All posts by Dave J.

B2B Extortion, the big company way

Big companies have big money, and that is especially apparent to small companies. Big companies know this and like to ‘lean’ on small companies. We all have war stories to tell of orders accepted under duress, to say the least.

Sometimes big companies take it farther and make up their own rules to suit their interests. Today is just such a day for our company, and I wanted to tell you about it.

A large aerospace/electronics customer of ours has decided to outsource vendor qualification and maintenance, especially for on-site contract services.  The amount of service work we do with this company is minimal (I’d guess 5-10 calls a year), as we only install and/or maintain what we manufacture. Over the years we’ve had to have our technicians take safety classes, or drug tests before they can work in a facility. It’s a pain, but we comply.

Now this third party steps in to keep track of insurance, certifications, and compliance to their rules. One might say it is some perversion of a union. And what do unions need to run? Dues.

Yes we have to pay this third party for the privilege of servicing our equipment at our customer’s site. Not to mention all the hoops they have for certifying us, as well. How much do we have to pay? $3,500 a year, plus $500 set-up fee. The fee is based on the size of our company, and not the amount of business we do with the customer.

Are you kidding me? This third party benefits the ‘hiring company’, not us, the ‘hirees’, yet we are the ones who have to pay.  Especially for us, while the equipment we sell may justify the initial $4K fee, the actual contract service work we do cannot. And if they expect us to do all the service work while they keep the equipment for ten years, the fees will add up significantly.

Honestly, if it wasn’t for the onerous fee, I might think this was a helpful ‘web 2.0′ service to streamline everything (their website even looks 2.0-ish). But the third party gave the big company the price of ‘free’ and pushed the cost to us poor schmucks who need the big company’s business.

Our salesperson is going to plead our case with the purchasing person enforcing this service. I’m sure she’s heard the whining before and won’t be able to do anything about it anyway.

 

Selling cars like selling B2B?

car-guyAt the end of 2013, NPR program This American Life ran a show  called Cars that followed the inside life of a new car dealer. It focused on their specific challenge of meeting a monthly quota by whatever means necessary.

We aren’t as intense on the quotas, I think, but all the drama kept reminding me of B2B sales. The all important deal-tracking board, the sales that fall thru, salespeople who are golden (or suck), managers managing (good or bad).  And the families who live with the demands of sales, too.

It was an episode of ‘This American Life’ that did exactly what their name says, capture a slice of American Life, our collective lives.

BtoB Magazine fizzles, newsletter remains

Another trade pub doesn’t quite die, I’d say it fizzles:

BtoB will go digital-only beginning Jan. 1, featuring daily online b2b news and a dedicated e-newsletter as part of the previously announced merger of BtoB and Advertising Age.
– via BtoB to go all-digital as part of Ad Age | B2B Management Reorganization.

Is there much to say about this? Yea, there is:

1. First off, I’ve been throwing away the Advertising Age magazines they’ve been sending me. Absolutely not relevant to me.

2. Can we assume that as B2B marketers like myself have been able to get along without trade publication advertising, so to the coverage that BtoB used to offer isn’t as relevant. And their repeated features of listing top agencies, etc. aren’t that useful when you can Google around to find services if you need them.

3. BtoB tended to spend too much time covering high-end campaigns that are called business-to-business, but are advertised much like business-to-consumer, such as FedEx and UPS. But that’s where the action and money was.

4. There are just too many small operations like myself that find the content of BtoB Magazine interesting, but not spending enough money to entice the advertisers.

5. Look at that link, you’ll see no comments posted complaining of the loss of a, what, 75 year old publication.

I will say that the BtoB Newsletter seems pretty robust, and I am hopeful that it stays. Let’s see if Ad Age can stick with the B2B market coverage like they promised in the above news release.

Fun: Here is a post from the first year of B2Blog referencing an article from BtoB Magazine’s newsletter.

Would you go to this trade show?

I’ve gotten a few emails from this show promoter this year. Well written, honest, persuasive copy. But would I book this show? No. There is some magic missing, marketing magic, I think. If the booking promotion is missing that magic, the attendee promotion will also be missing that magic.

Here it is with the show name and city redacted:

The First Industry Wide All Inclusive Affordable Event in *Bigtown*!

Hello Exhibitors,

Many Exhibitors told us they schedule their tradeshow participation in late November and December. We were asked to send an industry reminder in late November. If you have not reserved your booth as yet please do so now!

The *Bigtime* Expos is the industry leader that delivers a paramount event that is the most affordable. We keep our word and our 2014 event is just $16 per foot. Our price is about ½ the cost of the other shows and we expect to deliver more qualified attendees. We believe you come to a tradeshow to make money, increase your brand awareness and protect your market share. We are dedicated to helping you achieve your goals and our prices is just part of how we will help you.

Our mission is to enable your success. We devote ourselves completely to this mission and we will leave no stone unturned. When you succeed we succeed. We listen to your concerns and interests and in return, we hope they will make a mutual commitment to us. We work hard to gain your trust.
Ask yourselves:

  1. Do you mind paying $30.00 or more per square foot for Association tradeshows?
  2. Would you rather pay less (about ½) and get similar or better results?
  3. Are you tired of the other high costs besides the floor space associated with exhibiting?
  4. Why are Association shows charging you so much?
  5. Have the association shows forgotten their function is to help the industry and members?
  6. Do you want a better deal?
  7. Want to meet new qualified buying attendees?

The *Bigtime* Expos was started as the first all inclusive affordable meeting event for the entire industry in *Bigtown*. We want to make the *Bigtime* Expos the main event for the industry and we hope our super saver low prices will be the deciding factor to have you participate. We have done our part to make our expo the must attend, all inclusive, industry wide event and we hope you will do your part and join us in 2014 and the future.

A win, win for the industry. Exhibiting in the *Bigtime* Expos is in your best interest. By exhibiting you send a clear message to the other shows. When they see most are exhibiting we suspect they will decide they must also lower their rates to be competitive with our event. They do not want to lose participation and since they already appear to follow what we do they most likely will lower their price saving the industry big money.

If you want these super low prices it is imperative you exhibit or it will be business as usual. We are confident without our super low prices the only way they would change their prices would be to increase them. As I hope you agree it is the smart decision to exhibit at *Bigtime* Expos!

Note: No Union problems in *Bigtown* with our event. As long as you use your employees you may assemble and remove your own booth.

We expect 20,000+ Attendees! *Bigtime* Expos is the Media Event and Industry Meeting Expo not to be missed. If you will trust us we believe your results will more than meet your expectations and you’ll be looking forward to participating for years to come. We hope you will select the 2014 *Bigtime* Expos

There, it’s missing magic, I can’t tell you what, but it is so obvious. If I showed you the show logo, it would confirm that feeling, but even without it the text just lingers … and not in a good way. Could this event be saved with some big-time magical marketing? How does one build from nothing to something effectively?

What is your reaction?

Tradeshow traffic getting leaner?

At EDN‘s blog, this picture and post about a recent trade show:

I heard a rumor about a customer wondering around somewhere, but nobody could confirm it. Ok, that’s an exaggeration….sort of.

Chicago show last week

Ouch! Luke Schreier at EDN goes on to ponder the fate of shows for his/our industry, along these lines:

Clearly, the way the average engineer finds out about a new multimeter or oscilloscope has changed since 1998 (to say the least). The parallel might be akin to how weird it’s always felt for me to watch the work environment outlined in the AMC television series Mad Men, which is set in the 1960s. Seeing a workspace without a computer on it blows my mind much more than the “three-martini” lunches in that show. In this day and age, who wouldn’t go directly to the internet and search for “multimeter” instead of waiting months for the next big vendor exhibition to kick the tires?

My sales guy for a show last week was a little more specific, sending me this picture and comment:

Bottom line is I doubt if we get any good leads and making a sale based on a lead I would give a less than 10% chance. But all of the competition is attending, so do we go just to show the company banner??

Note the guy to the right yawning.

Note the guy to the right yawning.

So what is the B2Blog wisdom on this? We may have a problem.

Once of my favorite shows last year underperformed. This is a show we did gang-busters in the pit of despair that was 2009. I thought maybe it was a fluke, maybe we didn’t bring our A game. But if I start looking for a trend, maybe shows are waning more than we’d like to think, faster than we’d expect so late in the information revolution.

Unfortunately, that may leave it up to us company marketing wonks to develop our own events, as the human connection is so hugely valuable to business. Ugh. Something else neither myself or my company do well, if at all. Sigh.

IQS goes after Google, now that takes some (patent)

Well, I’ve heard it suggested before from Mike Meiresonne (owner of IQS), but now I see he’s serious: Industrial Quick Search is suing Google over a patent infringement.

IQS’s business directories are pretty simple, showing paid advertisers in a list, essentially unchanged since the early 2000s (just like those Classmates pop-ups at the Mlive.com link above). The important thing is that when you roll over a company listing, you see a ‘preview ad’ on the side. This roll-over preview effect is what Meiresonne has a patent on.

The “Supplier Identification and Locator System and Method” patent governs the display of advertisements or directory listings when an Internet user hovers the computer mouse over a company name.

I know IQS’s rival ThomasNet copied this for a while, and Google was doing roll-over previews of websites in their organic search around 2009. As far as I can tell, neither is doing this right now. But a past violation of a patent is still a violation. At least IQS isn’t a patent troll, they actually use what they have a patent for.

“One of the interesting things about this invention is that you don’t need a Ph.D to understand it,” said Abbatt. “So many people can readily go online see what it does, and if you follow the text of the patent, you can see what we’re talking about.”

So while the directory business continues to be marginalized by the rest of the internet, it may be as good a time as any to take on the obvious winner for some chump change in the ‘Google rules, directories drool’ battle, as I nicknamed it eight years ago.

(Interestingly, I found this news in MLive, our local newspaper website, since IQS and B2Blog are in the same region. Googling about the suit, I find very little posted about it elsewhere. Either software lawsuits are too boring or commonplace to garner it being truly newsworthy.)

Is paperless B2B marketing possible?

B2B literature pile

A pile of opportunity … or a pile of waste?

I’ve invested a lot of work in the last five plus years developing quality brochures for our company and products. I have a fine appreciation now of how hard it is to concisely bring tons of information and messages into a complete whole. So while everyone has been charging forward with ‘the next thing’, I’ve been going old-school.

Can you call brochures old school, though? As PDFs they serve a functional purpose living online or as an email attachment, arguably more useful than any webpage could. PDFs have the additional value to us marketers as being easy to update.

With paper, literature is just a normal functional part of sales calls, prospecting, trade shows, and image building. Ubiquitous enough to be almost invisible. Useful despite a world of screens and intertubes.

We’ve kind of hit a tipping point, where the usage of PDFs seems more significant and dynamic than the printed version of the brochure. At least for marketers, anyway. What about the prospects and salespeople:

  • Do customers want PDFs, or printed literature, or both?
  • Do salespeople find handing literature out as a successful procedure?
  • Do the people who actually buy ever see the literature (in either form)?

The challenge

Our company president doesn’t like literature. If a visiting salesperson gives him literature, he will give it back. Or throw it away. He’s an engineer, and our customers are mostly engineers, so he ascribes his behavior with our customer’s behavior (or at least their desires).

I’ve faced this question from him before, but this time it was a challenge:

  • Why are you asking me to pay to print literature that the prospects are ultimately just going to throw away. Or it will be outdated before it is ever handed out.

Isn’t there a better way to spend the money that is going to be more useful and valuable for our marketing? Can PDFs (or other content) be a better substitute if salespeople are given the tools and training to present them to prospects correctly?

I’ve got a thick skin

I generally disagree with the idea of going paperless, it just seems crazy. Even at the suggestion of printing only our main brochure and going paperless otherwise, the president balked. I thought it sounded like a reasonable compromise.

At the very least, I’ve got to do my homework about alternative solutions and agree on a plan before we run off and print anything. I’ve got a thick skin, and after shaking it off, will agree that it is a worthwhile process to investigate and possibly rebuild how we make and distribute marketing materials.

So while everyone in the b2b-marketing-blogoshere is talking about the next thing, I’m going back even farther than being old-school … I’m starting from scratch. The good news is that it will get us ahead and into the future.

Comments and ideas, folks? I need your input on this, please.

Death spiral of a B2B trade pub, 2013 style

Even before the Internet, our industry had a tenuous relationship with trade magazines. Advertising was expensive, and our companies were all a bit too small to afford spending what we needed to. At one point, one of our competitors even ran a full page “we’ll shoot this guy if we don’t get enough inquiries” ad, just before I got hired. It is a thing of legend, that I wish I had a copy of.

There were two magazines that covered ‘test equipment’ reliably, EE and T&MW. EE was always the second fiddle. As soon as I and my contemporaries got a handle on having a website, we stopped any advertising in these magazines. But those with bigger budgets and new products to tout kept using these publications for 15 years.

Then the death spiral started … for T&MW.

(I’m skipping discussing ownership of the pubs, as it is hard to follow and less relevant to the actual results.)

The first big event two years ago, was the defection of the senior editor of T&MW to EE. I don’t know the insides of this, but certainly he was important to both readers and advertisers. Both magazines suffered from this, I think: EE hasn’t taken advantage of his editorial prowess, and T&MW never filled his shoes.

Then, in a simple email last year, we subscribers and advertisers learned that T&MW was going to be online-only. Bam! No more print. I have two guesses about this: A major advertiser, Agilent, pulled out; or owners were being pragmatic and forward looking. There seemed to be a pretty interesting attempt at changing the editorial process into something like popular tech blogs run these days. For me, as a casual reader, this ended my consumption of their content. Email newsletter updates came pretty much as they had before, and the RSS feed of their blogs languished.

Now, just recently, the owners of T&MW have announced a reorganization of their trade pubs, once again focusing on online content. And in that re-org, T&MW was getting cut out. Bam! No more T&MW.

My thoughts?

Certainly it is a shame to lose a source of quality editorial for testing professionals. They did a good job revamping the magazine in the mid-2000s to get in the field and tell the stories of what others are doing to be successful in testing.

And, based on EE’s thin issues, you’ve got to wonder when they’ll be dropping out of the picture.

While some companies are working on good content-marketing programs that fill the gap and are more effective for themselves, where is the public discourse and discussion of successful application of technology and techniques?

I don’t care about advertising where ever that is, I care that it exists to further achievements of industry. The internet has moved technology and society so far so fast, yet there are casualties along the way the actually slow the advances, and losing a major trade pub is one of them.

UPDATE (6/28/2013): Here is their post announcing the change to their readers.

Slowing down the sale with roadblocks

I market capital equipment. But as a marketer, I’m a consumer of B2B services. Software especially. While there are very limited choices about selling equipment, services are infinitely flexible. Here are some examples I’ve been dealing with

  • CRM software has concurrent licenses, which controls the number of logged-in users, but gets less flexible once you get to remote users.
  • Online “cloud” service that is strictly ‘per user’, that causes me to artificially restrict users to the most active on our sales team. 
  • Adobe Creative Suite upgrade that costs nearly as much as our original purchase. And bonus now nearly requires a monthly maintenance fee. 
  • Free Angry Birds app that has clumsy ads instead of trying to get me hooked first, and trying to get me to pay for the app.
  • Software that charges a premium for vague added value, such as phone support. Well, vague value until you need it.
  • Microsoft Office tiering of license value by business or student user, or by number of applications.
  • Being sold on the ‘monthly’ rate when really you want me to subscribe by the year.

You see, the problem is that I can sell one of our units, and the customer can share it with others in the company, let their brother-in-law borrow it, customize it, or let it sit unused.

My biggest problem with buying software/services is that I have to make some decision on value per each user, while I really want to make a decision based on value to the company. Why doesn’t our service techs have access to our ERP or CRM customer database to look up phone numbers and addresses? Because it would cost nearly $1K each. Or why aren’t we using the latest Adobe Suite? Because we aren’t power users at an agency, or folks doing cutting edge design.

Now maybe I’m being cheap. I should just roll that cost in along with the power users for an average value to the company. But wouldn’t it be nicer to spend that $1K on the service tech for something of greater functional value?

For our salespeople the biggest hump to get the customer over is ensuring they have proper utilities and space for our equipment. This can be painful for large or powerful systems, costing as much as the unit itself in some cases. I have no sales process for this, no supporting literature. (I probably should work on this.)

In the same way software salespeople must pull teeth when asking ‘how many users’. How many users I’d like to have the software, or how many will I likely cut it down to. Again, they have no sales process, no way to make it easier. But software could be flexible on licensing and just cut past this roadblock. It would make my life easier and make the sale faster.

Now I know that some roadblocks can be profitable, I’m just saying that they can diminish the value of the product.