Are You Putting the WHY Before the HOW in Your Marketing Programs?

June 11, 2014

Traditional marketers are still, for the most part, selling the features and benefits of their products and why they are better than the competition.

Look at any trade magazine for example, and look at the headlines. I’ll bet 80% of them are promoting just that fact.

To stand out in the crowd and really get some traction in the market, we need to put the WHY before the HOW. The reader wants to know or is searching for solutions to his problems. Ways to make his life better. Here’s an example of someone doing it right (disclaimer, they are a client of ours).


Osborn is a global manufacturer of surface treatment solutions. In other words, they make stuff to remove and polish metal parts.  They are one of the major players in the world, but like everyone else, they have a ton of competition.

A typical method of selling these types of products is on price since most users can differentiate the different levels of quality. It’s hard to make any margin if price is the topic of conversation. So what Osborn did was ask the WHY question to find out what kind of pain points their users are having. One identified they can help in the production process to get the most productivity out of their processes. Whether it’s in their facility or Osborn’s test lab, they can help find a solution.

It’s ironic that many of the performance issues aren’t with the product, but how they are running it on the equipment. Even though they are in the brush business, their ultimate goal is to help the customer. Thus their value proposition isn’t selling  grinding wheels, but selling solutions. Do you think price comes into the selling equation now? Nope.

Their program identifies and talks to different end-user groups as well as a different message to their distribution partners. All directing them to specific landing pages.

So if you put the WHY before the HOW, chance are you’ll be noticed more, get more interaction and sell more stuff with price not being the leading topic of conversation.

Manufacturers: Here’s a list of things contractors would like from you

June 10, 2014

men at jobsite

I recently did a series of interviews and podcasts of contractors. The main focus was on what manufacturers could do to better support them in the field. These contractors were electricians, plumbers, HVAC and general contractors. There were some common issues from them that I thought would be useful to manufacturers:

  • Quick response to questions – access to knowledgeable tech people for problem solving.
  • Regular site visits – have your salesman make regular visits. Most contractors say they very rarely see the manufacturers. Great way to build relationships and identify possible product problems or shortcomings.
  • Application training – quick tips on doing a process better/quicker. If not in person, via email.
  • Best way to communicate with them - mobile phone or email.
  • Don’t use/look at social media (Twitter, Facebook).
  • Recognize that they are professionals.

It looks like there are some opportunities for manufacturers to up their game. There wasn’t a contractor I talked to that would turn away a visit from you. That sounds like an opportunity to me.

Is Your B-to-B Content Effective?

June 4, 2014

I think we all struggle with understanding ways to match content with the sales process to help the prospect through the sales funnel.

I recently read an article by Paul Gustafson about mastering effective B-to-B content. His points are thought leadership, content that’s easy to consume and the ability to listen to what the customer is saying.

B-to-B audiences can be demanding and we need to help the prospect through the sales funnel. At each stage we have the appropriate content to move them down the line.


Thought leadership – you need to focus on 3 components:




Teaser content - pique the interest to refine audience, and then when you have them hooked, you can engage them with more meaningful content.

Listening and engaging - give your audience an opportunity to respond. Then listen and react. More comments mean more discussions.

Paul leaves us with a final thought:

Effective B-to-B social content starts and ends with thought leadership. The resulting social engagement can refine that voice, strengthen your future content and expand your audience base.”

Customer Loyalty and Retention: What Are You Doing?

May 28, 2014

As manufacturers, we have to serve two masters, the distribution network we sell through and the ultimate end-user. Sometimes we can take these relationships for granted. Remember, they have other options. Here are a few thoughts on how to nurture the relationships:


  • Distributors do have a choice in what they carry. Chances are they have your product as well as several competitors on their shelves. So let’s assume for the sake of this exercise that product performance is comparable.
  • What makes their counter guys and sales force sell more of one brand over the other? Yes, you can offer SPIFs, but that at best is a short-term solution to increase sales.
  • I’d say things like ease of ordering and timely delivery might be helpful.
  • What about knowledgable factory people available for product training and troubleshooting?
  • How about making end-user calls with their sales force?

Here’s a unique thought – thank them for their business instead of hammering them to help you make your numbers this month.

Most distributor/manufacturer relationships have a long history. Don’t take them for granted. Sales will come, but distributors are looking for more than a quality product at a competitive price.

My grandmother used to tell me you’d catch more bees with honey than vinegar.


Many of the same tactics work at the contractor level.  But here’s a place where you can make a brand difference:

  • If you have their back and they know they can count on you for product/technical support, you’ll make a friend for life.
  • Contractors-like elephants-have long memories, and if you drop the ball too many times, they will find alternative products. Trust me, I’ve seen it.
  • Contractors want to be recognized for the trade professionals they are. Something as simple as sending them an email for example, on National Plumber’s Day, recognizing how hard they work. Wouldn’t you think that would have a positive brand experience?

You know, this stuff isn’t rocket science, it’s more common sense. And it doesn’t have to cost more money, just use good business practices.

My golden rule is to treat people the way you expect to be treated. It works and it makes life a whole lot simpler.

What are you doing to create demand for your content?

May 27, 2014


We all are working hard to create content in various forms, but what can we do to create the demand for it? If we build it, it will come philosophy won’t work.

In the b-to-b space where selling cycles can be long with numerous folks involved, you need to address several different issues along the way down the sales funnel, but do you know what they are?

I’ve long been a proponent of sales and marketing working closely together. After all, the objective of both is to sell more stuff.

I’m amazed that folks in the marketing department spend little or no time in the field talking with customers. I always recommend marketing folks spend time with the salesmen in the field, and I don’t mean a day or two. Spend a week or so and you’ll see customers in various stages of the buying process.

More importantly, you as a marketer have the unique opportunity, while in front of a prospect, to ask some really relevant questions that the salesman might not ask.

Questions like:

  • What other types of info would be helpful in your decision-making process?
  • What triggers a buyer to start the process?
  • What kinds of concerns do your colleagues have that we might address?
  • Focus on customers needs and concerns.

Why do I keep harping on getting in front of the customer? Let’s be honest. Most companies don’t know their customers well enough. They don’t know or understand the buying process well enough. They don’t have content framework to communicate with the potential buyer.

I read an interesting article recently by Jay Hidalgo in the Chief Content Officer magazine that outlines 3 steps to create a process to create demand for your content.

His User’s Guide consists of 3 things:

  • Developing a buyer’s persona (know your customer)
  • Define their buying process
  • Developing a content framework  for communicating with a buyer

He takes you through a process that engaged the combined efforts of sales and marketing resulting in a well-thought-out strategy, and content that will be on target that users will want to pass it on. You can read his entire article here.



Closing the Loop on Sales Leads

May 21, 2014

broken chainDon’t have a plan to follow or nurture leads?

When was the last time you responded to an ad, e-blast or other form of communications about a new product and never heard from the company after they got you what you requested? Or if you did hear from them, it was weeks or months after the original inquiry.

I bet it’s more the rule than the exception, especially in the B-to-B world. What I can’t figure out is why. Unless your product is so unique, wouldn’t you want to let the prospect know why dealing with you is better?

Yet I see many manufacturers still today that have no formal plan to follow and nurture leads. If they are not going to follow-up the lead, then why are they promoting the product in the first place? It’s a waste of time and money.

Many pass the lead on to their distribution network before qualifying them as to what stage in the selling cycle they are.

Wouldn’t it make sense to follow-up with the prospect…

  • to see if they got the info they requested?
  • to see if you can answer any questions?
  • to direct them to a local distributor?
  • to possibly offer them some other help or info once you determine where they are in the sales cycle?

A lead that has been qualified and then passed on to either rep or distributor gives them a little better feel for what the prospect is looking for and the application. The lead doesn’t stop there; it’s only the starting point.

There are several CRM programs out there that can help you manage, track and nurture the leads. What I don’t understand is why folks are using them. One reason I found is that lots of sales folks don’t like lead tracking and nurturing programs because it identifies some weak links in the selling cycle. In the world of ROI, I would think Sales and Marketing would want to know where new business is coming from so you can do more of the same.

It makes sense if you qualify the lead before giving it out to follow-up with.  You’ll get better results and salespeople might even call on them.

The sales cycle is only as good as its weakest link.

Multi-Channel and Marketing Automation for Manufacturers: Are You Using?

May 20, 2014

Today we have a guest post from Jason Schultz, Director of Marketing for Great Lakes Integrated, a strategic  partner of ours.

Multi-channel marketing coupled with marketing automation is a powerful approach for manufacturing companies. Manufacturers have a unique opportunity to create interest and trust for their products by communicating with their customers and prospects through different types of media and employing automated responses to actions they take.

With manufacturer’s customers and prospects being both in the business to business world and also the business to consumer world messaging and responses need to be different. The automated responses need to be different as well.

Using multiple-channels has proven to increase response and desired actions being taken. Consider using any combination of print, mobile, email and landing pages to engage your customers in meaningful ways. The key is to link all messaging to personalized or static landing pages.

Using landing pages then allows you to gather additional information on the customer or prospects, solicit feedback, allow for registration, set meetings or start a conversation just to name a few. By utilizing a digital engagement you can gather information, analytics and automate the marketing process.

An automated response can come in the form of an email, physical collateral or product being sent, a text message or even an automated phone call. The automated response takes the initial follow ups off of sales and marketing and is a way to ensure your company is responding to the actions of customers or prospects in a timely manner.

Taking this process further, you can implement lead scoring to pre-qualify customers and prospects based on business rules and point values determined by their interactions with certain parts of your communication. Then, only the customers or prospects with the most potential get contacted by sales people to garner new or additional business. Time is not spent on those customers or prospects that have not shown an interest in what you are promoting.

Key takeaways are:

  • to utilize multiple channels to increase the likelihood that customers and prospects will take the desired actions you want. 
  • design and messaging need to be appropriate, relevant and meaningful.
  • digital components also need to be in place that allow customers and prospects to interact; allowing you to track those interactions to determine what is working, what is not and ultimately ROI.
  • use marketing automation to efficiently and effectively respond to customers and prospects; increasing the likelihood of your ultimate success in adding or increasing new business.

The notion that a multi-channel approach with automation is difficult to execute and maintain is just the opposite. Today’s technology allows marketing support partners to take your campaign and feed it into the system. The system/technology then handles the deployment and execution of the different types of media and the automatic responses to customers and prospects (not to mention the gathering of all data and analytics). If you are new to this method of marketing, try a small test campaign and compare it with current efforts. Then make the determination for yourself.

4 Tips on How to Get Your Company the “Right” Kind of Customers

May 14, 2014

Most of us try not to be all things to all people, especially in the B-to-B world. For those of you who are, I feel bad for you.

If part of your criteria for new business is “anyone with money” or “I hope to get paid,” I have to believe you’re not running a growing or profitable business.

We’re in the competitive niche of marketing and have taken the position of not being all things to all people. We have defined our niche as helping manufacturers who want to reach the professional tradesman and promote it appropriately.

Here are some tips that have helped us grow and prosper in our competitive space:

  1. Hire us to be effective, not efficient.
  2. We help clients become profit leaders, not market leaders.
  3. Category knowledge – intellectual capital.
  4. Don’t be afraid to focus – be afraid of mediocrity.

Make your value proposition clear because relevance and differentiation do matter.

You and your company only have so much time. Why not spend it on clients you choose? Remember, bad clients can drive out good ones! If you stay true to your positioning, new clients will find you.


A Framework for Writing a Good Post

May 6, 2014

I’ve been blogging for over three years and learned from the best, Michael Gass. Michael is a consultant who helps agencies like ours get into social media. And he’s very good at what he does. Here’s a guest post from him on best practices when you’re writing a post. Enjoy!

Guest post from Michael Gass.

Inverted pyramid style of writing

The inverted pyramid style of writing works as a guide to consistently produce appealing online content that creates new business leads.

A framework for writing meaningful, properly constructed and search engine optimized posts will allow you to write faster and more effectively.

Over the past seven years, I’ve worked with over 170 agency owners to help them create a niche blog and write meaningful content. I ask every client to write a post a day, thirty posts over a thirty-day period. The tight time-frame for writing an initial “base of content” helps them develop a custom writing process. Once they have a process, it’s easier to write on a realistic schedule of one to two posts per week and remain consistent, even when the agency is at its busiest.

I’ve developed a template for writing an effective blog post from my experience training and coaching others.

My blog post template consists of eight parts:

1. Blog Post Title

You need to think about search. Clever titles can create interest, but not at the expense of search-ability.

Fuel Lines has been ranked among the top 150 marketing blogs in the world according to Ad Age’s Power 150. Search engines provide the most traffic to my site. I own the first position in organic search for “ad agency new business.”

When I first started writing for Fuel Lines back in 2007, I didn’t know a lot about SEO. All I knew was Google wanted people to be able to find what they were searching for. That’s why they periodically change their search algorithms to offset those who try to use “black hat” tactics to game their system.

I created a niche blog that was written to a very specific target audience. It was naturally optimized for search. Consistently using “ad agency new business” in almost every post title helped accelerate my ranking in organic search. I discovered this practice also works well when repurposing content through social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Including my key words provided targeted traffic to my blog because it identified to the intended audience.

I also recommend concise titles of less than 40–50 characters. This helps when posts are re-shared in Twitter that limits a tweet to 140 characters, including the URL.

2. Lead with the Conclusion

Attention spans are very short online. Most people tend to scan rather than read word-for-word. I always lead with the conclusion. In a single sentence, I tell my readers what their benefit or takeaway will be if they commit the time to read my posts. The practice of creating a summary sentence also provides focus for writing a post.

3. Introductory Paragraph

An introductory paragraph is essential in preparing your readers for the information they’ll gain from your article. You shouldn’t begin your main points without properly setting them up in an introductory paragraph. My readers also prefer that I get to the point quickly instead of using a lengthy story or example that takes too much time.

4. The Main Body

I’ve found the “reader’s digest” or executive summary type content is always appealing to my readers. They enjoy bullet points and numbered lists. It’s proven through my post analytics.

When I write, I always imagine how busy my readers must be. I try to do a lot of work on their behalf and to be as concise as possible. The shorter the post, the more work that goes into it.

I recommend to clients that they keep their initial content between 400 to 500 words. From my experience, they will get the most return on their time investment if they stay within this range. You can always link posts together, create a white paper or an eBook by combining individual posts around the same subject for a more comprehensive piece.

Also create short paragraphs of only 3–4 sentences. If it’s more than this, the content looks too daunting and you’ll lose your readers.

You should use simple words when creating your content. Readers are not impressed by your use of complex words. Your choice of words should be based on what will be clearer. The use of complex words and jargon will frustrate your readers because it slows them down and interferes with their comprehension.

Newspaper reporters are trained in writing in the inverted pyramid style, a metaphor used by journalists to illustrate how information should be prioritized and structured in a text such as a news report. The most important information is always located at the top of the article. This style works extremely well when writing online content.

I’ve found that Copywriters tend to have the most difficulty making the transition from writing for print to creating content for the web. They tend to forget search-ability, scan-ability and brevity.

6. Use Images

The use of an image or photo will help to pull in readers to your content. I either use my own photos and screenshots or use Photo Pin as an image resource library of Common Licensed images. I’ll also embed video, infographics or a SlideShare presentation.

Be sure to make your images searchable by taking the time to include an Alt tag. It’s generally recommended to be concise when creating alt tags. Keep them around 150 characters, and written in the context of your post.

7. Make it Personal

I always write my own content. It provides my professional enrichment, my own customized continuing educational program.

Writing also helps me to make an emotional connection with my audience. Readers get to know me, warts and all. I’ve found the more transparent I can be greatly improves the appeal of my content.

My writing accelerates “relationship building” with my readers and provides a steady stream of new business opportunities because people want to work with other people that they know trust and like.

8. Before You Publish

Here are a few things that I consistently do before publishing a post:

  • Add internal links: I don’t try to say everything in a single post. I take the time to add internal links of relevant content that I’ve written to the bottom of almost every post. This practice has greatly increased my page views and the amount of time readers stay on my site.
  • Include Tags and Categories: Content management systems like WordPress use tags and categories to help readers find the information that they are looking for. I try to be selective in the tags and categories that I add to a post and not overuse them. Categories is the primary way that readers will navigate my content so I have a drop-down category list in my sidebar at the top of the fold.
  • Disperse Content: To give a new post a jump-start, I will either automatically or manually post it to my Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google +, Pinterest and StumbleUpon accounts. I will also use HootsuitePro to re-post it several times a day for the first week in Twitter. This practice also helps boost a new post’s ranking in search.


Have Your Videos Gone Viral?

April 30, 2014

I guess in a perfect world, all videos would go viral and thousands of people would be flocking to your website. Don’t get me wrong, that would be nice, but that’s not my strategy.

I guess I take a different approach. I’d rather have hundreds of the right people see my videos and act on them as opposed to millions who may see them and do nothing. The purpose, in my mind, is to get people to notice and then engage with us because of what we said (content). In other words, bigger is not always better.

In my opinion, you’re better off making a series of very short videos (keep each to one thought or idea). Ideally under 2 minutes is what I tell folks to shoot at.


Here are some thoughts on content.

  • Focus on a problem your customer might have from their perspective (what happened if the problem isn’t resolved?)
  • Provide tips to solve it.
  • Utilize the video medium to show examples or illustrate a solution. Here’s your chance to be creative.
  • Make sure they know your company has the solution to solve their problem.

So don’t worry about becoming famous with a video that goes viral. Set your sights on videos that reach your target audience and addresses a solution to one of their problems.

If you like this post, you may want to read:

Why Videos are Such an Important Way to Reach the Professional Tradesman

B-to-B Marketers: Are you Taking Advantage of Online Videos?


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