Lead-gen success depends on personas, alignment, staff skills

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Jennifer Horton is research director-demand creation strategies at consultancy SiriusDecisions Inc. She discussed with BtoB trends, metrics and challenges in the lead-gen process. BtoB: What major lead-gen trends are you seeing in b-to-b companies? Jennifer Horton: One of the most prevalent topics concerns optimizing for buyer personas. Marketers are asking themselves how they can actually use their new persona insights, such as improving SEO strategies, optimizing website conversions or nurturing programs. That's where lead-gen is heading in 2014, incorporating insights to execute these types of strategies. But it all goes back to the quality of the data to execute against. Some of the technology companies provide segmentation, and even the newer content management platforms allow you to tag prospects by groups. At the core of it all is the marketing automation platform, integrated tightly with a CRM system to capture inbound inquiries and track them through the sales process. Choosing the right system really depends on a company's demand type, whether they're in an established market or generating demand for a new concept. BtoB: Why is lead-gen dependent on a tight sales-marketing alignment? Horton: If sales and marketing can't agree on what kind of demand they're trying to generate, nothing will work out. There also needs to be a fundamental agreement about the level of qualification marketing will provide at the hand-off point to sales. If you're running programs and getting inquiries, alignment is critical to know which lead sources are working. If you don't have that alignment, you'll have one of two situations: either there will be a huge volume of leads that sales ignores because they're not the right quality or marketing will be over-qualifying the leads and starve the pipeline. That's why the concept of the sales-accepted lead is so important, to gain this feedback loop for the marketer to know what processes are providing the right leads. BtoB: What are some optimum metrics for understanding lead-gen success? Horton: Revenue isn't usually at the top of the list. Measuring through to the closed deal is too far away for many companies. We definitely think that marketers should look at how programs are both sourcing and influencing the pipeline. Sourcing is those opportunities marketing brought to the table, such as net new contacts, new accounts or a new sales cycle within an existing account. Influence concerns opportunities that are already known and which sales is working on, and where marketing is trying to accelerate the sales. We also look at conversion efficiency from stage to stage and time spent at each stage. If there's an opportunity for conversion at the top of the funnel, it's being able to identify the lead source. If a lead is slow to move, it may help to know where to invest in nurturing or to provide sales enablement to get deals moving. BtoB: What major obstacles are marketers facing that impede their lead-gen efforts? Horton: The lack of staff skills is huge. Our research shows that 85% of marketers believe they're self-taught and have learned on the job. But if you think about all the new technology that's now required, having the right skills is essential. Also, in addition to problems with sales-marketing alignment, there is poor product alignment. We just had an inquiry from a company whose product-marketing team is trying to figure out the content conundrum—how to create it and who owns it. Another obstacle is the intersection between demand-gen and other marketing functions. A lot of companies have an SEO expert, a social guru and an email marketing team, but they have no holistic picture of how things fit together.
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