer experience in 2013 is as much about what happens before the purchase as it as after the purchase. @maxymiser


So, I passed the HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification Exam

So, I passed my exam for the HubSpot Inbound Marketing University.

HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certificate
HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certificate

Whilst I didn’t study all 18 of the webinars, I was impressed by the quality of those that I did listen to. In particular, I found Rand’s Advanced SEO, Avinash’s Advanced Analytics and Brian Carroll’s Lead Nurturing session the most useful as a refresher, and helping me keep my eye in

For more details on the course visit The HubSpot Inbound Marketing Qualification.