Marketing Activity Grid, explained (I): Introduction

Great plan!Last week at the B2B Marketing Forum in Utrecht, I shared the Marketing Activity Grid as part of my presentation. I got a number of requests to elaborate, so I am writing a couple of posts on the topic.

In this first piece, I will go in to the Grid’s background. Before I do though, let’s agree on a clear starting point: the goal of marketing.

The goal of marketing is to find, retain and grow customers. Many theorists and thought leaders have shared their personal versions of this definition – this is the one I will use within the scope of this series of posts. Marketing Activity Grid is a planning tool used to map marketing activities against the various sequential phases of the buyer’s journey (education – consideration – selection – conversion – customer advocacy; left to right on image below).

Going back to the earlier definition of marketing, it is important to note that customers turn into prospects within their customer lifecycle, as they consider additional purchases to extend the value they get out of the transactional relationship with the vendor. In this sense, “finding customers” also entails finding customers within your existing customer base. Acquisition tactics targeting existing customers (or: “upsell tactics”) would of course differ materially from acquisition tactics targeting net-new accounts.

Marketing Activity Grid

Click image to enlarge

What is Marketing Activity Grid?
Marketing Activity Grid is a model designed to enable integrated planning between Marketing and Sales by clearly defining the activities planned to find prospective customers, turn them into customers, expand their investment into vendor’s offerings, and retain them within the customer base.

The objective of Marketing Activity Grid is threefold:

1. Make it easy for prospective customers to discover, consider and buy in to (purchase) your value propositions and products.
All marketing should start with the customer perspective. Once a decision making unit has decided the company has a problem that needs to be solved, someone will get the assignment of researching, longlisting and shortlisting potential solutions to help them hone in on the investment. It is our job as marketers to enable for this research to produce the best solution for that given problem. Help the buyer find, buy and capitalize value for his/her organisation is a more customer-centric way of defining the goal of marketing.

2. Keep a line of sight between Marketing investments and impact to revenue at all times
Looking from the vendor’s perspective, Marketing Activity Grid is all about targeting, planning and executing marketing strategy. Commonly, marketing Strategy breaks down into Tactics, which break down into Activities, for which we need Resources (people, infrastructure, money, assets). Many marketing teams are champions in turning strategic objectives (what we want to accomplish) into extensive laundry lists of point activities (what we want to do to achieve our objectives). They – and whoever they present to (read: sales) – loose sight of the actual tactical objectives it all should support, and therefore its planned impact to sales’ pipeline. Marketing Activity Grid helps marketers to keep things organized and aligned to the marketing and sales strategic objectives.

3. Allow Marketing to run less, more business relevant activities
If you are in B2B marketing, you promote complex technology, products, solution and (professional or Cloud-based) services. Typically, a lot of effort would go into supporting the consideration phase of prospective buyers, aimed at helping them compare the solution to competitive offers. Far less focus is on the first and last stages of the buyer’s journey, mainly because we are low on PR & advertising budget and therefore trust prospects to find our website and social handles first, the website to handle consideration, and – afterwards – sales to reel them in as customers once they are convinced of our superior proposition.

The result of this is that marketing oftentimes doesn’t have visibility of its impact to sales pipeline – simply because we take our hands off after consideration stage. At best, we’d say: “We delivered x Marketing Qualified Leads to sales”, or “We contributed x% to sales pipeline” (which is just slightly better than the first statement). But what happens from there, we do not know. How many marketing leads got accepted and qualified by sales. Which turned into deals, at what size?

Consequently, we keep adding and refining consideration tactics – pretty much the only part of the engagement cycle we control.

Once you add structure to your tactical planning, you will see that you will balance the investment across all phases of the buyer’s journey and that there is less and less for you to do in order to be relevant to the business. Instead, you can start focusing on the quality of tactics and activities within each of the tactical buckets.

Credit where credit’s due: the first instantiation of the Marketing Activity Grid was inspired by Michael Gale of Forrester Research (currently: PulsePoint Group), back in 2010/11 (I wrote about it here). Forrester’d researched how buyers engage vendors and content in deciding how to solve their problems and consequently where to spend their budgets. They also looked into the key stakeholders within each of the stages of the buyer’s journey (i.e. marketing, finance, higher management roles) to understand how decisions come about.

At the heart of Gale’s presentation where 4 universal buyer insights that I took to heart:

  • 7 is the average number of assets buyer’s will review as part of their research into prospective vendors, across 4 asset types.
    • Asset: campaign landing page, brochure, whitepaper, webinar etc (the tactics we commonly plan as part of demand generation programs).
    • Asset type: event, pr, social, collaterals, telemarketing etc (the buckets we usually use to categorize activities as part of budgeting). (Laura Patterson, if you are reading this, you should be triggered by now, if you weren’t already).
  • Within any of the phases of the buyer’s journey, no individual within the DMU (Decision Making Unit) has enough power to get the decision into the next phase.
  • 1:1:3 is the ration between “What we send them”, “What sales can give them” and “What they find themselves” (online or in conversations with their peers), meaning that with your targeted marketing, you can only influence 20% of the decision (which jumps to 40% if you cooperate with sales). Lately, I read more and more about the buying decision being 60% done already before buyer’s engage vendors – which should be viewed in this light as well. (not so sure whether I believe that number though; would depend on how you define “buyer engagement”).
    The other consequence of this ratio is that you need to make sure your content is compelling, up-to-date, available, findable and shareable at all times – by sales and prospects. 80% of the time, you will not control when/how it is being consumed.
  • 3 x 3 x 3 is the number of connected and sequenced tactics needed across the front, the middle and the back-end of the buyer’s journey, if you want to help prospective buyer’s Discover, Consider and Decide for your offering.
    “Connected” and “Sequenced” are the essential terms here. The central concept of the Forrester approach is to run less activities, but to tightly integrate whatever you do with at least 3 other touches. That way, you make it easy for your prospects to move from phase to phase as they engage with your programs. It is quite a literal way of taking them by the hands and leading them into your offering, company, content and teams. First read this, then participate here, attend there, have a conversation with this guy, compare us here, take a test drive with our product there, transact here, et cetera – all the way down to a 1:1 sales meeting, the RFP, the deal signed, the customer reference story approved. Once you start reporting along these lines, you will be able to create a clear line of sight between each of your activities planned, the tactical buckets they fall into, and the contribution of your tactics to the overall revenue objectives (look out for a separate post on measuring and reporting).

Some adjustments to the model
Note that in Marketing Activity Grid, you’ll find 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 (so twelve tactical buckets), because I added customer tactics (in this example: community – user groups – reference) to the acquisition tactics.
Furthermore, in the Forrester approach, 3 tactics could be for instance “email”, “webinar”, “whitepaper”, and then the email invites people to the register the webinar and download the whitepaper – so really down to asset level.
I have up-leveled this slightly, because I believe we need more in Enterprise demand generation to get the message across and the masses moving. So for instance in my “Webinar” bucket would be a couple of emails, some collateral, some social activation content, and a content strategy to market the recording. (In post II, I will describe how to build an audience-based Grid in practice) – but still all of that would be connected to 3 other tactics.

Lastly, I can’t elaborate on Marketing Activity Grid without mentioning Jan-Willem Schalkwijk. We have been working on this together from the very start (he actually coined the term “Marketing Activity Grid”), so he has a big stake in this work.

B2B Marketing Forum 2014 — my slides

Today I shared this presentation during the B2B Marketing Forum 2014 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Thank you for attending my session – let me know if you have any questions.

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.

Understanding how to integrate marketing with the sales function as part of your business development process basically means understanding common deals. Take these 5 steps to get your marketing programs tightly integrated with the sales objectives. 

STEP 1: Deal Analyses
First, take 10 recent good, won deals and 10 bad, lost deals, sit down with the sales teams involved, and meticulously analyse how the deals came about or broke in the sales process. 

Be thorough and methodical; don’t discard what may look like mere details at first sight. Document every step along the way. Per deal, use all data you can possibly put your hands on. Add names, job roles, engagement type, actions, response (positive-negative, what made them respond), correlations and dependencies.

How was the buying decision made, which meetings were planned and what exactly happened in each of those meetings, what was the sales strategy, how did the account come to the sales team, which marketing activities touched the account, at which levels of business? Which responses caused for the lead to be qualified, who qualified, and how? Did the prospective customer search, browse, view, click, register, attend, comment, like, recommend, download, retweet, et cetera – and if so: who within the account did, and exactly when in the engagement cycle?

STEP 2: Deal Makers, Breakers & Insights
Next, cluster activities and touches into Deal Makers, the bigger steps that – in hindsight – led to the win or caused it to be lost. In lost deals, which sequence of events led up to the break? Look for Deal Insights, i.e. patterns between the various deals you’re analyzing in what’s working, what’s not. Focus on repeatable approaches. (In this sense, and email or even a single tweet can be a deal maker). 

STEP 3: Describe the Common Deal Trajectory
Thirdly, based on your Deal Makers, Deal Breakers and Deal Insights, build a first Common Deal Trajectory – the string of tactics and touches commonly needed over time to turn a net new suspect into a customer. Assign ownership and timeframes to the various elements.

STEP 4: Build Integrated Programs
Next, create an integrated marketing and sales program that optimizes the impact and outcome of each of the touches documented in your Common Deal Trajectory, across all marketing, communications and sales channels: sales promotions, social, PR, third party, owned and channel events, content, digital, paid media and email, nurture plan, webinars, demonstration, telemarketing, sales meeting, RFI/P, proof of concept, trial, reference customer visits, user group meeting.

Optimize every single touch to do exactly what it’s intended to: get the prospective buyer to the next touch and the desired outcome as efficiently as you can. Think about when and where you spend your budget. High volume and low value; low cost per touch. Low volume, high value; high cost per touch.

Target multiple job roles if called for, and adjust your content and messaging accordingly. If you need the CIO to buy-in to your vision, in order for the IT team to start reading your LinkedIn updates and tweets, in order for the chief architect to attend a solutions session, in order for the application manager to self-demo the solution to great detail, which happens to be what you need in order to get the deal in – then build and sequence the program that will do exactly that and nothing else.

Have fun. Note that you are planning for the ideal scenario. Don’t worry about getting it wrong – but be realistic. Study the data, have the conversations, and keep verifying your program decisions with the sales team.

STEP 5: Improve, Differentiate & Orchestrate
As you execute your first integrated marketing and sales programs, you’ll understand how and where you can improve your Trajectory. Actually, your second program will have a better chance of hitting the nail on the head. And as you get the hang of it, your sales and channel counterparts will come look for you to build more programs, targeting different audiences with new tactics, propositions and solutions. That’s when you’ll start to develop and maintain multiple trajectories for prospective and existing customers on various levels of the target organisations your after.

Curious to learn more? Join my session in DeFabrique, Utrecht on 13 March. Slot details:


For more information on my session at the B2B Marketing Forum, click here.

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.

Just 2 examples.

I never gave any of it much thought until I passed a small office one night. In there, I saw a guy building the arrivals board for the next day. It was on his desk. To the left of it was a printout of the new arrivals list. To the right, a shoebox filled with letters. He was studying the names, going through the box to find the right letters, slowly copying the listed names – Australian, Japanese, Israeli, Swedish, Russian, American, Dutch names. First and last. Poor Thai guy.

So I ask my wife: “Why aren’t they investing just a small amount of money into automating this stuff – it’s so easy. You display the names straight from your reservation system (which you have the guests happily populate themselves as they book a cabin online), and print out the breakfast vouchers from the same system – or even better give them one voucher for their entire stay with a QR code which you scan every morning at the entrance of the breakfast room. Data goes straight into your invoicing system. Or what about a small bracelet with an RFID chip, which they can then also use in the bar and restaurant? You’d free up at least 1 FTE in headcount at a fairly small cost, wouldn’t you? And the poor guy and the voucher-writing girl could maybe do more enjoyable work!”

I admit, I got a bit carried away there.

My wife: “Well yeah, but you just wouldn’t feel as welcome and appreciated as a guest, would you? I mean, they spend a lot of time making you feel quite special here – not just with the board and the breakfast vouchers, but in general. It fits right in there. And wouldn’t those guys be fired, anyway?” She is always right.

When I asked the resort’s manager the same question the next day, she smiled at me and said I shouldn’t worry about it and enjoy my stay. She’s probably always right, as well.

So firstly, think twice before taking any European reason to other parts of the world. Secondly, automating service – any service – and introducing self-service means you have to double-down on creating an equally great customer experience. Spend the time.

Lastly, listen to the wife. She’s usually right. (Love you, honey)

Shoulder Angel 2013

Every year around this time, we send our family and friends a “schouderengel”, a guardian angel to glue on to your shoulder for protection and prosperity throughout the new year. This year, it’s a Shoulder Buddha – it’ll help you keep your peace in 2014.

Shoulder Buddha

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?

Before we get there, allow me to explain where this idea originated. Its very first conception was sparked by my brother Diederick, who once mused – it surely must have been around november of last year: “Man, don’t you just love it when you no longer have to put your beer in the fridge? Because of the cold?”. I couldn’t but stare at him, bewildered, struck by lightning. Now that was a very deep and adequate statement by a true beer lover. It got me thinking.

Whence, you ask?
In the nineties, a famous Dutch writer, the late and brilliant Martin Bril, introduced a new phenomenon: Rokjesdag, translated as Skirt Day (which is an actual phenomenon in the English speaking world as well, Skirt Day. My colleague Laurie tells me that in France, you have La Journée de la Jupe (Day of the Skirt), but that was requested to the French government in support of female emancipation – so really not the same as Rokjesdag/Skirt Day. O and in fact, turns out Bril didn’t really invent it, but he did make it big in the Netherlands.)

Skirt Day
Rokjesdag is not on a fixed day of the year, it is in no agenda, nor is it ever publicly announced – yet everybody instantly and instinctively understands when Rokjesdag is upon us. It is that first nice and sunny day of the year, when – by some strange, unwritten but shared intuition among the ladies – all of a sudden you see skirts all over town, across the cities and villages of the Netherlands and other parts of the developed world. It is almost like a very well executed flash mob (this is my favorite, and this the best Heineken hoax ever), but then way better! Skirt Day in short is a glorious spring day for the male population, and I like to believe the ladies responding to this call of nature are having a really good time as well.

It goes without saying that Rokjesdag is a brilliant thing for consumer marketers. If you’re in the skirt/fashion business, I couldn’t think of a better occasion to introduce a new collection. And what if you’re selling bicycles, it shouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots, would it? What about shoes, cosmetics, jewelry, insurance, dating sites, et cetera – you could sell pretty much everything off of Rokjesdag!

Wouldn’t it be great if we added more notable days like that? It’s fool’s gold, there’s nothing you’d have to do to get it, it’s just there like those lovely early sunrays in spring. It’s free and it’s fun.

So here it is. My idea.
Along those lines, I came up with my idea: Schuurbierdag. Schuurbierdag is the first day of the year that is cold enough to allow man to confidently drink a bottle of beer straight from the shed (or the balcony, back yard, front yard – wherever you stack your beer), cooled by Mother Nature rather than your refrigerator.

I have tested this idea among men I know (not all of them, but a significant subset), and it hits home. It genuinely hits home. Test it yourself. It is a dead cert, mate.

And now what?
So, I am offering this idea up for free to whom it may inspire. Make it happen, I say. Market the bloody thing, get it out there. Grolsch, Stella, Carlsberg – I dare you. Forget the football loving audience. Forget talking about cooling beer in the summerThis is your opportunity to claim a day in the year where all beer lovers can be united around a free, joyful phenomenon: Shed beer. Cooled by Nature.

To make this an even more obvious no-brainer: Grolsch is probably the best candidate to take the Shed Beer Day on, brand-wise. Recently, their copywriting is exceptionally strong, exemplified by the opening line on their bottles: “Bij Grolsch houden we nogal van bier.” (“At Grolsch, we kinda like beer.”) – which is a terrific statement for a brewer of 400 years. They can make it work. So Grolsch: pay attention. On top of it all, Diederick pointed out that it even has a nice sustainable angle to it – showing ways of reducing refrigerator time and thus carbon footprint.

Shed beer. Think about it. is still available at a mere $9,88 a year. Admit it: This is a goldmine just screaming to be exploited.

“Schuurbierdag” intellectual property
I do not want any royalties, just a symbolic case of Grolsch 0.45 liter bottles delivered to my doorstep in the morning of Schuurbierdag for the rest of my life. And throw one in for Diederick as well, he lives just around the corner from my place. Don’t worry about cooling it.

And – of course – the recognition that I came up with an idea that made man happy.

Just like the brilliant Martin Bril.

SNUG, or 8 woes of customer marketing

MagicCircleTheaterMarketing to customers can be a tricky thing, if you don’t really know who you are talking to (which is not unusual among marketers, I’m afraid). You just don’t want to screw it up, do you? That’s why I joined the ServiceNow User Group (SNUG) UK meeting in London 2 weeks ago.

The UK SNUG is chaired by the ServiceNow champion within one of our enterprise customers in the UK and aimed at bringing our customers together to share experience and best practices. For marketing, a user group conversation helps to understand how to successfully market to existing customers, that is: without interfering with their business or the sales process.

The best marketing
My conclusion after a full day of customer discussions and presentations: The best marketing is done by happy customers. Period. They ask, they answer. They share issues, they solve problems. They visit each other at work to have a closer look. They exchange telephone numbers. From that point of view, the sole goal of customer marketing is to put happy customers together in a room – and maybe sneak in a handful of prospects.

Woes of customer marketing
Customer marketing. Some marketers will shy away from it, weary of interfering with the account management process. Some sales reps will ask for their accounts to be excluded from broad communications and demand generation tactics (and then move to ask for account-specific newsletters and events, but then refuse to do any work to provide for any content, speakers or addressable contacts which in the end means the whole thing fails big and marketing gets the blame after all. AND NO, I AM NOT FRUSTRATED BY THIS AT ALL ! ! ! Hehe.)

Alignment! Alignment! Alignment!
In short, at the customer level, marketing and sales usually struggle hardest to align, compared to when it comes to finding prospects out there. There is a lot at stake.

So just to share a shortlist of do’s & don’ts I picked up along the way:

  1. Don’t think you understand the customer better than the sales team. There is no way. Usually, over time, you can know more about the product, the competition, the market, even the pricing and general customer insights based on customer satisfaction metrics for instance – but not individual customers. There is just no way. So you’ll have to partner with sales to understand what the customer marketing strategy should look like.
  2. In general, don’t mess with deals underway, or in flight, or in progress – whichever way they’re tagged, called, flagged. Suppress them from your marketing database and stay out of trouble.
  3. Segment communications to customers, so that the right value propositions and calls-to-action are positioned in the accounts. Commonly, you need to understand the product portfolio mapped against the customer lifecycle and understand the upsell path to get this right.
  4. Put a contact strategy in place including all communications, with a simple calendar per country on when outbound messages drop. Keep it updated and share it with the account teams. Give them a chance to influence it based on their sales plan’s milestones. Build trust that marketing is not a spamming center, but a sender of messages and calls-to-action relevant to their accounts, helping them grow their business and bonuses.
  5. Take into account who actually owns and manages the customer relationship. If you are talking to direct accounts, don’t refer to value added resellers and vice versa. Especially in larger companies, all kinds of awful things go wrong around this topic. If relationships are being managed by business partners, like value added resellers or service providers, enable them to grow their business. Don’t get in there yourself.
  6. Find ways of presenting the account teams and channel partners with actionable data on engagement. Visualize and interpret. There is so much data available these days on customer behavior that an average sales rep will not use in executing the account plans. Simple account-based dashboards can help them understand who is engaged in paid, owned and earned media, who is reviewing competitive content, who is sharing assets with colleagues, who is browsing and clicking, attending webinars, downloading whitepapers, conversing online.
  7. Join sales meetings to understand which accounts are not to be touched, where doors need to opened, upsell opportunities created. Come up with a concrete plan of action to help the sales team get in there. Marketing has a knowledge, skill and tool set that is very different from the sales arsenal – use it to get into the conversation and add value to the sales process.
  8. Move beyond the here and now by providing trend analyses on all levels. Generally, most sales kind of know today’s data snapshot of their accounts, or they have an adequate gut feeling of how things are looking. But only the really good ones follow the trend and try to get ahead of the game by extrapolating data. That’s where marketing can help. Show the dynamic of the customer database mapped against product portfolio, revenue, competitive pressure, available job roles, market trends et cetera, over time.

The best way of understanding how to support sales is for marketers to dig in and thoroughly understand the customer’s view of the world – their pains, aspirations, drivers, requirements, but also their point of view in working with the vendor.  A user group meeting is a perfect place to go and get that insight.

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