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Spear Marketing Group is a full-service marketing agency specializing in demand generation, lead management, and ROI-based marketing. The Point - Best Practices & Principles in B2B Demand Generation is the blog by Spear Marketing Group which shares ongoing btob topics, tips about digital marketing and other marketing strategy.
New marketing technologies like Uberflip make it increasingly easy to track content consumption beyond just clicks and downloads. This functionality not only generates additional insights for marketers as to just how much of their content prospects are actually reading, but also enables more sophisticated lead qualification methods, for example: granting higher lead scores when an individual prospect reads more than say, 80 percent of a white paper.
But what if the insight gained from these technologies is unwelcome news, namely that people are downloading, but not actually consuming, marketing content?
On LinkedIn recently, one sales executive opined that anecdotal evidence (i.e. feedback from his team) suggests that no-one reads his company’s white papers and, he concluded, this rendered the entire purpose of content marketing moot.
So, does it matter if your white papers or ebooks or case studies are downloaded but not actually consumed? My answer: no, it doesn’t.
Just to be clear – to the extent that customers and prospective customers DO actually read your content, gain valuable information from that content, and think more highly of you and your company because of it, all the better. However, in the context of demand generation, it matters very little whether they read it or not.
Remember: to be effective, demand generation content should appeal to, and generate engagement from, a prospective customer looking to solve a pain, problem, or issue that your company, product or solution can address. Think about that for a moment. It matters much less that the prospect reads that content, or upon reading the content, is more inclined to do business with your company. What matters is that the content delivers information of value of a type that appeals to someone to whom you can ultimately sell.
One of the primary reasons that so many B2B companies develop and publish content that is little more than a brochure in sheep’s clothing (besides the fact that too many product managers are writing white papers) is that marketers believe demand generation content needs to sell. It doesn’t. In fact, I’d argue that, to the extent your content doesn’t sell, describe, or even mention your product, the greater its perceived value and the more effective it will be in generating leads.
By all means, develop content that addresses a genuine problem, one that the right prospects are eager to address, and one that qualifies those prospects as potential customers for your company. But don’t despair if evidence shows few of those prospects actually read it. The more important thing is that they downloaded it in the first place.
In a recent article on LinkedIn that I highly recommend for any tech entrepreneur, Jason Seeba and Ashu Garg spell out the key priorities, milestones, and pitfalls for early-stage companies seeking to acquire customers. In “The Startup’s Guide to Demand Generation: From Your First 10 Customers to Your Next 1,000,” the two authors cover everything from when to make the first marketing hire, to what marketing technologies to buy first, to how best to leverage marketing data.
Their article inspired me to reflect on some of the start-ups that our agency has worked with over the years. Some of those clients have gone on to great things, while some have fizzled or been acquired. Many we were able to generate real results for, very quickly, whilst others proved much more of a challenge. What distinguished the successes from the failures?
Here are some of the key lessons I’ve learned for how even the smallest company can find success generating leads, opportunities, and customers:
1. Branding Doesn’t Matter
When you’re an established company, say: Salesforce.com or Microsoft, how people feel about your company on an emotional level – based on the sum total of their interactions with that company — can have a significant impact on how and why they invest in your product. But a “brand” for a much smaller company is immaterial, I would argue. And, moreover, any time, energy or resources invested in defining or promoting that brand distracts from activity that would be better served generating leads, engagement, and customers. Worry about the brand when you get to a time and place where it finally matters.
2. Know, Validate, and Preach Your Message
Brand may not matter, but message does. If your company changes its value proposition from month to month (or from one executive to the next), or hasn’t validated that message in the field, no amount of demand generation will make a difference. Define who you are, what you do, and why it matters, validate those points, and ensure that everything you communicate into the market, from a Google Ad to a sales script, is based fundamentally on that same, consensus message. Better yet, develop a comprehensive message deck that sets out clear, defensible value propositions for defined audience segments, verticals, or buying personas.
3. Good Content is Your Secret Weapon
Demand generation as a whole, and content marketing in particular, is a meritocracy. Good content that provides clear, compelling information on how to solve a business problem generally wins. Bad content, poorly written, content that purports to offer advice but is really promoting a product, will more often fail. Larger companies may have more writers and a bigger budget, but they are no more capable of producing good content than you. A simple, well-crafted white paper – one that speaks to a pressing issue in the marketplace – can put you on the map, generate buzz, and be the foundation to a highly effective demand generation strategy. Plus, you can repurpose that same white paper into blog posts, slide shares, infographics, and more.
4. Use Outbound and Inbound Channels
In their article, Seeba and Garg say: “Identify what works for you.” But searching for that winning strategy doesn’t mean putting all your demand generation eggs in one basket. For start-ups especially, it’s critical not to rely on any one channel, or tactic, or piece of content. Most importantly, start-ups need to employ both inbound and outbound channels for demand generation. Inbound tactics (Google AdWords, LinkedIn ads, Content Syndication) increase the chances that someone trying to solve the very problem you can address will find you and engage with your company. Outbound marketing (email, direct mail, most ABM) puts your message in front of the right people. Outbound is especially critical for those companies solving a problem that people may not know they have. But no company can rely 100% on one vs. the other.
5. Go Easy on Webinars
I struggle to understand why so many start-ups are so infatuated with Webinars. Is it because they believe that Webinars generate better leads, and their company doesn’t have the sales bandwidth to filter the good from the bad? Is there something about Webinars that companies believe communicates a certain credibility, or viability? Either way, Webinars as a content strategy are overused. The key issue: Webinars set a “high bar” for response. A Webinar invitation is a request for 45 minutes of someone’s time, from a company he/she has never heard of, for a problem he/she may not know exists. I’m not saying don’t do Webinars at all, but don’t make them your main form of content. Consider an ebook, an infographic, or even a video, formats that ask less of the prospect and thus are more likely to generate engagement.
When you work primarily with high-tech clients, you learn to cope with a great deal of short-term thinking. Tech companies have short-term horizons for a number of reasons:
* Many are private and depend on short term results to prove viability and therefore ensure their ongoing funding
* Many are competing in early stage markets and need to get in front of their competitors quickly before consolidation and attrition take their toll
* Technology changes rapidly, and tech companies often have windows of opportunity to realize revenue from products or services before they become obsolete.
Inevitably, this short-term outlook trickles down to a company’s demand generation strategy. I talk regularly to marketing execs who feel they don’t have the luxury to build a customer base over the long term, so instead of cultivating and nurturing prospects, they focus instead on sales-driven, tactical marketing programs designed to seek out “hot leads”.
The problem is that programs designed exclusively to uncover highly qualified leads in a very short time frame tend to be 1) challenging and 2) expensive. Here’s why:
* Many tech products are first of breed solutions and/or of a complexity that demands a more long-term, consultative selling process. Prospects may simply not be ready to engage with sales because either 1) they don’t know such a solution exists, or 2) they may not be aware they have the problem in the first place.
* Focusing on only the most qualified prospects leaves many potential (albeit, more long term) deals on the table. A potential customer might have precisely the problem that a particular product or service solves and are anxious to solve that problem, yet may not feel as though they’re ready to buy and so fail to respond to the campaign.
* Similarly, even if less qualified prospects do respond to the campaign, they’ll likely be ignored by sales reps focused exclusively on meeting a monthly or quarterly quota and who therefore don’t want to spend the time cultivating more long-term opportunities.
* Response rates from tactical, sales-driven campaigns are likely to be lower (because they only attract highly qualified, late stage leads), so companies need to spend more money to generate relatively few opportunities.
* Lastly, because the campaigns weed out all but those prospects in active purchase mode, it leaves the sales pipeline empty once those deals have been either closed or lost. This requires a constant re-loading of the sales funnel with new, expensive leads.
Look, I get it. I understand that your CEO, the board, and your VCs want results, and they want them now. Or that you need to fill the pipeline with qualified opportunities quickly, so that your sales team can close that business before year-end. But here’s the reality: most demand generation is a long-term process. And you’ll generate more qualified leads, at a lower cost, if you adopt a longer-term approach.
An effective demand generation strategy is one that not only captures hot sales leads but also maximizes the value of more long-term prospects. Such a strategy requires:
* Casting a wider net to include those prospects who meet your demographic criteria (right person at right company) but who may not be in active purchase mode
* Building a marketing database of both short- and long-term prospects that at minimum meet specific demographic or target account criteria
* Focusing campaigns, content, and resources on BOTH generating net new leads but also nurturing existing prospects
Over time, such a long-term approach reduces the demand for expensive, tactical campaigns because more and more qualified leads will be generated through lead nurturing, from prospects that have been educated, cultivated, and are finally ready to engage with sales.
Demand Generation Report just published their 2018 Outlook Guide: The State of Marketing Automation. The guide features insights, projections, and opinions on current challenges, opportunities, and trends from 19 B2B marketing experts and practitioners, including leading executives from Marketo, Oracle, SiriusDecisions, and Forrester Research.
I was honored to be invited to contribute my thoughts as part of the report, reproduced (with permission) below. You can download the entire guide here.
(DGR) What were the biggest changes/challenges for B2B marketers in 2017?
(HS) One of the biggest challenges for B2B marketers right now is simply keeping pace with the changes in marketing technology. Whether it’s predictive analytics, ABM, AI, or chatbots, the modern marketer needs to navigate an increasingly technical discipline. Unfortunately, the trend for many firms when it comes to marketing technology seems to be: “buy now, and figure it out later.” We saw the same issue when marketing automation first emerged – companies were besotted by the promise of MA, but many failed to achieve that promise because they didn’t have the vision, the strategy, or the content in place.
(DGR) What do you see as the biggest trends in marketing automation in 2018?
(HS) I’m really excited about the possibilities for leveraging predictive analytics and big data in marketing automation. If we can display Web content to an online visitor based on that visitor’s profile, Web behavior, and predictive intent, why can’t we do the same with email? I’d like to be able to schedule an email broadcast or a nurture stream and have each individual recipient receive a different subject line, at a different time of day, based on what predictive data tells us that recipient is most likely to engage with. There’s talk already about this capability being on the short-term horizon, and it could be a game-changer.
(DGR) What new opportunities do you see for demand gen and engagement in 2018?
(HS) Marketing is becoming more and more personalized. There are fewer hard and fast rules that apply to all audiences. Some might say: “Video is the best content for demand generation,” for example, but the reality (as it’s always been) is that different people respond to different messages, and content, and even lead generation channels, in different ways. The real opportunity for B2B marketers in 2018 is to find ways of personalizing the way we deliver content, in a manner that makes it most relevant, timely, and engaging to individual recipients.
To download a copy of the 2018 Outlook Guide: The State of Marketing Automation, click here.
After more than two decades in the agency business, I’ve seen dozens of clients and hundreds of campaigns succeed and fail. Sometimes great people, a great product, or pure market demand can cover up all sorts of marketing sins, but more often the clients who succeed consistently at demand generation are those who have their act together. In this context, by “act” I mean that the client and his/her company have built a solid foundation on which virtually every campaign or program has a reasonable chance of success.
In an era when B2B marketing is so technology-driven, marketers can be forgiven for thinking that the only thing keeping them from success is one more layer in their technology stack. If we only had ABM, you hear. Or Predictive. Or Social Media Analytics. And yes, these new technologies can help fuel success, to be sure, but they can also be a crutch that prevents companies from addressing the very basic, block-and-tackling tasks that form the foundation for demand generation success.
And so, as you prepare next year’s marketing budget, and craft your martech wish list, make sure before anything else that you have your house in order. Before you add one more product to your tech stack, here are the 3 demand generation priorities I’d make sure are addressed first:
Know Your Audience.
It’s one of the oldest demand generation clichés that list matters above all else. But targeting the right audience is more than simply defining a target account list, or key industries, or buying personas. It also means knowing the very specific pain points, concerns, product benefits, and unique selling propositions (USPs) that apply to each of those sectors. Have you created a message deck that defines these selling points, by audience sector, to guide your agency partners, reduce creative cycles, and ensure that every sales outreach and marketing message is in sync? If not, make creating that deck a priority.
Know Your Content.
Without good content, even the most artful, compelling campaign is doomed. Good content is what fuels modern demand generation. And guess what, it’s no longer good enough to use the same white paper for every industry, buying persona, or even target account. Today’s buyers demand relevancy – or even personalized content. The first step in creating effective content is to take stock of what content you have. Create a content map – one that maps existing content by audience sector and sales stage (early, mid, late). Then use the map to identify content gaps, and design new content (or repurpose existing assets) to fill those holes.
It seems almost quaint to suggest that B2B marketers should track success. And yet most companies, even those with sophisticated marketing automation and CRM technologies at their disposal, do a poor job of genuinely measuring campaign success beyond basic metrics like clicks and leads. Failure to measure the true revenue (or pipeline) contribution of marketing activity, however, can lead to investing in programs or channels because they “look” successful when in fact they’re not. ROI measurement and accurate campaign attribution are not simple tasks, mainly because they require 1) data hygiene and 2) sales compliance. Yes, there are technologies that will help. However you address the issue, knowing where your demand generation investment is yielding genuine, bottom-line success is a knotty problem worth solving.
Earlier this month I co-hosted a Webinar with Greg Kelly of Vidyard and Jason Oakley of Uberflip on “Driving B2B Engagement with Personalized Content.” During the event, we discussed trends driving the interest in content personalization, addressed some of the key challenges, and presented examples of B2B companies having real success with their personalization strategies. You can view the recorded version of the event here.
As a sneak preview, here are some of the key takeaways from our discussion:
Marketing content is devalued. Successful content today is about Value, not Volume. Content personalization maximizes the relevancy, and therefore the effectiveness, of marketing content by making an ad, an email, a Web page or a content asset personally relevant to the target individual.
Know your audience and your message. Define segments and buying personas. Define messages and value propositions for those segments (i.e. a message deck). If you don’t know what’s relevant to your audience, no amount of personalization will help.
Personalization doesn’t have to mean creating all new content. Take stock of what content you have and map it against defined segments to identify content “gaps”. Look for core content such as white papers that can be “sliced” into multiple assets and versioned more readily for specific industries, roles, etc.
Personalization has a myriad of potential use cases proven to generate engagement – display ads personalized to a specific account, personalized video in a sales outreach email, Web pages that generate real-time content recommendations based on a visitor’s profile or behavior. Plus personalization opens up new ways to score or qualify leads, for example: a lead score based on leads that watch 80% of a personalized video.
Deployed incorrectly, personalization can be creepy. Keys to avoiding creepiness are 1) creating a genuine message vs. canned marketing-speak, 2) keeping it real (ex: personalized videos don’t have to be perfect; it’s almost better if they’re not), and 3) telling a compelling story that weaves in personalization (so the focus is on the story, not the fact that the person’s name appears in the ad.)
Personalization can have different performance metrics depending on the channel and type of content. But measurement is key to proving success and ROI. Look at basic engagement metrics (opens, clicks, conversions) but also how long people engage with content (average time per page visit, or percentage of video watched), or even how many people reply to an email (because they perceive the communication as more “human”) vs. simply clicking on a button.
To view the Webinar, “Driving B2B Engagement with Personalized Content”, click here.
There was a not too distant time when virtually all B2B demand generation was outbound. (You millennials won’t remember this.) You rented a list and pushed your message to that list. But then inbound marketing happened. And the pundits said: no, no, the buyer is in control, he or she will decide when to respond, and B2B marketing is about being in the right place at the right time. (Cue the advent of search marketing and Google AdWords.)
Well now the pendulum has swung yet again, and the same experts are all waving the flag of outbound marketing. Who has time for inbound marketing, they say. Be aggressive! Be proactive! Find the people ready to buy and go after them!
So, is inbound marketing dead? No, it’s not. And though there’s merit in a more proactive, targeted approach to demand generation, especially in light of the technologies (e.g. Account-Based Marketing (ABM), Predictive Analytics) that now allow us to 1) find prospective customers with a higher propensity to buy, and 2) target those prospects, at scale, in a tightly orchestrated fashion, it would be a mistake to rely exclusively on outbound tactics.
Why? Because, guess what: the buyer is still in control, and he or she will respond, and engage, and buy, when he/she decides the time is right, and when he/she perceives that the relevant business pain or opportunity merits action.
Even the best, most creative, most tightly orchestrated outbound campaign succeeds on an accident of timing. That is to say: you have to deliver the right message to the right person at the right time, namely a time when that message resonates with a particular business pain or need. And if you place all your bets on outbound, you can have done everything right – the right list, the right creative, the right call to action – and your campaign may still fail because on that particular day, at that particular time, the prospect just isn’t ready for your message.
Instead, the most effective B2B demand generation today is an integrated mix of yes: targeted, outbound campaigns, but with a foundation of “always on” inbound marketing. Think Google AdWords, paid social advertising on LinkedIn and Facebook, Content Syndication, account-targeted display ads. By employing this air cover, if you’ll forgive the military metaphor, you accomplish two things:
1. you generate a greater awareness, familiarity, and credibility for your brand, making your outbound campaign more likely to succeed, and
2. you ensure that a prospect feeling the pain that you can solve is more likely to engage with your company, even if he/she wasn’t scheduled to hear from you on that day, or (just as likely) that particular individual didn’t happen to make it onto your contact list.
Lastly, it’s important to stress that “outbound marketing” and “ABM” are not synonymous. Though most marketers think of ABM as an outbound tactic, in the let’s-mail-something-dramatic-to-our-top-accounts-to-get-them-to-meet-with-us way, ABM is also more effective if it employs a strategic mix of both outbound and inbound channels. And these days, most every inbound channel – search, paid social, content syndication, display – can be executed in a very targeted, account-specific fashion.
Planning for a successful Account-Based Marketing (ABM) initiative requires much more than simply investing in new software and asking the sales team for a list of top target accounts.
Proper ABM planning demands painstaking account selection, a clear consensus and buy-in amongst internal stakeholders, and a careful inventory of current content. And that’s just the beginning.
Without planning, ABM initiatives are doomed to be little more than short-term, tactical campaigns (see this earlier post) that fall far short of their potential. Have you taken the right steps to make sure your ABM initiative achieves the results you expect? Use the checklist below as a guide.
I was left a voicemail earlier this week by a sales rep that I talked to (briefly) about 6 months ago. His message today was, in summary: “Are you ready to engage with us yet?”
Now, not only was I not ready, I barely remember what his company does. That’s because I haven’t had any communication from him or his company in the last 6 months that wasn’t a direct solicitation to do business with the firm.
As a sales professional or as a marketer, if you engage with a qualified prospect and that prospect doesn’t convert immediately to an opportunity, there’s every reason to stay in touch with that individual over time. But don’t equate “staying in touch” – or lead nurturing success – with simply asking the prospect over and over whether he or she is ready to buy.
There are far more effective strategies for staying in touch with prospects who might, at some point in the future, be in a position to buy or have a need that causes them to want to re-engage. Those strategies might include:
* sending case studies or customer success stories that remind the prospect of what your company does, and the ROI that you’ve helped other clients achieve;
* sending white papers, reports, and other high-value content that reinforce your company’s position as a thought leader, a resource, and a trusted partner;
* inviting the prospect to Webinars or other events that provide real and practical advice or insights about business problems, issues, or opportunities relevant to your solution
Knowing when a prospect is ready to take that next step, or ready to re-engage with your firm, relies on setting an appropriate threshold – a “bar” if you will – for that person to respond to sales or marketing outreach. If you set that bar too high, i.e. if the threshold is “are you ready to talk to sales?”, then only the most highly motivated prospects will ever respond.
By putting informational content, content of real value (versus content that simply sells your product) in front of prospects on a regular basis, you’ll generate conversations with buyers who, at minimum, have an active interest in solving the very problem or issue that your solution or service can address.
If you absolutely must ask a prospect if they want to talk to sales, there are 2 ways to do so without scaring off the much larger subset who would otherwise engage with your content:
1. Provide a checkbox on the registration form to request immediate sales contact; or
2. Provide a means to contact sales on the thank you page or in the fulfillment email that is sent to the prospect upon completing the registration form.
For many B2B Marketers, advertising on LinkedIn is becoming a demand generation staple. At our agency, we’re seeing great results across a broad swath of clients from LinkedIn Sponsored Updates in particular, at a cost per lead similar to, or sometimes better than, traditional search marketing.
In addition to the potential for highly competitive metrics (click-through, conversion rates), advertising on LinkedIn offers another key advantage compared to SEM, namely the ability through audience definition to ensure that the only people who see your ad are those who meet a tightly defined target demographic. The result is fewer unqualified leads from people who would never buy your product.
The creative requirements for sponsored updates are simple – a few lines of text and a custom image. And perhaps it’s because of that simplicity that very few LinkedIn ads, in my view as a dedicated ad watcher, take full advantage of the channel with either copy or imagery that are truly engaging.
The ad below from CRM giant Salesforce.com is an exception. I don’t know the results (if someone from Salesforce reads this, please comment) but my educated guess is that it performs well. Here are the two key reasons why I think that is:
1. Ad copy
The copy for this ad is a triumph of brevity. It leads with a clear, quantifiable benefit (“growing revenue 25%”). It identifies the offer (“Growth Kit”) front and center. And then closes with a list of 3 actionable phrases that drive action (“get the tools you need to succeed.”)
If you scan your LinkedIn feed today, I can almost guarantee that most of the images accompanying sponsored posts will be generic and uninspiring: a quick screen grab from the landing page, an offer thumbnail, perhaps some bland stock image with an equally ordinary tagline.
Here, the Salesforce folks have accomplished a design that is both unique enough to catch the eye as you scroll by, but also informative enough to engage the reader. What we see is actually an image of the offer, but rather than use some boring white paper cover, Salesforce created a desktop vignette that represents various elements of the “guide” being consumed – on a tablet, a clipboard, and a smartphone (the video at upper right).
Along with the faux desktop, coffee cup, and pen, each element adds a human flavor to a scene that otherwise would be just another information kit. In addition, showing the different elements makes the offer more tangible, and, therefore, more interesting.
This ad is also a reminder that images in LinkedIn updates aren’t limited to just the visual. If you’re promoting an event like a Webinar, for example, or perhaps a speaking slot at an upcoming conference, you would do well to include, as part of the image, basic information like date, time, presentation title, and speaker info.