Study: Marketers faces challenges in finding the 'ideal' prospect

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Marketers are keenly aware that their professional world has changed dramatically over the past five years, and this transformation is having a profound impact on lead generation and prospecting, according to a new study by BtoB. The study, "Finding the Ideal Customer Prospect," was based on an online poll in November that attracted 323 respondents. The industries represented were diverse, with 17.7% of respondents working at technology companies, 14.2% at agencies, 11.3% in publishing and 7.1% in financial services.

Manufacturing, wholesale and healthcare/pharmaceutical companies were also represented in the study, which OneSource Information Services sponsored. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said the world of marketing has changed "very much" or "completely." The biggest changes in prospecting, respondents said, were due to the vast amount of online information available to decision-makers and the accompanying shift of power away from brands and instead to buyers.

In response to these trends, 54.1% of respondents said they're scrambling to improve the depth and accuracy of their databases. Other areas they hope to improve include database technologies (34.6%), understanding prospect personas (32.9%) and closer alignment with sales (21.2%).

"What surprised me about the study was the concern about the lack of database strength," said James Obermayer, executive director of the Sales Lead Management Association. "Marketers sometimes focus on other things, like content marketing or social media. You can't prove the worth of those things yet, but there's no doubt that the marketers with the best databases will win every time and those who don't will lose."

A major challenge for marketers is being able to identify their best customers, then map those profiles to prospects. That, combined with a general inability to define prospect personas, has many marketers floundering when it comes to lead generation.

"Marketing has become very complex, what with all the innovations in tools and analytics, social marketing, operations, content, product marketing and so on," said James Rogers, CMO at OneSource Information Services, whose technology aggregates information about prospects and companies to optimize sales contact lists. "But whatever their role in the marketing suite, [marketers] must have a better understanding of profiling customers." Rogers said developing profiles and personas depends on the marketing goal.

In prospecting, for example, the focus should be on identifying buyers, decision-makers, pain points and the products that can help alleviate the pain. A marketer focused on retention might explore ideal profiles within the CRM database and use that to add other key account contacts. Participating in social media involves understanding the gist of conversations and gently adding meaningful information.

"There is so much innovation going on today to help with these and other tasks," Rogers said. "We're still in the "early adopter' phase with all that is happening in technology and what is influencing other rapid changes."

In measuring the quality of existing customers, 62.0% of respondents to the BtoB survey said loyalty and repeat business was their top metric. Other included: high customer lifetime value (cited by 47.8%), recommendations to others (45.8%), acceptance by sales as a lead (41.4%) and faster conversion rates (24.9%). A majority of respondents (52.3%) said they could improve their database marketing efforts by segmenting their databases better, scoring prospects well, targeting them with appropriate messages and qualifying them for the sales team.

Other solutions included: improving data hygiene (cited by 39.6%), gaining real-time knowledge about prospects' business events (32.3%), appending new intelligence to current contacts (28.4%) and analyzing multiple touch points that lead to a sale (26.0%). The bottom line for many marketers remains a lack of hard metrics and the accompanying inability to directly attribute incremental revenue to their programs. Most survey respondents (67.3%) said their marketing departments are considered cost centers within their own companies rather than revenue-producing growth centers.

"The fact is, pound for pound marketing managers create more wealth and top-level demand than anyone else in their companies," Obermayer said. The problem, according to BtoB's study, is that most marketers lack the ability to measure that contribution.

Only 25.0% of survey respondents said they can attribute conversions and sales to specific marketing efforts, while just 7.7% said their analytics show that revenue is attributable to marketing. Perhaps because of this, 66.5% of respondents said sales—not marketing—is responsible for half of all lead prospecting at their companies. More than a third of respondents said sales owns 70% or more of the lead-prospecting responsibility.

"It shocked me that such a high proportion said sales is responsible for lead-gen," said M.H. "Mac" McIntosh, president of AcquireB2B, a lead-generation and marketing-automation agency. "It makes we wonder if marketers are just doing branding stuff. The reality is that when marketing is integrated with sales, it decreases sales costs and increases sales results. "If the salesperson is doing so much of the lead prospecting, it's expensive and it isn't scalable. These companies are making a mistake and spending money unwisely."

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