January 21, 2018

Is lead generation killing marketing?

What happens when you stake the value of your contribution to the company on something that you’ll never do as well as someone else?

This was the gist of a very controversial assertion made by a senior marketer from a very well known B2B technology company during dinner at our ITSMA Marketing Leadership Forum (download highlights from the ITSMA Marketing Leadership Forum) when he said: “An overemphasis on leads is damaging our relationship with sales.”

You could hear the proverbial pin drop in the room after he said it.

On the one hand, what he was saying seemed ludicrous. How could emphasizing leads not improve the relationship? The perceptions that marketers send nothing but junk leads to sales and fail to measure the impact of those leads on revenue have been hurting marketers’ relationships with salespeople—and the business—for at least a decade.

But his point was that marketers will never be as good at handling leads as salespeople are. In my research, I’ve never seen anyone claim that marketing contributes anywhere near 50% of the leads that turn into sales. Most anecdotal estimates I’ve heard range from 10-35%.

Now, you could argue that if marketers improved their ability to generate, nurture, and manage leads from start to finish that those numbers would improve.

But can we ever say that marketers will become the leading contributors of leads that wind up as closed business? Maybe if you’re selling Apple iPads, but if you’re selling complex B2B services and solutions? Seems doubtful.

Meanwhile, an overemphasis on leads causes salespeople to devalue the things that marketers really do best. The mysterious arts of reputation, idea marketing, segmentation, and value propositions move from mysterious to stupid in the eyes of salespeople if only viewed through the prism of leads.

In the current climate, the psychosis over leads to continuous pressure on marketers to provide more and better quality leads. The overall success of marketing is defined by increases in those two things.

But, argues this marketing leader, are we going to allow our success to be defined this way? If so, we will never win. Salespeople will never respect us because we will never contribute as much as they do.

While I don’t think we can just walk away from the lead problem and go back to designing logos, I do think we need to compartmentalize it a bit. We need to be measured on what we really do well—the creative, right-brained stuff. Here are some ideas for how to calm the battle over leads:

  • Create a lead system of record. The most contentious aspect of marketers’ contribution to revenue is that it can’t easily be measured. That means installing a system that can follow leads from the website to sales and back again. Marketers can send more leads to sales every year and still be seen as failing because they can’t track those leads. Other functions have systems of record. We need one, too. Within that system, we need to agree on ground rules for lead management—such as the definition of a qualified lead, lead scoring, etc. People respect rules more when they’re written in stone.
  • Agree on a realistic level of contribution. Most reasonable salespeople will agree that marketers can only do so much in terms of lead generation. Sure, the totals should go up each year, but the proportion of leads supplied by marketing can’t be expected to rise forever—otherwise, why do we need salespeople? Sales and marketing leaders should decide on a target goal of proportion of contribution and then get on with it.
  • Split the short term from the long term. It seems only fair that marketers should be judged more for their contribution to longer-term revenue—to the sales pipeline rather to sales themselves, in other words—than to short-term revenue goals. Most marketing leads are people who are not ready to buy. We need to make allowances for that.

We need to get past this battle over leads and get back to doing what we do best.

What do you think?

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How social media will change lead generation in B2B

The era of the sales process beginning with a lead is over. The number of B2B buyers who are ready to buy as soon as they engage with our marketing is small—and social media will make it even smaller.

We have to come to terms with the fact that there is a stage of the buying process that comes before the buyers we are pursuing are ready to become leads.

We call it the epiphany stage.

This is the stage that occurs long before any discussion of products, services, or RFPs—indeed, it occurs before customers have even begun to think about a purchase.

However, there is something important that happens at this stage: It is the point at which customers come to the realization of an important business need.

This is where social media comes in. As social media expands our opportunity to reach people who have never heard of us or our services, we need to be prepared to engage them during the epiphany stage. We are trying to generate demand during this stage, not create leads, because these people aren’t ready to become leads. We have to generate demand before we can generate a lead.

The best way to do this is with thought leadership. We need a content engine capable of gaining the attention and respect of people who have never heard of us before. These people are not leads—they are not ready to be contacted by anyone. But they may be open to building a relationship that could someday lead to a sale.

These people are prospects, not leads. The way we turn prospects into leads is to gain their trust. We gain their trust by reaching out to them with smart, engaging, educational content. The trust leads to a more personal relationship and hopefully, a purchase. As I said in my last post, social media simply makes starkly plain what we’ve known for some time but haven’t had to face yet: We don’t have a lot of content capable of generating trust and relationships. We need to create that content.

But getting to that realization requires that we first acknowledge that there is a whole world that comes before a lead and before the interest phase of the buying process. We need to see that we are ignoring many people who aren’t leads. If we ignore them, they may never know that they need something that we have to offer.

What do you think?

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How much do you “charge” for your content?

Lady Gaga at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards.
Image via Wikipedia

Okay, so it’s difficult to actually pull money out of buyers for your marketing content (though there are rare exceptions: McKinsey has been doing it for years with the McKinsey Quarterly).

Yet while generally we can’t put a price tag on our content, we do charge for it. The price is the forms we make people fill out to download white papers or sign up for events. Trouble is, we take a one-price-for all approach to our content.

That has to change.

In many cases, we’re charging too much for our content and in other cases not enough. For example, there is no way that the typical Webinar is worth as much as an in-depth research report, yet we make buyers give us the same amount of information for both—we charge them the same price.

Make no mistake; buyers understand the prices behind marketing content. We’re the ones who don’t pay enough attention to it. Here are the components of the price from the buyer’s perspective:

  • Time. They have to spend time filling out the form and predict the amount of time they will need to absorb the content—and probably deal with the emails and calls from pesky salespeople after the fact.
  • Privacy. Buyers understand that they give away a piece of their privacy every time they fill out a form and engage with content.
  • Intention. Buyers want the most valuable content they can get. They decide how to reveal about their intentions based on the value of the content to them. They may also assume that a higher level of intent will net them more valuable content either in terms of quantity or depth.
  • Hierarchy. Buyers are all-too aware of their positions in the chain of command. Those lower down on the corporate ladder are more willing to “spend” their information because they realize that it has less value than those higher up, whose buying power gives them more information riches combined with less willingness to spend it (kind of like rich people in the real economy).
  • Access. Buyers understand that there are different levels of access to content depending on certain factors. They don’t always know what those factors are, but they value access enough to lie. For example, many assume that a higher level of buying intent will get them more goodies, so they say they are ready to buy when they aren’t. Many also assume that if they say that they are vice president instead of a director that they will receive better content and probably better treatment overall.
  • Relationship. This price is one that high-level executives have been calculating for years as providers woo them with memberships in customer councils and invitations to private events. But it’s less familiar to lower-level buyers, who are only beginning to calculate this piece as the economics of social media open up the privileges of relationship from cheesy tchotckes at trade shows to online social networks.
  • Account history. Buyers assume that the price of content will change depending on the number of times they have engaged with you. Even the most basic lead scoring mechanism raises the price of content as buyers consume more of it—i.e., If you download two white papers a week for a month, you should expect a call from a salesperson. Buyers get that—or at least they will probably see the logic in the pricing.
  • Culture and location. Culture, both corporate and social, affects the price that buyers are willing to pay for content. For example, research shows that Europeans value their privacy more than Americans—meaning that their information may cost you more. And some companies have disclosure rules that make it hard for their executives to participate on customer advisory boards.

The price will change
We should evaluate our content pricing models to see if we’re charging the right amounts. We should expect those prices to change as social media takes hold among buyers. For example, 99.9% of the links I click on in Twitter take me directly to the content advertised in the tweets. And when there is a gate, most Twitterers take the precious real estate needed to say that registration is necessary. Just as the web has gutted the business model of publishing it has also reduced the price of marketing content. It has also changed the scope of our content process, as Jon Miller points out here.

Mobile raises the price
But the price can go up, too. That possibility hit home with me this week as I read Steve Woods’ post about the B2B implications of the iPad. Steve points out, among other things, that the richer environment of the iPad could revive the “print” advertising market.

As publishers are able to present content that doesn’t look like crap like it does on a web browser, they can charge more and advertisers can grab more attention. And the multimedia possibilities mean that subscribers to the New York Times might be willing to pay for that embedded video interview with Lady GaGa.

No doubt marketers can also charge a higher price for a white paper that embeds a video case study or a how-to in a great looking media environment. I’m not sure whether the iPad is that environment or not, but we all know that some kind of portable media device will replace our dead-tree publications if the experience is as good or better than we can have with print.

And no doubt the location abilities of mobile devices like the iPad and smartphones will also raise the price we can charge for marketing content. CK Kerley and I went back and forth on this issue as she prepared an excellent piece about how mobile will affect B2B.

My thinking is that we’re so busy assuming that we need to bang down the door to reach buyers that we forget that sometimes they actually want to be found—not necessarily by us but by each other. By acting as a matchmaker at events and perhaps by creating communities with location-based functions, we can help them find each other and get to market to them as the price of fostering the connection.

What are they willing to “pay?”
So there is a price for marketing content. Maybe I’m focusing too much on semantics, but I think lead scoring only gets it half right. We assign points to buyers based on their actions, but we don’t think about it from their perspective. Lead scores don’t ask, “But what are they willing (and happy) to pay for our content?

Thinking about a pricing model for content also helps us target our content to the specific segments of the buying process. I talk more about how we need to vary the amount of information we take from buyers in this post, but the idea that there is a price to be charged and paid makes it clearer in my mind.

How about you?

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Four reasons to stop measuring marketing

It’s time to declare marketing metrics a failure once and for all. ITSMA research has long showed that when we do it at all, we do it poorly. It’s difficult to parse out the contribution that marketing makes to a sale and it’s even more difficult to get salespeople to spend the time figuring out/checking the box/giving credit in the quest to determine whether marketing played a role in making the sale.

So we should just stop. Now.

I’ve had some good conversations this week with ITSMA’s Julie Schwartz and with lead management guru Brian Carroll and we all agree that in the broadest sense, measuring marketing misses the point. We should be measuring revenue and what Julie calls the Cost per Order Dollar (CPOD). Both marketing and sales should work together to reduce CPOD because that’s what really matters in terms of marketing’s contribution to the business. In this report (free with guest registration), Julie points out that marketing’s primary role is to make sales more efficient. Period.

Stop apportioning blame
So why do we continue to measure marketing separately from sales? If we started measuring CPOD and tracked it year over year, we would know that marketing was doing its job without forcing the annual showdown between marketing and the business in which marketing stands before the firing squad to justify its mere existence.

As Brian pointed out to me this week, this is all about growing revenue. It’s time to measure sales and marketing together in that process.

So here are some simple rules to think about:

  1. Stop measuring marketing in isolation. Marketing and sales are both part of the same process: raising revenue. Measure CPOD instead.
  2. Create a unified lead process. You need a closed-loop lead process that tracks prospect activity from beginning to end (and back again, in the case of lead nurturing) that is supported by a system (see this post for more on that).
  3. Get adult supervision. In working with companies to develop lead management programs, Brian has found that the most successful companies have a CEO who does not try to parse marketing from sales and assign credit/blame to each. He or she emphasizes one revenue generating process that both groups contribute to.
  4. Create content that is tied to (and signals) the different stages of the buying process. As we in B2B focus more and more on trying to pull in prospects through thought leadership, we need to understand that our life’s blood is the Epiphany Stage of the buying process. We need marketing content specifically targeted at that stage, as well as the more traditional stages like awareness and interest. When we create content targeted to specific buying stages—and get sales to agree to that categorization—we no longer need to get salespeople to check off the box for marketing’s contribution; that contribution will become implicit.

What would you add to this list?

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We need an app for that

I’ve been working on a report for ITSMA clients this week about analytics and it got me thinking about the proverbial bigger picture of B2B marketing.

We know from our research that we in marketing don’t do much with analytics—i.e., using data to determine and predict customer buying patterns. Only 50% of marketers in our survey said they had analytics programs, and of these, few were focused on predicting behavior; most were simply reporting past behavior. Even rarer is the ability to carry those analytics all the way through to a sale.

But we need to start doing that. Two of the companies I spoke to for my report use analytics to determine which marketing tactics are working and which ones aren’t. That lets them be more productive in marketing, by focusing effort and budget on the good stuff, and it lets them reduce the time to a sale by giving salespeople better tools to work with. One of them told me that it had used these analytics to reduce the average number of interactions needed to schedule a sales appointment in half.

So what are the rest of us to do? I’ve said before that this isn’t just a problem with the issues that come back to us in the surveys: lack of budget, clean data, and unified IT systems. We also have a cultural problem: numbers and metrics just aren’t in our bones; we’re the creative types, what others might refer to derisively as the English majors (yep, me too).

Make the analytics come to us
This is why we have to automate our way out of this problem. The metrics and analytics have to come to us; we can’t continue to expect to dive in and pull them out because we just don’t do it. The things we do and the content we produce need to be contained within an IT system that can watch what we do and tell us about it. This is especially important as more of our work moves online.

But I don’t think you can just start with an IT system, because we’re not much more inclined to be IT geeks than we are to being analysts. So you have to start with the bigger process picture.

I haven’t seen a better articulation of what marketing should be doing in B2B than Brian Carroll’s marketing funnel concept. He differentiates between a marketing funnel and a sales funnel because so many leads are lost in the handover between marketing and sales—94%, according to this report. The marketing funnel helps focus attention on a number of important issues:

  • Qualify leads. Marketing can’t send every lead to sales, nor can it spend too much time qualifying leads.
  • Universal lead definition. A lead that both sales and marketing agree is ready to be pursued.
  • Lead scoring. You can’t call everybody who downloads a whitepaper. You need a system for determining who is ready to talk. And as I discussed in this post, the qualification process needs to be gradual and non-invasive, what Brian has since christened “micro-conversion.” Steve Woods of marketing automation vendor Eloqua has an excellent list of questions to ask about lead scoring here, but I wonder if they rely too much on making people fill out forms.
  • Lead nurturing. There needs to be agreement on when and how a lead will come back to marketing if sales doesn’t pursue it or if the prospect turns out not to be interested.

But what about the fact that sales and marketing don’t talk to each other?
The key to this process is getting sales and marketing to work together create an integrated process. Suzanne Lowe makes the radical assertion that marketing and sales must be integrated together. Eliminate the silos, imbue people with both sales and marketing skills, and eliminate the problem. Once again, however, we have a cultural issue: Sales and marketing people are just different.

The system we’d like to see
In organizations where sales and marketing are forever destined to be separate, processes and systems have to do the integration work. At its foundation, it is a system that sees that the lead process is a loop, not a linear progression—especially considering the length and complexity of the B2B buying process—and is capable of tracking every interaction with a lead over the course of this torturous route.

The system needs to house every bit of content marketing creates, for both customers and sales, and integrates with the lead management system, so that marketers and sales people can use content, not qualification forms, to gauge progress towards a sale. For example, if sales has visibility into the content that prospects are downloading, and both marketing and sales have agreed on the pieces of content that indicate serious buyer interest, the system can signal salespeople to make the call, rather than waiting for marketing to ship the lead to them.

The system needs to be interactive with both prospects and salespeople so that they can rate and comment on the content. And finally, the system needs to integrate with whatever salespeople use (CRM, most likely), so that marketing’s impact on a sale can be automatically tracked from beginning to end.

If marketers had such a foundational system, we wouldn’t need to “create” analytics programs, all we’d need to do is look at what our customers and prospects are doing.

What do your process and system look like?

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How old-school data capture is poisoning marketing and what to do about it

As social media becomes more prevalent in marketing, we’re going to have to rethink how we gather information from prospects.

We’re starting to see social media have a positive impact on driving traffic to websites and on lead generation. In our recent Web 2.0 survey, (all ITSMA clients can download this executive summary), we found that “increased web traffic” was the most frequently cited benefit of Web 2.0 efforts so far (by 67% of respondents). “Increased lead generation” was farther down the list—24% are seeing it.

Now that may be due in part to the fact that most B2B marketers have only recently begun using Web 2.0 in their marketing—fewer than 35% of marketers in our survey have been using blogs or podcasts for more than one year, and just 3% have been using social media (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) for at least that long.

Social media and lead generation go together
But there is a natural link between social media and lead generation. It is a natural way to drive traffic back to your site for registration—as long as you have great content to offer. And those who are beyond the experimental stage with social media are already seeing this benefit (24% ain’t bad given the nascent nature of this stuff). Indeed, some B2B early adopters are seeing 10-15% of their lead totals generated through social media, according to this survey by DemandGenReport.

Given the potential for lead generation through social media, the question then becomes how much information should we try to get from people coming to us through social media? I think the inherently casual (social!) nature of social media means that we should err on the side of less information.

Should we not capture any data at all?
B2B marketer Tom Bottom got me thinking about this issue this week with a daring post that questions whether we should be doing any data capture at all. He argues that putting a data form in front of a prospect displays a lack of confidence in the quality of our work and at worst drives people into the arms of competitors. In the epiphany stage of the buying process, we should be offering people great information, not turning them off by trying to sleaze information out of them when they’re nowhere near being ready to buy. Data gathering should be reserved for the interest phase, when people are creating a short list of providers and will more willingly put up with being a prisoner of data capture.

Meanwhile, Blake Hinckley cites a stat from Marketing Sherpa that says that the data we’re capturing is garbage anyway because 71% of people lie on the forms. I’m a little skeptical about taking that stat at face value. There are plenty of cells on data forms (too many, in most cases) so people may be lying about things that don’t really matter anyway. In my experience, IT prospects tend to lie about their titles and their level of interest because they’re afraid that they won’t get the best content or treatment if they admit that they’re trapped on the help desk instead of wielding that big stick of decision-making. But is that lead totally useless? I don’t think so.

Get data through actions, not words
But Blake is on to something when he talks about a concept called passive profiling, in which marketers gather data based on the kinds of content they are offering to prospects rather than through forms. Prospects are only required to give up their names and emails to access content that then tells the marketers how interested the prospects really are. He offers a great example from a client:

“For example, in our campaign with Level 3, a leading fiber-based communications company, we tracked whether prospects downloaded a vbook. Since the vbook explains the need for reliable connectivity (Level 3’s product), if the user browsed through several sections, we could reliably consider them a warm lead. The vbook also contained a Level 3 Network Map embedded as a PDF. If prospects downloaded it, we can assume they were checking if their building or business is within Level 3’s fiber network. PDF-checkers were hot leads, interested in Level 3’s solution, so we quickly passed these leads off to Level 3’s sales team to make the call in time.”

Sync your content to the stages of the buying process
He later says that the decision between active and passive profiling shouldn’t be so binary—that you can mix a little bit of both. But I think that assumes that we are actively (sorry) thinking about how much data we should be capturing before we start to piss people off. I don’t think we’re doing that. By default, we try to get as much as we can, because we figure sales is going to rip us up if we don’t—or because we figure free content (that wasn’t free to us—we killed ourselves creating it) should have to come at some kind of price.

But I think Tom has a great point when he says that there’s not much reason to be asking people for a lot of information during the early stages of the buying process. That’s why it’s important to sync your content to the different phases of the buying process and let that drive the kind of data you try to gather.

Stop collecting this data
For the epiphany and interest stages of the buying process (which is where most of us play anyway), I think we need to practice passive profiling wherever possible, and when it isn’t possible, we should slash the data forms to the bare minimum. Here’s what I think the forms should ask for:

  • Name
  • E-mail
  • Would you like to subscribe to content about this business issue? (Writing clear headlines and descriptions is important.)

That’s it.

Things to banish forever:

  • Address (Why would I want to engage with anyone who wants to send me snail mail?)
  • Title (totally meaningless and a prime reason to lie)
  • Company (so we’re a client/not a client; what does that have to do with anything at this stage of the buying process?)
  • Level of interest (we’re here because we’re interested in learning about business issues, not your products)
  • Budget (with the complexity of the stuff we’re selling, this data would be crap anyway)
  • Phone (c’mon—it’s a new century)

Data forms act like social media doesn’t exist. A combination of conversational engagement and great thought leadership content are what we need to engage with customers in the coming years, not qualification forms.

What do you think?

Check out the B2B Marketing Zone

In keeping with my recent post about being part of the B2B online marketers guild, I wanted to point you to the B2B Marketing Zone, where Tony Karrer has done a nice job of building a list of relevant B2B marketing blogs (including mine—thanks, Tony!) and offers a handy summary of all of them so you don’t have to visit a bunch of different sites to see what’s going on. Another great example of the aggregation blog strategy that I was talking about.

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