Tag Archives: b2b

How Hard Is It To Get Cold Email Replies? Chasing the odds and cracking the code…

I tend to get overly excited when I ever I get a positive response from a prospect to a cold email.

I feel as if I cracked some code to gain that momentary share of attention bandwidth and now I’m “in”. From the likely dozens to hundreds of emails that individual received, they chose to take the time to respond to mine…

I realize sometimes its PSL (pure sh*t luck) or simple name recognition but I’d like to attribute some of my success to being thoughtful and deliberate in the approach. Keeping the email simple, relevant and familiar seems to be the key to getting that initial engagement.

In thinking about the metrics behind “cracking the cold email code”; I started wondering what are the odds of my email being seen, let alone opened, let alone responded to no matter how creative and thoughtful I was.

I decided I’d start with the general question of “how many b2b emails are sent on a daily basis”. Most of the data that I was able to personally find that felt “real” (e.g. backed by research) was dated…it seems like 2011 was the last year I could find consistent or comparable figures from multiple sources on email trends. I could find anecdotal stuff from one vendor or data from a survey etc; but trying to validate those figures from multiple sources proved challenging. Either I’m looking in the wrong places (likely), or these research firms simply chase the shiniest trend or the press just isn’t covering this as much so the content isn’t as well indexed. The good research on email was generally pre-mobile and pre-social; so maybe these firms just shifted their attention and focus.

Does that mean email is dead or dying?

Not a chance; but like all things digital it’s obviously evolving. Even with the explosion of social sites, webapps and mobile – all these things require an email address for the most part as a form of digital currency proof of identity / user name.

I did find one source of email trend data that at least had a history of providing information consistently. The Radicati Group out of Palo Alto, California describes themselves as the “Leading analyst firm covering Email, Social Media, Instant Messaging, Security, Wireless, Archiving, eDiscovery, DLP, Unified Communications and more” I’ve never heard of them previously (which means absolutely nothing in terms of their credibility) but there is a nice library of market research information available on their website; most of which is pay to access. I did read the executive briefing they made publicly available on the Email Market for 2013-2017 (link below) and wanted to pass along some interesting figures they share:

  • Counting both business and consumer users (unique individuals?); there are over 2.4 billion email users worldwide. There are about 7 billion people in the world; so that number feels “right”. They forecast that number will grow just 3% a year through 2017. I’m guessing internet accessibility in 3rd world countries supresses that growth.
  • Counting both business and consumer accounts (unique addresses?), there are 3.9 billion accounts; growing to 4.9 billion by 2017 (growth rate 2x number of users); why the difference? Most people use more than one email address…reasonable.
  • Worldwide email traffic (business and consumer) is estimated at 182 BILLION EMAILS PER DAY; expected to grow to 207 BILLION EMAILS PER DAY in 2017. This is only a 3% increase YOY…but that is a serious huge number… Doing the math; that says the average user gets about 75 emails per day (182 billion emails divided by 2.4 billion users) – that math checks out. Separating the business and consumer is where it gets interesting…
  • Business alone counts for over 100 Billion of that 182; and they expect business emails to go up 7% per year while consumer emails to decline by 3% per year. I buy those numbers, we’re emailing friends and family less frequently due to social and texting – but the business world is still heavily reliant on “traditional” email for both internal and external dialog. I would even buy a much steeper decline on consumer / personal than they illustrate and sharper increase on business.

So…let’s go back to my original question that prompted this and figure these odds out; let’s say 65% of email users have a business email account. I’m taking some liberties there and probably too generous, but unemployment rate plus service / retail jobs that don’t have business email addresses…that means 1.55 billion business email users (65% of 2.4B) and with 100 billion business emails per day; that equates to about 64 business emails per day per professional (lower than I would have guessed).

Now we have to start thinking internal business emails vs. external business emails and associated open rates of each etc.. This made my head hurt…but playing with numbers from my gut; I said 40% of these emails were external (e.g. knuckleheads like me) and we probably are in the industry average 25% open rate and 5% click thru rate (I’m equating a click-thru with a reply).

So this leads to roughly 26 external business emails per day; about 6-7 of those are opened per day, and 1.3 click-thru’s or replies…so with my 1 reply received; I guess I was the lucky winner that day and cracked the code to get the attention this individual had for that 1 of 1.3 external email correspondences he /she had that day with external emails…




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A big mistake your B2B sales team is likely making…

Focusing on the Decision Maker vs. the Decision Making Process

A single decision maker for b2b purchases is increasingly a myth. Focusing on trying to convince a decision maker vs. focusing on understanding the decision making process is a mistake even experienced sales professionals make. In today’s b2b world, most businesses have some process of prioritizing projects and internal resources in addition to budgets. Rare is the case that someone wants to 100% own the responsibility of signing an agreement, spending budget money and owning a project when it’s likely other projects were seeking those same funds and resources.

A caveat here, if the firm you are selling to is very small or your product is transactional (e.g. non-subscription) and relatively inexpensive (e.g. less than $5,000) the below may only loosely apply  – but even President / Owner / CEO’s seek other’s opinions before signing on the line that is dotted.

Asking whether or not someone has the authority to make a decision is a pretty standard 101 question that will rarely give you enough information or insights to either accurately forecast the sale or even move the sale towards closing. This self-identified “decision maker” likely can make a decision, but that decision is usually whether or not they want to pursue the deal internally vs. actually making the final decision on the go/ no-go.

No matter what you are selling, every business has a list of projects in a queue waiting priority and you are competing with the attention bandwidth applied to those items; whether they are related to your offering or not. A better course of action is to seek clarity how decisions are made within the organization; including the financial decision as well as the project priority process.

How do you do that?

Ask better questions related to the process itself once you’ve earned the right to do so. Below are some very simple examples that you can adjust to your specific situation:

  • Mr. Prospect, based on my experience working with other clients, there are often other individuals at the business that like to be aware of what my company will be providing to your business; if only to avoid any confusion once you’ve made a decision. When your business has made similar purchase decisions – how did that process work? Do you typically involve others in the evaluation process as well? How do you recommend we work them into this process to make this as smooth as possible?
  • Mr. Prospect, I have to imagine there are other projects looking for budget or resources that might be unrelated to this; where do you think this project would fit into those priorities at the executive level and how do we best work together to help you navigate that?

TIP: Don’t fall easy victim to the false positive of your proposal going to executive committee / management meeting or board meeting for review. Always clarify that your proposal is on the agenda and a priority. All too often I’ve heard a deal forecasted because it was going to committee for final signoff only to learn that the board never got around to discussing the proposal and it’s pushed off to the next meeting.  Make sure your sales executives ask the question “are we formally on the agenda for the meeting as a priority?” It might feel uncomfortable to a sales rep to ask that (which I don’t get) but without confirmation, you are flying blind.

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Top organic listing on Google gets just 8.9% of clicks…

Pretty thought-provoking article and “infographic” here on google SEO vs. PPC trends; some highlights from my POV:

  • Top organic listing on Google gets 8.9% of clicks on page; 8.9% is still huge; but tells you how much the paid ads are getting overall – nearly 42% of all clicks go to first 3 paid listings.
  • Interesting how “pixel dominance” of paid ads is impacting click rates.
  • 89% of paid ad search traffic is “new” traffic that is outside organic reach.

Link: http://www.wordstream.com/blog/ws/2012/07/17/google-advertising

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Three Big Mistakes Start-ups Make in Sales Planning & Operations

I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years either working for a B2B start-up / small company or speaking to others who were doing the same. In my humble opinion, there are a few key mistakes I see these companies make related to sales planning and modeling (I’m not immune to these mistakes myself).

They are recoverable if addressed in time, but often if they aren’t addressed the problems cascade into bigger issues that can impact the ultimate success of your company.

As a service to my peers; here are the 3 bigger mistakes that start-up b2b firms make related to sales planning I’ve seen; simplified for your consideration.

You’ve overestimated your target market

Young companies often struggle to define their target market and set their sights too broadly. By assuming your target universe is larger than it really is typically drives you to have a larger than you need sales force (and associated infrastructure and marketing costs) and unrealistic penetration expectations. Your business will grow at a faster and more sustainable rate if you put a realistic filter on which are the true “more likely” customers and put a hyper focus on penetrating this smaller universe.

For some reason, start-up companies and entrepreneurs are uncomfortable narrowing their definition of runway for fear of tempering growth potential and I suppose ultimate perceived valuation. No one wants to put a self-imposed limit on how their idea is going to change the world; but you need realism. The danger of not accurately defining your runway of potential customers is a greater distraction and detriment to growth and valuation. If you are not “right sizing” your prospect universe, I can guarantee that you are:

  • Diffusing your efforts through pursuit of all potential prospects, agnostic to propensity.
  • You are absolutely spending a large amount of sales & marketing resource, effort and time against a very unproductive class of prospect and likely discounting way more than you need to in order to penetrate them.
  • Your focus, attention and effort against unproductive prospects will influence your development of lower end products in an attempt to increase penetration as opposed to focusing on higher-end products for those clients who have higher propensity to buy.

You aren’t segmenting your message and approach

If you have “right sized” your universe as suggested above; it’s highly likely that certain market or industry segments stood out in that propensity modeling. If those markets are “self-referencing” (meaning they pay attention to each other); you have an opportunity to drive productivity and pricing power at the same time through a disciplined segmented sales & marketing approach.

Identify the top 3-5 markets (if they can be differentiated enough) and move people and accounts to make them wholly focused on those markets and align the right kind of marketing support so you can establish industry leader perception and market beachheads. It’s all or nothing into the markets you choose to start with.

I can’t stress it enough – it can’t be half-assed. You need to give people enough of a tight focus, don’t be fearful of reassigning accounts. The more aggressive you are in targeting the right segment of the market, the less money, resources and time you’ll waste on people who simply aren’t interested.

Let’s say Consumer Goods stands out as a market; build a team to focus only on that vertical; move all associated prospect and client accounts to that team, get them using “vertical” collateral, websites, targeted / vertical messaging, client references etc. so when they are calling on the market – they stand out as truly knowing and specializing within that market; that gives you leadership perception and thus pricing power and ,more than likely improved productivity.

Establishing Unsupported Individual Activity & Productivity Expectations

You likely have a revenue goal that back solves to a productivity expectation by account executive headcount.

  • Does your new right sized prospect universe worked out above and current sales cycle knowledge still support those headcount model assumptions?
  • Do you have enough “quality” prospects to keep your current sales force productive enough to attain your goal numbers and thus, retain high performers?

I know this seems obvious and basic; but I’ve seen it all too often when there are productivity expectations that seem believable; only to have them come into question once a true prospect universe analysis is done in conjunction with knowledge and facts of a realistic sales cycle.

For example; let’s say your redefined prospect universe is 100,000 potential B2B customers. To attack this market; you’ve modeled a headcount of 50 sales reps. As a result, each rep has 2000 accounts and you expect an account executive to close 4 new customers a month out of this pool; or 48 a year or a 2.4% penetration. That number, without knowing anything else, seems believable on the surface but let’s dig deeper.

What is your current conversion rate of pipeline accounts (“opportunities”) to wins?

In this example, let’s say it’s 20%. Based on this, to secure 48 new accounts; you need 240 opportunities per year (20% of 240 = 48). 240 opportunities require 20 a month; or roughly 5 new opportunities per week. I don’t know your business – but is this still believable to you? Perhaps – after all what solid account executive can’t add 1 new opportunity per day to their pipeline?

How many prospect dialogs / engagements turn into opportunities?

If you don’t know this number, you owe it to yourself to find out; but let’s SWAG it and say 1 out of every 2 “engagement dialogs” turn to opportunities. Based on this simple math, you need 480 engagements out of the 2000 assigned accounts to net 48 new customers; or each AE needs to engage with 24% of their assigned accounts per year to net 48 new customers. Is the expectation still believable? I mean why can’t an AE engage with 480 accounts per year? That’s only 40 per month; or 10 a week…2 a work day…I mean come on; what are the AE’s doing all day anyway?

Before we replace our AE’s who can’t do this; let’s dig a little deeper. How many individual accounts (prospects) do your AE’s need to attempt to connect with before an account engages? Is it 1 in 2, 3 or 4 or more etc?

At 1 in 4; they need to attempt to engage with all 2000 in a year to get 480 engagements to convert to 240 opportunities to net 48 new customers…this model is feeling a little shaky at this point as it has no margin.

My proposed rule of thumb is that if you are expecting an AE to engage with more than 20% of their assigned accounts per year in order to hit productivity expectations; you owe it yourself to validate whether that is realistic based on any data you currently have on your sales cycle. This rule of thumb is fraught with issues that come with any rule of thumb;  for it to be realistic; you need to know the realities of your sales cycle.

  • How many prospecting calls or appointments do your top sales representative makes in a week and how many of those engage and turn into opportunities or proposals?
  • How many does the lowest-performing salesperson make?

I can guarantee you that if you do this exercise you will either be surprised or greatly disappointed. I suspect the levels are lower than you expect and you are going to get upset at yourself or your leaders for not paying more attention but the answers to those questions will help you model your true sales cycle.

If you find your model is off – what can you do to rectify it and make it more believable?

  • Can you improve the conversion of opportunities to wins?
  • Can you improve the engagement rate of suspects and prospects?
  • Do you need to reduce the number of sales people you have?

I suspect that you can answer some of the above through segmentation (mistake #2 above) via sales and marketing messaging & training supported through tighter integration of marketing lead generation / nurturing. I’m also going to guess you probably have more sales people than you really need; a smaller sales force isn’t a bad thing,

The truth is in the details of your specific business; but you owe it to yourself to go through the exercise and uncover the mistakes you might be making now while it’s still early.

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June PMI & Beyond: Does The Past Predict The Future?

The Institute for Supply Management’s PMI index reading for May 2011 of 53.5 surprised most analysts, even the pessimistic ones. The general consensus was for a slight downward move from April’s reading of 60.4 to 58. Even the worst of the pessimists only had it bottoming out around 55.

So using history, what does the 53.5 likely mean for June and beyond?

  • The 53.5 reading in May 2011 is the lowest reading of PMI since September 2009
  • The PMI dropped 12.9% from April (60.4) to May (53.5); the 12.9% drop is the biggest percentage drop in PMI in more than 7 years. 
  • The September-October drop in 2008 is the next highest in the past 7 years at 12.3%. I simply stopped looking after 7 years so it might be even farther back (PMI tables are easy to find online if you want to do the exercise yourself).
  • The PMI has dropped 14.4% for the March to May 3-month timeframe. A drop in general is not unusual per se as in the past 6 years (excluding 2011) there has been a tendency of the PMI to decline from March to April in 4 of the past 6 years (a bit of pre-summer correcting perhaps?) but the average decline (excluding 2011) for those 4 years is an average of 3.5% in PMI vs. the 14.4% we’ve seen this year. Thus, 2011 is a 4x steeper decline than we’ve historically seen for this time period. This is a huge drop and beyond typical correction.
  • In the years with declining March to May PMI (those 4 of last 6); 2 of the 4 shrunk again further thru June at an average further decline of 3%; whereas the other two increased only slightly vs. May @ 0.4% and 2.6%, but still stayed below March levels. In short, based on historical performance – it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect June’s PMI (released July 1) to potentially drop again or only modestly tick up…this certainly explains manufacturing supplier hesitancy or uncertainty.
  • If the index drops below 50; expect the dreaded R word to be in rampant use in media…50 or above means growth, below 50 means contraction.

The following article from Industrial Distribution is an interview with the Bradley Holcumb (I list him by his initials – BH) – he is the chair of the ISM (organization behind the PMI) and he speaks to the data in the May report and what it means to those in the manufacturing industry, and whether the decreasing growth should raise concern among manufacturers.

 To me, his comments suggest that most of the market place for manufacturers are exercising a less than optimistic wait and see attitude.

Key excerpts:

ID: It looks like the growth was a little bit slower this month. Is this an indication of an overall lessening of the recovery, or should we be expecting a ‘peaks and valleys’ type situation?

BH: 53.5 as a PMI is clearly off 6.9 points, but it’s still in the growth category, it’s just growing slower. The things that are primarily impacting the PMI are the softening of growth in new orders and production, which are both off around 10 points. But we have to keep in mind that in January, Feb, March, April, all of these important primary metrics were in the 60s, which is really strong. Companies are taking their foot off the accelerator a bit for the month of May. There’s a little bit of a cautionary note, and a little bit of a wait and see.

ID: Are there any other major takeaways for manufacturers and distributors?

BH: I guess our overall sentiment here is continuing growth and cautious optimism, going forward over the next few months. We’re seeing some declines in these metrics for the first time this year, but it’s only one data point. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves; let’s wait until next month before we read too much into this.

Full Interview: http://www.inddist.com/Content.aspx?id=1499

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Word Association: To Push or To Pull

It can be a real challenge for a marketer to successfully market online a product or service or solution that hasn’t previously existed before or that nobody knows even exists today. Perhaps you’ve created an innovative new product or taken advantage of an emerging technology or perhaps you’re solving a niche problem for a specialized marketplace through a unique application…how do you get that exciting news into the appropriate hands when people may not be searching for that kind of news or solution – I mean how would they know to search for it let alone how to search for it?

Rather than trying to directly market to a specific type of search, interest or “query” that may not exist yet – you might be more effective simply marketing to the right audience and creating the interest with them to begin with.

This type of campaign is often referred to as “push” marketing as you are attempting to push your message in front of your target market to create interest and demand. The opposite of “push” marketing would be pull marketing – where you are trying to market to someone already looking for a solution, and attempting to pull them towards you as a vendor of choice.

Push marketing messages often have a bit of an education or awareness angle, although they certainly aren’t limited to just this approach. This education can take shape in numerous ways that provide value to potential customers: 

  • Whitepapers
  • Press Clippings (Articles) / PR
  • PDF data sheets or catalog downloads
  • Case Studies or Application Notes
  • Online videos or Webinars
  • Email newsletters
  • Blog postings / Social media commentary

Other online marketing vehicles (like paid search or search optimization) can be creatively employed as well; but take some thought to effectively utilize well in new market / application scenarios.

To promote the availability and accessibility of this kind of news and information; you should give consideration to a combination of E-newsletter campaigns, broadcast banner advertising to a wide, but targeted audience, and direct email campaigns to your target market. Social media is of course another method to use.

To determine whether you should be using “push” media – give some thought to the words you are using (even internally in your own marketing meetings) when describing your “new” product, service or solution and the market you are trying to reach.

For example –

Product Attributes: If you are describing the product, service or solution using words like the below – you should consider “push marketing”: 

  • New
  • Cutting Edge
  • Emerging
  • Innovative
  • Replacement (e.g. it’s the “new”)
  • Alternative
  • Substitution
  • Equivalent
  • Comparative / Compare To
  • Advanced
  • Creative
  • Unique
  • Special

Target Market: If you are describing the target market (e.g. potential customers) using adjectives like the below – you should consider “push” marketing:

  • Niche
  • Special
  • Unique
  • Focused

Marketing Approach: If you are discussing or describing the possible marketing approach or vehicles you plan on using with the following terms – you should consider “push” marketing:

  • Educate / Teach
  • Introduce
  • Inform
  • Create Interest
  • Stimulate
  • Awareness
  • Roll-Out
  • Learn

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Virtual Tradeshows vs. Traditional Tradeshows

Exhibiting at traditional trade shows is one of the most utilized marketing tactics by companies targeting the industrial and manufacturing marketplace. The opportunity for direct engagement with prospects, customers and other vendors who could be potential partners or customers is invaluable and the opportunity to “shake hands” with key clients to thank them for their business is often perceived as priceless. On the flip side, exhibiting also tends to have the highest cost of other marketing alternatives when factoring in space fees, booth setup, storage & shipping costs, associated communications & promotion and travel, meal and lodging expenses. It’s also a challenging media to tangibly and quickly prove return on investment results as exhibitors have very real time and logistic demands from the show that can impact timely attendee follow-up.

It should be no surprise then that the worldwide economic situation has led to many companies having both scaled back budgets and staffs; creating a very real decline in attendance and in exhibitors at many industrial shows. The challenges facing the traditional trade show market due to the economy have only been exacerbated by the additional very real issues of travel woes & hassles due to scaling back nationwide of flight choices, the continued dominance of the web as a primary research vehicle and the explosion of social media options.

These realities have created a ‘perfect storm” opportunity for the emergence of virtual tradeshows or e-Events as a viable alternative or supplement to both attendees and exhibitors alike.

Almost everyone is comfortable interacting online today. People attend webinars and view video presentations, they earn online university degrees or certifications, comment on blogs and rate products, and engage in social networking via Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Industrial professionals are no different and they have largely migrated online for work-related purposes. Online events are an emerging online option for these professionals to gain the information and insight they require for their jobs; without many of the downsides associated with the traditional tradeshow.

For attendees, online events:

  • Provide opportunities to interact with suppliers in a comfortable online environment
  • Give quick access to information from multiple related vendors in a centralized manner
  • Avoid the hassle and expense of travel, hotels, meals, and time away from the office
  • Offer a wide array of educational and professional opportunities
  • Enable attendees to easily abandon the event if it’s not meeting their needs or expectations (marketers take note)

 For marketers, online events:

  • Provide you with many of the benefits of location-based events, including branding exposure and lead generation at a fraction of the cost and hassle.
  • Help you reach a targeted, yet broad & global audience
  • Offer the convenience and productivity of allowing you to remain in your office at a computer while hosting and managing an event
  • Generate important and relevant sales lead information on attendees such as their interest area and online activity in a timely and organized fashion.
  • Position you and your company as a thought leader
  • Allow you leave the giveaways behind (no more booth visitors feigning interest just to collect the goodies!)

Online tradeshows can be highly interactive, allowing attendees to visit suppliers’ “booths,” chat with suppliers, ask questions, participate in discussions, and access content such as white papers and collateral. Much like traditional tradeshows, these events provide the opportunity for one-on-one conversations with attendees, and many attendees of virtual events gain a sense of empowerment and comfort in the ability to interact with you the way they prefer—online, from their own desks.

Exhibiting at an online tradeshow is in many ways like a traditional location-based event, complete with multiple vendors showcasing their products and services, branding visibility, and interaction with a target audience. Of course, there are no travel costs and time away from the office—for you, or your attendees.

Are there trade-offs? Sure – a chance to be face-to-face with an existing or potential customer or the opportunity for someone to see your products “in action” are two big ones and virtual experiences will never replace those in person opportunities. However, the economic, time and resource benefits of virtual tradeshows and e-Events are too big to not experience or explore.

Before you exhibit at an online tradeshow, determine what content would be most valuable for attendees, such as white papers, data sheets, and other collateral—just as you would for a location-based event. Also, line up the people in your company who will staff the booth and interact with attendees. Then, be sure to choose a virtual event that offers the following:

  • Targeting of your audience and marketing to attract them to the event.
  • Opportunities to visibly brand your company within the virtual environment.
  • Rich opportunities to engage your audience, such as online chat, real-time Q&As, online panel discussions and more.
  • Tools for attendees to interact with each other.
  • Tracking and reporting of attendees’ online activity in your booth, so you can discover their area of interest.
  • Complete intelligence reports on attendees with full contact information and other relevant data for your sales team to follow-up.

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