Blogging, Brand Management, Customer Experience, Marketing Automation, Stories

What a recent stay in Thailand taught me about service automation, customer experience, and my wife

Welcome board

Not the actual board, but ours was very much like this one – you get it.

In the reception of the place we were staying at in southern Thailand, they’d put up a board in the morning. On this board they’d publish the names of new guests arriving that day. Every day a new list of names from all over the world. About 20 names on average. First names and last names.

Then at check-in, you’d get these small, handwritten notes – the breakfast passes. One per day, per family member, stitched together. In beautiful small, curly writing, each note states the cabin number, the date, your family name, your arrival date and your departure date. You spend 7 days with a family of 4, you get 28 of these notes. 28 handwritten notes for a single guest family.

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Blogging, Brand Management, Bureau, Customer Experience, Marcom, Marketing, Positioning, Social Media, Stories

Beer Lovers Unite: Schuurbierdag

happiness is a cold beerYes, this is a slightly awkward post. I know. But I have been pondering this idea for a while and I want to put it out there.  

I call it “Schuurbierdag”, to be translated as Shed Beer Day. Yes, Shed Beer Day. That may need some work by some brilliant copy writer. But alas, let’s have a look, shall we?

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Blogging, Brand Management, Content Marketing, Event Marketing, Marcom, Marketing Automation, Marketing ROI, Online Marketing, Sales, Social Media, Stories, Webcast

The Perfect B2B Content Mix

MixerI don’t think business-to-business communications as a discipline was ever as exciting and challenging as it is today. The convergence of available platforms, data and social media effectively provides marketers with endless opportunities to find prospective buyers among both suspects and customers.

At the same time, traditional ways of informing, engaging and transacting with customers are being scrutinized. The overhead of traditional PR, direct marketing, events and retail drives a tremendous shift towards online and mobile engagement models.

We all know this.

The Shortest List
But it’s hard to find the right path in this landscape of endless possibilities, isn’t it? Which mix of vehicles, assets, platforms, programs – owned or sponsored – will generate the optimum stream of inbound contacts? I find that in todays online conversation, a million writers (usually agency reps or consultants) will tell you about the many millions of different things you can do to find and engage your audience; nowhere will you find a discrete list of stuff you can’t do without – a minimal set of things that should get you where you need to be.

So here is the list of things you cannot do without in your 2014 enterprise marketing mix:

For influencers, main objectives: education, value and timely interaction

  1. Solution-level blogs
  2. Solution-level webinars
  3. Relevant customer case studies (PDF, YouTube, SlideShare)
  4. Whitepapers
  5. Landing pages aggregating this content around specific topics
  6. Online testing, demonstration, comparison and/or ROI calculation capabilities
  7. Events (3rd party for suspects, owned for customers and prospects) to enable influencers to discover the offering and meet the vendor team.
  8. Database and telemarketing

For decision makers, main objectives: credibility and buy-in

  1. Thought leadership blogs and videos
  2. Branded editorial content integrated into relevant online and offline titles
  3. Events (3rd party for suspects, owned for customers and prospects, and to facilitate the prospect-customer conversation).
  4. Account strategy, access and relationship management at the C-level (a C-level program can never be marketing-only. It needs to be a joined effort with the sales leadership).

All of this has to be (a) continuously fuelled with crisp, audience-based content, (b) optimised for search and (c) 100% Social, Local and Mobile.

That’s it.

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Brand Management, Competitive Strategy, Content Marketing, Event Marketing, Interactive Marketing, Marcom, Marketing ROI, Online events, Sales, Social Media, Webcast

#know13, or: 4 Things I Learned About Event Marketing

Knowledge13One of my college professors, Kees Fens (a famous Dutch literary critic, with a brilliant first name) once told me: “Jongeman, make sure you read as many books as you possibly can before the age of twenty five. After that, it’s work, and marriage, and children, and debt, and trouble – and you’ll be done reading!” How right he was. So let’s put the books down and get back to marketing.

Events. Events. Events.
The last months have been all about events. I am writing this on the plane to Las Vegas, to Knowledge13, our annual customer conference, which will be bigger than ever this year with over 4,000 registered delegates attending. End of April, we exhibited at the Service Desk & IT Support Show (London), and at the Best Management Practice Kongress (Bonn). In June, Gartner’s Infrastructure & Operations Summit (Berlin), Forrester’s Infrastructure & Operations Forum (London, again), and the CRIP Conference (Paris) will be added to the list. Additionally, we started running online events; live webinars in local language in the UK, Germany, and France. Eventful times, indeed.

4 general observations
Of course, each of the events mentioned above targets a specific audience, in a different location. Some events are owned by ServiceNow, others are sponsored. Some are broad IT events, others highly targeted to a specific niche within that industry. Nevertheless, here’s a couple of general observations on business-to-business event marketing in 2013. I would be grateful if you could add your own insights to help complete the picture.

1. Every event is an online event, too
Five years ago, in B2B marketing, social media where the playground of a handful of early adopters – hobbyists not to be taken too seriously by real businessmen. IT events were get-togethers of in-crowds, mostly – you’d be talking to the same people year after year, to a point where nobody even asked why an event would be invested in. Push-push-push messaging, attendees were generally talked into buying stuff they’d never deploy. This has changed materially.
Today, social media are an intricate part of most every aspect of marketing, and especially so around events. They bring new, highly engaged audiences to events. People who are well informed, who have already researched the exhibitors before hitting the show floor with questions prepared. It’s a different experience altogether, with the quality and relevance of conversations going up.

Nevertheless, we haven’t reached a standard by any means, and quality levels of social media integration vary hugely between industries and companies. Many exhibitors are still using social media to just broadcast their messages without facilitating engagement. Many audiences still just follow and read vendor’s content online without engaging and sharing out.

The beauty of social media: it is all in the hands of the buyers, the show attendees, the followers and their networks. They decide what spreads like wildfire, and what drops dead untouched. The million dollar question you have to keep asking yourself: What turns a follower of my company into an amplifier of my message and calls-to-action?

Our Knowledge13 event is a good example of how an offline event (Las Vegas, 4000+ attendees, keynotes, customer breakout sessions, hands-on lab sessions, training sessions, channel side events) is turned into an online social event with all possible channels geared up to deliver content through video, blogging, photography, live streamed TheCube video content, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, community forum discussions, and to spark conversations that will continue beyond the walls of the event venue.

We have reached a point where you can get a very good grasp of what is going on at the event without leaving the comfort of your home – just look for #know13, and check out our Social Hub site, where we pull together all social content in real-time over the next days.

O, and just to illustrate what happened to vendors pushing their messaging down the attendee’s throats: 90% of Knowledge13 content is delivered by ServiceNow customers, like CERN, Home Depot, Staples, Volkswagen, KPN, and many others.

2. Every event is a data drill
Yesterday, I came across this interesting infographic on LinkedIn, attempting to depict the current marketing technology landscape. True, it is an insane picture – I wrote about the subject before. But be it as it may, sales and marketing systems like Eloqua, Salesforce.com, Omniture and Radian6 allow us to understand exactly how our events are performing, not only in terms of lead generation and sales, but also when it comes to audience engagement, reach of messaging, and share of voice online.

Now, Marketing has always been reluctant in sharing objectives with the business, but that will have to change. Because with the ability of tracking performance of all aspects of (event) marketing comes the clear requirement of setting marketing and sales objectives to validate investment, to report against those objectives, and to optimize the marketing investment more rigorously than ever before.

And this conversation will have to transcend simple Marketing ROI and pipeline attribution type statements (we invested x, we got 20x back, and it was all marketing – YEAH!), to really hone in on data segments and characteristics, buyer behavior, tactical marketing and sales mix, and effective multi-channel follow-up. Did we reach the right accounts, the right job functions within those accounts, at the right point in their influencing and buying cycles, and did we follow-up in the most efficient and effective way – with our direct sales, our channel partners or our strategic pathways? It has to be a clean data conversation between marketing, sales and business partners.

3. Every event is part of a broader conversation
Attendees walk in well-prepared and ready to engage. The same doesn’t necessarily go for exhibitors – at the SITS13 event, I witnessed quite a few examples of competitor booth staff just hanging around browsing their iPhones, speakers delivering random corporate slides that I already saw up on SlideShare months earlier, stand messaging only pointing out the obligatory iPad raffle (“Leave your business card in this bowl, and WIN – WIN – WIN ! ! !”), but nothing else.

To build maximum engagement, be as prepared as your audience will be.

Before
Attendees spend time preparing online. Make it easy for them to include you in their research. Map the channels they will most likely use to gather their information, and give them compelling content and calls-to-action (research papers, websites, webinars, chat sessions – anything that will convince them meeting with you is a smart idea). Enable them to set a meeting with your crew, be available for questions, and respond without delay. Monitor the pre-show engagement data. Brief the stand team on customers and prospects likely to attend, and visit your booth. Have a plan, set targets.

During
Expect attendees to know your business and offerings in detail. Be ready to give them a very specific demonstration of your capabilities, and allow for ample Q&A time. Connect prospects with their peers in other customer accounts, analysts, business partners, and consultants, based on their business requirement, not based on the sales opportunity you think you spotted. Invest in ways to not just capture the bare contact data, but use the conversation to collect additional details that would enable a rich follow-up conversation. Set dates for follow-up sales meetings.

For marketing purposes, the audience not attending the event is more important than the folks who actually make it there. In social media, give the non-attendees a clear picture of what’s going on: the big announcements and messages, the demonstrations, the customer feedback, the overall impression and atmosphere, again augmented with premium content in various formats (writing, recorded sessions, video reports, photography, slides, audio).

After
Continue the conversation. Continue managing the event, but through other tactical means – as if it didn’t even end. This is where the real impact to bottom line is being delivered. Make your event content available on-demand, start promotions. Consolidate and qualify the contact data, follow-up through all marketing and sales channels, start nurturing the contacts that aren’t yet ready for sales engagement. Begin reporting against your objectives out of sales and marketing systems.

4. …and content is king, still
In content marketing terms, an event is just another vehicle designed to carry your message to its intended receiver – and it’s up to the event marketer to optimize the vehicle to do exactly that. But content marketing is too big a topic to be covered here. Check earlier posts (here and here) for more.

4 attributes unique to events
One thought I’ll leave you with while you’re here: In your marketing mix, every instrument (John, if you’re reading this – this one is for you, buddy!) has to play its particular function, making the most of its specific attributes and qualities. There are 4 attributes to physical events that cannot be covered anywhere else, at least not in combination:

  • Serendipity, or the “stumble upon” factor (at events, attendees tend to discover vendors and solutions they didn’t even know they were looking for).
  • The face-to-face contact between prospect and solution consultant or sales rep without any strings attached.
  • The opportunity to address very specific, even unique customer questions and requirements.
  • The opportunity to see a bunch of vendor representatives at work at once without being in their offices – and get a sense of their team dynamics and quality.

In your content marketing strategy for events, take full advantage of these unique attributes, and don’t focus on things other marketing tactics may deliver just as well (and probably cheaper).

Do drop me your feedback. I am heading down to the Knowledge13 show floor – from NOW to WOW!

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Brand Management, Marketing, Stories

Goodbye NetApp

Suitcase

I resigned from my position at NetApp to join ServiceNow as per December 1st.

It’s a jump from a rather big to a fairly small IT company. From storage software and hardware to Platform and Software as a Service. From a crowd of dear colleagues and friends to just a handful of strangers. From “Go further, faster” to “Transform IT”. From consolidation and organizational maturity to fast growth and sheer opportunity. At ServiceNow, I will focus on Enterprise Customer Acquisition, in order to fuel the company’s growth in EMEA.

When I joined NetApp in 2007, the company held the number 5 position in EMEA, behind EMC, HP, Dell and IBM. Today, we’re the clear runner up, with EMC in sight. Revenues more than doubled since. Markets understand that in storage and data management, true innovation will come from NetApp, and NetApp only. Our brand and positioning never was more differentiated than it is right now. I am proud to have been part the team going beyond to get that done. I will miss this category of IT business.

But more so the people in the EMEA Marketing team. I want to thank a few of you here. Ton, for getting things organized, for your sincerity and straightforwardness. Lorrayne, for your great stories, self-mockery and channel insight. Robert, for your blunt boldness, ideas and lightning-fast humor. Udo, for turning event and sponsorship management into a higher art form. Heike, your wisdom. Stéphanie, your endless energy. Sandrine, your courage, commitment and hard work. Heather, your curiosity, care and friendly pitbullness. Antonio, your focus, patience and long-term scope. Silvia, your professional style, marcoms expertise and constant flow of solid ideas. Ingrid, for helping me get things done despite everything. Marvin, your talent, wit and sharp eye for quality. Kerstin, your open mind, know-how and relationship management. Dani, will I ever find a more marketing savvy and committed colleague? Claudia, Michal, Irina, Shiri: I admire how you guys create great marketing out of thin air. Rakan, for picking up the pieces sitting next to me. Kate, for running the show – it will go on!

And the leaders. Ashley, I am walking out of our second term together; I am sure it would’ve been lots of fun. John, thanks; we delivered some solid programs together along the way. Hamish – you just rock, mate. Ali, Jac, Pascale – I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you and your teams. Thank you for leading the way. Lastly David: It is all about beer and skittles in the end, isn’t it?

I thank you all for now, and know we will stay in touch.

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Brand Management, Content Marketing, Customer Experience, Marketing Automation, Positioning, Sales

My talk at Forrester’s CX Forum tomorrow

Venco Drop Toppers Salmiak & MintFor any business, at any time, delivering an outstanding customer experience is imperative. Whether you sold swords to gladiators 2000 years ago, or FlexPods to CERN just yesterday – people still buy from people. And the consequences of doing a bad job will be (almost) as killing in 2013 as they were back then.


Forrester Research
 will host a Customer Experience Forum tomorrow in London, and they asked me to talk about customer experience in a business-to-business environment. Most of the other presentations will be delivered by brands on the B2C side, so for mere balance they needed some hard core B2B content. Just call Kees, I say. Yeah!

Anyway, I don’t expect any of you forward thinkers to believe in the dichotomy between B and C. I surely don’t. Whether people buy professionally or privately, just two variables matter (provided there is a budget to spend): Level of involvement (do people care about the purchase, is it important to them, do they need it to achieve their goals?) and level of perceived risk (what if it turns out to be a bad investment, what is the potential implicit and explicit damage?). The higher the involvement, and the higher the perceived risk, the more people will be involved. Privately, the whole inner circle of friends and family is consulted. Professionally, the decision maker will seek council with more and more stakeholders and influencers. There is no real difference, there’s usually just a bit more money involved. Where and from whom they buy depends on brand preference and customer experience.

You can argue that it’s easier to sell a €2 bag of licorice produced by Unilever, than a €200,000 FlexPod produced by NetApp and Cisco. Unless that FlexPod will help the buyer save considerably on operational and capital expenses annually, whilst you’re trying to sell licorice to a bunch of chewing gum addicts. Or health freaks. You get the point.

You can argue that NetApp is selling the FlexPods through an indirect two-tiered channel model, which makes it impossible to control the customer experience. Surely, but Unilever doesn’t own any of the licorice outlets either, do they?

You can argue that Unilever knows the end customer far better than a company like NetApp, because they can spend millions on market research. Sure, but their target market consists of millions and millions of consumers, whom they have to convince into 100,000 deals just to equal a single FlexPod booking. Relative to Unilever, NetApp is selling to just a handful of customers – whose decision making units by the way are fully profiled, and all their contact data can be bought on every street corner. It just takes some budget.

You can argue that consumers don’t take 2 seconds to ponder spending their €2 on licorice. They’ll be addicted and stay true to their preferred brands for ages to come. True, but then business buyers spend a lot more time researching their purchases – and their behavior can be meticulously monitored, tracked and acted upon with sophisticated marketing systems for real-time spend analyses, customer listening and behavioral research, like EloquaMarketoRadian6ZuberanceSalesforce.com et cetera. And you know what? That’s actually true! Ha!

O, and business buyers will be equally hooked to their FlexPods once they’ve had a good taste of its qualities, savings and user benefits, don’t you worry about it for a second. They will be back for more.

So, whenever someone tries to talk you into believing that B2C is an easier sell than B2B – just tell them “Call Kees”. They’re wrong, and I will show them why – just in time to prevent their heads from coming off.

All said, this doesn’t imply that delivering an impeccable customer experience to business customers is easy. By no means. But, step by step, it can be done and reported on – and that’s what I will talk about tomorrow in London. Join me there and come prepared by downloading my tomorrow’s presentation.

Savor these slides with a bag of Venco licorice – try their Drop Toppers Salmiak & Mint, for a world-class experience. Guaranteed.

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Brand Management, EBC, Event Marketing, Sales

ABC of EBC

ImageWe’ll open an Executive Briefing Center tomorrow – another clear sign of NetApp’s coming of age.

The goal of an EBC is to establish a controlled environment for sales conversations at the highest level of engagement. “Controlled” means: Superior interior design, state-of-the-art technology, and the ultimate storytelling content. It’s where brand management meets account strategy.

C-level buyer journey
From a buyer journey point-of-view, an EBC visit is positioned in the purchasing phase of Enterprise C-level audiences. All content – delivered in the briefing rooms, in the telepresence room connected to corporate headquarters, or through large interactive touch screen panels in the break spaces – is geared towards turning consideration into signed deals. The EBC planning system is tightly integrated with salesforce.com.

Benefit
Until now, prospect and customer executives from our area would fly to Sunnyvale for briefing sessions like these – which can be a challenge (time, cost, travel visa). Now, we can host briefing sessions in our Amsterdam EBC, which is also available for American or Asian customers who are looking to venture into Europe.

It’s a considerable investment. It will propel our EMEA business.

Competition
Check out competing EBC programs here:

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