Noelle Paschon has one of the toughest jobs a B-to-B marketer can have. As VP Marketing for ShareMax, a strategic procurement service, she has to get the attention of the highest-level executives at the “Global 2000” -- the world’s 2,000 biggest companies. And no, she doesn’t have a budget in the hundreds of millions or a famous name brand. How is she succeeding? We called her up to find out.
Q: What’s the biggest challenge in marketing to big business online these days?
Paschon: There’s a ton of clutter out there. B-to-B marketing spending is up so you need to differentiate yourself in some way. You have to be clear, concise and simple -- and have SAME message throughout all methods of communication.
Our sell is tougher than B2C reaching females 24-30. We are going after CEOs, CPOs, and CIOs. We make a very focused effort for each -- each one of those has a different need set.
Q: Can you close a sale to these guys online?
Paschon: Our goal in marketing is not: ‘Here’s a marketing piece and we want you to sign up today!’ The goal is to get business development people in the door to make a presentation. Our marketing is driven by two major strategies:
1) Education: a very clear concise message about how our platform can help them or enabled them. I see competitive ads running every day and, to be perfectly honest, based on their ads I sometimes don’t know what they do, because there’s so much clutter and they don’t differentiate themselves!
It’s about the building blocks of basic marketing -- having one clear, simple message so people understand what it is; and making sure you differentiate yourself. You start with that strong foundation and build up.
2) Awareness: there are 12 B-to-B companies popping up a week; and, there’s a lot of confusion about who’s going to be around tomorrow. So we need to build credibility with prospects. They want to know they’ve heard of you before. For that we use a combination of mass advertising, targeted ads by vertical and our VCs also help with personal introductions to their contacts.
Q: We’ve heard from some marketers it can be hard to find a great B-to-B agency that also understands online marketing. Who do you use and how you pick them?
Paschon: Not a New York firm. We use Williams Randall out of Indiana. We wanted to be a big fish in a small pond with an agency who understood B-to-B ; could fashion clear concise messages; and wanted results versus awards.
Partnership was number one for us -- we wanted an agency who would share ideas and communicate well. Being in Indiana hasn’t been an issue with email. We’re a big fish for them and they are very glad to help us in any way they can. I’ve interviewed large, mid-size and small agencies, and these guys hit the bill.
Q: What specific types of marketing are you doing online?
Paschon: We are looking into email marketing but in a unique way. I get random emails every day and it drives me nuts! It’s garbage, it’s NOT the new direct mail. It’s like giving me a phone call at home during dinner to sell me something. At the CEO level, how much time do they have to read through all of their email anyway? So today with the current way businesses use it, it’s not the right way to market to them.
We are doing banner ads with very clear and concise messages. The goal is to ask a question about something they may need: “How would you like to optimize your supplier relationships?” Very targeted vertical sites give you a better click rate but sometimes those sites are very expensive.
Q: How about online PR?
Paschon: We just hired The MWW Group. We went through an exhaustive search -- reviewed about 15 firms over two and a half months. Everything from a major publicly traded company to a local New Jersey firm with 12 people in an office park off the highway.
We wanted a firm with B-to-B experience, someone who may not know our space specifically but would be willing and enthusiastic about learning. We also wanted a true sense of honesty with what can and cannot be delivered. And lastly it’s about that communication partnership and strategy. I needed top level organization who understand what strategy is versus a 90-day plan, and who can also handle execution.
It wasn’t about winning the Silver Anvil. It wasn’t about “let me tell you how quickly I can help you IPO.” We’re trying to create an sustainable business not IPO -- but out of those 15 we talked with, 14 told us how quickly they could get us up there to IPO.
The biggest eye-opener for me was that PR’s a sellers’ market. I had to present to them to get them interested. It’s very, very competitive for tech firms and start-ups. We were auditioning -- not them!
Q: Prior to ShareMax you came from a B2C background, was it a hard transition?
Paschon: Honestly it wasn’t hard. It was little scary because you have all these people with different theories. I was with Nabisco and Pepsi and they gave me such great building blocks. I understand what the true need is, what the value proposition of the product is. Staying true to fundamentals is not different from B2C to B-to-B although the war chest of tactics and amount of dollars you spend is different.
Q: How can you tell when you’re interviewing someone for a marketing job if they’ll be any good or not?
Paschon: I ask them do you understand the difference between strategy and tactics? Do you have the enthusiasm and passion to learn? If you’re willing to roll up your sleeves and drive in, you’ll do well. Part of growing a company is all about learning and exploring.
It’s not just about B-to-B -- it’s about creating a company and hopefully an institution.
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