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According to a recent survey by BtoB Magazine and Rainmaker Systems, 58% of B2B marketers report an increase for their companies’ involvement in e-commerce. Perhaps you, too, are considering this online means to increase sales. But for those who aren’t, you can still take advantage of what B2C companies who are using e-commerce have learned to improve your sales and marketing efforts.

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While the calendar says we’re just over a third of the way through summer, and the ever-rising mercury makes us feel we’re well into the middle of the season, newspaper circulars, magazine editorials and TV commercials already have us looking into fall.

It’s hard to believe that family vacations, swimsuits and fireworks will soon be traded for football games, long-sleeve shirts and falling leaves. And, of course, lazy days for school days.

Traditional school days may be behind most of us, but effective B2B marketers understand the importance “education” plays in successful product and service promotion.

Sales teams need to be equipped with information and tools that help them understand marketplace needs and position the benefits of their solutions. Distributors and other channel partners need to be as intimately familiar with offerings as a company’s direct sales force. And customers oftentimes need to be informed on how best to leverage a product or service.

One approach to delivering this education is through a variety of digital means, such as:

  • online universities for your direct and indirect sales forces, as well as customer service personnel
  • training videos posted within your website or YouTube channel, and then distributed through email communications
  • white papers and technical articles featured within relevant vertical online communities and information resources
  • digital presentations included on microsites linked to direct marketing initiatives

I’d love to hear what you’re doing to keep internal and external audiences “in school” on your products and services.

Is it better to be the market leader, innovating to stay ahead of competitors — and perhaps even the marketplace itself? Or, are those companies with follower strategies in a stronger position for success when the risk of an innovative new product or service introduction is largely borne by the leaders?

A recent business book review in TIME Magazine highlights two authors’ separate answers to this question and got me thinking about our own clients’ approaches. (Read the full TIME Magazine article.)

While I’ve never asked this question outright, in looking at our clients’ product and service portfolios, it appears that many employ a combination of innovation and imitation, and are successful, in part, because of such a strategy.

Sometimes, this innovation comes in the form of a truly “game changing” offering. Businesses with a disciplined approach to creating a new experience for their customers or answering a problem in a wholly unique way can enjoy real distinction in their marketplace — translating not only into a sound leadership position but better bottom lines.

Other times, companies introducing follow-up products and services have an opportunity to improve upon the innovator’s offering. While first-to-market is an enviable position, leveraging insights from a market leader’s success — or failure — can also deliver benefits within an existing marketplace or adjacent ones.

And, of course, there are often “me-too” products and services in a business’ portfolio that are offered to provide customers one stop to meet their needs. These “me-too” products, however, don’t dominate the offering for those companies who understand how important differentiation can be to long-term business success.

So, to innovate or imitate? The answer may lie in a balance of both for your business, too.

NBC’s experiment with primetime television begins tonight at 10 pm, with the premier of “The Jay Leno Show.” With the 10 pm time slot typically reserved for dramas — a least on the broadcast networks — NBC is forging new territory with this nightly primetime comedy/variety show.

If we take a look at some of the reasons why NBC is taking what many deem a risk, there are some lessons for us (B2B marketers).

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You know whitepapers offer a number of benefits. They can help you: establish thought leadership, position your company as a valuable resource, provide education, and/or deliver a business case. They can also be an effective tool in demand generation programs, offering a “safe” entry point for prospects to begin to engage with you.

But how do you write a whitepaper that will deliver?

I came across this article many months ago and think it offers great advice. I wanted to share it. Here are the highlights:

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We all know that content is king. For B2B marketers, it’s especially true.

Good B2B marketing content can help to draw potential buyers through the ever-lengthening buying cycle. And allow them to do so on their own terms.

But how can you ensure you are delivering relevant and valuable content? Content that will (hopefully) ultimately drive potential buyers to action with you?

Here are 5 pitfalls to avoid when developing marketing content:

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You’ve been working on your new product or service for months. Or maybe years. You’re really excited about it, and want to tell the whole world about every last feature you packed into your new offering.

The problem is that customers don’t buy features. They buy benefits. They buy answers to their problems. So how do you show them what they want to know?

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How do you shorten sales cycles? Simple: be where your customers are looking. MarketingSherpa recently investigated how decision makers and influencers get information about products and services, and their findings show that customers are looking in different places than before – which has important implications for marketers.

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