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Blogs have been around for over five years, but corporations have only recently begun adopting them as a communication vehicle. A blog gives customers and shareholders insights into the company—plus, it gives the company a voice.

Obviously, a blog is not for every business. But many companies have been successful in using the blog as a marketing tool. What should companies consider when deciding whether a blog would benefit them? What benefits do companies enjoy when they pursue corporate blogs?

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This Week's Dilemma

Hopping on the blog train

Our business is medium-sized and offers a line of products. We're considering adding a blog to our marketing repertoire. However, we're not sure what things to consider in our decision-making process on whether or not to do a blog. We'd like to know about others' experiences and what topics to cover in the blog. Based on requests from customers and seeing what others do, I suggested we look into developing a marketing/media kit. I have done research, but it isn't clear what makes an effective kit and whether they should go to anyone else besides prospects. How do you decide whether or not a blog is right for your business?

—Abby, marketing manager

Previous Dilemma

Storming the gates to reach decision makers

I'm new to my job, in which I'm doing business-to-business (B2B) marketing to set up new accounts. Currently, I'm making face-to-face cold calls and use our competitive advantage of excellent pricing, as our prices are below average. The challenging part is getting past the gatekeeper to reach the decision makers. Also, I call decision makers to schedule an appointment, but have a hard time encouraging them to meet with me. How can I break through the gates and arrive face to face with the decision makers?

—Leigh, Account Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Leigh, one point many readers make is to focus on something other than pricing because it implies your product is a commodity. Some of the suggestions are similar to what applies to many types of marketing:

  1. Think of their needs.
  2. Treat the gatekeeper with respect.
  3. Get in touch in other ways.
  4. Use humor.

1. Think of their needs

The most popular response is to consider the needs of whom you're targeting. Marketing campaigns are about what the customer needs and how the product or service fulfills it.

Chris Barbee suggests that those impacted by the decision makers should be the next step:

Who does the "decision-maker" make decisions for? What is needed is...pressure from someone on the inside. An effective phone call to someone downstream from the decision maker will help apply pressure to find out who this person is, and what she has to offer.

Also, pricing isn't always going to get someone's attention; people need to see you as a solution to their problem(s). If price isn't the problem, the wall remains. Your introduction should make them want to meet with you. In your introduction, offer them several reasons why agreeing to meet would be a good idea. You're not meeting to sell something or gain a client, you're meeting to solve their problem(s).

Randy Hlavac, president at Marketing Synergy, shares one of the more effective ways to reach decision makers—offer valuable information to aid them in managing their business:

One strategy is the creation of vertical market newsletters and actively collecting email addresses using your contact information, your Web site, seminars and other customer/prospect touchpoints. These newsletters are designed to be a combination of articles, how-to white papers, new product information and industry news, which is sent to senior and company managers monthly, bi-monthly or quarterly. In each newsletter, we provide ways for the individual to interact with the company and actively encourage them to forward the newsletter "upstream" in the organization to get to the key decision makers.

By using internal and external news information and carefully structuring your newsletters to provide important content to make a decision maker's job easier (articles like "The X things to consider when evaluating Y product vendors"). You can maintain contact with them, and they will contact you through the Web site when they are ready to talk. It is just one of several strategies we have found effective in B2B prospecting.

Chris Jordan, who does business development at LANslide Integrations Services Inc., recommends focusing on strategy instead of pricing to talk to decision makers:

You will have to bring a solution that will help them in their roles. What will your lower prices do for them in their role to achieve their overall goals? What is the result to them of purchasing your product or service? Show this by explaining how you have helped other key decision makers successfully meet their goals.

"The challenge is to break through the clutter and get attention," says Tim Young, CEO of X-Sells:

The fact that you are leading with price means that your offering may be viewed as a commodity, and it is unlikely to resonate unless they are currently unhappy with the price of a competing solution. My suggestions:

  1. Figure out the pain point prospects may be facing that your solution can remedy. Can you save them money? If so, talk about how you can help them to immediately increase profits by reducing costs and increasing profitability. If you can help them to increase revenue, reposition the message accordingly.

  2. Since the prospects don't know you, lead with a reference story. Who else have you solved a similar problem for? For example, "This is Leigh with XYZ corp. Although we've never spoken before, my company has been helping Widget companies to reduce the cost of making widgets, resulting in increased profits, and I would like to share with you how." The goal is to share with them how others (like them) have been able to solve problems similar to what they face.

  3. Don't shy away from gatekeepers—embrace them. They are a part of life and perform a necessary task. If your message is crafted well, you will get through. Just treat them as a friend and ally. For example, if you reach the secretary of the VP of sales, wouldn't he have insight into the problems facing the VP of sales? Try to extract that, and help him to be a hero by finding a solution.

  4. You mentioned face-to-face calls. If you're doing that, stop, and use the phone. Much of this is a numbers game, and the phone is much more efficient. But it's not all a numbers game, as messaging and approach are important.

A reader says that leading with price may get your decision makers to perk up their ears, but at the end of the day you risk being seen as simply a commodity vendor with price as the sole differentiator. That's hardly a worthwhile "value proposition":

My advice is to do your homework. Doing your homework means researching the company, understand their business issues and have something of value to offer them other than price. Research the business needs of the target and then apply your product or service to their needs. If your research does not show that a target needs your product or service, then don't call them. It's a waste of your time and theirs.

It is possible that your company truly has a commodity product, and price is your only differentiator. Regardless, I think the need to do your homework applies even more in this instance as you surely have competitors that sell on price as well. If you've done your homework and understand the client's business issues, but your competitors are solely selling on price, you'll stand out that much more. It's tough to do your homework when you carry an immediate—sometimes daily—quota of placed calls to appointments made; however, understand the pain points of your target client.

A simple cursory view of the company's Web site, annual report and recent articles will help you understand their needs and how your product or service fits with those needs. Quality over quantity. As a B2B marketing manager, I'd rather be four for 12 on appointments to calls placed than four for 100. Less effort, same result.

2. Treat the gatekeeper with respect

Jonathan Ziegler, national account director with WorkforceLogic, suggests selling the benefits of your product:

Why lead with price? How about value? Does your product save time? Does it help your decision maker to spend less time in traffic? Does your value proposition make sense to your target audience? If you can make a reasonable effort to get this message across, your gatekeeper will HELP you get to the decision maker.

Try this: Face-to-Face: "I have a widget that can save decision maker at least four hours per week in telephone time—don't you agree that he might need to know about this?" That way the gatekeeper believes that he is helping you with the boss, and also makes more of an effort to let the "good" opportunity get in the door.

If you are calling, the goal is to figure out how to make your value proposition make sense in some other way—not just based on price. If you sell only price, but the truth is that your product also comes with a 100 percent ironclad guarantee for 10 years and your competitor does not offer that—then tout that! It makes prospects feel that much better about why they are buying your product, and they are more inclined to give you the time to present your product.

If all else fails, ask for help—tell the gatekeeper that you need his or her help to get your wonderful product in front of the decision maker and ask for a recommendation on how you can get there. I have had great success once I have asked for the gatekeeper's help.

John Piccirillo, COO of Mediathink, says, "Don't try to get past gatekeepers, you need to sell to them just like you would the decision maker. Gatekeepers' jobs are to say 'no.' Get them engaged and get them to get you on the decision-maker's calendar by convincing them you have value to give."

John Weeks, principal with JJ Associates, recommends being direct and calling or visiting the gatekeepers:

Tell them THEY are your most important contact in their company, and let them know you do not expect to meet the decision makers until they are sold. Let them know that you believe you can (place your door-opener here: could be save $200,000 in first year, or save 30 days in going to market). Leave behind your top line summary findings in an executive summary format.

Give them a reason to believe you did your homework by having some facts about their company or, better yet, their competition. Tell gatekeepers you respect their time and the decision maker's time. Ask that the summary be passed on and ask for a 15-minute slot. Be gracious, thankful and leave. Call and ask if there are any questions. Call again... call again. If it looks like the executive summary was not passed on, I take the tack that the gatekeeper is too busy, and I go direct.

John Ten Brink, marketing director with The Cochlan Group, Inc., indicates that this is a two-part problem—getting past the gatekeeper, and scheduling appointments with decision makers:

To combat the first hurdle, I try to make gatekeepers feel important right from the start by announcing their name and including them in as much of the equation as possible. This approach allows them to become part of something larger than their gatekeeper role.

Jumping the second hurdle is trickier and requires research. Uncover a hot button and quantify that hot button in the initial opener by stating how your product/service can save them time, money or both. Parlay that quantifier utilizing the company's financial data (if you can get it); you've not only centered on something top-of-mind to the decision maker, but you have also allowed yourself to step out of the ring as a cold-caller and enter as a true business consultant interested in meeting their needs.

3. Get in touch in other ways

"Trying taking the cold from the call," says Brian Leaning-Mizen, success coach at Mind Synergy. "Send a pre-approach letter briefly stating why executives 'must' see you. Tell them in advance to expect your call, and when you call sell the appointment, not your deal. Ideally, send eight to ten letters per day, then call a couple of days later, 'as promised.' This process works for many of my clients."

Dale Morris, account manager, says that if the product or service is competitive on quality, price or unique proposition, you should have no trouble:

Try sending price lists, catalogues, samples, and trial offers, but leave the door open to contact them in future. For example, "I am pleased to submit our pricing for your review. I will be in contact with you in the near future and would appreciate your feedback or should you need any clarification on any item on offer please contact me on..." They then have an expectation of you making contact and going over your proposal when you do touch base. Or trying networking through contacts from their other suppliers who may already be doing business with them (not your competitors).

4. Use humor

While humor can help build a relationship, when using it ensure that it's appropriate and won't cause trouble. Witold Zalewski, executive board member with Oppen Expo, uses an unusual approach that works:

Pretend that you are the doctor calling with the latest test results for the boss. When you reach the decision-maker, apologize and say this was the only way to get beyond the gatekeeper. I have used this ruse couple of times with much success. The trick is to be humorous when you apologize.

David Szczepanik, account manager with ICC The Compliance Center, says gatekeepers are people, too:

Treat them with respect, use humor on the phone, but most of all, position your products and services into a value proposition from which she (yes, most are female) can benefit, that is, look like a hero (for "discovering" you). This approach works for top managers, too, because they are interested in two issues: lowering costs and increasing revenues.

With these decision makers you must talk using specifics. They love it when you can quantify your results (e.g., help raise revenues in the southeast by 12% in the first year). Another important tack that works is using graphs and charts whenever possible.

Giving the gatekeeper the royal treatment could earn you points in reaching the decision maker. Like any other marketing plan, research the target market and their needs so you can show how your product or service meets those needs. Humor often helps, and exploring other routes works well, too.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.