Navel gazing doesn’t come intuitively to business-to-business firms, but perhaps it should: A good, hard, introspective look at itself – augmented by voice of customers and prospects research – was key in Hoover’s Inc.’s refining its marketing message.
This was not a feel-good exercise. “With everything going into social media, the world is becoming more outside in than inside out,” says James Rogers, vice president of marketing at Hoover’s. “It used to be you could design what you wanted your brand to be, and then you’d promote it.”
No longer. Customers and prospects have an ever-increasing number of channels for setting a brand’s reputation, and many of these are outside the control of the marketer. “To be effective in the marketplace, you have to have [an outsiders’ perception of the brand] as a point of reference,” Rogers says. “From that you decide if it is good, and whether you are going to more effectively position to it.”
A brand with a negative perception has an even greater challenge. Changing how a brand is viewed isn’t about ratcheting up the volume of what a marketer would like the image to be. “You have to make wholesale changes in the organization, practices, features, capability and pricing,” Rogers says. “You have to do a strong self-examination reading of what you are going to do to change that market perception.”
Hoover’s was lucky in this regard. Hansa Marketing Services conducted an extensive internal and external canvass, which included staff interviews, listening in on sales and inquiry calls and interviews with customers and individuals who fit customer profiles but weren’t currently engaging Hoover’s. By and large, the review found that Hoover’s was held in high regard.
But it also unearthed a new tack for its marketing. In response to questions about doing research through Google as opposed to using Hoover’s offerings, people said the former method included time wasted in chasing down leads and business information. “Customers said they get lost,” says Roy Wollen, president of Hansa. “It’s not a structured process. They get bogged down.”
The theme of making obtaining information easier came up again and again. Hansa married this finding with the seven customer segments that make up Hoover’s sales base. (Rogers offers four of them—sales and marketing executives, researchers and small businesses—which are readily apparent by viewing the company’s home page, but prefers to keep three under the radar.)
Within each of these, Hoover’s has broken how customers use the company’s business information into discrete steps. For each step—targeting a market, finding individuals within the market, qualifying leads, finding decision makers and sales presentation preparation, among others—the company now applies a version of the tag line “We make it easier” to all of its collateral.
This approach has resulted in Hoover’s increasing its inquiry-to-sales conversion rate by 20%. Additionally, average sales levels per order have bumped up by 30%, e-commerce revenue has risen 12%, and inbound phone leads and leads generated by online chat have jumped by 50% and 60%, respectively.
It has achieved all this without significantly increasing the flow of leads into its sales pipeline, meaning that while the quantity of people it attracts to its Web site, or contact center, hasn’t changed, they come into the pipeline much more likely to become Hoover’s customers, Rogers says.