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.
For the last decade or more, it’s been an accepted principle
– almost a key tenet – of B2B demand
generation that business buyers don’t want to talk to a sales rep until the
last possible moment.
It’s why, for example, we marketers have assumed control for
more and more of the lead funnel. There
was once a time when we would generate a lead and our job would be done. Now that lead has to be nurtured, educated, scored,
enriched, appended and qualified before we would dare hand it off to sales.
Well, that very basic assumption, that business buyers prefer to be anonymous and self-directed, and uninterested in engaging with sales until they’re absolutely ready to buy, may be in question.
“Buyers are accelerating the time to engage with sales
reps so they can make decisions as quickly – or as slowly – as desired.”
For example, 42% of the executives surveyed in the report said
that they spoke to and engaged with reps in the first month, compared to only
33% just 12 months earlier.
If this finding is true, and genuinely indicative of a
larger trend, it could have major ramifications for the way in which B2B demand
marketers manage leads. Now, I’m not about
to advocate that we all dismantle our lead nurturing
programs and hand off leads to sales at the first opportunity, but there are more
incremental steps that companies can take to ensure – if buyers are indeed ready
to engage earlier in the process – that they have the opportunity to do
so. For example:
* Lead Scoring.
How well does your current lead scoring program identify prospects exhibiting
signs of buyer intent? Are you capturing
Web behavior such as visits to high-value pages? Are you integrating third-party intent data? A highly tuned lead scoring program will help
ensure that motivated buyers receive the appropriate attention and don’t fall
through the proverbial cracks.
* Sales Alerts. How well does your current lead management process alert reps – be they BDRs or field reps – to high-intent behavior? If sales is alerted to virtually any sign of interest on the part of a prospect (say, an email click), those alerts quickly become worthless and duly ignored. Re-evaluate your current system to ensure that there’s a hierarchy of alerts – from emails to assigned tasks – that properly align with different types of prospect behavior. For example, at our agency, we use Slack channels to alert specific sales execs when a prospect requests to “contact sales.”
* Gated & Secondary Offers. There’s a trend in our business towards ungated offers and “reducing friction” in the demand generation process, but I’ve always argued that gating offers – even in a nurture stream where you already know who the individual is – provides a valuable opportunity to drive additional engagement by serving up what I call “secondary offers.”
Secondary offers are calls to action – usually placed on a thank you page or in a fulfillment email – related to the action the prospect just took – as in: thank you for downloading our white paper, here’s a recorded Webinar you might like. The notion that prospects are ready to engage more quickly also suggests that late stage offers – ROI calculators, demos, product data sheets, case studies – should be introduced, or at least presented, earlier in the process for those prospects who might be ready to take the next step.
* Conversational Marketing. I wrote very recently in this space about the huge potential for integrating chatbots, and what is being referred to as “conversational marketing,” into the demand generation process. Indeed, one of the primary use cases for chatbots is increasing the rate at which Web visitors and other prospects engage with sales. If this buyer behavior trend is true, there’s an even stronger case for including chatbots on thank you pages, for example, where they can help to identify more highly motivated prospects, and connect them with a sales rep immediately.
[Thanks to Anne
Angele, Spear’s esteemed Director of Marketing Technology, for this month’s
Marketing attribution is a hot
topic these days in B2B circles. Yet,
for all the interest, precious few B2B companies achieve the holy grail of
knowing exactly how – and where – their marketing investment impacts
revenue. The reasons for this are
varied, but many of them center on the quality of the underlying data, and the
degree to which information about a particular lead, or opportunity, or closed
deal is captured and tracked accurately.
Fortunately, there are now some
excellent third-party reporting, analytics and attribution tools that can help
marketers get closer to attribution nirvana.
Before you invest in a third-party reporting solution, however, we
recommend first asking some tough questions:
1 – Data
Here’s the ugly truth: your reporting is only as good as your data. Before you can fix your reporting, you need to fix the data you’re reporting on. A good starting point is a mini data audit, focused on the following questions:
* Are you capturing lead sources? Depending on the marketing automation platform (MAP) you use, this might be captured in different ways (for example: Pardot campaigns, Marketo acquisition programs). However you do it, it’s critical that lead source be tracked consistently, across the board, for both online and offline channels.
* What do your leads and accounts look like? If your database is plagued with duplicates, or if your leads and contacts aren’t consistently associated with the correct accounts, it will be difficult, to say the least, to consolidate the data needed for an accurate attribution picture when a sale is made.
* Do you have a naming convention for programs and campaigns? Naming conventions should include key elements like timeframe and channel, and instituted in a consistent, predictable way that allows you to easily pull reports when needed.
* How is your lead management process working? An effective lead management process captures information like stage, lead/contact status, opportunity status, and deal amount. Some parts of this may be automated, but there are also likely pieces that are updated manually – for example, when an opportunity is opened. Those manual processes are very often where “holes” in the data occur.
8 Questions to Ask Before Investing in Marketing Attribution Click To Tweet
2 – Existing Reporting Capabilities
Once your data is in a better place, you might be surprised by how powerful your existing reporting tools can be. These may simply be your MAP or CRM. At the very least, getting a better sense of what’s possible with your existing tools can help you select the right third-party solution when you need it.
* What do you have available in your tech stack for data capture and/or reporting? Review how these tools are currently being used and if there’s any overlap in features that makes any of them redundant.
* Are all of your technologies passing information effectively? If the sync between systems isn’t working as it should, you’ll have gaps in data and visibility that will prevent you from getting the most out of your reporting.
* Are there any features that aren’t currently being utilized or add-ons to existing technology you could benefit from? Many popular MAPs and CRMs have add-on packages that can be added to enhance reporting capabilities. Before investing in a third-party tool, it may make sense to evaluate the options built into your existing systems.
* Are you using Salesforce Campaigns and corresponding statuses for all of your marketing efforts? If you have your MAP synced to Salesforce, campaigns are your best friend. Campaign reports are one of the most powerful tools available without adding on a dedicated reporting tool.
By this point, you should have truly maxed out your reporting capabilities using your current tech stack. A good next step is a thorough gap analysis: what reporting needs are not being met today? Are those needs sufficient to justify the time and expense of adding a dedicated attribution tool? If you’ve done your homework, if your data is everything it should be, and if you’ve made the most of what tools you have, you’ll be much better equipped to make a smart decision.
There are three things your email recipient should see almost
immediately, and those are: WHAT the offer is, WHY it’s of value, and HOW to
get it. Don’t make the reader hunt or
scroll to learn what exactly you want him or her to do, and why.
2. Sell the Offer,
Not the Product.
The goal of any email is to generate engagement. You generate engagement by convincing the
reader of the value of the information on offer, whether that information is a
white paper, a Webinar, or a demo. Don’t
prattle on about how wonderful your product is, only for the offer to be an
3. FOCUS: 1 Offer,
1 Message, 1 Call to Action.
It’s always tempting to offer he reader options. However, anything that provides an
alternative to the main call to action: contact us, click here for a demo, even
social share buttons, are a potential distraction and could reduce
engagement. Keep your email focused on
one offer, one message only.
4. Drive Action,
Don’t Just Relate Facts.
“As a busy marketer, you know …” Well if I already know, why do I care? Don’t start your email with a litany of facts
or a lengthy commentary on market trends.
Instead, incite the reader to take action by selling the value of the
information on offer.
5. Grab the Reader
Email copy doesn’t always have to be short. But more importantly, you have to grab the
reader early. An arresting header
image. An immediate benefit (“Learn how …”)
Something that says: this is worth your
attention and your time.
Don’t force the reader to scroll through the entire email in
order to respond. Include a CTA in the
header if possible (see #1, above). And at
least one text link in the body copy. (Tip:
buttons are more mobile friendly, but not all email clients will display them,
so play it safe.)
7. Make Copy Count.
In email, efficiency is more important than length, so avoid
redundancy. It matters less whether your
email is long or short, and more if every word, phrase and sentence is driving
action and giving the reader a reason to respond. Attention is fragile – if you think you can
probably do without a particular sentence or even paragraph, get rid of it.
On July 16, 2019 at 11 AM PT, I’ll be discussing these principles and other tips in a live Webinar, “A Crash Course in B2B Email Creative.” We’ll review real-life campaigns – the good, the bad and the ugly – along with tips, strategies, and techniques for increasing email performance. This same presentation was delivered earlier in the year to standing-room only audiences at leading marketing conferences. Join us! Register for the event here.
If you’ve ever received a notice of package delivery via
Facebook Messenger, or resolved a technical issue with your cell phone via
online chat, you’ll know that messaging, chat, and real-time communication are
already huge trends in the way that B2C companies communicate with customers,
and, in turn, the way that consumers prefer to communicate with brands.
Like so many other
trends that first take root in the consumer realm, B2B companies are starting
to take note, to the point where chatbots – programs designed to simulate (and
stimulate) conversation with online users – are being heralded as the “next big
thing” in B2B marketing.
Confession: I was a chatbot skeptic. One, because I’m generally wary of any technology
that promises to “revolutionize” B2B marketing, and two, because I struggled to
envision the use case for chatbots beyond customer service and support.
However, the more I learn about chatbots, the more I get
excited about their potential for B2B marketing, and demand generation
in particular. Martech vendors in the
space, notably Drift, are elevating the
concept of chatbots to something called “conversational marketing,” the notion that
chatbots enable B2B marketers to replicate the consumer experience by providing
an immediate, real-time, personalized conversation – at scale.
The most common use case quoted for chatbots in a B2B
context is increasing the rate at which Web visitors convert to actionable
sales leads. Proponents argue that by
responding to Web visitors more immediately, in a personalized way, and with a
relevant message (based on information already stored in a CRM system, the page
the individual is visiting, etc.), engagement rates and sales conversations can
increase by an astounding 10X-20X.
One important note – based on this kind of data, some would
make the case that chatbots have the potential to replace the traditional
registration form. But chatbots aren’t
going to replace forms any more than Account-Based
Marketing (ABM) has replaced funnel-based demand gen. What chatbots do – in the “converting Web
visitors” scenario – is provide a more personalized experience, and allow
companies to generate engagement from visitors who just might not be ready to
fill out a form. They’re a complementary
And it’s not just about getting more Web visitors to book a
meeting with sales. Consider these other
* Asking qualifying questions as a way of informing lead
scores or preventing unqualified leads from entering the funnel and eating up
* As part of an ABM strategy or target account campaign,
providing a chat experience personalized by company, industry, persona, or even
* Tailoring conversations to existing customers that drive
upsell/cross-sell opportunities, or ask for referrals
* Generating chats in response to a trade show promotion as
a way to book qualified meetings at the show
* Inserting chat into a lead nurturing
program by triggering relevant conversations with mid-stage (MOFU) prospects
exhibiting signs of increased intent
And so on. If you don’t know much about chatbots yet, be prepared to abandon the notion of chat as a technology of generic, bland “how can we help you today?” messages. Designed, structured, and managed correctly, today’s version is timely, relevant, and hyper-personalized. Virtually any B2B company that wants to accelerate leads through the funnel – from Web visit to sales engagement to close – should be seriously considering chat as a potential addition to its demand generation engine.
One of the real-life campaigns I included in my presentation last week – A Crash Course in B2B Email Creative – at SiriusDecisions Summit in Austin, was this Webinar invitation from Marin Software. I’ve written often about the dismal state of B2B creative, so it’s good to see at least one B2B company get it right.
Here’s what I think makes this an effective campaign:
* The offer is front and center. I know immediately, at a glance, without scrolling, that I’m being invited to a live Webinar.
* The body copy opens with a statement of fact: “Amazon’s fast-growing digital ad solution attracts more digital advertisers daily,” but it’s a short opening, and from there the copy jumps right into information about the offer and why the reader should attend. Too often, B2B emails open with a long lecture about the state of business and industry trends (classic example: “As a busy marketer, you know …”)
* The email offers clear, specific, and concrete learning benefits (the 4 bullet points) – what the reader will learn, gain, discover by attending the Webinar. Note that none of this has anything to do with why you’d want to do business with Marin. One of the key principles of B2B email creative? Sell the Offer, Not the Product.
* In a break from standard practice, Marin states that no recording of the event will be available. Personally, I love this. Too many tech companies do the opposite – i.e. tell the reader that if he/she can’t make the live event, a recording will be sent to them. Not only does this devalue the live event, it’s almost guaranteed to decrease attendance. Why would I bother showing up?
* Speaker photos make the event more “real.”
* Creative button copy: “I’m in.” There’s no rule in marketing that a CTA button on a Webinar invitation has to say “Register Now.” Mix it up! (Just don’t ever use “Submit”.)
In sum, this is a compelling invitation where virtually every word of copy is driving action and selling the value of the event. Here’s what might make the email even better:
* Add a CTA button to the header. Sure, there’s a text link in the first paragraph, but it’s not immediately and intuitively obvious. Some readers might be forced to scroll to the CTA button at the end.
* Avoid first person and passive language. “We’re presenting a live Webinar” would be more effective as: “Join us at an exclusive live Webinar …” You could then hyperlink a call to action (“Join us”) instead of the title of the Webinar.
* Eliminate both the salutation (“Hi, Howard”) and “Thanks, The Marin Software Team” at the end. This is not a personal note or even sales outreach. We’re not fooling anyone. Salutations may feel like “personalization,” but here, it’s just taking up valuable space, forcing more important selling copy down the page.
Companies who shift their marketing to a more ABM-focused
strategy mostly do so in transition from a broader, more traditional,
funnel-based approach. But what if
you’re starting from square one?
Say you’re a start-up, or a company that’s simply never done
much demand generation, and Account-Based
Marketing (ABM) makes strategic sense based on your solution and target
market. Do you plunge headfirst into
focused ABM activity exclusively? Or do
you start with broader demand gen and then add more and more ABM tactics to the
mix over time?
There are three reasons why I believe strongly that it makes
sense for any company to always have some level of broader, funnel-based demand generation
in play, even if you’re building that demand generation engine from scratch and
your ultimate goal is an ABM-centric approach.
Should I Prioritize #ABM Tactics Ahead of Demand Generation? Click To Tweet
Two, most companies can benefit from a tiered approach to
ABM that incorporates some element of broader demand generation. Typically, those tiers look something like
* Tier 1 (One to One) – Highly personalized, “white glove” outreach to key accounts * Tier 2 (One to Few) – Personalized and segmented outreach to key industries or other target groups * Tier 3 (One to Many) – Broader demand generation to the wider market
Three, in most instances, and in our
experience, it makes more sense to begin with broader demand generation
(Tier 3, in the example above) and roll in account-based activity over time. This has mainly to do with 1) speed to market,
and 2) learning what works and what doesn’t.
First, broader demand generation requires less by way of
personalization and other customization, so a little creative work or content
development goes a long way and allows you to be in market more quickly. This serves to generate at least some level of
lead generation and account engagement while you build out your ABM strategy
and the associated assets.
Lastly, the highly measurable nature of demand generation
means that you’ll gain valuable learnings, quickly, that you can leverage and
apply to ABM. An organization with a
more mature demand generation strategy, one that is simply migrating to ABM,
has already learned which messages and content resonate best with different personas
or industries. New marketers don’t have
that luxury. Getting into market more
quickly, even with a broader approach, means your ABM investment will yield
higher returns in the long term.
Lead scoring – as a fundamental part of a company’s lead
management strategy – has officially fallen out of fashion. I say this based, anecdotally, on the number
of B2B marketers I talk to who either 1) don’t use lead scoring at all, or 2)
have a lead scoring system that clearly doesn’t work (or is completely ignored
by the sales team) and have no apparent motivation to fix it.
How did we get
here? Two reasons I can think of:
One is that lead scoring is routinely set up as part of an
initial implementation of a marketing automation platform. That initial set-up is typically basic at
best, usually as part of an overall “rush to value” and an impatience to get
the system live. The result, inevitably,
is a lead scoring model that fails to take into account the complexity of the
company’s selling process. When
salespeople see inaccurate lead scores, they rapidly lose trust in the system,
and ignore the data from that point forward.
Marketing, in turn, sees no reason to fix the system because “sales
doesn’t use lead scoring.”
The second reason has to do with the trend towards Account-Based Marketing (ABM). The classic business case for lead scoring has been a function of inbound marketing and the traditional lead funnel. Companies generate a mix of qualified and unqualified leads, the argument goes, and lead scoring is one tool for helping to sort the good from the bad. The move to a more account-based model shifts the emphasis from individual leads to accounts, and also lessens the need to score leads because (in theory, if not in practice) leads are more qualified in general due to the company only marketing to accounts that fit their target profile.
So, is lead scoring a dying art? Something that simply isn’t worth the
investment in today’s account-based marketing world? I would argue: no. An effective, accurate, trusted lead scoring
model is a vital cog in a company’s overall lead management process. And as long as most companies adopt a hybrid
model that combines traditional, funnel-based demand generation with ABM (a
scenario that industry
experts indicate is the case), spending the time to make lead scoring work
is an investment very much worth making.
Here are 3 key reasons why lead scoring is still relevant:
Increased Sales Productivity – effective lead scoring helps sales (and especially BDR teams) focus their time and energy on leads that merit attention, avoiding leads that aren’t worth the effort. By applying objective standards, and optimizing those standards over time, lead scoring helps eliminate “missed” leads that would otherwise be ignored by sales, and capturing revenue that might otherwise fall through the cracks.
Faster Lead Velocity – if reps know more about the leads assigned to them, they’re able to have more meaningful conversations and make their outreach more relevant, and effective. More effective outreach means higher rates of engagement. Higher engagement means more leads move through the funnel, more quickly. Faster lead velocity means shorter sales cycles.
More Insightful Reporting – many companies in enterprise markets have sales cycles that are too long to make ROI (or even pipeline attribution) a practical way to measure demand generation effectiveness, at least not in a manner that allows for rapid optimization. Lead scoring enables a more detailed view of the lead lifecycle, and, in turn, better visibility into the types of activities and programs that are generating qualified leads.
Recently I was interviewed by the folks at Demand Gen Report as part of an article on current trends in , an article that you can read online here. With permission, a more complete version of the interview follows:
(DGR) What trends are
you currently seeing in B2B email marketing today?
(HS) Despite what you might hear in some circles, email
still has a major role to play in most companies’ demand gen strategies. However, these days it’s less likely to be a
standalone channel. More often, we’re
seeing email used as a key part of a more integrated approach, particularly in
the context of Account-Based
Marketing (ABM) and sales enablement.
Email isn’t dead, by any means, but marketers are also realizing that
there are real synergies possible by combining email with other channels, both
online and offline.
(DGR) What other channels/tools are companies
using to augment their email marketing strategies? (Direct mail? Chat bots?)
(HS) As a demand generation agency, we’ve designed and produced more direct mail in the last two years than in the previous five. That’s almost entirely due to the emergence of ABM, where direct mail is perceived (accurately, in our experience) to be an effective tool for driving engagement, albeit at a higher cost.
More broadly, however, it’s online media that are being implemented alongside email, particularly channels like LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and programmatic platforms like ListenLoop through which companies can target online ads to members of a specific email list. These have particular application in lead nurturing and customer marketing. Retargeting (for example, to reach email recipients who click but don’t convert) is another effective approach.
(DGR) Can you share
any best practices or recommendations for marketers looking to augment their
email strategies? What’s working? What isn’t?
(HS) Though a cohesive and consistent message and “look” is
important, it’s also critical to realize that not all assets transfer
seamlessly from email to other channels.
Landing pages, for example. An
email landing page is usually fairly spare in terms of content, whereas a
landing page for an online ad is generally more robust, since the reader knows
much less about your company and your offer.
Trends in #B2B Email: #ABM, Deliverability & Integrated Campaigns Click To Tweet
(DGR) How is ABM
affecting email marketing strategies? Are you seeing more companies taking an
ABM approach to email and personalizing their efforts by account/persona?
(HS) ABM is definitely forcing email marketers to be more
personal and relevant in their approach.
And ABM has impacted B2B marketing more broadly in a similar
fashion. It was the rare client 2-3
years ago that had identified key buying personas and defined the messages for
each. Now it’s a common practice. The same can be said for conducting content
audits (and defining “content maps”) to match offer content to specific
audience groups, selling stages, or industries.
(DGR) Are you seeing
any trends/challenges around email deliverability? Is email becoming harder to
engage with people due to spam/email algorithms?
(HS) Deliverability is a common challenge, but it’s almost
always related more to bad data than it is to spam traps. B2B email addresses have a limited shelf
life, and companies that don’t aggressively clean, append and update that
contact data will find that their deliverability rates deteriorate very
(DGR) Any additional
thoughts to note that weren’t covered in the questions above?
(HS) I’ve long been frustrated at the dismal state of B2B email creative. Poorly written and poorly designed emails seem to be the norm. I believe this is due to two factors: 1) creative is now an afterthought to marketing technology and data, and 2) companies believe anyone can write an email. Those same companies would never consider assigning a TV spot, a national print ad, or a new Website, to just any staff member with the time and inclination to produce them. But it’s clear that no such standard applies to email creative.
This week, I had the pleasure of speaking at the B2B Marketing Exchange (B2BMX) conference on the topic of B2B email creative. At a conference of more than sixty sessions (by my count), as best I could determine there was exactly one (1) session on anything to do with creative: mine.
That fact is both odd, and a little sad. It speaks volumes about where creative fits (or doesn’t fit) into today’s version of B2B marketing. Creative, and good creative in particular, is still vitally important to the success of any B2B initiative, and yet no-one talks about it. Scan the blogosphere, social media, B2B publishing, and conferences like B2BMX, and you’ll read and hear plenty about data, intent, alignment, ABM, personalization and other technology-driven trends, but precious little about copy or design.
Technology has radically changed the way we market, and
enabled us marketers to reach our audience with a precision, and at a scale,
that would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. And yet, without good creative (I would
argue), all the data, content, personalization, programmatic, AI and [insert
buzzword here] is for nought. Bad
creative has the potential to render any technological advantage moot.
How did we get here?
Firstly, we now have a generation of young B2B marketers who believe
that successful marketing revolves around the tech stack. B2B has become so technology-driven that
creative is a mere afterthought.
Second, a byproduct of the efficiency with which marketing
campaigns can now be spun up, launched and managed means anyone can do it. This is especially true of B2B email, the
subject of my conference session, where truly awful creative reigns supreme.
What you learn in talking first-hand to so many marketing
practitioners at a conference like B2BMX (our agency was a sponsor and
exhibitor) is that creative is no longer the province of creative
professionals. The attitude of marketing
management seems to be: It’s an email – how difficult can it be? (I’ve had more than one client tell me that
one of the primary reasons they invested in marketing automation technology is
so anyone on the team could create and launch email campaigns.)
As an agency owner, it sounds undeniably self-serving to say it, but genuinely good, effective creative – be it an email, a landing page, or a simple Facebook ad – is not easy. Good demand gen creative in particular, where success is always measurable, requires adherence to a set of core principles that revolve around message, offer, visual hierarchy, etc. Can your average product manager or junior marketing associate write an email? Almost certainly, yes. Can he or she write an effective demand gen email? The evidence suggests: no.
At B2BMX, I presented my session to a standing room only
crowd of more than 250. People emailed
me after the session asking for a copy of the slide deck because they couldn’t
get in the room. That’s no star power on
my part, believe me. Instead, I believe
it says that marketers are hungry for information on how to make their creative
as much a competitive advantage as their tech stack.
Changing the current state of affairs not only requires increasing the dialogue about good and bad creative, but also that B2B marketers elevate the role that creative plays in the planning, design and execution of campaigns. It requires that marketing decision-makers demand that campaign creative receive the same investment as say, data – and that it not be simply handed off to the nearest colleague who can string 100 words together.
Creative is important.
It’s time more people talked about it.