The question of quantity versus quality manifests itself in all walks of life. When expressed in this binary way, there are very few people in any situation who select quantity; we all know quality is what really counts. And yet, when it comes to marketers and leads there is still a misunderstanding, often at very senior levels of organisations, that quantity of leads is a sound metric on which to measure marketing performance. But it is simply not the case that the more you put in the more you get out, especially when lead definitions are unclear.
And while the conflict over what constitutes an SQL versus an MQL is well documented and long-standing, in recent times, a further pain point has entered the mix: automated qualified leads (AQLs) where marketing technology enables marketers to increase, sometimes drastically, their number of leads but, because there is no offline qualification, reduce their overall quality.
In the digital age, the nirvana for marketers is to have tightly integrated marketing programmes deployed across multiple channels where customers can be easily managed, tracked, nurtured and developed at the right point using the right channel. But the practicalities of getting there are by no means simple.
This report, based on a survey of over 100 mid- to senior-level B2B marketers carried out in March 2016, determines:
The pressures marketers are currently facing with regard to leads;
- The pain points marketers face in terms of progressing leads towards sales handover;
- The challenges and opportunities offered by marketing automation (MA) tools to deliver against marketing objectives;
- Marketers’ views on the quality and management of data as a starting point for marketing;
- And levels of confidence in marketers’ ability to engage customers across multiple channels.
The pressure is on
Meeting the expectations of senior managers
There’s no doubt that marketers are feeling the heat when it comes to leads. When asked to what extent the marketing department is under pressure from senior management to produce a greater quantity of leads, respondents were unequivocal: over a quarter (26 per cent) said it was the greatest pressure on the department, while a further 59 per cent stated it was a ‘significant’ pressure.
Of course senior management and sales want more lead generation; however, the pursuit of higher numbers in and of itself isn’t enough. This is evidenced by the fact only 17 per cent of marketers stated their major concern with regards to leads was the inability to produce a sufficient quantity. Twenty-six per cent were chiefly concerned with lead quality, but the largest response group was, unfortunately, the 56 per cent concerned by both quality and quantity.
“The pursuit of higher numbers in and of itself isn’t enough“
Tracking the value of each and every lead
The concern over securing more high-quality leads is compounded by the fact that less than half of marketers (50 per cent) express confidence in their ability to track and manage leads from cold to close, with a mere 15 per cent stating they were ‘very confident’ in doing so. Without this ability to know which leads really contribute to revenue-generating opportunities for sales, marketers have no way of measuring and reporting on ROI.
When asked to reflect on the reasons for this lack of confidence, the standout issue identified was ‘poor initial qualification’ (29 per cent) while the next two answers were ‘length of time in lead queue’ (23 per cent) and ‘recycled leads not displaying buying signals’ (21 per cent), all characteristics of leads generated by digital channels.
“Without the ability to know which leads contribute to revenue opportunities... marketers have no way of measuring ROI”
A lack of strategic cohesion
It seems clear that there’s a drive to increase the number of leads in the funnel, but without sufficient consideration of whether these leads are likely to progress towards a sale. The fact that a whopping third of marketers (34 per cent) rate themselves ‘quite ineffective’ or worse at ensuring only the most appropriate leads progress through the funnel is highly suggestive of an industry struggling with leads entering the funnel that have no place being there.
Most worryingly, nearly a quarter of respondents (24 per cent) still have no definition of what constitutes a lead. Without a basic agreement between sales and marketing as to what a lead looks like and how it should be qualified, there is no way marketing can work effectively to deliver only the highest quality leads to sales. As a result, leads will not be capable of generating the levels of revenue and ROI senior management expects to see from marketing efforts.
But even within those organisations where there is agreement, there may still be a case for examining the balance between human qualification and automated qualification to ensure the first human qualification a lead gets isn’t from a salesperson. One can only imagine the wasted cost to sales of unqualified leads, particularly when it comes to dead-end conversations that eat into your sales team’s time and are likely to be perceived by customers as interruptive or irritating.
“Nearly a quarter of respondents still have no definition of what constitutes a lead”
Marketing automation: Enabler or disruptor?
An over-reliance on the machine
Marketing automation (MA), still a widely underused technology in the B2B space, might have some well-documented benefits, but it also has a number of limitations, one of which relates directly to lead quality. Over half (53 per cent) of those who’ve implemented MA have experienced issues with automated qualified leads (AQLs), where the introduction of MA has increased the quantity of leads but decreased their overall quality.
Crucially, our survey found over 50 per cent of respondents felt the key issues hindering the performance of MA were a mixture of poor data sets (35 per cent) and poor integration of offline qualification of leads (17 per cent). This demonstrates a key issue with automation: however good marketing tech is, if the data being fed in is not strategically cleansed and reinforced with offline insight, it will at best be ineffective and, at worst, make life harder for sales and marketing teams trying to determine what constitutes a strong lead.
“However good marketing tech is, if the data being fed in is not strategically cleansed… it will at best be ineffective”
Automation can’t do it all
The human touch
As with lots of technology, your MA system won’t be able to do it all; this isn’t the golden goose of lead generation and it’ll never be a case of plugging it in, sitting back and watching it come up with the goods. Reassuringly, the majority of marketers seem to recognise this, with 72 per cent stating their current lead qualification methodologies are either mostly or exclusively offline – demonstrating the importance of the human touch in lead qualification. But not everyone’s prioritising the human approach – a third of organisations (30 per cent) actually lack the processes needed to ensure leads are qualified by human interactions before they’re handed over to sales.
“With automation, it’s not just a case of plugging it in, sitting back and watching it generate leads”
Understanding the power of human interaction
The fact 30 per cent of organisations have no processes in place for ensuring leads are qualified by human interactions is particularly concerning given the most common method for following up with qualified leads is sales calls, identified by 55 per cent of respondents. Traditional marketing follow-ups are far less common: telemarketing was identified by only 21 per cent of respondents, and personalised email by only 20 per cent.
This is the crux of the issue: if marketers are handing leads to sales that haven’t been qualified properly, they’ll reduce the effectiveness and productivity of sales, and ultimately reduce the ability of marketers to prove ROI. Even the best marketing tech in the world cannot act as a substitute for
a human interaction to qualify, convert or gather information about a lead
that will aid conversion further down the funnel. Having a strategy to address the balance between automation and offline qualification is vital in ensuring data is being used to maximise revenue.
“Even the best marketing tech in the world can’t act as a substitute for a human interaction”
The strangulating effect of poor data
In a world where data abounds it can be easy to get bogged down in what you’re working with – and only have a very foggy idea of how strong it really is. With regard to respondents’ approach to data and validating its quality, there’s a divide between the leaders and laggards. Nineteen per cent were ‘very confident’ the quality of their data provides the best start for marketing activity, with a further 34 per cent expressing they were ‘quite confident’. But this leaves a whopping 47 per cent of organisations with limited access to the data they need to generate and progress leads. Add to this the earlier statistic that 35 per cent of marketers feel poor datasets are hindering marketing efforts, and it once again enforces the point that with regard to lead quality, what you get out is only ever as good as what you put in.
“What you get out is only ever as good as what you put in”
Seeking answers in the wrong places
The lack of willingness from companies to enlist expert help when it comes to data management suggests data isn’t being taken seriously enough: only a tiny six per cent of organisations currently use external data specialists to improve their data, with the rest relying on internal resources. It may seem an obvious point, but when it comes to data, no amount of analytics or technology will bring any benefits unless clean, accurate data is the starting point. This isn’t just a case of finding and eliminating duplicates and introducing new prospects into the database to make it more responsive: there needs to be a coherent plan for updating existing records. This means a clear process, timetable and responsibility for making sure the existing database is up to date and well maintained.
“No amount of analytics or technology will bring benefits unless clean, accurate data is the starting point”
Keeping your data clean
When it comes to data management, marketers seem perhaps to have lost faith in the human touch; as far as keeping data clean goes, the reliance on technology is overwhelming. Forty-two per cent of respondents said desk research was their most common form of data management, and a further 32 per cent said conducting electronic data audits was their go-to method. Telemarketing, meanwhile, which involves a real person checking and gathering information, was used by a mere 19 per cent of organisations.
“Marketers seem to have lost faith in the human touch”
Making the case for extra resource
One factor behind this may be the most common of complaints: lack of budget. When asked to select the factors most limiting access to high-quality data sets, ‘lack of resources’ and ‘cost’ were the standout answers selected by 62 per cent and 39 per cent of respondents respectively. But to ever hope of getting close to the point of deploying marketing programmes across multiple channels that demonstrate clear ROI, marketers have to more forcefully make the case that high-quality data is the most integral starting point.
“High-quality data is the most integral starting point for programmes that deliver ROI”
Harnessing the power of multichannel
Fortunately, the majority of marketers are well aware of the potential the multichannel environment offers and are making the case to senior management for investment. A huge majority – 73 per cent – of respondents stated that engaging customers in a multichannel environment is now a clearly defined part of their overall marketing strategy. This is an essential step-change, as it acknowledges that a multichannel approach is necessary to respond to customers who want to be able to switch seamlessly between channels and value speaking to a real person who can listen to what they need and solve their problems. Encouragingly, marketers are confident they will be better able to use multichannel marketing over the next two years to achieve this goal: 64 per cent said they were ‘quite confident’ and a further 22 per cent went further to state they were ‘highly confident’.
“A huge majority of respondents stated that engaging customers in a multichannel environment is now a clearly defined part of their overall marketing strategy”
Keeping the end goal in mind
Marketers understand the need to make their case for quality over quantity to senior management and have identified the two key areas that need improvement to meet that end: better tech integration with offline qualification processes and improving the quality of the input data. These are not ends in themselves, but getting investment in these areas is the essential starting point in moving towards a cohesive multichannel strategy, allowing B2B customers to move seamlessly between both off and online channels.
Weaving a human element into your lead generation strategy at both of these stages is crucial – perhaps now more than ever before. With the proliferation of technology
and inbound data in today’s marketing departments, smart marketers are employing traditional, trusted methods to validate and qualify data and leads, sort the metaphorical wheat from the chaff, and transform outcomes as a result.
“Smart marketers are employing trusted methods to verify the quality of data they’re working with”
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