We recently had the opportunity to interview Craig Rosenberg, the co-founder and Chief Analyst of research and consulting firm TOPO. He is also the editor of funnelholics.com, a well known sales and marketing blog. We got his thoughts on the evolution of B2B marketing, and what trends companies should be looking out for.
TA: What are some of the major changes you have seen made in the b2b demand generation industry over the last 10 years?
CR: Great question. I’ve witnessed the amazing rise of b2b demand generation. I remember when demand generation was renting lists, direct mail, trade show bingo cards, and hardcore cold calling. Think about that. We have advanced so far in such a short amount of time. Here are my big ones:
- Digital demand generation – Obvious one, but deserves the biggest “shout-out.” The internet has changed demand generation for the better. When I used to walk into tech startups 10-15 years ago, there was NOTHING. Now, startups are generating 1000’s of leads via paid and earned media. The internet helps us reach our potential buyers more efficiently than ever before.
- Lead management – Lead management is the overall strategy, process, people, and technology that manage leads from the beginning of their journey with an organization, until their close. This process includes things such as lead scoring, lead nurturing, and technology like marketing automation. Buyers may not buy from you on their first interaction, or even their next 10-20 interactions, and that’s okay. This isn’t a pack of bubble gum. Buyers will buy when everything aligns: pain, resources, executive buy-off, etc. This takes time. You can’t just walk away from leads that aren’t ready to buy. Cultivate them so you are there when they are ready.
- Technology – I mentioned marketing automation in the lead management section, but technology has fundamentally changed demand generation. I remember when marketing automation was trying to create a market. Now, it’s table stakes. But there are so many killer marketing apps. Too many to mention here.
- Metrics and tracking – Jon Miller from Marketo likes to describe old-school marketing as “arts and crafts.” It’s true. Everything was a work of art, and the value of that art was up to interpretation. Now marketers can prove their value to the rest of the organization, and equally, if not more importantly, can use data to optimize their programs. That’s a win.
TA: Where is B2B demand gen headed next?
CR: Well, after all that about how far we have advanced…the truth is many organizations are still trying to get with the times. These organizations shouldn’t worry about where demand generation is headed next. Instead, they need to get their demand generation platform built and optimized for conversion. Only then, can they jump ahead of the game.
For organizations that have a platform, I see three coming trends:
- Predictive analytics – Right now, the predominant form of analytics being used today is lead scoring. It’s better than nothing, but it’s limited to the activities a buyer takes after they have registered. Lead scoring is an educated guess based on the content the buyer has consumed and the pages they have visited. There are more data points that can make this educated guess more accurate. For example, predictive analytics can analyze other internal systems such as the CRM and ERP to help organizations determine who is more likely to buy. In other words, systems will make sense of data and then make recommendations that are more likely to convert. An example of a vendor currently delivering this type of intelligence is Lattice Engines.
- Customer marketing – Many companies are sitting on a gold mine with their customer base. There are two ways to think about this concept: 1. How can we grow revenue from our current customer base, and how can marketing help? Companies like Gainsight are focused on helping organizations reduce churn and grow their customer install bases. This is low hanging fruit for most companies, as they transition from “stick and move” to long-term relationships with their customers. 2. How can we mobilize our customers into an army of advocates? According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, 84% of b2b buyers start their process with a referral. In b2b, companies like Influitive are helping organizations manage and mobilize their advocates so they can become an army of potential referrals for your company.
- Front of the registration marketing – If you have a visitor-to-registration conversion rate of 10%, then 90% of your visitors are not taking action. The next phase of online marketing will be to market to all the prospects who have not filled out a registration. For example, websites will become more like Netflix, and change content and offers based on who is visiting their site. Or, you can think of what’s happening today with BIZO, which allows advertisers to serve ads to specific prospects as they surf the internet.
Again, none of this matters until you get your lead management platform built. You need to be able to drive earned and paid media to the top of the funnel and have the people, process, and technology to convert these leads over time. If you aren’t there yet, get there. Then get radical.
TA: What are some key tips for sales and marketing alignment?
CR: Sales and marketing alignment is a big topic that I have written about frequently in the past. What’s incredible is the fact that it has been a topic for years, yet the issue still persists. There are a number of best practices that require an entire blog post, but I’ll list a couple big ones:
- Qualified lead definition – There are many breaking points in sales and marketing alignment but the big one is the absence of a qualified lead definition. The qualified lead definition specifically details the demographic (company, role, etc.) and behavioral traits (agrees to talk to sales) that determine whether a lead is ready to be passed to sales. The definition should be signed off on together by sales and marketing. When the qualified lead is undefined, you end up with “he said, she said” misalignment.
- First call effectiveness – The first call after a qualified lead has been passed to sales is a make-or-break conversion point. Many organizations neglect to create standardized, repeatable processes for this crucial moment, when marketing hands the relationship over. The main problem in first call effectiveness is a lack of method and training to identify who the buyer is and where they are in the process. A first call experience must transition the buyer into a more meaningful relationship with the sales person. When analyzing what is happening to qualified leads, make sure you understand how they are being followed up on. Because in some cases, the first call is the problem, yet marketing is the one getting blamed.
- Communication – Literally, the biggest issue in sales and marketing alignment is often a complete lack of communication on both sides. It’s actually kind of pathetic that communication is still the most common issue. Step number #1 in sales and marketing alignment is to just get everyone to agree to sit down at the table and agree to work on this together.
TA: At TechnologyAdvice we are strong proponents of introducing prospects to our clients at the top of the sales funnel to drive brand awareness and convert prospects into sales who may not be actively researching (because they do not know they need to be researching) and developing inbound/organic strategies to introduce sales ready or actively-researching prospects into the bottom of the sales funnel.
What is one tip you would give to a sales person following up with those types of leads to maximize the opportunities of both types of leads?
CR: I do a ton of work with sales so I am glad you asked me about this. I touched on the issue earlier in sales and marketing alignment.
First let me say this, every sales person should be able to sell to a lead that is the right person at the right type of company with the right interest. Timeframe and budget are incredibly difficult to control. If you can fill your sales pipeline only with BANT qualified leads, all the power to you. However, that is typically not the case. It comes down to a training issue.
Secondly, while these deals take time, they can often be a sales person’s best deals because they have the opportunity to work with the client, and build the business case. By the time an RFP is created, a sales person is at the mercy of the buyer. The best scenario is when the sales person can help the buyer create the RFP. You can’t do that unless you are with them early.
The key to the first call is to determine who the buyer is and where they are in the buying process. The leads you describe in the question are likely in “status quo,” that is, they don’t realize they can do better. The reality is buyers won’t continue to engage until they understand that THEY have a problem. This isn’t a consumer product they see on the aisle that they may whimsically pick up to try. We have to get them there.
Organizations should arm sales with 4-5 needs assessment questions and train them on what to do with the answers they receive. And here’s a tip: Limit yourself to select groups of questions, because you won’t get an hour to grill the client. From that, present back to the prospect the strategies and processes that other similar clients have done to solve these issues.
Also, sales people should be armed with content that helps their prospects “look in the mirror,” and then think big. Once you believe they have internalized their issues, then pitch the solution. I wrote about a sales call I had with a Hubspot sales person years ago that is a great example of handling first call:
The sales person spent time with the buyer understanding their current situation. The sales person actually said: “I don’t think we should jump into a demo yet. Let’s start with some examples on how companies like yours are approaching this challenge.” After the presentation, he offered two pieces of content on best practices and how technology helps organizations execute these best practices. He then recommended we regroup: “I believe this is a solution that can help you drive XXX, I want you to believe it too. Lets set up the next time to talk to make sure we are on the same page. From there, I can prescribe next steps.” By the way, on the next call he felt the buyer was ready and then explained to them why they were the right solution for them. THEN he went to a demo. Truthfully, I am not sure he needed the demo at that point. As the buyer said: “I trust them.”
Craig Rosenberg is a co-founder and Chief Analyst at TOPO, a research, advisory, and consulting firm that helps sales and marketing organizations design and deliver great buying experiences. A great buying experience is the single most important thing in business today. Why? Because companies that deliver great buying experiences grow 2X faster than those that don’t.
Craig is also well-known as editor of the popular sales and marketing blog, www.funnelholic.com. He is a popular speaker on sales and marketing topics at virtual and live events and author of numerous e-books and whitepapers.