Competitive Strategy, Digital Transformation, Marketing Strategy

Digital Transformation 2016 – The Pressure Is On

Beautifully-timer-vector-material-50157In business and technology, change is a constant. But if the CEO puts pressure on IT leadership to deliver business results in a time of extreme change, interesting things happen.

So what’s up?

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Competitive Strategy, Content Marketing, Customer Experience, Event Marketing, Interactive Marketing, Marcom, Marketing, Marketing Automation, Marketing ROI, Online Programs, Sales, Social Media

The Elusive Buyer; Building a Common Deal Trajectory in 5 steps

Pic-TrajectoryThe holy grail of marketing – any marketing – is connecting strategy, tactics, execution and output to the sales process. As with that other Grail, its hard to find. Building a Common Deal Trajectory is a great way to start the search, though – I will cover it in more detail and with recent examples in my presentation at the B2B Marketing Forum on 13 March in Utrecht, The Netherlands.

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Communications, Competitive Strategy, Content Marketing, Marcom, Marketing ROI, Sales, Stories

Join me at the B2B Marketing Forum (13/3/14)


I am honored to be among the speaker line-up of the annual B2B Marketing Forum in Utrecht, the Netherlands, themed “Breaking the Walls between Marketing & Sales” (no, that doesn’t sound the least bit ominous!).

Here is the abstract of my session:



Your organisation is selling complex solutions and services to business audiences in enterprises large and small. Current B2B demand generation models are still heavily dependent on email, paid search, optimized landing pages and telemarketing.

Today’s teenagers do not have email accounts, nor do they visit corporate websites or even Facebook. Instead of googling, they rather ask a friend. They are tomorrow’s corporate buyers.

So in order to keep connecting with prospective customers, we need a new mix. In this presentation, Kees Henniphof of ServiceNow will share a simple framework for enterprise marketing planning covering both traditional B2B marketing models and new audience strategies, including corporate narrative, content marketing, buyer journey mapping, marketing automation and lead2revenue analyses. Henniphof illustrates the approach with recent projects around IT industry events, account-based marketing, competitive programs and enterprise broadcasting.

Join me in DeFabrique on 13 March – we’ll have a chat over drinks afterwards!

Competitive Strategy, Marketing, Sales

“Execution” didn’t get the menu

What's for dinner?A while ago, there was a debate on the Internet around the question what is more important: to have good strategy, or a culture of strong values and execution?


The topic was trending for a couple of weeks. Strategy or execution. You’d come across posts and tweets like “Execution eats Strategy for Breakfast” or vice versa (see examples here, here and here). The whole thing was quite academic, and the conclusion most of the contributors reached wasn’t all that mind-blowing (“both are equally important”). But I was reminded of it in a coaching conversation with a group of early career marketers – it is by no means an academic question.

It turns out that in real life, both “Strategy” and “Execution” are usually in place, but not well connected. Execution never got the strategy. Strategy never read Execution’s dietary requirements. So the real challenge is not to decide between strategy or execution, but to have both without compromise and to keep them connected during execution. Not a once-a-year boardroom conversation, but an ongoing cycle of planning and execution. Again, no rocket science, but the hardest thing to accomplish.

My coaching job
I started coaching groups of SRM Digital Marketing students a while ago. They come into this particular training course from all over the place – from fast moving consumer goods, universities and real estate agents to media, business consultancies and holiday brokers. Some academically trained, some self-made marketers. For me, it’s a nice opportunity to learn about the marketing function in other categories of business, extend my professional network and keep up-to-date with (digital) marketing theory. So yes, I am loving it.

(One important insight I picked up is that the majority of marketers are actually not in high tech, are not used to 60%+ gross margins and 80%+ year-over-year company growth. Many actually fear loosing their jobs within the next couple of months. They put their hopes in graduating, to add some weight to their resumes.)

Sit with the C-suite
To graduate, these students are to propose a fully detailed operational e-marketing plan in support of their companies’ business objectives – and defend it in front of the exam committee. In constructing the plan, they’re supposed to run internal and external analyses, apply various marketing models, and review 3 to 4 strategic options that could help solve key business issues. It’s actually a lot of work, and to gather all required data, these students are encouraged to sit down with their CEO, CFO, CMO et cetera. The idea is that in order to propose an e-marketing plan, you need to understand both the marketing plan and the overall business strategy first.

Here’s my point
From the 8 marketers I have coached so far, not a single student had a clear understanding of the business strategy they were supposed to contribute to, nor could they bring a complete and updated marketing strategy to the coaching conversation. For many of them, a part of their agenda is set by executive management, part of it by sales management, part of it by Recruitment, et cetera, leaving little to no room for proper marketing planning, which is then spent on the website, a couple of large events, and give-aways. So much for marketing.

So for these students to even get into a position where they can start outlining their e-marketing strategies, they are forced to first produce the overall business and marketing strategy and have it signed off by their management. It gets them into difficult conversations, they’re sometimes told to mind their own business, or denied access to key data points. Its evidence to prove that marketing doesn’t have a seat at the strategy table, but is expected to own execution.

Copy/Paste Marketing
My personal experience from working in marketing departments for the last 10 years isn’t much better. In many cases, the year starts with a lot of focus on strategy development and planning, resource allocation and best intentions around evaluating the plan from time to time. Targets are anecdotal, for the most part: defend position, find new customers, beat the competition, upsell, establish thought leadership around topics X and Y, et cetera – without clear and measurable objectives attached to them, which is the starting point for any good operational plan. Then, the annual calendar of activities is updated (usually a copy/paste of the previous year, with minor changes). Some new or refurbished programs and projects are defined and assigned.

And come February, the operation shifts into gear and the marketing teams start running heads down (or in fact just continue the run they took a break from over Christmas), and before you know it, the year is gone – with the plan still pretty much on the table.

Questions for you
Two questions I want to leave you with: If the guys in charge of execution didn’t get the strategy, what is it they are executing against? How do you deal with the disconnect between strategy and execution throughout the year?

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,, 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.

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.

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).

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!

Competitive Strategy, Marketing, Positioning, Sales

The Basics of Targeting SMEs

Marketing wisdom: The cost of recruiting a new customer is about 10 times as high as the cost of pursuading an existing customer to buy more. And: The bigger the company, the more money it generally takes to turn them into a customer. Therefore, invest most of your marketing and sales budgets into acquiring small companies with a high potential to grow.

Selling to small companies means: Simple solutions, short sales cycles, easy selling for the channel, low-touch volume business, hockey stick sales – future revenues guaranteed 110%! It’s a no-brainer.

Except for companies that got used to selling to very large corporations. In order for them to be able to sell to small companies, considerable cultural change and financial investment are called for. Product development, sales force, customer support, marketing team, channel infrastructure – the whole thing needs to be refocused. It’s difficult to make things simple and easy. It’s like building a new company, costly in many ways. Not straightforward at all.

And vice versa. Right?


Communications, Competitive Strategy

If I knew what Einstein knew

In society, people can’t process the growing number of messages that are fired at them all day long. They don’t bother to. In companies, people receive so many emails, and have to consult so many different sources of information, that they can’t read all of it any longer. And they’re not even trying to. It’s therefore impossible for government or management to reach all of society, or all of the company. That’s ok.

For individuals and companies alike, picking up on exactly the right conversations, emails, trends, messages, signals, and the speed at which one is able to process data and turn it around into valuable information and relevant response is what makes all of the difference. Not individual data points. Eventually, everybody will potentially have access to all data, secure or insecure. That’s ok.

You see, if I knew what Einstein knew, I surely wouldn’t be able to come up with relativity theory. It takes a brain like Einstein’s to do it.

If I have all the information Apple has for iPod 5, I will definitely not be able to come up with the prototype. It takes a company with the capabilities of Apple to do it.

That’s why governments shouldn’t worry about WikiLeaks. Why companies shouldn’t worry about securing their internal information. Instead, they should focus on their capabilities to combine data faster and better than their competitors. It’s the only source of sustainable competitive advantage left.

Most don’t. They will go away.  And that’s ok, too.