B2B Marketing Priorities:
Process or Technology first?
If your goal is to deliver quality results in B2B marketing, which should come first: marketing processes or marketing technology? Andi Catt has a very clear opinion, based on her experience as founder and Managing Director of The Call Business.
As an international provider of multi-lingual B2B lead qualification and business development services, the company has worked hard to build a reputation for generating quality results in B2B Business Development ...
Andi Catt, Managing Director of The Call Business.
“It’s much more effective
to establish your process first
and then find the software
that meets your needs.”
Andi Catt, The Call Business
How did it all begin?
A guy that I’d worked with for a decade took a new role as Head of Marcomms at a global technical B2B business. He discovered there were a couple of hundred customers who had warranties that were expiring. The obvious question was “how to maintain the business relationship?” So, he invited me to do a pilot project and sent me a spreadsheet of contact information.
How important are processes to that story?
The process for that first project back in 2012 was 100% analogue and very manual. Spreadsheets are linear, but a conversation is much more free-format and it’s not possible to capture that effectively in a spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are fine for data export and import, but they’re very clunky to work in. At that stage, I already had experience of structured systems like Access, ACT, Goldmine and Microsoft Dynamics but as a start-up I didn’t have access to them.
When you make a phone call, you’re trying to engage with another human being. You need to view the key information with a quick glance: name, company, job title, phone number. And as you’re talking, you need to be able to write things down, update information, correct a phone number, add the mobile. You need to identify what the customer’s problem is, and what’s the next action.
So, I did a mail merge onto a letter format and created a customised form for each of 200 contacts, then printed them all out and put them in two ring binders: one for myself and one for the colleague who worked with me on this first project. As we made our calls, we wrote notes on the pages. We used Post-It notes to remind ourselves of call-backs. All the hand-written notes then had to be typed up to create the final report, which was extremely time-consuming!
And the results?
Ten percent of the contacts became really good leads. Some of the client’s staff were initially very sceptical because most of their sales people are chemical engineers with very technical backgrounds and we, obviously, weren’t. But we had a brief induction, we were provided with a client email account (we always contact prospects as if we are a member of our client’s staff) and we got stuck in.
We didn’t pretend to be technical experts. We positioned ourselves as our client’s super-helpful customer support staff and we got brilliant results. Including one substantial customer who had a disagreement with our client’s service and repairs department and was on the point of looking for an alternative supplier. We schmoozed the hell out of him. He agreed to take a call from somebody senior to make things right – and the client retained the business.
… always welcome …
A couple of months later the client said, “That was amazing. What could you do for us in French, German and English?” We used the same process again, for the second project because it generated good results. The paper-based approach was incredibly long-winded, but we had to get that process right.
When the next projects came along, contacting customers both in Europe and AsiaPacific, we looked for software that would meet our needs. It’s much more effective to establish your process first and then find the software that meets your needs, rather than tailoring the process to the capabilities of the software. I knew that none of the CRM systems I had worked with would suit us as we were being given multiple batches of data, each in a different format and each requiring a different set of actions and outcomes.
That was when we discovered QuickBase, which lets us take individual data sets and turn them into an application to work with that data really quickly. So now, 12 years on, The Call Business still works with QuickBase, and we have very sophisticated systems within QuickBase to build applications to manage multi-lingual projects for our team.
Setting B2B Marketing Priorities
So you got the process running first, then chose your technology …
Yes. Somebody asked me the other day to do a small scale, high priority “mystery shopping” project. They gave me a spreadsheet of their dealerships and said, “call them all, ask for a quote for a particular unit and just see what they say”. With QuickBase, I was able to create a super-simple application really rapidly, import the contacts, create fields for the data we needed to collect, add functionality to track status, then assign it to one of our staff to work on. We were able to prepare, deploy and report within 72 hours because the technology is so flexible.
Now you’ve got a repeatable process, you can quickly accept the project, structure it and delegate it for action …
Which is important, you know, because some of the processes we need to use in long-term lead qualification are really sophisticated. B2B selling is not a linear thing. There are many people and lots of touchpoints involved, over many months or even years. Every call must have context. Luckily, the software we found enables us to adapt both the process and the way the data is presented, so our business developer can see all that information before they pick the phone up. And it is easy to generate reports for the client at every stage.
And that first choice of technology is still a good fit for The Call Business today?
Yes, because we need to have multiple processes and different sets of questions running in parallel at different points through each clients’ buyer journey. We may be running several different projects for a single client. For instance, web chat, lead qualification, data mining, account-based marketing, or triage for a tech-support hotline.
These projects all have different processes. They’ve got different questions, different calls to action. Each project has a discrete data set that is structured quite differently from the rest. So, we need to have multiple pockets of data running in parallel. It also means we can give people access to just the data they need to do their job.
Rules of thumb or tips for B2B Marketers
Are there any the differences between the processes at top, middle or bottom of the sales funnel?
As a business development partner, most of our work is at the top end of the funnel, where it’s really hard to tell where people are in their buying journey. You have to ask the right questions. And yes, we use BANT to qualify [budget, authority, need, timeline], but we use it very, very softly. If we were to ask prospects, “what’s your budget?” “Do you have purchase authority?” “How badly do you really need this?” “And what’s your timeline?”, they will tell you to “go away”.
You have to scope out these issues very diplomatically, very gently. And that’s where our experience comes in. Our skill is to start the relationship with people early on in that journey, and to position our client as a business that is customer-centric, friendly, and caring.
You’ve clearly internalised all this stuff and made these processes your own. To what extent are they formalised or documented at The Call Business?
When we start a new project, we ask our client to brief our client service director and the relevant client service manager. That information goes into a briefing document and is used when we bring business developers into a project. It covers the scope of the project, basic product information, FAQs for potential customers, the call to action, the steps to get there.
We have a copywriter on the team who creates draft emails for communication with potential customers as well. And these are not just translated but culturally adapted for each country. Writing “Dear Jim” is fine in North America, but many parts of the world prefer the local language version equivalent of “Dear Mr Smith”. All our email comms are then tailored by the individual business developer based on the actual conversations that have taken place so that the email comms are real and authentic.
We also have a rigorous induction process when somebody joins the company. You know, all the really exciting stuff like data security and all our cloud-based infrastructure!
The Marketing Process: we put inputs in, there’s a process, we get some sort of output …
Do you compare the effectiveness or the conversion rate of processes very often?
Oh yes. All the time. For most clients, we start off with a pilot project over 6 months or so. And when we’re running a pilot, we’re always reporting. We report weekly and we test and measure. Again and again. We rapidly fine-tune our approach to optimise results.
Development has to be iterative because the projects are all about human interaction. When you start working with a new client, you have no idea what’s going to pop up. And half the time the client doesn’t know either, because there are often no benchmarks.
We like to work with clients who understand process and attrition rates. Back in the early days, we worked with some people who didn’t have any concept of that. They acted as if we had a magic wand. And of course marketers haven’t.
At The Call Business … we test and measure. Again and again.
We rapidly fine-tune our approach to optimise results.
Andi Catt, The Call Business
What else can we say about processes… are there any downsides to processes?
Human beings are unpredictable so the conversations don’t always pan out in the way we anticipated. That is why it is so crucial that our team members are able to think on their feet and adapt to what the prospect wants to discuss.
Once we are beyond the stage of a pilot project, we meet with our clients every month and take a step back to review progress. We always take feedback from our clients (usually in marketing) into account. Feedback from sales managers helps us to understand the results further down the sales funnel. We will then adapt our approach as needed. It’s iterative. For some clients, The Call Business undertakes quite niche functions, working strategically to deliver just one touchpoint in the customer journey.
Big, monolithic CRM systems like Microsoft Dynamics or Salesforce can be quite painful to use if they’re poorly implemented and are hard to change. Some systems can’t capture new or additional data sources or influence points so it is hard for the clients to measure the impact we have made. So, we’re really lucky that our own CRM platform is really flexible and we can show the conversion rates of all our interactions with the client’s potential customers.
Did COVID have any impact for The Call Business?
Oh yes, Covid affected processes. Post-COVID, many of the contacts we reach out to are no longer office-based. When contacting those working from home, we need their mobile phone number or we are reliant on email as the main comms channel.
It’s not just a question of acquiring mobile phone numbers. We also need the GDPR permissions to store and use them. Our Head of Data and Systems has created the most beautiful data protection agreements you could wish for! They’re a legal requirement but also a key point of reassurance for clients, particularly if they are outsourcing for the first time. Because clients are giving us their data and they need to understand what we’re going to do with it. So, we document at the outset how we will use it and how we will safeguard it.
Does the subject of Processes trigger any pet hates?
Oh yes. Unrealistic use of automated lead scoring. It sounds great, but …
On one occasion, we were given 28,000 leads from marketing automation that were all supposedly ‘qualified’. Were they hell. It was just the most painful experience imaginable. The definition was based on a completely unrealistic scoring where one interaction entered the prospect as “qualified”.
That’s where process can go crazy, I think – when scoring has nothing to do with reality. Just because someone has a single interaction does not make them a qualified prospect. If you want to find out where they are on the Buying Journey you have to have human interaction.
Personally, I don’t believe that, in the majority of cases, a machine can turn a marketing qualified lead (MQL) into a sales qualified lead (SQL). The only thing that can do that is an interaction with a person. And that’s either the prospect themselves filling in a form saying “I want a quote” or us having a conversation where we establish that the prospect is interested in finding out more, or getting costs, or getting their questions answered. It takes a combination of smart automation and human interaction to convert a prospect from an MQL to an SQL.
I think I’ve got to write a blog post about that. Yes, I think I’m going to write that down, actually…
I’d better let you get on with it while the thoughts are fresh … Thank you, Andi.
The Call Business
Multi-lingual, B2B lead qualification and business development.
Andi Catt, Managing Director