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My favorite guerilla lead gen program aimed at CEOs July 15, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing, Lead Gen.
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One of my most favorite lead gen programs I worked on was about 10 years ago when I was VP of marketing for a knowledge management start-up.  This was during the early days of online search.  Using today’s terms, we offered a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product/service that allowed users to get immediate answers to their questions. What was unique at the time was that our engine was very advanced and would offer up correct and relevant answers as opposed to a laundry list of links.

Since we were a start-up, our marketing budget was non-existent.  Our objective was to seed our sales pipeline quickly with a dozen well-qualified, brand name customers that we could eventually use as public references. Our only choice was to approach this project as a guerilla (see Jay Levinson’s many books on Guerilla Marketing).  So, we got creative.

  • We built our own list of target companies. We carefully matched our product strategy with a prioritized set of target segments.  Rather than blanketing all potential audiences, we produced a list 500 target companies. We needed wins quickly, and we felt we had a good story to tell.  So, with a laser-focused ambition, we set our sites and did not waiver from them.

  • We researched each company to confirm the name of their CEO and to obtain his/her email address and an issue they were facing that was relevant to our product. How did we do this?  We were blessed to have one of the most savvy executive admins around.  She called into each company and navigated to her counterpart – the CEO’s executive admin.  Calling on behalf of our CEO, she explained that we wanted to share some information that her CEO would find interesting, based on an issue his/her company was wresting with, as noted in the news, their website, etc.  She asked for his direct email address so she could send our information on behalf of our CEO.  (This approached worked exceptionally well for several reasons: this was not a telemarketing call — it was exec admin to exec admin; we were not selling anything; we were honest, forthright, and polite.  To our delight, we captured and verified 80% of the CEO email addresses this way.)
  • We created a standard email for this program, then tailored it for each CEO. Our email (ghost written for our CEO) was one paragraph in length and included a mocked-up screen shot of how our product would look on the target’s website, under their brand.  So, while the data in the screen shot was bogus, their company logo, homepage design was obvious.  Several energetic souls in our support team built these screen shots for us.
  • The call to action was personalized by our CEO. It may seem ironic, but our goal was not to sell our product.  At least not at first.  Instead, the text of the email illustrated our idea/value proposition.  We showed the mocked-up screenshot to show how our product/service might look on their home page.  Using regular language (not jargon or energized marketing-speak), we asked them if they thought this was a crazy idea.  In closing, we asked them to contact our CEO to provide us with some feedback.  The telephone number we provided was to a new line that that marketing team would answer as if we were the CEO’s office.
  • We created a separate email mailbox for our CEO and distributed these emails from that account. Twenty emails were developed and dropped each week.  (Remember, we had no budget to outsource any of this work.)  It took time to tailor each email, but we didn’t want to wait for all 500 to be ready.  Also, by staggering the drop, we could learn how effective we were being by watching our response rates.

We successfully ran the program for 6 weeks before we claimed victory.  We received a 12% response rate and won audiences with a number of brand-name customers.  My personal favorite was an email response we received from Michael Eisner (then the head of Disney) who directed us to follow-up with his VPs of marketing and support.  Everyone was copied on his response; the skids had been greased; we were in business!

Have a creative lead gen story to share?  I’d love to hear it!

Thinking about adding a blog into your marcom mix? Here’s how to break through blogger’s block June 8, 2010

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing, Social Media.
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Several of my clients are considering adding a blog into their integrated marketing mix.  In each of these specific cases, the company wants to use the blog as a portal to showcase “thought leadership” — not to sell.  Yet, the marketing and sales leaders are struggling to get their thoughts on paper.

I recently ran across the following blog post that is written specifically for bloggers: 6 Ways to Constantly Produce Quality Blog Content. This is a wonderful recipe for breaking thru the barriers of writer’s block that everyone faces.

Here’s the synopsis:

1) Before you start blogging, clarify the specific objective for your blog and how/when/where the blog fits in your marketing blueprint.  With this in mind, now establish an editorial calendar for the content that fits the objective.

2) Make a list of categories with sub-topics.  This sets the framework for how your blog will develop over time.

3) Keep a running list of blog topics.  Brainstorms can hit at any time.  Keep track of all ideas, rational, crazy or not.

4) Write several blogs at one time.  Set aside time to write.  Personally, I find it easier to write early in the morning before the interruptions of the day begin.

5) Find guest bloggers.  Share the writing opportunity with others.

6) Interview experts.  Whenever you feel that you’ve tapped all your knowledge, interview a partner, peer, client, colleague, expert, etc.  Look for alternative perspectives that can freshen up a topic.

Your “Customer Advisory Board” (CAB) Resource Center October 26, 2009

Posted by Mike Gospe in Customer Advisory Boards.
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2013 Update: Visit my new blog focused on Customer Advisory Boards, including two new guidebooks that unlocks the secrets to harnessing the power of this executive group.

The Dow is flirting around 14,000 and many expect signs of recovery to continue to blossom in 2013.  Kicking off or rejuvinating your company’s CAB (or Customer Advisory Council – CAC) program is an excellent way to strengthen customer loyalty and ensure you are on the right (roadmap) track for 2013 and beyond.

I’ve been facilitating CABs and other executive summits and offsites for more than 10 years.   Here is a collection of articles that offer insights, tips, and best practices that will help optimize your program and build stronger executive relationships.

Building an “Awareness/Thought Leadership” blueprint April 27, 2009

Posted by Mike Gospe in Integrated Marketing.
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An example of an awareness / thought leadership marketing program. Click to enlarge the image.

One of the most common types of marketing programs are the “awareness & thought leadership” programs.  This specific program has the objective of focusing the company on the business and solutions topics the customer cares about.  Instead of immediately diving down to the feature-rich technical jargon, this program marks an important step to communicating to customer executives that we truly understand their business issues.  It positions us as business partner, and thus allows us to take a consultative approach in dialoguing with customers and prospects. 

Reading left to right, notice that we’ve identified the intended target audience on the left.  (Personas would have been developed in detail prior to designing this blueprint.)  Across the top, the customer’s buying behavior has been listed — in this case moving from “awareness” to “interest”.  The first step of expressing interest is usually seen in the prospect searching for information.  (This is not an comprehensive example; other forms of engaging in awareness and interest activities will be covered in future posts.)  Like branding, this type of program is best viewed as an ongoing investment in creating and maintaining “aircover” for your marketing efforts that will frame specific product launches and promotions. 

Each box in the blueprint references a “theme” and the “marketing methods” (i.e. articles, Web, executive presentations) used to communicate the theme.  We cast our net wide by starting with business topics that should appeal to both the CIO and IT director.  Popular themes can be thought of as the “what” themes: — What industry trends will influence the industry? or What impact can we expect the current economy to have on consumer behavior?  or What are the three primary investment priorities for telco CIOs in 2010?  For best results, a company may have one or two business themes that will be explored all year.  It’s best to be focused.

Next, we move on to solutions-based themes.   Think of these topics as “how” themes — How will companies balance containing costs while protecting the network? or How are companies maximizing the ROI of their outsourced functions and programs?  These topics tend to get more specific in prescribing a criteria for success.  For best results, a company may entertain 2-3 solutions topics that support each business theme, per quarter.  This allows additional solutions topics to unfold over time, thereby providing flexibility to leverage new product launches and current events that may impact buyer behavior.

Notice that in neither the business-topics nor the solutions-topics  have we put our product in the headline.  This is important.  The value that your company brings is in sponsoring these topics and providing business and solutions savviness.  Via your sponsorship, customers will make the connection to your products and services.  Like chapters in a book, these discussion topics will build and evolve each quarter, providing rich content for prospects to review and respond to. 

But our marketing efforts are only just beginning.  Ultimately, the best qualified leads are the ones who seek us out.  So, we whet their appetite with our business and solutions topics, and we give them an opportunity to raise their hand to request more information.  And, we’ll be on the look out for prospects who exhibit certain behavior based on the topics they find of interest and the information they share with us along the way.  (I’ll share some best practices on establishing lead qualification criteria and scoring in a later blog post.) In either case, we’ll be ready.  That’s when our demand generation programs kick in and we actively confirm that they are indeed qualified as we quickly stream them through the sales cycle.

Next month I’ll share an overview of a couple of blueprints for demand generation programs.

For more information, please read Marketing Campaign Development.