Lead generation is becoming simpler in practical terms—it's easier than ever before to find and nurture prospective customers. But the forces driving it are complex, including the integration of marketing and sales tools and continued industry consolidation.
“Today, all these tools, including marketing automation, CRM and email, are talking to one another,” said Adam Blitzer, VP-b-to-b marketing automation at ExactTarget's Pardot. “Because of API management, every channel I use in marketing communicates with each other.”
Blitzer said this new world of interconnectivity is particularly important not just for connecting all the marketing operations dots but also because customers prefer to communicate in different ways.
“Say you collect someone's data from a Web form,” Blitzer said. “Being able to pass that seamlessly to a direct mail or email system is a powerful thing. Or consider when an email recipient clicks on a link. He then will visit a landing page with more engaging information, which in turn can trigger a direct mail piece.”
These capabilities weren't possible a few years ago, he said.
Consolidation within the industry is also having a big impact, said Mike Volpe, CMO at HubSpot Inc., because marketing vendors are offering consolidated solutions within single dashboards.
“When you look at marketing from just five or 10 years ago, a huge generation of companies were niche-focused; there were lots of individual tools,” Volpe said. “The last couple of years have seen more consolidation, with vendors building up capabilities internally.”
Volpe cited Salesforce.com Inc. and Oracle Corp. as prime examples of companies that have assembled lengthy lists of marketing and sales tools via acquisition, but HubSpot has also been active. In March it acquired Chime, which had developed a plug-in for Google's Chrome Internet browser that aggregates notifications from social sites. Also in March HubSpot bought PrepWork, which automatically emails to users social media and background information about attendees and companies represented at upcoming meetings.
The linking of tools is one element of marketing consolidation, but being able to see a 360-degree view of the customer and of a campaign is quite another, said Deb Woods, VP-customer interaction, management and product marketing at Teradata Applications (formerly Aprimo).
“As recently as nine months ago, marketers wanted to talk about integrated solutions, but they were really just interested in leads,” Woods said. “Today, with 70% to 80% of all demos we do, marketers want to see the whole piece. That means tracking spend and integration with Salesforce and other tools, making sure they have those pieces working together.”
On the cusp of big marketing and lead-gen changes, a constant question is: Is marketing today more of a science or more of an art? A recent BtoB survey found this answer: It depends.
In an online survey of 556 respondents, conducted in January, marketers said marketing measurement was primarily a function of science and branding/messaging focused on art. Campaign creation was deemed a combination of the two.
“The modern marketer should be equally creative in the traditional sense of the word as well as tech and financially savvy,” said Nick Bell, VP-corporate marketing at Eloqua. “Modern marketers have to know strategy combined with the right technology, allowing them to derive a strong return on marketing spend and to drive revenue.”
But with all the lead-gen trends that marketers are facing—consolidation of vendors, the deluge of Big Data and integration with various channels—one is rising to the top, said Ellen Valentine, product strategist at Silverpop.
“As customers log onto websites, their experiences may be completely different than someone else's experience,” Valentine said. “The next step in lead-gen is for marketing automation systems to connect with content marketing systems to take advantage of all this data.”
Valentine said the ultimate consolidation will be blending in content management systems with every other tool. “If a customer consumes the first piece of content and comes back to the website, they'll see a second and then a third piece,” she said. “But if they don't come back, they'll get an email telling them about the next piece.
“Marketers are looking at all these channels to grow and augment their databases [and] to acquire new prospects, whether through SEO, paid search, social sharing or social sign-ins,” she said.
One result of the ongoing kinds of consolidation—companies merging and linking of tools—is an abundance of information. If marketers have any chance of solving the information abundance problem, it's in their increasing ability to control how messages are distributed.
Jon Miller, VP-marketing at Marketo Inc., said a fundamental shift in lead generation is a move from “rented” to “owned” attention.
“The old way of breaking through was renting other people's attention, for example buying an ad or exhibiting at a trade show,” Miller said. “An alternative is not to rent information but to build your own. At Marketo, we've started writing one blog a day. And we stopped doing trade shows and took those dollars and put them into our own captive event, our Marketing Nation Tour. For $25,000, I can have 100 people I want to invite in a ballroom for three hours. That's the price of a mediocre booth at a second-tier trade show. To me, that's the power of owning versus renting attention.”
There's one other element of today's trend toward marketing consolidation, said Jay Henderson, global strategy director at IBM's Smarter Commerce program—“distributed” marketing.
“The job of marketing today falls on different people's shoulders,” Henderson said. “Besides the core group inside the corporate entity, there also are the people who are interacting with customers, such as sales and field personnel. And the question is how to engage customers with the right tools for these people to do marketing themselves while also exerting the right levels of control and supervision.
“It's about centralizing the marketing decisions, but also combining sales and service in executing the message you want to bring to the market.”