Common B2B Challenges and How To Solve Them

From long sales cycles to trying to stand out from the sea of sameness, B2B companies face an uphill battle from the start. While thousands of B2B organizations struggle, plenty are able to develop long-term success. So what does it take? I recently surveyed and interviewed over 200+ B2B executives, marketing & sales leaders to […]

The post Common B2B Challenges and How To Solve Them appeared first on CXL.

From long sales cycles to trying to stand out from the sea of sameness, B2B companies face an uphill battle from the start. While thousands of B2B organizations struggle, plenty are able to develop long-term success. So what does it take?

I recently surveyed and interviewed over 200+ B2B executives, marketing & sales leaders to find out exactly what challenges they currently face and what they are doing to overcome them.

In this article, I’ll share what I’ve learned and detail the exact steps you should take to put yourself in a position to succeed.

Let’s dive in.

Common B2B marketing challenges

Last September (2020), six months after the 1st lockdown, my co-founder Vladimir Blagojevic and I decided to run market research to figure out what challenges B2B companies face and how they solve them.

Not only were we curious as to how COVID impacted business as usual, we also wanted to know if there were any patterns that would likely remain even after life eventually returned to normal. 

At the time we were planning a workshop for B2B tech startups from the IMEC accelerator (Ghent, Belgium) and had a chance to interview many of the companies that had signed up.

No surprise, during this time, many B2B businesses were struggling to adjust to a world without physical events. 

And while this was a good start, a significant position of these companies were early-stage startups. To have a comprehensive view, we also wanted to discover the challenges faced by more mature B2B companies as well.  To do this we partnered with the RevGenius community to get a better understanding the challenges mature companies faced. 

Through surveying 136 B2B tech companies and interviewing our owncustomers, we identified the main marketing challenges B2B companies face, as follows:

Here were the 5 key takeaways from our research. 

  • Canceled events and tradeshows increased the focus on outbound activities. Many respondents stated that it’s hard to get people to respond amidst “the flood of COVID-driven desperate marketing attempts by everybody”. Since COVID started the number of spam emails and LinkedIn messages increased (doubled at least). One of the respondents said they called it a “Desperate marketing attempt—everybody just tries to book a meeting, try to generate sales qualified opportunities and they don’t have results.”
  • Sales cycle length increased. Buyers became more critical due to a reduction in reosurces and as a result the entire process started to involve more people ultimately taking longer to close. 
  • Content blindness. In addition, a large amount of respondents stated that it’s extremely hard to generate targeted traffic or motivate accounts to show up to their events because of the oversupply of webinars & online content. Their target accounts simply ignored all of this low-quality content’s attempts to grab their attention, because surprise, surprise, everyone was doing it.
  • MQL cost significantly increased. Our findings also suggested, marketing-qualified leads didn’t always convert to sales opportunities as expected.
  • Companies experience a high churn rate because of bad product adoption. Many customers think about the solution or service as a fancy add-on, but not as a part of operational processes.  

While some of these challenges certainly were likely the direct result of COVID, many of the issues faced occurred before COVID, and will likely continue after.

The next step in our research was talking to customers of our company Fullfunnel.io and identifying the most common mistakes that lead to these challenges and the “ROI taxes” B2B companies pay because of them.

Here is a list of the seven most common B2B marketing mistakes based on our research.

  1. One-size-fits all approach, such as sending mass messages with minimal personalization; 
  2. Prospecting the decision-makers only;
  3. Broad market targeting; 
  4. Absence of market positioning and a unique value proposition; 
  5. Lack of warm-up programs (reaching outcall to their prospects);
  6. Lack of nurturing programs (this is critical because, in every B2B market, most target accounts are not sales-ready);
  7. Lack of creativity and effort. 

You can read the detailed overview of every mistake in the research we published at RevGenius magazine

Once we had a clear picture of the challenges B2B companies faced, we went to work figuring out how the most successful of thse companies were working to solve them. 

The 80/20 principle is still alive and well 

Recently we decided to narrow down our focus at Fullfunnel.io. 

Instead of providing B2B marketing consulting to a broad B2B market we decided to focus just on 2 segments: B2B tech and service-based companies with long and complex sales cycles. 

Because of COVID, some of  our clients’ projects were stopped or paused, so we needed to optimize our resources and continue to grow the pipeline. In any business, focusing on the few core things that will move the needle is critical, but it’s often challenging to discover what those are. 

After analysing our case studies and CRM, we saw that 73% of total revenue came from these two segments. Our research showed that LTV was much higher compared to other verticals we have worked in the past which made the decision to change our approach a no-brainer. 

This shift required us to change our marketing positioning and unique value proposition, as well as adjust our copy and marketing message, but the initial work ended up being worth it. 

In the first quarter of 2020 we grew our revenue by 50% and were able to double revenue compared to 2019, significantly decreasing the sales cycle length and growing the ACV—all the while the world faced the consuqneces of a pandemic. 

Our next step was defining an ideal customer profile and setting up clear qualification and disqualification criteria.

This process helped us define accounts with the highest revenue potential which we then ran highly perosnalized campaigns to. Customers with the lowest revenue received automated nuturusing sequences that required significantly less effort up front. 

Our example of narrowing down focus and tailoring positioning wasn’t unique.

In 2020 we applied the same approach to two of our customers: idronect (software to manage drone businesses) and Opsfleet (software development company).

Idronect had the challenge of converting free trial users to paid customers, and the sales cycle was long.

As a part of narrowing down the focus, we redefined their targeting, identified the most profitable market segment, and updated product positioning based on the interviews with clients from that segment.

Two months later they secured five new deals each worth five times more than customers they were struggling to close before, and won a new investment round. 

With Opsfleet, the situation was critical as they provide a commodity service (software development) and have signifcant competition.

Here is what their founder Leo Mirsky told us in the early beginning of the collaboration:

Marketing was a mystery to us. We were getting referrals, and our company was slowly growing, but we didn’t feel confident that our pipeline won’t dry up at any moment. We were also positioned as experts in a specific technology, and as time passed, this space became more and more commoditized.

We continued to narrow down the focus and repositioned the company by adjusting their marketing strategy and value proposition. 

Their new narrow positioning was: “Outsourced DevOps teams as a service for growing SaaS startups who use Kubernetes and Terraform platforms”.

Even without launching new lead generation campaigns, we were able to activate “frozen deals” from their pipeline.

As a result, they were able to grow MRR by 50% in 6 months. 

Of course, the 80/20 principle is not limited to strategic choices. It also involves knowing which acitivies you should focus on.

For Fullfunnel.io, there were three key activities that brought the highest ROI for us: LinkedIn demand generation, publishing new detailed case studies, and webinars.

I decided to make LinkedIn demand generation my key weekly pillar activity (check Brian Margolis’s book if you are not familiar with the concept) that included:

  • 5 posts per week;
  • 5 non-sales touches with ICP;
  • Expand my network with 5 buying committee members of target prospects;
  • Leave 10 meaningful comments under the posts of the B2B marketing thought leaders that serve my target audience;
  • Devote 5 hours to write a new case study.

And as a monthly pillar we setup hosting a 60-90 minute webinar.

Doubling down our efforts on these activities in the second half of 2020 helped us to compensate for the losses in Q3 and exceed our revenue quota in Q4 to hit our target. 

For idronect, we decided to double down on podcasting as we found it to be incredibly effective to set up meetings with target accounts, learn more about their needs, build the relationship and present the product.

For Opsfleet, we doubled down on the newsletter and the content for their Facebook community that generated inbound leads regularly.

Speed matters, the power of marketing sprints 

While narrowing down your focus is crucial, your marketing pace is incredibly critical as well. 


Why did Zoom become the defactor videoconferencing tool during the pandemic? Of course they have a great product and are well funded. But a large part of their success was the speed in which they executed on what their customers needed. 

Zoom was quickly releasing new features (like end-to-end encryption) and simplifying the product for their users. 

They built a marketplace to connect multiple apps with Zoom (calendar integrations, webinars hosting like lu.ma) and started to quickly test the response from different market segments (like educational institutions.)

As a result, Zoom became a house name for video calling while their stocks grew by 545% in 1 year.

Nobody has time to wait 3-4 months to see the results from the marketing campaigns. 

While Zoom is a great example of the power of moving quickly with B2B, long and c complex sales cycles can be tricky to navigate. In our research we wanted to know how B2B companies used marketing sprints to test ideas and ship features quickly. 

A marketing sprint or a “minimal viable campaign” is a simple and quick campaign with a clearly defined goal, scope, and timeline with a clear path to a sale (opportunity). It can be used across both product and marketing. 

With respect to marketing, marketing sprints help you quickly see what works (or what doesn’t) so you can reallocate your resources and double down on the highest ROI activities. 

Here is an example of the three-week marketing sprint we’ve created for one of the customers.

The goal of the sprint was validating the demand in the “IT integrators” vertical in 5 European countries: Belgium, Netherlands, France, Spain and England.

Now let’s apply the marketing sprint planning principles I’ve shared earlier. 

We start with answering the question: how can we validate if there is demand?

We start mapping out a simple campaign.

  • Campaign: market research.
  • Target accounts for each market: 30
  • # of calls/survey submissions: 10
  • Clear need: 5 accounts

Our goal is to arrange 10 calls with the those who have buying power for the target accounts. This helps us learn more about their challenges and how they solve them, and see if there might be a potential interest or need in our product. 

If we see that at least 5 accounts shared problems we hellp solve, we prioritize this market and segment, and reallocate our marketing and sales focus on it.

Engagement scoring is critical 

At Sirius Decisions Summit, Tony Jaros, President and Chief Product Offiver at Dirus Decisions at the time, shared that when organizations are aligned across the revenue engine, they see an average of 19% faster revenue growth and 15% higher profitability. 

The engagement score is critical to leads hand-off between marketing and sales. One of the most common challenges we’ve seen is transferring the contacts of people who downloaded the ebook or any gated content to sales.

Sales waste time on follow-ups but it most cases hear the negative reply. The reason is simple: downloading gated content doesn’t mean the buying intent. That’s why it’s critical to set up engagement scoring for leads hands-off and get the agreement of both teams.

When engagement score is defined, it is much easier to reach out at the right moment to your target accounts, instead of sending cold irrelevant messages to people who are not interested in your product or service.

Here is a practical example of the engagement score.

The data can be collected from IP-identification tools like Leadfeeder (we’ll cover it later), LinkedIn and marketing automation like Hubspot or ActiveCampaign.

Use IP-identification to better serve your customers 

IP-identification software can be very effective in helping you know what web pages your target accounts viewed and how much time they spent on your website.

This intent data helps identify what stage of the buying journey your prospect is so that you can personalize your outreach message with the right call to action. Using your own data you can:

  • Share educational resources such as case studies or articles for those researching and are at the awareness stage, and ask if that is helpful. Try to establish a relationship, warm up, and learn more about their needs and goals (e.g., why were you searching for this article or product?)
  • Share comparison reports, webinars, market research, or case studies for those who are considering alternatives. 
  • Suggest which prospects you can reach out to to book an introductory call. Usually, these are the people who visited your product/service page several times and spent some decent time on it.

Here’s an example of an outreach trigger you can set up:

If a company visited your product page several times and spent 30 minutes on your website, it is a good signal they are doing research and might be interested in chatting with you.

Below you can see a practical example how marketing can support sales with the intent data.

In this example, the target account meets your engagement criteria: spent more than 30 minutes and visited your product page multiple times.


It goes without saying, the more you know about each segment of your target audience, the better equipped you are to serve them. 

Conclusion

While there are many challenges B2B companies face, the reality is, the best of the best do whatever it takes to figure out how to both communicate and deliver value to their customers.  

Here are some ways to solve your biggest B2B problems.

  1. Invest the time needed to discover your “80/20.” 
  2. Speed matters. Do whatever you can to test your assumptions quickly so you can double down on what works. 
  3. Take the time to score your engagement. Not all interactions are created equal.
  4. Use IP identification to help you better understand the actions and behaviors of potential customers.

The post Common B2B Challenges and How To Solve Them appeared first on CXL.

How to Build Authority and Elevate Your Brand with Press

There’s this misconception that businesses must get to a certain level before they’re ready for press. As if they need to be some big-shot executive or Fortune 500 company before anyone in press looks their way. Nope! As someone who’s been on both sides of the publishing table for over a decade and has had […]

The post How to Build Authority and Elevate Your Brand with Press appeared first on CXL.

There’s this misconception that businesses must get to a certain level before they’re ready for press. As if they need to be some big-shot executive or Fortune 500 company before anyone in press looks their way. Nope!

As someone who’s been on both sides of the publishing table for over a decade and has had her fair share of features in Business Insider, Lifehacker, and The New York Times, I can tell you that it’s never too early—or too late to get press.

You can get press today. I’ll show you how.

In this article, I’m going to share why press matters to you and your business. I’ll also share how businesses like yours can get press and maximize the potential of press to build trust, drive sales, drum up demand, and of course, skyrocket your authority and credibility—no matter what industry or niche you’re in, and even if it’s just one press feature.

Before we press on, I want to first tell you about this ramen—and how it relates to press.

The hidden benefits of press

This humble family-owned shop where this ramen is served seats no more than nine people at a time. 

You can imagine that in Tokyo ramen shops such as this one are like grains of sand across a desert: they’re everywhere.

How do ramen shops compete when customers can pretty much walk 10 steps in any direction and run into one? Surely, in this saturated market this ramen shop would have a difficult time standing out?

…Well, actually…

Each day, without fail, this ramen shop has queues that form and rapidly expand before it even opens. The line snakes along the street and often needs to spill onto the other side!

How? Rather…WHY? Why are people willing to wait hours for a chance to eat at this ramen shop when they have so many other options around the corner, down the street, etc.

The answer is two words: Michelin Star.

Ohhh, it all makes sense now, doesn’t it? 

For the majority of us foodies and mass consumers of good food, we understand exactly what it means for a restaurant to attain the coveted Michelin Star. Few restaurants, let alone ramen shops, get the distinction of a Michelin Star. It’s a prestigious label that quickly broadcasts to the world that this ramen is among the pantheon of outstanding, attention-worthy foods. 

It tells existing customers that they’ve got great taste.

It tells new and curious customers that this ramen, not those other ones, is worth trying, even in spite of the long queues (which, by the way, beget even longer queues and more demand). 

I call this the Michelin Star Effect, where a signal of quality, like the Michelin Star, dramatically boosts the credibility of your business, and that helps make choosing your business over the competition a no-brainer. 

So…what does this mean for you? 

You’re not a ramen shop (probably), and getting a Michelin Star likely isn’t going to drive people to your digital products and marketing services. But the point is, you can harness the Michelin Star Effect for your own business. This is one example how:

Notice the press—the publication’s logos just below the fold.

What do those logos tell you?

First of all, they tell me this business is newsworthy enough to be featured by many members of the press. In Examine’s case, they claim to have “nutrition information I can trust.” If The New York Times has vetted them for that, then there’s some truth to it, right? (Sure enough, they’re also trusted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which is another major authority in the realm of nutrition information.) 

It’s important to remember that press only cares about interesting stories and vets all of its sources. Not just anyone can be written about. When the gatekeepers of the media, AKA editors, decide to write about a business, it’s because they think they’re worth talking about with the masses. These editors are willing to stake their reputation on them. That in itself is a big ol’ badge of recognition you can share with customers.

When you get published somewhere, you can leverage the publication’s logos and display them in strategic areas of your business to convey credibility. I often recommend that my clients place between 3 to 5 logos at all possible customer touch points, including your key sign-up pages:

Or prospective customer sales emails like this:

Or even on ads to enhance social media marketing efforts, like this company:

When customers are more discerning than ever, logos like these show customers that you’ve already been vetted—a quick signal of trust. 

Think of Michelin Stars or even those Zagat Rated and Trip Advisor decals that adorn a restaurant’s doors. Wouldn’t you be more curious to give that restaurant a try versus one that didn’t have those signals? These logos serve the same purpose. 

Depending on your niche and industry, certain press and features carry a lot more clout than others. Press is strategic. In my own case, where I help other businesses build authority and get press, the sheer number goes a long way in conveying my own credibility:

Notice that press now isn’t just about traffic or exposure—two very common misconceptions about the benefits of press. 

YES, you’ll get traffic.

YES, you’ll get exposure.

But those miss the point. The most valuable benefit of press is a one-two punch combo of elevating the public perception of your brand and boosting your authoritative value on Google. Observe this Tweet from Google’s own John Mueller:

In other words, digital press will only help your SEO efforts and help you rank better on Google search (even for a site with no traffic, according to John).

Oh, and one more thing: There is no “Best by” date. You can leverage the press you get for years and years, long after the initial publication date of those articles. 

No matter what stage of business you’re in, it’s never too early—or too late—to get press. And whether it’s your first or seventh logo, I’m now going to share the exact idea-generating framework I use to come up with client stories and catapult them into the media limelight.

A 3-part framework to generating ideas the media loves

A lot of clients come to me right before they have something to launch, whether they have a new product, feature, book, online course, or life lesson they’re excited for everyone to know. You can get press for all of these things, but the most important thing to consider is:

What’s your story? 

These are the things editors and the press care about. They care less about the fact that you generated $40,034 from a single launch of a $4.99 ebook. 

But if you’d said you did it in two days with the help of your celebrity friend LeBron James and all the proceeds were going to charity to help build homes for all those koalas displaced by forest fires—well, suddenly that is a lot more mouth-watering. 

The media is always, always on the lookout for good stories and ideas—and oftentimes it’s highly predictable what they want. In fact, I broke it down in a 3-part framework that I call Pitch Like a PRO

The pitch like a PRO method

Basically, is your idea PRO? Is it…

  • Popular?
  • Relevant?
  • Original?

Sure, when it’s written out like this, the framework doesn’t reveal any sort of media wizardry. But I believe that mastery of media lies in a deep understanding of its simplicity. I’m going to get into very specific details of each and show you how to:

  • Find popular ideas before they become saturated;
  • Use relevant ideas to piggyback off what’s happening in the news cycle;
  • Make virtually any idea original.

Plus, this framework will be useful to you not just for upcoming launches — but also for any idea, any time. 

There are certain topics that will, for whatever reason, stay top of mind in our society’s collective conscience, such as full-body workouts and a morning routine (and their variants):

Topics like weight loss and dating are popular because people constantly search for and talk about them—for all eternity. And sometimes in a weird “chicken-or-egg” cycle it’s the media that jumpstarts an idea’s popularity. 

But outside the realm of these perennial favorites, there are ways to find out if an idea is popular—or getting there (just before the media sinks their teeth into it).

So how exactly do you systematically check for a topic’s popularity? The easiest place to start is Google.

If you Google your topic and see the other articles that already exist on it, GREAT! Click around and notice details like: 

  • How many people are talking about it? (Check the number of comments.) The more people are talking about it, the better.
  • How recent are the articles? (Check the publication date.) If it’s recent, it’s top of mind. 
  • Have other publications written about it? (News outlets all have a finely tuned radar for finding out what’s popular — and they’ll often “copy” one another.)
  • How many times has it been shared? (If a lot of people are sharing, the idea is clearly resonating enough and they feel compelled to tell their friends.)

Essentially, what’s popular will attract more readers. Editors are always scouting for the next big hit. After all, an editor’s metric for popularity (and ultimately success) is: how many eyeballs will it bring to their article and site? 

You can also use Google Insights to check the trends of a topic. In other words, you get to see how many people are searching. Let’s say you were in the health and fitness industry, and you have a unique full-body workout program coming out. You can check the peaks and valleys of search popularity here:

Then you can scroll down and find exactly what queries are getting the most hits on Google and hone in on an idea for the media.

This already gives me several angles. As a simple example, I might explore the idea of pitching “Can full body workouts at home be a good replacement for the gym?”

The goal here is to find an angle on an already ongoing popular conversation and add your fresh take. 

2. How to use relevance to snowball one article into several

Something that’s relevant is newsworthy and timely. Unlike something that is popular (although an idea can be relevant and popular), relevance can fade in and out of obscurity. Let me show you an example of a relevant, newsy headline:

The headline is so bombastic, catchy, and jarring that other publications will follow suit and report on the same thread, or go on the counter-attack:

Regardless of their stance, this conversation is now entrenched in the newscycle, and it’s a conversation that editors want to continue to stoke—at least until the next one. 

So if something is relevant, chances are good that the editor WANTS your idea right then and there. Here’s how Examine, an independent nutrition company, rode relevance into the media limelight, including getting featured in The New York Times.

Early in 2020, the media got bludgeoned with a ton of misinformation about vitamins and their protective effects. Many sleazy marketers preyed on the vulnerability of people at this time to hawk supplements and “cures” with flimsy evidence of their efficacy. So it became relevant to educate the masses.

Examine’s team of researchers put together an evidence-based user guide to help the average person make heads or tails of all the information out there. 

The benefits of this are two-fold: It’s a trusted resource for the user, and a one-stop information shop for journalists, including one at the The New York Times

Because of the perfect storm of Examine’s reputation and the media’s need for truth, The New York Times published this piece that further propelled Examine onto other news sources:  

As you can see, one helpful user guide snowballed into several features in the media because it was timely and relevant in the news cycle. But most of all, it was valuable

The big insight here: Focus on what’s happening in the world and find a relevant thread in your life or business. In other words, how can you add value to the current conversation? 

3. How to make any idea original

Over the span of a few years, I lived in seven different countries, working remotely and being a quasi-local and tourist at over a dozen destinations, like Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Paris, Barcelona, and so on.

Stories of travel are nothing new. Certainly, being a digital nomad at the time has been written about before. But here I am, sharing my experiences of working remotely around the world on Lifehacker

…on an entrepreneur site GrowthLab:

And again on Business Insider:

This is the power of having your own story to tell and putting multiple interesting spins on them. There’s always another angle. Another part of the story to unravel. 

Think about all the first-person stories you see:

  • “This Is How I Lost 58 Pounds and I Didn’t Even Exercise!”
  • “I Started Drinking 10 Cups of Coffee Per Day and Tripled My Income in 6 Months”
  • “Why I Give My Corgi Daily Massages”

The key insight here is that, while traveling to different countries and being a digital nomad isn’t anything new, I drew from my own experiences and gave these common topics a unique spin. 

Because I’d been featured in a half dozen other places on the same experience, even The New York Times reached out to me for this story:

These are the types of stories editors are happy to publish. Any time you have an article idea and use your story, it almost guarantees a unique take on the same otherwise well-trodden topic. Most important of all, it’s a story that only you can tell. And yes, you can tie it back to your business.

Here’s an example from a client:

As long as you have an experience with a strong point of view to share, you should tell it—and the media would be happy to have it. 

Conclusion

The media is always looking for stories and businesses like yours. What they look for in a story is fairly predictable. Using the Pitch Like a PRO framework, you can come up with popular, relevant, or original ideas so that your stories become so irresistible that the media cannot help but want to cover you.

Here’s a quick recap with real, example headlines: 

Press is another form of social proof to enhance your SEO, lead generation, and marketing efforts and help elevate your business. 

Whether this is your first or even eighth feature, you can leverage press (and their logos) to generate more press, build more authority, and open up the opportunities that come with greater authority and credibility (like book deals, speaking gigs, etc.)—for years and years to come. 

The post How to Build Authority and Elevate Your Brand with Press appeared first on CXL.

Integrating Active Directory With SaaS Tool Stack

SaaS applications can be deployed in a variety of ways to help grow your business and and build processes at scale. However, even with these tools, identity management, authorization, and user management can still remain a challenge. In this article we’ll take a look at how you can use Active Directory with your favorite SaaS […]

The post Integrating Active Directory With SaaS Tool Stack appeared first on CXL.

SaaS applications can be deployed in a variety of ways to help grow your business and and build processes at scale. However, even with these tools, identity management, authorization, and user management can still remain a challenge.

In this article we’ll take a look at how you can use Active Directory with your favorite SaaS applications to improve your processes and workflow as well as the pros and cons of different solutions.

In general, onboarding users can be a time-sensitive and manual process that involves using the right administrators across multiple departments to manage the entire process. Additionally, in many organizations, the Microsoft Active Directory (AD) functions as the administrative user directory that grants access to essential IT services, in particular email and file sharing.

Many enterprises have leveraged Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) since Salesforce launched almost two decades ago.

Popular vendors like Adobe, Oracle, and Microsoft have successfully moved their core applications to subscription-based models. 

Other vendors including Box and ServiceNow have completely replaced on-premises solutions with cloud-based solutions, SaaS is now the preferred way companies consume core business software.

What is a SaaS Application Integration?

SaaS data integration is the process of distributing applications to your team or anyone within your company conveniently, securely, without configuration. This process enables you to easily and accurately share access to applications. 

You’re also able to work effectively from that ambiguous cloud that’s the talk of the town, without going through the public domain. The vast majority of SaaS integrations are cloud-based.

How Does Active Directory Integration Work?

The process isn’t as complicated as it sounds. Let me show you how it works:

When a user logs into a web application, a program, or software, the username and password are passed and verified against your existing infrastructure to make sure the user’s credentials are valid. 

Here’s what it looks like, illustrated below:

Of course, without the right credentials, the user will be shut out. Think Rundeck! 

Depending on the provider, the application will usually request a set of fields once the user’s credentials are valid. 

These sets of fields will stem from your Active Directory infrastructure (some providers will only request first name, last name, email, and samaccountname.) 

When the Active Directory infrastructure has successfully returned the set of information about the user, the user’s application account will be created or updated—the goal is to keep all the vital information in-sync. 

Note: Only a handful of applications automatically update Active Directory fields—which typically will prompt the user to log-in. Alternatively, an admin can manually run a synchronization from within the application.

Here are the three most effective ways of integrating Active Directory with your SaaS applications:

Integration #1. Microsoft AD FS

When Windows Server 2008 R2 was launched, Microsoft built off the momentum with the release of Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS) 2.0. 

The goal was to create a system that’s responsible for providing an extensible platform that can handle single sign-on with applications outside of the firewall. 

This new system makes it possible for organizations to leverage AD FS to address the SSO requirement of an AD integration. Sadly, the downside is that it doesn’t address user synchronization, neither does it address user provisioning or de-provisioning.

(Image source)

Since the release of Windows Server 2009 and subsequent launches, there are some updates to protected logins now, including:

i). External Auth Providers as Primary: This allows users to use third-party authentication products as the major factor, instead of revealing password as the first factor. It can claim MFA if the external auth provider requires 2 factors.

ii). Pluggable Risk Assessment Module: It’s now easier for users to build their own plug-in modules, which can help them block specific types of requests during the pre-authentication stage. 

In turn, users can easily use cloud intelligence such as Identity protection to block logins due to risky users or risky transactions.

With these new updates, the user data is in safer hands. However, it’s quite imperative to consider the platform you’re using when considering AD FS as a viable means to address SSO needs.

As a core feature of Windows Server, AD FS was primarily developed as a platform—not an end-to-end solution for authenticating single sign-on needs. Although these platforms can be powerful and flexible, they require signifiant amounts of additional work to develop a complete solution.

Integration #2. Use a Third-Party Vendor Solution

Given the accelerated deployment of SaaS applications, there are many vendors you can leverage to address your enterprise’s Single Sign-On and user management needs. 

Some of the vendors include:

  • JumpCloud;
  • Okta;
  • OneLogin;
  • Oracle Identity Management, etc.

JumpCloud is our organization’s favorite vendor solution. The illustration below shows the simple process of AD integration using JumpCloud:

To successfully evaluate these vendors, it’s important to understand their abilities to integrate with Active Directory.

Greg Keller, in this Whiteboard Video Series, shares some thoughts on how the JumpCloud Directory-as-a-Service works. With additional videos found here.

Unlike an application-specific integration strategy, these vendors are designed to provide a single point of integration—especially with your on-premises Active Directory—which can then be used across all of your SaaS applications. 

And quite different from the AD FS option, some vendors also offer a robust and comprehensive solution that is maintained for you. This is aimed at working seamlessly with your existing AD infrastructure but comes at a cost.

Integration #3. Independent Integrations With AD

You can quickly develop a custom integration with Active Directory yourself—when you take advantage of the AD integration tools offered by the most established SaaS applications and platforms.

For example, Google Apps, Salesforce, and Microsoft Online Services all play key roles when you’re considering independent integrations with AD. Surely, they all have their challenges as well, none of them are 100% flawless. 

Google Apps Directory Sync, for example, is one of those independent solutions that provide one-way user migration from Active Directory into a Google Apps account. It gives the user flexibility and the chance to define which user attributes are imported. 

Keep in mind, though, the setup and administration are often separate from what’s obtainable with the Google Apps administration console, which is a can be a deal breaker for admins who want to force-manage the system from a locally installed utility instead. 

Organizations look for additional flexibility can leverage another third-party integration if they want to use SSO. This can result in two separate administration models—as well as what the user intends to use for SSO and user management.

An independent integration with Microsoft Office 365 Directory Synchronization, for example, equally provides one-way pushing of users—from within the Active Directory into Office 365. 

Administrators can seamlessly utilize this tool when they’re looking to both provision and de-provision users in Office 365. which is defined when users are added or removed from Active Directory. 

Just like the Google Apps tool, this process requires a decoupling from the primary administration experience. This can be managed efficiently via the on-premises utility. 

There’s no provision for SSO, so it will result in two separate administration models and user stores.

Salesforce has provided a set of APIs that let users design proprietary solutions, which can push users from AD and enable users to authenticate against AD, at the same time, mostly when accessing Salesforce.com. 

Although at this time, there’s no available tool that can help accomplish either of these tasks. To achieve these integration requirements, organizations need to invest heavily in both development and maintenance systems.

As you can see, the downsides of integrating AD with independent vendors are fairly clear. For one, organizations are expected to install and maintain tools from each vendor which can be both costly and time intensive.

Additionally, when those tools are inaccessible, you’re left to develop its own vendor-based solution. 

Let’s take a look at some active directory use cases.

Active Directory Use Cases (Examples)

1). Reduce the Time Spent Onboarding New Employees

Active Directory (AD) integration with SaaS applications provides a means of minimizing onboarding time. It also simplifies the process; and automates every manual input—making onboarding over 50% more efficient.

A great example of how AD can reduce onboarding time is Nome Public Schools. 

Before integrating its system with Active Directory, Nome Public Schools used to spend roughly 600 hours/year on provisioning, deprovisioning, and password resets. 

Today, the organization uses JumpCloud AD and spends less than 100 hours/year on the same tasks.

Onboarding goes beyond hiring new employees. It’s also about improving employees’ experiences and putting them in position to do their best work. By making it easy for them to use tools they need to be effective and productive you can significantly reduce turn over and build a strong company culture.

In most organizations, it’s the duty of the HR teams to enter the new hire’s personal information into the Human Resource Management System (HRMS), such as ADP or Workday. 

Once that’s done, a service desk ticket is generated to help the system administrator to make a provision for the new employee in Microsoft Active Directory (AD) or any other vendor.

Suppose the HR manager is expected to export the employee’s details in a CSV file from their HRMS application and send them via email to the IT team—that’s a lot of work if done manually.

Working to automate user provisioning can help eliminate daunting and time-consuming onboarding operations like the example above. These integrations also help IT admins free up time to focus on other critical tasks that will move the organization in the right direction.

If your organization uses ADManager Plus, for example, you can automatically provision accounts in AD, Exchange, Office 365, Skype for Business, as well as G Suite. This will ensure that changes effected in the Human Resource Management Systems are reflected across all accounts.

Furthmore, you can take advantage of Connect iPaaS to eliminate the need to manually create and update identities in Active Directory—assuming the new hire record has been created or updated in ADManager Plus (ADP).

When the employee record is created or updated in ADP or Workday it is then synced to AD to create or update the user’s mapping groups. As a result, employee data can be synced instantly, saving hours of valuable time.

More effective onboarding allows you spend less time on admin tasks, and more time educating the new employee, improving the sales process, and ultimately make more money.

2). Efficient Asset Management Upon Onboarding

Passing the employee’s details to the IT department to notify them of the new hire is half the battle. Continued management of those assets often feels like a full time job.

By asset, I’m referring to the tools and creatives the employee needs to fully offer their best services to the organization. Comprehensive employee onboarding is a time-consuming process. It takes a lot of time to get a new hire and fully equip them to work.

Assigning a company email address, training, defining job roles, creating business accounts, resource allocation, and giving them company assets, requires massive amounts of coordination from multiple teams within the company. 

To give you an idea, this process is well-illustrated in 3 steps:

With Connect iPaaS, you can create workflows to automatically notify the teams concerned about the assets and accounts they need to create or allocate—the moment the employee’s identity has been created in Active Directory. 

Another example, consider marketing certification for employees, an ADP will help you manage their assets accordingly.

My favorite example is Topgolf, a company that leveraged RoboMQ AD to catapult its IT integrations from managing just a few thousand employees to 24,000+ worldwide.

Consider services such as ServiceNow, Twilio, JIRA, Twilio, Slack, and other sales enablement tools; that can help act as connectors in Connect iPaaS and seamlessly integrate with AD to securely set up service desk tickets and notifications—thus offering a streamlined process for assigning assets to new hires.

3. Save Time Creating New Accounts in Enterprise Applications

Active Directory integration with your SaaS applications can also help you save time when creating new accounts in enterprise applications. 

As you likely know, your employees’ data changes over time. They might get a raise, change names, or even leave the company. Having a streamlined process to update their account details and permissions can save a ton of time and headaches. Essentially, established organizations that use enterprise-level applications to onboard, nurture, convert new clients can also benefit from Active Directory integration. They can create trusted experiences with customers. 

One of my favorite examples is Ally Financial, an organization that offers auto financing solutions. It capitalized on Okta’s AD solutions to provide a seamless and trusted experience for its 40,000 dealers (with varying data size). “This wouldn’t have been possible if it was done manually,” says Megan Crespi, CTO.

This site also employs AD to manage its onboarding process. Other popular eCommerce brands like Zappos, 3Wishes, and Aliexpress with hundreds of thousands of customers globally manage employee and customer onboarding easily with an AD.

And given both Amazon and eBay have their in-house AD, it’s always worth testing to see if it works for you.

While it’s important to integrate ADP or Workday to effectively create identities in AD, there’s more to consider when it comes to streamlining the employee onboarding process. 

Whether you’re a medical practice that requires a simplified patient management system or a manufacturing firm, it’s become increasingly important to ensure downstream provisioning of Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) into your favorite productivity tools and enterprise-level applications. You can do this by implementing based on the rights and privileges granted to each specific employee.

At the end of the day, it just doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of hours on tasks that can be easily automated.

In the case of onboarding, every task assigned to the employee needs to be synchronized with the appropriate department, especially for large digital organizations such as Shopify, Bluehost, etc.

While automating processes can take time initially, over time the dividends continue to pay off.

For large organizations that deal with thousands of employees, one simple automation or integration can dramatically improve company productivity and morale.

Conclusion 

There you have it, several real world examples of how integrating your SaaS applications with Active Directory can improve your processes, productivity, and onboarding.

Active Directory can help you:

1.) Reduce the time spent on onboarding new employees.
2.) Help with efficient asset management during onboarding.
3.) Save time creating enterprise accounts.

And much more.

Keep in mind that modern identity management goes beyond connecting Active Directory with cloud applications. Assigning permissions and licenses in cloud applications is a critical step you must take as well. Services like vRealize, Okta, and JumpCloud can help you achieve simple and complex user provisioning in real-time.

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Product Innovation: How To Build Products Your Customers Love

How do you go from good to great? How do you remain relevant as your competition continues to gain more market share? As the technology and business landscape continues to shift rapidly, companies that embrace innovation will have a clear advantage over those who don’t.  As with most things in marketing and business, product innovation […]

The post Product Innovation: How To Build Products Your Customers Love appeared first on CXL.

How do you go from good to great? How do you remain relevant as your competition continues to gain more market share? As the technology and business landscape continues to shift rapidly, companies that embrace innovation will have a clear advantage over those who don’t. 

As with most things in marketing and business, product innovation isn’t something that happens from a few meetings or putting together a polished slide deck. From who you hire to holding your team accountable for certain OKRs, innovation requires buy-in from your entire organization. 

In this article, I’ll share what product innovation is, why it matters, and how to build a company culture where innovation is the standard. 

What is product innovation? 

When you hear the word innovation, what immediately comes to mind? 

Do you think of companies like Amazon and Google? Does product innovation refer to creating entirely new products or improving previous offerings? 

At the most basic level, product innovation is the process of developing and marketing a new or improved product to solve your customer’s problems. 

In The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most, authors Lee Vinsel and Andrew L. Russel have a more direct take: 

“Innovation, at its core, is change that can be measured because it generates profits.” 

No matter how great your product or service is now, innovation is critical for continuing to serve your customers based on their current needs and desires and avoiding becoming an afterthought. 

The challenges of innovation 

To be innovative, you have to experiment. If you want to have more inventions, you need to do more experiments per week, per month, per year, per decade. It’s that simple. You cannot invent without experimenting, and here’s the other thing about experiments, lots of them fail. If you know it’s gonna work in advance; it is not an experiment.

– Jeff Bezos

Despite most businesses understanding the importance of innovation, it remains challenging to do. According to a McKinsey Global Innovation Survey, “although 84% of executives agree that innovation is important to growth strategy, only 6% are satisfied with innovation performance.”   

In another study, “only one-third of U.K. business leaders said they were innovating successfully enough to generate revenue or measurable growth; only a quarter of boards of directors make innovation a priority, and 40% of leaders reject disruptive ideas because of a fear of failure.”

Many organizations claim innovation is a priority, but their high-level strategy and day-to-day operations say otherwise. For larger organizations especially, getting buy-in for innovation initiatives can be tricky. 

And yet, you can’t expect to create a culture of experimentation if your employees are too afraid to speak up and share their ideas. You can’t build a culture of innovation if failure is treated as something to be ashamed about. 

Innovation, by its very nature, carries risk. That said, in my many years of experience working with companies all over the world, the cost of not innovating comes at a hefty price.

Here are some of my key takeaways on how to build a culture of innovation as well as build products and services your customers love. 

1. Avoid catastrophic failure 

When it comes to innovation, knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to get right. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen companies make in their quest for innovation is not taking into account the worst-case scenario. 

The upside of innovation can be a game-changer for your business, but not at the risk of damaging your brand permanently. 

As I shared in my talk Test & Learn Community, author Nassim Taleb argues that it’s just as important to guard against catastrophic events (black swans) than it is to make incremental improvements.

Just as buying insurance can never generate ROI, validation experiments will not result in more money directly but does provide a safety net against business catastrophe. 

While there are many examples of product innovation gone wrong, Netflix’s decision to spin off into another company called Qwikster nearly a decade ago continues to be talked about in many business circles today.  

It turns out, two companies, two logins, and two billing accounts were something their customers did not want or need.

As CEO Reed Hastings noted at the time:

It is clear that for many of our members, two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs… This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.

Another example I’ve discussed in the past, is the redesign Snapchat rolled out a few years ago. 

Here’s what TechCrunch had to say at the time:

Snapchat’s redesign was a disaster. It cratered ad views and revenue and led Snapchat’s user count to actually shrink in March. That’s why CEO Evan Spiegel just announced a big reversal of the redesign’s worst part.

While both Netflix and Snapchat were able to avoid true disaster (at the cost of millions of dollars and lousy PR) for startups and smaller companies, a wrong move could lead to a situation that puts them out of business.

That isn’t to say, innovation is not worth the risk, but avoid experiments that may lead to irreparable harm. 

2. Have a clear goal for innovation in mind

While virtually everyone business can benefit from innovation, innovation for the sake of innovation is a losing strategy. Yes, it’s important to continue to improve and enhance your products and services, but without a clear why, you’re at a significant disadvantage from the start. 

As I wrote previously on CXL about running marketing experiments, getting clear about your resources and goals for your experiments is critical:

Is it feasible? It’s true that experimentation should not be confined to rigid business goals. However, it’s important to consider the budget, resources, and potential metrics that might be affected negatively by a failed test in advance.

The first consideration in feasibility is practicality. How will you accomplish this test? What sort of resources and manpower would you need to execute it on the ground?

I’ve found the 5 Whys framework to be helpful for getting clarity on your customer’s most significant pain points and challenges to determine opportunities for innovation. 

In my course on product innovation, I give the example of how we used this framework at Convoy

Why: Experimentation Platform doesn’t provide tools for analysis. 
Why: The Platform doesn’t know what metrics or algorithms are used in an experiment.
Why: Metrics definitions and algorithms are not standardized and are not generic. 
Why: The variety of metrics and algorithms used at Convoy are varied and change often. 
Why: Convoy is a two-sided marketplace with small data. Typical Tests don’t work.

An innovation strategy without a clear goal is not a sustainable and repeatable process and can lead you down a road that costs you both time and money.

3. Put your customers first

Any successful product innovation strategy should always start with your customer. It may be tempting to launch a new product based solely on what your data says, but without talking with your customers, you risk investing in an unnecessary flop. 

I always recommend starting with asking whether or not your customers want your proposed initiative.

The first thing we should always ask before launching a new experimental business initiative is: Does the customer want this?

If the customer isn’t interested in what you’re offering, then it doesn’t matter whether or not your testing program has the budget to roll out a test to 500 stores nationwide; it’s going to be a waste of money.

There are many methods that help in understanding whether a product or service is wanted or not, but for now, we will just focus on two. The first is easy- Talk to your customers. Ask them what changes they would like to see or whether an additional feature would help their buying experience.

While talking with your customers won’t guarantee they like or respond positively to your experiments, it does give you valuable insight that will increase your chances of success. 

As the book Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice puts it:

Most innovative products were conceived, developed, and launched into the market with a clear understanding of how these products would help consumers make the progress they were struggling to achieve.

That work led to our theory of disruptive innovation, which explains the phenomenon by which an innovation transforms an existing market or sector by introducing simplicity, convenience, accessibility, and affordability where complication and high cost have become the status quo—eventually completely redefining the industry.

By only guessing about what your customers may or may not want, your innovation strategy is almost certain to fail. 

4. Create a culture of experimentation 

Creating an innovative product once can certainly help you grow your business, but building a repeatable process is what’s going to continue to allow you to remain miles ahead of your competition.  

That starts with building an organization that values and incentives your team to take innovation seriously. Generally speaking, all the most innovative ideas at the world’s smartest companies come from immersed professionals understanding the opportunities in their space and being encouraged to take risks. 

Creating a culture where your employees feel comfortable sharing their ideas (and taking risks) is an essential part of innovation at scale. 

Having clear OKRs and North Star goals can help you and your team stay aligned on the big picture while also allowing the freedom for employees to test or run with their ideas.

Your employees should feel comfortable in running their clearly defined experiments with the knowledge you’ll back them up should it fail.

Yes, hold your team accountable, but at the same time, allowing your employees to own their experiments and support them through the process can rapidly increase company-wide innovation. 

As Sean Ellis author of Hacking Growth shared:

For me, the main thing that creates a culture of experimentation is committing to a testing cadence and sharing results. In the beginning, you may need to be patient to generate results. But I’ve never seen a company run 10+ highly considered tests and not achieve a meaningful improvement. Wins drive buy-in, and buy-in accelerates testing momentum.

So for me, the most important first step is committing to a weekly experiment release schedule. Stick with it for at least a month. Sharing results will drive more company-wide participation. Over time you’ll find that the whole process is pretty addictive. But it requires a commitment and perseverance in the beginning.

Conclusion

There’s no way around it; product innovation is incredibly difficult. That said, because it’s so challenging, companies that can innovate consistently are the ones who will remain the industry leaders for years to come. Here are the major takeaways:

  1. Avoid catastrophic failure: Innovation is great (and essential), but not at the risk of making a mistake you can’t recover from. 
  2. Successful product innovation starts with having a clear goal (and objective in mind); without having a detailed strategy in place, you’ll struggle to innovate consistently.
  3. Innovation starts and ends with your customers. You can make assumptions about what your customers want and need, but without talking with them and understanding their pain points, those assumptions are just a guess. 
  4. Product innovation is not a one-off process; to continue to reap the benefits of innovation, it’s critical you build innovation into your organization’s culture. 

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