Small Business Integrated Marketing: More Focus Is Needed, Especially in the B-To-B Space

Small businesses who operate in the business-to-business space do a lot of things right, but marketing is not one of them. This article will explain why this is the case and explore associated pitfalls and opportunities, as well as give you a definition of b-to-b (business-to-business) marketing and suggest some effective solutions to the problem.Typically, companies with 20 to 100 employees or so who are in manufacturing, distribution, professional services and the like do not have a marketing manager, and rightly so; these firms are simply too small to justify that position. So the president or general manager is responsible for marketing. This doesn’t work very well because that person has more important things to do such as keeping the place running and keeping the doors open. So, there’s little or no time for marketing planning or to implement a plan consistently.First let’s define “marketing” as it applies to the b-to-b space. Simply put, marketing is not advertising. Advertising is part of marketing, but a small part.The correct definition of b-to-b marketing is that it’s the integration and orchestration of all of the tactics that go into bringing a product or service to market: marketing research and competitive analysis; face-to-face selling; online support including an optimized website with an SEO (search engine optimization) strategy; downloadable white papers and how-to’s; email marketing; trade shows; sales lead generation; a customer retention strategy; sales tools such as brochures and literature and testimonials; online and offline press and publicity. You get the idea: it’s not just advertising.Most small business owners and general managers know they should be doing something to generate business other than shove their salespeople out the door. But they don’t get around to those other things, meaning marketing. Suddenly a year has gone by and their sales and market share have suffered. So they scramble to do something like build a new website or try some online advertising. But they have no plan. As the saying goes, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.”On the other hand, with a well-crafted marketing and advertising plan the business can actually have a strategy to develop a consistent market presence, generate sales leads, create a better brand and retain existing customers. But can the business afford to do this, and how does it get done?The first part of the answer is, they can’t afford to not put a marketing plan in place because their market is full of competitors who can and will beat them in the marketing arena. It’s a market-share battleground out there and the best marketer wins.Another argument for investing in an integrated marketing plan is this: companies pay for legal, IT and accounting services, right? Marketing expertise is no different.In terms of cost, it comes down to needs. If there hasn’t been a formal marketing plan in place for some time and if the company doesn’t know where it stands in terms of its status (market share, perception etc.), some research will be needed and a marketing plan should be developed.The plan will comprise three main components: the company’s business objectives; its sales and marketing strategies; and the tactics and media spend necessary to achieve the objectives. Depending on where the company goes to get this done, the cost will probably be between $3,000 and $7,500 for a plan. Then the plan must be implemented.Where does a company go to get this done? For smaller businesses, it’s best to avoid larger ad agencies; those with 50 employees and above. They’ll want to work with big marketing budgets, say, $500,000 at minimum. It’s also better to work with an agency that specializes in the b-to-b space; they understand the integration referred to above. While it’s handy if the agency is local, it doesn’t have to be. It’s more important that the agency is a good fit for the company.Another alternative is to contract a good b-to-b marketing consultant to do your research and draft your marketing plan. But have the second step lined up, too: an agency who can implement the plan, ideally a smaller agency specializing in b-to-b marketing. Check their work and get referrals from their clients.Whatever route you choose, make sure the firm you choose is very knowledgeable in the online space. Today, almost all marketing in the b-to-b space occurs online: information gathering and downloads of white papers and how-to’s; organic search results, online ads, web engagement, SEO, email marketing, press, articles, etc.Actually, this is good news since online marketing and the analytics associated with it are far less costly than the traditional methods b-to-b marketers have been used to such as trade magazines, lavish literature, direct mail and trade shows (not that those traditional tactics should be abandoned.)So what is the cost for a full-blown integrated marketing plan, media spending and implementation-management by an agency or a consultant?The best budgeting method is the “task method”, meaning determining what tasks need to be done considering your market circumstances, then assigning costs to those tasks and their associated media. It varies by company. That’s something a good marketing agency can do for you. If you have a very limited budget a good agency can develop your plan and focus on its most critical tasks, working with a first-year budget as small as $50,000.But a full-blown integrated marketing-media plan is highly recommended if you want to be a market leader. As a rule of thumb, the higher your gross sales, the less you’ll pay as a percentage of your sales. Roughly, if you’re a smaller company, say, sales of $5 million or so, count on spending about three percent of your gross sales, or about $150,000. At $10 million in sales, perhaps two percent, or $200,000. At $20 million, probably between one and two percent, so about $300,000.One thing is certain: a well-planned and well-implemented b-to-b marketing and advertising plan with a strong online component pays off. It helps you compete better for market dominance. However, marketing planning and implementation takes focus, consistency and the help of professionals.

Rep V. Direct: How to Best Organize a Sales Team

Sales executives are constantly searching for the ideal structure of the sales team. Should the team be composed only of direct sales people? Should the team be composed only of manufacturers’ representatives? Experience shows that a hybrid sales organization, composed of a blend of direct and indirect sales employees (manufacturers’ representatives), combines optimal performance, cost effectiveness and flexibility.If one observes several sales organizations over an extended period, she’s able to see that relatively often, sales executives make sweeping changes to those organizations, from all direct to all rep, and from all rep to all direct. Invariably, the observer is able to note that sales management ultimately reverses many of those sweeping changes. Sometimes sales executives benefit from observing changes made by others. Unfortunately, too many sales executives develop the understanding of the benefits of a hybrid organization by making one or more poor decisions and then repairing the organization after problems surface. The most durable of sales organizations are those that use a hybrid technique, employing a mix of both direct sales staff and manufacturers’ representatives. Sales teams composed entirely of all direct people or entirely of manufacturers’ representatives are generally not ideal.Why “Direct Only” Teams Are Not IdealMany CEOs and executive teams believe that the best way to build relationships with customers is with a sales team composed only of direct employees. In this example, sales staff cannot be distracted with unrelated business and other product lines. No one can blame the inexperienced CEO and executive team for thinking this way. A salesperson is able to devote 100 percent of this time to the company. A direct sales team suffers from far fewer distractions than a rep sales team. However, experienced CEOs and executive teams understand that they must thoroughly look at a direct sales team before converting to it. Direct sales teams are quite expensive to train and support. The company must support offices in all major markets. Those offices bring along with them assorted costs: rent, administrative support, office equipment, utilities, etc. A competent manager who can work well and represent the company without direct supervision must manage the office. The company must train and occasionally upgrade each office manager.When sales are growing, the office manager must hire and train new sales staff. The company must train the manager in hiring and training techniques. The company must also train the office manager in firing techniques, in hopes of avoiding legal problems.As sales grow, the office must expand to meet growing demands upon the sales office. Cost of sales rises as sales grow. Sales, however, do not grow forever. Ultimately, sales flatten and roll over. Sales usually roll over earlier and more abruptly than hiring plans. Sales may dip at anytime during the year, but hiring plans are usually set at the beginning of each calendar or fiscal year. As a result, hiring is sometimes still underway when industry and office sales are falling. Such dynamics create an environment whereby cost of sales, (as measured by the total cost of running the sales office, divided by the total revenue that the office generates, expressed as a share of sales) rises rapidly.


When a sales office has healthy sales, the company can manage its cost of sales and support them at a predetermined level. If sales grow for a long period, the company can manage the office to cut cost of sales. The sales office can benefit from economies of scale. A sales office supporting 20 salesmen doesn’t need more copiers, fax machines and conference rooms than an office supporting only 10 salesmen. Unfortunately, sales ultimately roll over. It is difficult to cut costs immediately. The office manager must usually see several months or quarters of declining sales before realizing that he must cut costs, including headcount. During this time, cost of sales rises, sometimes well above tolerated levels. The sales office manager and the company cannot cut costs quickly. Which is a chief reason that totally direct sales teams are undesirable.Why “Rep Only” Teams Don’t Yield Peak PerformanceRep only sales organizations afford a number of benefits to the sales executive. The sales teams are already in place. Hiring and firing of salesmen is not the direct responsibility of the sales executive or his regional sales managers. Manufacturers’ representatives generally hire and fire as sales move up and down. The cost of running a rep only sales organization rise and fall directly with the level of sales. A significant benefit of the rep only sales organization is that cost drops immediately when sales drop. It’s possible to accurately forecast cost of sales as a share of total revenue. Cost can never get out of control by hiring too many salesmen, buying too many computers, or leasing too large an office; not infrequent problems for direct sales organizations.Manufacturers’ representatives are not always the panacea for companies looking to hire or expand a sales organization. Large customers often demand direct sales staff; not indirect staff from a manufacturers’ representative. Large customers view their largest suppliers as strategic partners, and like the ability to communicate directly with those suppliers. Communications is sometimes slower and less clear when a customer must communicate with a manufacturers’ representative, who in turn communicates with the supplier. Customers may set the style with which they deal with suppliers as part of their purchasing strategy. For example, they may decide to deal with no more than two or three suppliers on any commodity and to deal with those suppliers directly. This disallows conducting business through manufacturers’ representatives. A supplier must recognize and honor such a strategy, or be ready to suffer undesirable consequences. A supplier must never turn a tin ear to a request from a customer demanding direct sales representation.Large suppliers view their largest customers as strategic partners, and like the ability to communicate directly with those customers. They view the delay when communicating through a manufacturers’ representative as an unnecessary burden. When large suppliers invest management time with strategic customers, they do not want to dilute that investment by sharing management time with manufacturers’ representatives. The incapacity to offer direct coverage to strategic customers is the primary reason that a sales team composed only of manufacturers’ representatives is unattractive.First and Foremost: Do No HarmRecognizing that something is wrong, many sales executives make bold, sweeping structural changes to their sales teams. Fire all reps and hire a direct sales team. Fire all direct salesmen and hire a network of manufacturers’ representatives. Either approach will certainly repair some problems. More than likely, however, extreme changes are very prone to creating new problems of equal or greater scale.Why do so many companies replace one poor-performing sales organization with another that destined to yield performance that is no better than the original? The two most common reasons are inexperience and weakness of the sales executive compared to the rest of the management team. Perhaps the inexperienced sales executive has risen through a single company with an all-direct or all-rep sales force. Now, managing the global sales organization, he opts for sweeping change from all-direct to all-rep, or from all-rep to all-direct sales without benefit of understanding thoroughly the benefits and problems with either a pure-rep or pure-direct organization. Alternatively, the inexperienced sales executive may have developed his management skill at a company employing an all-direct sales organization. He may not feel comfortable managing if hired into an all-rep company. No one can fault a sales manager if he sees massive problems and concludes that he must make sweeping change to an all-direct sales organization. Only inexperience allows him to make a major, highly disruptive change.Another reason companies make dramatic changes in the structure of a sales organization is that the sales executive is weak. If cost-of-sales, expressed as a share revenue is too high, the CEO, the rest of the executive team, or both can apply pressure on the sales executive to affect change and cut cost. If the sales executive lacks the strength to defend his team or the structure of the sales organization, he merely becomes the messenger, not the manager.


The message to the sales executive feeling pressure to make sweeping change in a sales organization is to adhere to the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. Any sweeping change imposed upon the structure of a sales team will initially be disruptive. Make sure to justify the disruption and be very sure that the change, once implemented, is most likely irreversible. Sweeping change brings disruption, higher cost of sales and lower productivity. All of this might be worthwhile. However, if a sales manager imposes sweeping change and then reverses course within a year or two, disruption from the reversal is much greater and more costly. A reversal of an organization change brings with it disruption, higher cost of sales and lower productivity just like the original change. However, an organizational reversal can erode the sales team’s enthusiasm. A company can handle disruption, higher cost of sales and lower productivity if repaired relatively quickly. Repair of an unmotivated sales team takes much more time.”Hybrid Sales Teams” Work BestA supplier always looks to optimize its sales organization. If a company continuously focuses on cost of the sales organization, use of manufacturers’ representatives is mandatory. The benefits of manufacturers’ representatives are too great to ignore. However, manufacturers’ representatives may not satisfy the requirements for some customers. Strategic customers demand direct interface, excluding the use of reps. The best alternative then, is to merge some of the best features of both a rep and a direct sales organization. Implement a direct sales team to cover the sales to all strategic customers, while simultaneously bringing about a sales team of manufacturers’ representatives to cover all other customers.A hybrid sales team benefits from the cost effectiveness of manufacturers’ representatives. The same team can deal directly with strategic customers. The sales executive may take advantage of the non-disruptive flexibility when adding or deleting customers on strategic customer list. A secondary benefit of a hybrid sales organization is bench strength. Well-seasoned, top-performing direct sales personnel represent a talent pool from which from which to draw regional sales managers.ConclusionExperience shows that a hybrid sales organization, composed of a blend of direct and manufacturers’ representatives combines optimal performance, cost effectiveness and flexibility. The most durable sales organization is one that uses a hybrid technique. Sales teams composed entirely of all direct staff or entirely of manufacturers’ representatives too often underperform.

What Is the Relevance of Technology?

“Technology in the long-run is irrelevant”. That is what a customer of mine told me when I made a presentation to him about a new product. I had been talking about the product’s features and benefits and listed “state-of-the-art technology” or something to that effect, as one of them. That is when he made his statement. I realized later that he was correct, at least within the context of how I used “Technology” in my presentation. But I began thinking about whether he could be right in other contexts as well.What is Technology?Merriam-Webster defines it as:1a: the practical application of knowledge especially in a particular area: engineering 2 b: a capability given by the practical application of knowledge 2: a manner of accomplishing a task especially using technical processes, methods, or knowledge 3: the specialized aspects of a particular field of endeavor Wikipedia defines it as:Technology (from Greek τέχνη, techne, “art, skill, cunning of hand”; and -λογία, -logia[1]) is the making, modification, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems, and methods of organization, in order to solve a problem, improve a preexisting solution to a problem, achieve a goal, handle an applied input/output relation or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, including machinery, modifications, arrangements and procedures. Technologies significantly affect human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology.Both definitions revolve around the same thing – application and usage.Technology is an enablerMany people mistakenly believe it is technology which drives innovation. Yet from the definitions above, that is clearly not the case. It is opportunity which defines innovation and technology which enables innovation. Think of the classic “Build a better mousetrap” example taught in most business schools. You might have the technology to build a better mousetrap, but if you have no mice or the old mousetrap works well, there is no opportunity and then the technology to build a better one becomes irrelevant. On the other hand, if you are overrun with mice then the opportunity exists to innovate a product using your technology.


Another example, one with which I am intimately familiar, are consumer electronics startup companies. I’ve been associated with both those that succeeded and those that failed. Each possessed unique leading edge technologies. The difference was opportunity. Those that failed could not find the opportunity to develop a meaningful innovation using their technology. In fact to survive, these companies had to morph oftentimes into something totally different and if they were lucky they could take advantage of derivatives of their original technology. More often than not, the original technology wound up in the scrap heap. Technology, thus, is an enabler whose ultimate value proposition is to make improvements to our lives. In order to be relevant, it needs to be used to create innovations that are driven by opportunity.Technology as a competitive advantage?Many companies list a technology as one of their competitive advantages. Is this valid? In some cases yes, but In most cases no.Technology develops along two paths – an evolutionary path and a revolutionary path.A revolutionary technology is one which enables new industries or enables solutions to problems that were previously not possible. Semiconductor technology is a good example. Not only did it spawn new industries and products, but it spawned other revolutionary technologies – transistor technology, integrated circuit technology, microprocessor technology. All which provide many of the products and services we consume today. But is semiconductor technology a competitive advantage? Looking at the number of semiconductor companies that exist today (with new ones forming every day), I’d say not. How about microprocessor technology? Again, no. Lots of microprocessor companies out there. How about quad core microprocessor technology? Not as many companies, but you have Intel, AMD, ARM, and a host of companies building custom quad core processors (Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, etc). So again, not much of a competitive advantage. Competition from competing technologies and easy access to IP mitigates the perceived competitive advantage of any particular technology. Android vs iOS is a good example of how this works. Both operating systems are derivatives of UNIX. Apple used their technology to introduce iOS and gained an early market advantage. However, Google, utilizing their variant of Unix (a competing technology), caught up relatively quickly. The reasons for this lie not in the underlying technology, but in how the products made possible by those technologies were brought to market (free vs. walled garden, etc.) and the differences in the strategic visions of each company.Evolutionary technology is one which incrementally builds upon the base revolutionary technology. But by it’s very nature, the incremental change is easier for a competitor to match or leapfrog. Take for example wireless cellphone technology. Company V introduced 4G products prior to Company A and while it may have had a short term advantage, as soon as Company A introduced their 4G products, the advantage due to technology disappeared. The consumer went back to choosing Company A or Company V based on price, service, coverage, whatever, but not based on technology. Thus technology might have been relevant in the short term, but in the long term, became irrelevant.In today’s world, technologies tend to quickly become commoditized, and within any particular technology lies the seeds of its own death.Technology’s RelevanceThis article was written from the prospective of an end customer. From a developer/designer standpoint things get murkier. The further one is removed from the technology, the less relevant it becomes. To a developer, the technology can look like a product. An enabling product, but a product nonetheless, and thus it is highly relevant. Bose uses a proprietary signal processing technology to enable products that meet a set of market requirements and thus the technology and what it enables is relevant to them. Their customers are more concerned with how it sounds, what’s the price, what’s the quality, etc., and not so much with how it is achieved, thus the technology used is much less relevant to them.


Recently, I was involved in a discussion on Google+ about the new Motorola X phone. A lot of the people on those posts slammed the phone for various reasons – price, locked boot loader, etc. There were also plenty of knocks on the fact that it didn’t have a quad-core processor like the S4 or HTC One which were priced similarly. What they failed to grasp is that whether the manufacturer used 1, 2, 4, or 8 cores in the end makes no difference as long as the phone can deliver a competitive (or even best of class) feature set, functionality, price, and user experience. The iPhone is one of the most successful phones ever produced, and yet it runs on a dual-core processor. It still delivers one of the best user experiences on the market. The features that are enabled by the technology are what are relevant to the consumer, not the technology itself.The relevance of technology therefore, is as an enabler, not as a product feature or a competitive advantage, or any myriad of other things – an enabler. Looking at the Android operating system, it is an impressive piece of software technology, and yet Google gives it away. Why? Because standalone, it does nothing for Google. Giving it away allows other companies to use their expertise to build products and services which then act as enablers for Google’s products and services. To Google, that’s where the real value is.The possession of or access to a technology is only important for what it enables you to do – create innovations which solve problems. That is the real relevance of technology.

Sexual Roleplaying – What it is and the Best Way to Do It

Roleplaying is simply when participants adopt and act out characters that are not themselves. Sexual roleplaying therefore is when couples act out characters with an erotic motivation as part of a sexual fantasy. It can range from being serious with costumes, accents, props, etc. to just being something that is imagined, like being stuck on a deserted island. Practically any role could be involved in sexual roleplaying as long as both people involved are interested. Pretending to be someone you are not can be fun and exciting when done correctly.Roleplaying can also be good for a marriage as it may be an opportunity for a spouse to ask for something she has always wanted done to her or done for her, but never felt comfortable asking for. For example, in a roleplay where the wife is the dominant person (boss) she might feel more open about telling her husband (employee) that she wants to have her body rubbed in a certain way that she had never asked for before. The reduction of inhibitions can be great for a marriage as inhibitions are a killer of sexual enjoyment.Some roleplaying scenarios are:* Animal-related where one is treated as a non-human animal such as a dog or pony
* Hospital fantasies involving doctors, nurses and patients
* Stranger-related one or both spouse pretend to “meet” for the first time
* School related – Headmistress and Student or Teacher and Naughty Schoolgirl
* Photographer and Model
* Stripper and Client
* Business related – Boss and Employee, Boss and SecretaryIf this is your first time thinking about roleplaying, start with something simple, like Photographer and Model and then move on to ones where the acting requirement is a little higher.Roleplaying is a lot of fun and is easy, but there are a few important requirements:1. It requires open communication
2. It requires a willingness to participate
3. It requires honesty
4. It requires not taking yourself too seriously
5. It requires establishing rulesLet’s examine these requirements in a little more depth.1. Roleplaying requires open communication – Roleplaying can involve actions that when taken too far, might be uncomfortable for one or both partners. Let’s say a couple pretends to be strangers who meet in a bar. They pretend to have different pasts and even different names. As the night continues, the husband begins to feel uncomfortable being called a different name. As soon as he realizes this, he needs to be able to communicate with his wife that he wants to end the fantasy or just be called his real name and continue, or another option he feels comfortable with. Whichever he chooses, being able to discuss that with his wife, even in the middle of the roleplaying, is vitally important.2. Roleplaying requires a willingness to participate – Perhaps a husband wants to be the boss and have his wife pretend to be his secretary with a German accent. His wife should not worry about whether that makes sense, if she knows what a secretary does all day, or if she has any idea what a German accent sounds like. She should give it her best try and of course, have fun!3. Roleplaying requires honesty – The husband finds his new doctor very attractive so he gets his wife to pretend to be a doctor and tries to make the fantasy about his new doctor. This is NOT a situation in which roleplaying should be used, nor is it the purpose of roleplaying. The husband needs to be honest with himself about his motivations for the roleplaying. He may not need to tell his wife he is attracted to his doctor, but he definitely should not start a roleplaying session with the goal of thinking about anyone other than his wife. All sexual fantasy, including roleplaying, is just a tool that helps married couples increase their sexual pleasure with each other.4. Roleplaying requires not taking yourself too seriously – In a roleplaying session, the husband might pretend to be an airline pilot while the wife pretends to be a stewardess. Since neither of them have real airline clothing, they make do with what they have. His outfit leaves him looking more like a butler than an airline pilot which could lead him to cutting short the session out of embarrassment. Instead if he is able to play around and ignore the idea that he looks silly, he will probably end up having a great time.5. Roleplaying requires establishing rules – Similar to open communication, rules are important should something need to change or stop during a roleplaying session. This might be as simple as “no” means “no” or could be something that has been pre-arranged as in a certain stopping time for a specific situation. A couple should always stay where they are both comfortable even if a fantasy heads in an unplanned direction. Also, setting and timing need to be right (as with any sexual encounter). Perhaps a roleplaying scenario was planned for today and a wife comes home from a horrible day at work. A postponing may be in order. Again, the ultimate point of roleplaying is to have fun and enjoy each other.