Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Marketing and IT: Come Together, Right Now!

Some of my learned industry colleagues at Forrester Research have released a new report. It's entitled "CMOs Must Merge Marketing With IT To Win In The Digital Decade." Here's an excerpt from the report's Executive Summary (which you can view at no charge here).

"In the future, only companies that understand and anticipate their customers' needs and can consistently deliver unique, tailored customer experiences will be able to attract and retain loyal customers. This requires not just having the knowledge about the customer but also the processes and the systems that create unique customer insights and deliver compelling interactions across the customer life cycle. To achieve this, CMOs must form a strong partnership with CIOs, going beyond collaboration to co-create new organizations and processes, where both teams share ownership of goals and business outcomes."

This follows a Forrester report released in July 2011 (and apparently updated in October) entitled "Marketing And IT Must Align For Business Success." Here's an excerpt from that report's Executive Summary (on view here).

"Today's marketing organization must use technology to deliver compelling brand experiences and drive business growth. Today's IT organizations must tune their efforts to needs of the business. This convergence of expertise dictates that to succeed, CMOs and CIOs must form a collaborative partnership focused on driving business results that support long-term and short-term goals. CMOs and CIOs must embrace a shared view of the customer as well as share business goals and metrics in order to ensure competitive business success in the age of the empowered customer."

All good so far. But for goodness' sake, some of us have been preaching this gospel for nearly 35 years now. (Yikes!) So what's the hold-up?

Well, I've trod that ground pretty thoroughly already, here and elsewhere. (Two recent examples from my posts at The CMO Site: "Why Companies Struggle with Marketing Automation" and "When Marketing and IT Don't Cooperate, E-Commerce Misses Target." ) But what's more important is why this is such a big deal (again) now.

To be brief, it's "the mobile, social cloud." It's making everybody an influencer of purchase decisions and how vendors and solutions are perceived. And it's drastically shortening the time between events and effects. For these and other reasons, it's making more, better and faster collaboration between marketing and technology decision makers more and more critical to the success (if not the survival) of more and more businesses.

Of course, that doesn't force or even necessarily accelerate the changes in human behavior necessary to make such collaborations happen effectively. As the old joke goes, "How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change." But it's gotta start somewhere, and if that means multiple pundits and prognosticators repeating the same message multiple times over multiple years, that's fine. As long as it leads to positive effect. Eventually.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Marketing to IT: Please Make Inventory Management Invisible, NOW!

Inventory management? A concern for marketing and information technology (IT) decision-makers? Oh, yes…

One of marketing's primary concerns is how a company is perceived. It turns out that how well your company manages its inventories of the things it sells is a primary determinant of how that company is perceived. Because if you can't deliver what I want when I want it, I'm going to be unhappy with you, regardless of how good your marketing or other operations might be.

Meanwhile, your customers, partners, prospects, competitors and purchase influencers are all increasingly participatory inhabitants of "the mobile, social cloud." Which means your company has to be there too. In ways that make your company more agile, responsive and, well, social.

And what do inventory management and inhabiting the mobile, social cloud have in common? Why, IT, of course. Unfortunately, at many if not most businesses, 60 to 80 percent of your IT budget is being spent on just keeping what you've already got working. Not exactly a running start on improvements in things such as inventory management.

What's a marketer to do?

Sit down with IT decision makers and convince them that this is a challenge you and they need to confront jointly. Then work with them to determine how and how well inventory is being managed now, and where improvements might be found most quickly. Then, look at some premise-based, cloud-based and cloud-enabled inventory management solutions and how they might help your company.

You can find a great rundown of several of these in an article published by Inc. in May 2011. My favorite: Fishbowl Inventory. It integrates with Intuit's QuickBooks and offers options that can take a company from better inventory management to more and better sales, fulfillment and resource planning and management, as recently covered by eWeek.

We in the punditocracy blather on incessantly about how business and IT have to get better at working together. A great way to foster such collaboration in meaningful ways is to focus on areas that avoid leaving money on the table while improving customer satisfaction, corporate perception and revenues. Improved inventory management can do all of these things.

A Special Offer: If you're interested in Fishbowl Inventory, drop a line to vip@fishbowlinventory.com. I've negotiated a relationship with the company that guarantees that every one of my readers who uses that e-mail address will get priority treatment and help getting started with their free trial of the software. And if you promise to share your feedback with me for possible inclusion in future blog posts or research (anonymously if you prefer), you'll get undying gratitude from me -- AND a five-percent discount from Fishbowl if you purchase Fishbowl Inventory! A win for everybody!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

HubSpot: A Growing Resource for Growing Businesses

HubSpot has already gained a deservedly positive reputation as an enabler of online business success. The company's all-in-one marketing solution is already helping thousands of businesses to engage with customers and prospects and to grow every day. And HubSpot is the largest and most popular online "app store" for marketing solutions.

Now, HubSpot itself is growing. Fueled by $32 million in investment from companies such as Google Ventures, Salesforce.com and Sequoia Capital, HubSpot in June 2011 announced acquisition of Performable. That company's solution enables performance analysis of sales and marketing efforts, including e-mail and "the mobile, social cloud." And on August 18, 2011, HubSpot has announced that it's acquiring Oneforty, creators of a directory of social media business applications and the social media marketing tool Socialbase.

These acquisitions are great news, for the companies involved and for all of their respective customers. Decision makers at growing businesses need and want the resources and abilities offered by HubSpot, Performable and Oneforty. To be able to acquire all of these from a proven, committed and growing solution supplier should make life easier and better for almost any marketer. And the combined strengths of these providers' offerings should result in new services and solutions for those seeking to succeed at social marketing and social media and network management.

Congratulations to the founders and teams at HubSpot and its recently acquired allies. Customers and prospects should be excited – and competitors should be even more nervous. Make sure to keep following the evolution of modern marketing solutions, here and at Comparz!

Note: A version of this content originally appeared at Comparz.com. More information is available at that site.

Schedulicity: Client Scheduling and Social Outreach, Made Easy

Is it worth $20 a month to you to make it ridiculously easy for you to empower your clients to schedule appointments with you? And for you to engage with them online in ways that make them happier and make you more money?

Those were rhetorical questions that nonetheless have two answers. The first is "of course it is." The second is "heck, yes, which is why you should already be using Schedulicity."

Schedulicity is a one-stop online shop that enables you to enable anyone to book an appointment with you, whatever business you're in. And the folks at Schedulicity have taken basic calendar management and scheduling and added all kinds of nifty social networking features, so that you can use the service to build and enhance all of your client relationships – even from a tablet or a smartphone.

You can let users reach and schedule appointment with you via Schedulicity.com, your own Web site, your Facebook page and/or via Twitter. And Schedulicity lets each client see and manage a "personal account" page showing past and upcoming appointments and reminders. And it's all free for your clients.

You, meanwhile, can use Schedulicity to manage your schedule, handle cancellations and rescheduling and even promote upcoming classes, workshops or special deals. Schedulicity even includes features that help you to manage "daily deals" with companies such as Groupon and Living Social. You can, for example, control the number of discounted appointments you want on any particular day.

If you can use an online calendar and/or Facebook and/or Twitter, you can sign up for and start using Schedulicity, probably in about the time it's taken you to read this far. (If your business is more than you, Schedulicity will cost you $39 per month for you and as many as 19 colleagues.) And you will then have access to all of the information and most of the tools you're likely to need to manage your schedules AND your client relationships. Keep track of their preferences (and even their birthdays). Tell them about upcoming special deals. Do pretty sophisticated e-mail marketing with easy-to-use templates. And more.

Schedulicity gives your business the power to deliver "better-than-most-big-companies" scheduling and client care, even if your business is only you. And the company behind it has scheduled more than five million appointments, so they've gotten pretty good at making and keeping the service robust, reliable and simple.

If you deal with clients who need to schedule appointments with you, for anything from accounting services to yoga classes, throw away the sticky notes and that overflowing bound calendar, and sign up for Schedulicity. (Of course they offer a free, no-credit-card-required trial.) It's a win for you and for your clients.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Four Essential Elements of Every Successful Webinar

Webinars can help your business to engage, inform, persuade and invite customers, partners and prospects. When done right, Webinars build awareness, positive perception and positioning of your company as a thought leader and trusted advisor. And you only need four things to get each and every Webinar right.

An audience – which means you've got to create compelling content for the Webinar itself (see below) and to help to promote the event. A great Web site landing page that makes people want to register and attend – and makes it brain-dead simple to do so. Oh, and a key message or theme that “grabs” that audience. (Hint: one key message per event, please.)

Compelling content – not what you want to say, but what your audience wants and needs to hear, and can use to benefit their organizations. One 5-minute credible success story featuring one of your customers is more compelling (and better positioning for you) than an hour about your newest features. (Hint: Don't forget transcripts of the audio, downloadable-on-demand archive recordings and copies of slides – all opportunities to increase perceived value and reinforce that key message.)

The right platform – with pricing starting at free and broad ranges of features, there's bound to be one that meets your needs. At minimum, you'll need easy set-up, recording options and tools for Q&A and audience tracking. (Hint: visit Comparz.com for Web conferencing user and expert reviews and a Decision Guide.)

A practical plan – a complete, well-organized strategy for all of the above. Identifying the key message and desired audience. Engaging with and attracting that audience. Developing, acquiring and coordinating the content needed. Identifying, selecting and deploying the right platform. Scripting, rehearsing, moderating and delivering the event. Following up in ways that maximize business benefit and audience satisfaction, and set the stage for doing it even better the next time. (Hint: write this first.)

For more helpful tips, see the Web conferencing blog posts at Comparz.com and check out the Webcasts and Roundtables at Focus.com. Then start having perfect Webinars of your own!

Friday, July 22, 2011

Optimizing the Online Experience: the Next Frontier for Modern Marketers

One day in June, Adobe announces a new “Digital Enterprise Platform for Customer Experience Management.” The very next day, Oracle announces that it has entered into an agreement to acquire FatWire Software, “a leading provider of Web experience management solutions.”

And just like that, the market for customer experience management, Web experience management and what FatWire likes to call “online engagement optimization” has just gotten much hotter. I prefer the term “online experience optimization” (“OEO”), a type of “extreme personalization” and a spin on the widely touted promise of the early World Wide Web: “mass customization.”

Whatever you call the strategy or paradigm, successful OEO requires that every company answer four key questions.
  1. Do you know what customers, competitors and competitors' customers are saying about your company online?
  2. Do you know whether or not your Web site is equally accessible, navigable, compelling and persuasive on an iPad, an iPhone or an Android tablet as it is on a PC?
  3. Do you know how customers, partners and prospects really perceive your company online?
  4. Do you have solid, defensible evidence for all that you know?
Complicating the answers to these questions is the need to follow and delight customers, partners and prospects, wherever they are and however they choose to interact. Especially online, given the continuing growth of mobility, social networking and new and different access devices.
Customers, partners and prospects are, in effect, the most important example of what my Constellation Research colleagues and I like to refer to as “the mobile, social cloud.” And the mobile, social cloud makes clear what many already know. Current processes and solutions for OEO, especially content creation, delivery and management, are inadequate, especially given the explosion in the number and types of networked access devices.

For users and buyers, effective OEO, like effective modern marketing, requires answering some key questions about content, conversation, consistency and conversion (as outlined in my blog post "The Four C's of Content Marketing" at TheCMOSite.com). And when looking at candidate vendors and solutions, those users and buyers should focus on four key criteria.
  • Completeness: can the vendor deliver solutions that address all of users' key challenges to OEO success, organically or via truly strategic alliances?
  • Continuity: can the vendor deliver solutions that “look and feel” like logical, operationally non-disruptive extensions and evolutions of previous offerings and incumbent tools?
  • Connectivity: can the vendor and its offerings “play well with others” in ways that let users maximize the business value and ROI of their incumbent and future investments, without requiring “heavy lifting” by IT experts?
  • Convincingness: can the vendor cash the checks its mouth is writing?

OEO is clearly not your parents' marketing. It isn't even last year's Web content management or user interface design. It's all of these, plus more. Fortunately, processes, best practices and solutions are emerging to enable OEO and extreme personalization without tears, fork lifts or teams of technologists. And I and my Constellation Research colleagues will be opining about these and related issues increasingly during the next few weeks and months. Stay tuned...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yellowbook + Microsoft = A New Marketing Force for Small Businesses

Google has advertising and search-empowered marketing offerings for small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs).

So does Microsoft.

Google has online search tools that are popular among users and buyers, and among at least some advertisers. So does Microsoft – more so now that it has partnered with Yahoo! in select arenas.

Google has online applications growing in popularity among SMBs and larger enterprises.

So does Microsoft.

But now, Microsoft has something Google doesn't have, at least not in the same ways. What? Here's a direct quote from the relevant news release, issued June 14 by Microsoft and its new partner, Yell Group, owners of Yellowbook among other related resources.

“Thomas Hansen, vice president of SMB Worldwide at Microsoft, said, 'Yell Group has one of the largest dedicated sales forces partnering with small and medium sized businesses and provides customers with valuable, locally focused internet directories that see over 50 million unique visitors per month. We are very excited about our plans to form a strategic alliance with Yell, as it offers us a way to better reach and serve small and medium sized businesses across the globe.'”

Here's another quote from the same release.

“Yell currently provides print and digital marketing services to over 1.3 million customers across the United States, United Kingdom, Spain and Latin America. Capitalizing on the Yahoo! and Microsoft Search Alliance and the growing consumer audience of Bing and Yahoo! Search, Microsoft and Yell will join forces to offer compelling search, mobile and local advertising solutions to small and medium businesses and to make the most of emerging business models delivered through the cloud. Under the plans, Yell will also offer the full suite of Microsoft’s SMB productivity and business software and cloud services, including Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and emerging SMB-focused communications solutions. In addition, Microsoft will assist Yell to accelerate its new cloud-based services, which will provide Yell’s customers with access to these new digital offerings.”

Yell already offers a number of interesting, sometimes innovative marketing and advertising services through Yellowbook in North America and other divisions across the globe. Now, Yell Group reps will have a new, different and growing portfolio of advertising, marketing and business support services to offer.

The day after announcing the Microsoft alliance, the company announced a strategic partnership with Bazaarvoice, provider of cloud-based solutions designed to enable businesses to manage and monetize online customer conversations and communities. The day after the Bazaarvoice announcement, Yell announced a completely new corporate strategy. The company is now focused on evolving from a provider of advertising services to the outsourced marketing department for millions of SMBs.

This means SMB decision makers may soon be able to buy services for contact, lead and customer management (CRM), email marketing, online data backup, Web conferencing and other unified communications (UC) options and more from a single Yellowbook rep. Which could give those decision makers some interesting, valuable options not easily available elsewhere.

Now, Google, Salesforce.com, SugarCRM and others offer all kinds of platforms, add-ons and plug-ins intended to enable all kinds of business service combinations. But at most SMBs, one of the first questions to which they want answers is about interoperability with...Microsoft Office. So why not start with offerings that come from the source, so to speak? Especially for those SMB decision makers already doing business with Yellowbook or some other Yell Group entity? After all, "the cloud" is still basically a wild and poorly mapped environment, making the value of a known, proven guide pretty darned high to those users.

Speaking of which...

If your company already works with Yellowbook, you and your rep should be having a heart-to-heart talk very soon now. You should ask about everything from what services will be available and when to how and whether you can move and share spend dollars across multiple online and offline opportunities. You might want to focus a few questions on how Yellowbook + Microsoft might help you to offer more and better local and daily deals.

If your company does not do business with Yellowbook but does work with one or more of its competitors, you might ask your rep what their company plans to do in response to Yell Group's moves. Meanwhile, keep a close eye on what Yell and Microsoft do, and on what Google and others do in response.