This week I was lucky enough to attend the 2009 MarketingProfs B-to-B Forum held here in Boston. I say I’m lucky because I was able to go for free, as they were kind enough to give me a press pass.
Before I dive into the specifics of the conference, I should probably back up a little bit and give a little context. Before my most current gig, I was still doing startup marketing, but only in the B-to-C realm. The idea of having a product to sell that actually costs money was completely foreign to me. It’s a little bit easier to blast out user acquisition campaigns when the user doesn’t have to pay a red cent; it’s an entirely different story when you introduce the subtle art of separating a person from their money.
Now that I’m working at a B-to-B company with a product launch on the horizon, the timing of this event couldn’t have been better. I had the following questions in mind:
- What are some lessons learned by other startups when it comes to lead generation that would be useful to someone coming out of the gate?
- While social media and community building are all the rage, what are the actual results companies are seeing in conversion compared to time spent?
- How do you balance SEO and creating content that is really engaging when you’re really trying to sell something?
To me, the third question is the hardest. Everyone knows that the key to driving quality traffic to a site is to create useful, compelling content that speaks to what customers want. But in the end, the goal is to make a sale, so finding the balance between “hey, we have something to sell you if you’re interested” and the Billy Mays style of in your face, aggressive sales pitches is a difficult one. So with those questions in mind, I hit the sessions.
I. Day One
Session 1: Bringing SEO In-House Without Missing a Beat
Many companies are considering bringing SEO in-house to save money, but doing so is challenging. It’s usually done with a lot of trial and error and often has a detrimental impact on the program. In this session, we’ll show you how companies are bringing their SEO programs in-house wihtout missing a beat. You’ll discover real-life examples about how companies are implementing SEO in-house across the globe.
At a startup, bringing SEO under the marketing umbrella is a necessity. With constraints in both time and budget, it’s just not feasible to work with an outside agency to handle the SEO tasks. Since I’m planning the PPC campaigns, developing the link building strategy and creating all the content, it just makes sense that SEO would fall into my bucket. So despite the description, it seemed like this session might be perfect for me.
The speakers were Jessica Bowman of SEOinhouse.com and Bill Scully, the Director of E-Marketing, Siemens Water Technologies. Though Jessica was supposed to go first, she wasn’t there, so Bill jumped forward and gave his half of the presentation, which focused on the daily, weekly, and monthly SEM tasks that he employs:
Daily SEM tasks:
- Listen to SEO and Online Marketing Podcasts- Downloading and listening to them going to and from work.
- Reading SEO/SEM Newsletters and Blogs
- Check Twitter Account for breaking news
- Keep a journal- Keeping a log of tests and changes
- Check Analytics
Weekly SEM tasks:
Analyze web logs and reports for:
- Key campaign traffic changes
- Goal changes
- Overall Traffic Changes
- 404 errors
- Linking Generation Reports
Monthly SEM tasks:
- Attend WebEx
- Audit site/templates
- Check all no-follows are still in place
- Make sure robots.txt file is still correct
- Check custom 404 Page is still working
- Check redirects are 301 and go to the proper pages
- Update XML site map
- Put together a 1 and 3 year SEO strategic Plan
- Review staffing, service, training needs
To me, the session was just okay. The only reason I say that is that it was the wrong presentation for me, as the target audience really was the marketing rep from a big corporation looking to take more control of their SEO efforts. So, if I were from a large company looking for advice into how to get more $$ for an in-house PPC campaign, this might be a really informative session for me. I’m definitely not knocking it; I’m just not the right audience.
Session Two: Developing Robust Online Content to Keep Prospects and Customers Engaged
I was really excited about this one, as I love Christopher S. Penn’s presentation style. He always gives usable, actionable tactics that can be tried immediately. That’s a rarity in a lot of conferences I go to. There’s a lot of high-level social media kumbaya, “join the conversation” talk, and things like that, but Christopher does an awesome job of giving real-world takeaways.
This session had 5 panelists:
Philip Juliano VP, Global Brand Management & Corporate Communications, Novell
Valeria Maltoni Director, Marketing Communications, SunGard Availability Services
Chris Penn CTO, Student Loan Network
Mike O’Toole President and Partner, PJA Advertising and Marketing
Matthew T. Grant Moderator, Doctor of Philosophy, Thought Ronin
As the panel started, the moderator seemed to really have a problem with people typing during a presentation. He asked that everyone close their laptops and refrain from blogging, using twitter, etc. Of course, no one complied, and the twitter stream that ensued was very funny. Being the rebel that I am, I took a few notes from the session:
MG: How do you manage the conversation so the message stays consistent on different platforms?PO: At some level you can’t, when people are creating their own content about you, that’s somewhat out of your control. It’s important to be consistent, but not lock-step. You have to let people say their own things and let the personality come through. I’ve always been impressed with AutoDesk which has over 100 employee blogs. They do it well.
CP: Take a list of the top 100 customers you have, and go to twitter, facebook, blogger, etc and find out how many of them are there. If it’s a high percentage, you want to spend some time there. If they’re not, you’re probably going to waste your time. Another example: go to those same 100 customers and ask them where they spend time online. Great example: I was sitting next to an 80-year old grandmother on a plane, and she was stereotypical to a T except she had a kindle. I asked why, and she said that everyone at the senior center has one and loves it because you can change the text size to make it as big as they way. I asked “do you read blogs on that?” she said “what’s that?” I then took a look and she’d subscribed to a dozen blogs. I asked “what’s that?” and she said “oh, that’s the news.” The takeaway: People are talking about you and your industry/products, but they may be doing it in different places using different
Though the presentation wasn’t focused on giving any new information, it was an excellent way to reinforce the ideas that I think most marketers are familiar with, but don’t always do. It’s difficult to have a strict process to come up with relevant keywords, create content to go after those keywords, measure how the content is doing, etc. It’s a hell of a lot easier to blog your ass off and hope good things are going to happen (ahem, what I’ve been guilty of a LOT), but I think the results prove otherwise.
Session 3: Website Development & Analytics: Building the Optimal Website That Delivers Business Results
B2B Companies need their websites to be their first sales call and their lead nurturing system. In part one of this two-part session, we will show you how to get your brand positioning front and center on your site, while also creating a navigation and content structure that moves buyers and influencers through their decision process and become qualified leads. We’ll show you examples of several website renovation projects with different challenges where all necessary components of a new web site were built in from the beginning- SEO, analytics, and set up to guide continuous improvement of customer experience and engagement.
Talk about a session custom-made for my current situation, right? Well, that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, the presentation just felt wrong. Now, I’ve already admitted that I come from the B-to-C side, and my BS detector is cranked way up. Because of that, I felt like the presentation was just an hour long commercial for the agency putting on the show. With a bunch of slides showing logos of their customers, case studies that talked about the services they provided, etc., I felt like I was sitting in the audience of an infomercial. I completely understand that there’s a balance, and that the speakers are there to give their business a plug. I get it. But the only real advice I derived from the session was: Just call us and pay us. We’ll take care of everything for you. Again, I’m new here. Maybe this is the norm in B-to-B conferences, and I’m wrong for calling these guys out. I just hope not.
II. Day Two
I didn’t attend the sessions on Tuesday, but have been following the twitter stream. It seems like everyone in attendance is live-tweeting from the sessions, and nearly every presentation is available on the marketingprofs site. Looking through the twitter stream, Tuesday’s focus was on the big question: “Sure, we understand social media is great and that it can increase traffic, sales, etc……but how do we measure it?” Ah, measurement. We marketers sure do like our stats, don’t we? And though on some level we just want to have mountains of data just because, there are reasons for our affinity for numbers. First, we’re often called upon to justify our existence by proving that our programs are actually adding value to the business. Additionally, we need metrics to show us which programs are working and which are sad old dogs. And when something like social media enters the picture and we can’t add our tracking code to things like facebook, twitter, and linkedin, the tendency is to panic. Well, Katie Paine came in to talk the b-to-b marketers off the ledge. First off, she said something that was retweeted many times:
HITS stands for How Idiots Track Success
I think that makes a lot of sense. When trying to understand the ROI of social media, things like mentions, referrals, and impressions are nice, but they don’t really tell you anything about the success of your campaign. When your end goal is to make a sale (or register users), you need to find out which campaigns are bringing in the conversions. I think that Chris Penn said it best in his presentation:
If you’re selling a gulfstream jet that costs $94 million and you have a podcast with 100,000 listeners, but no one is buying, you’re wasting your time. If you have a podcast with 3 listeners and 2 buy the planes, you’re going to Maui for the next 2 years.
- B-to-B marketing is completely different from B-to-C. Things like blogging, using twitter, and participating in all forms of social media are all brand new to B-t0-B marketers, as they just haven’t had the ability to test them out. In the startups I’ve worked for, I’ve always had the ability to try something out and see what sticks. In bigger companies, that’s just not possible.
- Social media scares big b-to-b companies- The marketers at this conference seemed to have a sense of anxiety about understanding the emerging social technologies. They don’t know how to feel about not having control of their message. They dread seeing negative comments about their brand on blogs.
Now, before this starts sounding like I’m bashing b-to-b folks, I want to make something abundantly clear: these aren’t value judgements. Instead, they are the natural emotions associated with an ENORMOUS change in the way business has been done in the past. What I saw during this conference was the acceptance of the fact that social media is something B-to-B marketers can no longer ignore. It was the admission that blogging and other social technologies are no longer to be considered kid stuff.
The days where a company can set itself apart from the competitors by simply having a blog, a twitter account, and a facebook page are gone. This conference proved to me that being involved with social media isn’t something that will put you ahead of the curve as a b-to-b company. Instead, it’s going to be the price of admission.
Nathan Burke is the marketing manager at Aprigo, a Waltham, MA based company developing a suite of SaaS Data Management Applications. You can read his blogs at Blogstring.com and MarketingStartups.com