The role of the B2B marketer is evolving and expanding. Traditionally, marketers have focused on generating leads and handing these over to their sales teams. Now, with advances in communication technology, a better educated customer base and a more complex business environment, the buying process is no longer linear. Prospects can enter the sales funnel at any stage; and instead of moving in one direction, they jump back and forth. This calls for a much closer collaboration between marketing and sales.
Essentially, today’s marketers are expected to add value and generate demand at every stage of the funnel. This goes beyond merely identifying and delivering leads. It also involves nurturing these prospects, guiding them through the funnel, and keeping them engaged throughout the conversion and retention processes.
At the same time, marketers are also more accountable for the type of leads that enter the pipeline. Where lead quantity may have been a priority previously (as marketers focused on increasing reach), lead quality is now equally – if not more – important.
The new marketing goals
Today’s ‘full-funnel’ marketing professionals need to work much more synergistically with their sales teams to close the loop between marketing activity and ROI.
In an ideal world, the B2B marketer should be capable of:
- Qualifying leads against pre-defined criteria;
- Identifying which channels are driving the best quality leads;
- Delivering higher-value, properly qualified leads to the sales teams;
- Ensuring greater levels of customer engagement across a multitude of marketing and communication channels;
- Measuring engagement overall rather than campaign by campaign;
- And nurturing key prospect and customer relationships for the long term.
Of course, achieving all of this is by no means simple. Our 2016 B2B Marketing Annual Survey of over 100 mid- to senior-level B2B marketers revealed that as many as 85% of these professionals are failing to track leads from 'cold to close'.
Let us look at why this is happening and what you can do about it.
Creating personal connections with customers
Technological advances have made it easier for marketers to meet the many challenges of operating in a multi-channel environment. Marketing automation systems play an important role in successful demand generation – by helping marketers to prioritise, streamline and execute increasingly complex tasks. However, it is important to remember that automation is the tool in these processes and therefore only as good as the strategy for which it is deployed and the data that feeds it.
At the core of the marketing function and the foundation for all profitable demand generation, lies the responsibility to build real and lasting connections with customers in the most inspiring, authentic and relevant ways. Your ability to achieve this is what sets your business apart from competitors. This is also what helps to build trust and ultimately, loyalty.
While it is essential to harness all the technology at your disposal, it is also important to remember that B2B customers are people. They value human interaction – whether you’re typing a personal email, sending a hand-written note or picking up the phone to thank them for their input or ask a question.
Ideally, this one-to-one connection should happen early in the customer lifecycle, well before handing the prospect over to the sales team. It should also be maintained at a healthy level throughout the customer journey to keep customers engaged and ensure you are fully up to speed with their changing needs and expectations.
Increasing the value of your leads
The survey asked to what extent marketing departments are under pressure to produce a greater quantity of leads. More than a quarter of respondents (26%) said it was ‘the greatest’ pressure, while a further 59% stated it was a ‘significant’ pressure.
There is no doubt that the quantity of ‘top of the funnel’ leads is important. However, if these leads are not effectively qualified before being handed over to sales, they could generate unwarranted costs further down the funnel, as sales teams chase non-existent interest or prospects who are unable or not ready to buy.
A common problem is a lack of clarity on which leads are most likely to progress towards a sale. Often, this is due to a lack of understanding between the sales team and marketers, as to what constitutes a good lead. Another recent survey of B2B marketers by B2B Marketing reported that 34% of businesses lack an organisation-wide definition of a strong lead . Without a clear agreement between sales and marketing as to what defines a lead, marketing cannot work effectively.
How to better qualify leads
The most effective demand generation programmes call for the use of both quantitative and qualitative measures to evaluate leads. Where automation can help to boost the quantity of leads, it is not enough to simply pass these automatically qualified leads over to the sales team. Even the most sophisticated marketing technology is (currently) unable to pick up the nuances and gather the insights required to thoroughly evaluate leads.
Respondents to the same B2B Marketing Survey reported that the majority of demand generation tools they use are unable to provide even the basic level of BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, and Timing) lead qualification necessary for effective nurture. Many fail to gather details of budget, existing solutions, pain points, or business requirements, insight that is essential to nurture and develop sales ready leads.
This is where a human touch is needed. By speaking to prospects and clients – at an event or over the phone – and developing an authentic, ongoing, two-way conversation with them, marketers can gather the intelligence necessary to make better-informed judgements. These insights can help identify which leads are viable sales opportunities and how they should be shepherded through the conversion funnel.
You need to understand prospects’ unique business challenges, their goals and expectations, their decision-making processes and their timelines before qualifying them as a valuable lead. It is therefore essential for marketers to develop robust lead evaluation methodologies that include both automated qualification and human qualification.
This allows you to close the gap between early stage digitally generated leads and real, revenue generating opportunities.
Enhancing your reach
Another critical component of effective demand generation marketing is to be strategic in selecting your channels. Don’t be too quick in letting cost guide you in this crucial decision. While resources are, of course, never limitless – you need to look at the type of leads that each channel allows you to reach and then decide whether you can afford not to connect with these prospects.
Again, this is where a robust lead qualification strategy comes in handy, as it will enable you to evaluate which channels are delivering the best quality leads. The B2B Marketing survey highlighted that the most widely used tools are not necessarily considered the most effective – 77% of respondents confirmed their use of social media but only 20% rated it most effective.
Some unique channels, like telemarketing, can reach certain segments of your market that other channels cannot – and do so in a way that allows for a deeper, more personal connection. Perhaps some prospects are reluctant to engage on digital channels or they prefer speaking to humans than machines. If these individuals are high-value prospects, you may miss out on a chance to engage them if you choose to only use online marketing channels. At the same time, one-to-one marketing channels like this are more difficult to ignore and could therefore increase your response rates.
Improving your data
Most marketers will agree that poor and incomplete data is another issue that affects lead viability and customer engagement throughout the account lifecycle. Unless your data starts off clean and accurate – and you maintain it with continuous research and evaluation – any metric or campaign element that you feed it into will be ineffective.
There is a lot of technology available to clean data. The main challenge is to ensure that this data is correct, comprehensive and insightful enough to qualify the value of opportunities. Often, more qualitative research is called for here to ensure that you have all the facts, in context. Offline research at this early stage can help you to gather the business intelligence you need to understand and segment your market, and deploy effective marketing programmes that generate higher quality leads.
Building trust and relationships
As discussed before in our article on post-purchase engagement, retaining customers is just as important as acquiring them. Full funnel marketing is about generating demand throughout the customer journey to increase the lifetime value of each account.
For marketers to continue engaging existing customers, it is important to keep building trust and strengthening relationships by ensuring that communication is personal and relevant, anticipating issues and acting quickly when customers do engage.
Encourage clients to pick up the phone or reach out on other channels in order to voice concerns, frustrations or questions as they arise. This is better than letting small gripes and issues snowball into rifts that cannot be bridged.
The way forward
Marketers who are revenue-focused need to work synergistically with sales, as well as align their strategies with broader corporate goals. Effective demand generation requires a well-defined process that plays to the strengths of each marketing channel and delivers a relevant and seamless customer experience. Choosing tools that provide real insight to drive effective, measurable demand generation is critical.
As discussed, human interaction remains essential at every stage of the funnel – from profiling and lead qualification through to closing deals and building loyalty. By speaking to customers and engaging them in meaningful dialogues, you can better understand their pain points, their expectations, their perceptions of your business and more. Otherwise, you risk wasting your time and your sales team’s resources on false assumptions. Whilst not the most widely used demand generation tool, interestingly telemarketing showed the highest correlation to effectiveness in the B2B Marketing survey – 41% of respondents confirmed using the channel, 35% rated it the most effective demand generation tool, and 41% rated it the best aid to sales enablement.
With the right tools to provide a good understanding of your customer’s viewpoint and a personalised approach right from the beginning, you’re more likely to lay the foundation for a rewarding customer experience. This experience is what holds customers’ interest and keeps generating revenue for your business.