Marketers need a more systematic approach to demand generation

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How are marketers approaching their lead-generation programs these days? What's working online and off? These are some of the questions BtoB recently put to Laura Ramos, a VP at Forrester Research. BtoB: Webinars and white papers are among the most popular b-to-b lead-gen tactics. Will it always be such or will they become less effective over time? Ramos: Webinars and white papers play an important role in educating prospects, so I can't see them going away anytime soon. Because a certain segment of people learns best by listening and others by reading, it is important that b-to-b marketers consider both when planning content delivery. However, webinars and white papers should be used as part of integrated marketing programs, not as standalone lead-generation campaigns. They need to fit properly into a program that uses a variety of media to build brands, generate awareness and engage prospects in a dialogue. Too many b-to-b marketers use webinars and white papers as their primary lead-generation approach and fail to build other interaction opportunities around them. They assume if prospects download a white paper or attend a webinar, then they are immediately qualified for a sales call. A better approach is to use webinars and white papers to engage buyers who are further along in the buying process; who have already opted into a virtual conversation through e-mail clicks, Web site visits, reviewing product options; or by answering short surveys. These interactions help marketers understand whether buyers are qualified and what they need to advance their investigation of products or solutions. By studying its buyers' journey, CA found that inviting prospects to attend a webinar helps move them from consideration to selection. They use webinars to persuade potential buyers to select their products. They don't invite early buyers to webinars when white papers, short videos and customer case studies better educate them about what they have to offer or how buyers could benefit from using their products. I think other b-to-b marketers have much to learn from CA's example. BtoB: E-mail is at the top of the list for b-to-b marketing campaigns and has been for some time. Why do you think that remains to be the case? Ramos: E-mail is popular because it continues a conversation, it is relatively inexpensive and marketers can measure whether or not buyers interact with it. In b-to-b, e-mail marketing is essential for continuing a prospective buyer conversation or for communicating with customers. Our research shows e-mail is not as effective for new customer acquisition or for building awareness. Of the 212 b-to-b marketers who responded to a survey we fielded last October, 85% said they use e-mail in their marketing mix. Of these, only 18% said they found it highly effective for building brand. In contrast, 56% said that they felt e-mail was highly effective for communicating with their existing customers. If you establish a relationship with a prospect or customer, then e-mail is welcome communication, not spam. Relative to other direct marketing approaches, e-mail can be less expensive to execute. In the same survey, we found b-to-b marketers spend about 9% of their program budget on e-mail. While this may sound like a lot, their productivity with e-mail typically outdistances that of physical mail, broadcast or other direct messaging approaches. As marketers move from list rental to building and maintaining their house lists, this productivity should only increase as they are better able to target their e-mails to specific segments. Finally, e-mail is measurable and this makes it more useful than other direct or indirect approaches. As e-mail marketing analytics and reporting gain broader use, b-to-b marketers now want to know, “How do my click-through rates compare to others?” Rather than focusing on benchmarks, b-to-b pros use A/B testing to run side-by-side campaigns and understand which variables move the needle on how buyers and customers respond to their e-mail correspondence. BtoB: How successful are marketers in filling the pipeline with lead-gen tactics given that there seems to be an ever-growing number of constituents involved in the decision-making/buying process? Ramos: I'm seeing a mixed bag of results because b-to-b marketers still worry too much about generating larger lead volumes and not enough about building quality demand. B-to-b marketers whipsaw between tactics that appear to work one quarter but fall flat the next. What they need is a more systematic approach that sees demand generation as the front end of the process of acquiring, closing and helping customers to adopt products. Balancing lead generation with activity to build loyalty and adoption will let b-to-b marketers learn who their best customers are, how they became their best customers, how they journeyed through the buying process and how to find more like them. B-to-b marketers don't have an unending supply of potential candidates available to them, so they need to nurture buyers and engage a broader number of principals in the purchase process. Instead of trying to find new ways to reach untapped buyers, b-to-b marketers need to put the process, technology and discipline in place so they can track prospect interactions over time, assess their level of engagement and continue to dialogue with them by offering relevant content and information. Instead of approaching each interaction as a way to qualify a prospect, b-to-b marketers need to get to know prospects better, understand their needs and be willing to give a little more without expecting something in return. BtoB: Are marketers using social media for lead generation? Have you seen any particularly interesting, successful examples? Ramos: Of the marketers responding to our survey, roughly a third are experimenting with blogs, podcasting, social networks and the like. Blogs lead, and emerging approaches like wikis, communities, user-contributed content, virtual worlds and viral marketing lag. Most of those marketers trying out social media tell us that it is too early to tell how these experiments will pay off. I think b-to-b marketers who experiment now will learn two important lessons: whether their buyers are willing to engage with social technologies and what it takes to use social media to truly build community, not just broadcast messages. RSA Security and Avaya are on the right track here with their blogging. Both use blogging to build community and demonstrate thought leadership. They don't sell their products there, but talk about issues that are important to security-minded and support professionals, respectively. RSA takes it a step further by integrating podcasting into their blogging effort and making both blog posts and podcast summaries available to readers through RSS feeds or e-mail newsletters. I use RSA as an example often because they integrate their marketing well and they focus more on providing really relevant, insightful information than just putting their message out there. BtoB: What are the obstacles to successful lead-gen programs? How can marketers overcome these? Ramos: The three biggest challenges I see to successful lead generation are 1) inconsistent processes for scoring/qualifying leads, following up with sales, nurturing those not ready to buy and monitoring marketing's impact on the pipeline; 2) underinvestment in technology and process to make this more efficient; and 3) a lack of focus on the right kinds of measures and monitoring. Instead of counting the number of marketing-qualified leads gained from executing a tactic or event, marketers need to focus more on figuring out how many of these lead close as deals, what separated these leads from the rest and how do they continue the dialogue after the deal closes to help customers adopt and use of their purchase throughout their community of internal users and business partners. M
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