Becoming better stewards of demand generation

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With all the talk these days of revenue, buyer-centricity, content marketing and marketing automation, you would think b-to-b marketers have the perfect mix of ingredients to build and manage modern demand-generation programs. Yet, despite our best intentions, modern b-to-b demand generation tends to fall apart in execution. It's been estimated that almost 70% of our demand-generation efforts miss our ideal customer, and technology marketers report average opportunity pipeline contributions at an underwhelming 27%, according to Forrester Research. Successful demand-generation execution requires bringing together people, process, content and technology; but it's more than a series of check boxes. The challenge is getting these elements to work together, enabling buyer education to work in tandem with lead-qualification stages, orchestrating the efforts of our marketing and sales team members, and ensuring seamless tracking and handoffs between our technology systems. We want a seamless and value-added buyer experience, and we want to optimize our lead-to-revenue conversion. This requires approaching b-to-b demand generation as a process and adopting a new design ethic I refer to as “demand process stewardship.” So, why are we not better stewards of demand generation? Three fundamental barriers—ones we have ourselves created as marketers—stand in the way of our ability to succeed:
  • How we're organized. The goal of b-to-b demand generation should be to drive a lead-to-revenue process. Yet, we fail to organize around that goal. Instead of rationalizing marketing (and sales) roles in terms of our inputs into the process, we organize according to communication channels, such as email marketing or PR, or to the activities we manage, like events or campaigns. We also focus on campaign structure that is promotional and short-term, and fail to consider the perpetual nature of buying processes. We must reformulate our marketing departments and identify critical “block captains” to lead our perpetual-demand-process stewardship efforts.
  • How we're trained. Driving a process requires understanding and managing the operational dynamics of that process, and delivering leadership that is 100% goal-oriented. Yet, b-to-b marketers are not trained to do either. Most marketers' backgrounds are more creative and/or communication-tactic aligned, and often very much focused on messaging and sales enablement.
  • How we're evaluated. The success of a managed process should be clear. Did we achieve the outcome or not? Ask any brand manager in the consumer arena what it means to succeed with marketing programs, and they are clear: “Make your numbers,” as Colleen Goggins, head of Johnson & Johnson's consumer business, once told me.
Yet, on the b-to-b side of things, we continue to present activity-based metrics to defend our worth, rarely delving into the correlation between our programs and their revenue outcomes. And, most of the time, we're unwilling to risk our compensation on the revenue performance of our efforts. The time (and need) for b-to-b marketers to step up as effective stewards of demand generation is now. Before overinvesting in new technology and content, let's take a moment to examine ourselves, to remove these fundamental barriers and to set ourselves up to succeed. Adam B. Needles is a marketing consultant who has led demand-generation programs for companies such as CA Technologies, Dell Inc., Lenovo Group, Pitney Bowes and PNC Bank. He can be reached at
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