Lead Spotting

Marketing often thinks that content is the best way to deliver qualified leads. Sales favors contact. Will marketing automation systems be the glue that binds them together?

In a review of lead-to-revenue management systems released earlier this year, Forrester Research found that just over 50% of marketing organizations had adopted automation systems. The ones that did contributed 44% of the sales pipeline, while non-automated departments accounted for only 34%. But in the realm of lead generation, where business dynamics range from quick-decision commodity sales to high-value deals with long sales cycles, the depth of a marketing organization’s involvement in the sales funnel can be a matter for debate.

“Not long ago I asked the sales VP at one of our clients how many leads he had gotten from marketing in the last year, and he said none. We asked the head of marketing and she said 9,000,” says Dan McDade, president and CEO of PointClear, a lead-gen firm. “Turns out only 1.2% of them were qualified.”

McDade is not a detractor of marketing automation. In fact, he uses the technology in managing leads for his own company. He simply thinks that marketers lean too heavily on freshly purchased automation systems to establish themselves as revenue producers in B2B companies. As a result, he fears they’ll eschew proven outbound lead-generation methods like emails and phone calls in favor of inbound marketing campaigns relying on content. “Companies are not yet doing a good job of calibrating lead-scoring with marketing automation,” he says. “If you picture the market simplistically as 30% large customers with strategic deals and then 70% with smaller deals, then 30% should never be put into marketing automation. Too many things can go wrong.”

Mike Volpe, too, thinks that marketing automation is often misused in lead generation, but that it has nothing to do with marketers’ infatuation with inbound marketing. “Inbound generates a large volume of leads at a very low cost, but then you need a way to filter them. In our business, we end up passing only about a third of the leads, but the close rate is triple that of outbound leads,” says the CMO of HubSpot, a provider of inbound marketing platforms. “Traditionally, marketing automation systems have been about managing the middle of the funnel, but in reality they can be about scoring and nurturing from inbound or outbound sources. We just think the outbound route is getting harder and harder because cold calls [and some] email blasts operate without permission.”

McDade’s irked by the number of marketers who’ve become dismissive of outbound lead generation. “I see many of them going full-force with inbound and thinking that outbound is the past,” he says. “But most successful companies have an aggressive outbound effort.” McDade thinks it should be common sense that outbound and inbound efforts both have a role in generating quality leads and, more important, closing business. “All-bound marketing,” he calls it.

Not their nature to nurture

The interplay of inbound and outbound lead-generation techniques is essential to the goal of establishing one-on-one relationships with prospects and customers, notes Tom Kahana, senior director of marketing operations at Limelight, a content delivery network. “We look at lead generation in two ways: marketing-initiated and influence-initiated,” he says. “A salesperson can come across an unqualified lead on a cold call or a plane ride and put it in the database. That’s outbound, but once in the database it’s marketing’s job to push the lead through.”

This is the crucial point where many marketing departments are reputed to drop the lead-gen baton, qualifying leads without using all the inbound and outbound techniques at their disposal to nurture them. “It’s easy to get caught up in getting what appears to be a qualified lead and passing it on,” Kahana says. “What we do [with our prospects] is start a relationship-building process right from the beginning.”

Crucial to this process at Limelight is the account development team that handles all inquiries with a mind toward setting appointments for the company’s sales account executives. Whether it’s probing a lead on the phone or using progressive profiling on the Web, team members ask qualifying questions agreed upon in a collaborative effort between the marketing and sales organizations.

“We [in marketing operations] sit at the touchpoint between the two groups. We’re the people responsible for seeing that everyone in sales and marketing is happy. We have to be available to them,” Kahana says. “We do things like regular meetings with product groups and the VPs of sales in different regions. If we as marketers aren’t passing over leads they’re confident with, we aren’t doing our job.”

Kahana’s group at Limelight is performing a role that remains unfilled at most companies, according to Debbie Qaqish, author of Rise of the Revenue Marketer. As chief strategy officer of The Pedowitz Group, Qaqish visits scores of companies each year and still finds walls firmly in place between sales and marketing organizations despite the enhanced capabilities for accessing leads presented by technology.

“Marketing is working as an island unto itself. Marketers still haven’t figured out that sales and marketing have to connect as one funnel,” Qaqish says. “This is hard. It’s not about getting a piece of technology, but getting it turned on [through better marketing-sales facilitation].”

Qaqish is a firm believer that both inbound and outbound efforts are crucial to effective lead generation for the age-old reason that it’s what customers demand. “One decision-maker gets buying inspiration from an ad in the industry publication on his desk, [another] may use Google to do product research, others may require more of a disruption on the part of a seller,” Qaqish says. “You have to consider who you’re selling to, where they are on their buyer journey, and then be where they need you to be.”

Like Kahana, Qaqish believes that sales and marketing must sit down together, define what they consider to be qualified leads, and then set out a plan using the proper combination of inbound and outbound tactics to produce them: “B2B marketers preferring inbound methods remain too distant from customers. Salespeople preferring outbound methods have to learn to develop a digital body language. But first, sales needs to say, ‘Here are the kinds of leads I need,’ and marketing has to say, ‘Here are the leads we can deliver.’”

Engineering leads

Engineer-turned-marketer Ilya Mirman isn’t so sure that marketers are eager to embrace the lower funnel that customer demands and a deeper partnership with sales necessitate. It’s not their fault, he says; it’s a function of the organizational structures they’re forced to deal with. “Most of the money and effort in marketing is still focused on outbound because [a company may] have 100 people in marketing around the world, and a couple of trade show people, and a couple of PR people, and nobody’s going to change that overnight,” he says.

The MIT-educated engineer is currently VP, marketing of Onshape, a CAD-CAM software for product designers. Mirman says the right way to build a modern lead-generation program is to start with inbound methods and then have the discipline to continue to augment it with both human and non-human aspects. “By knowing what people are doing on your website, by looking at what they reveal about themselves, by augmenting that with third-party data, you can provide value,” he says. “The modern marketing machine makes customers more productive and in turn makes your company more successful.”

Inbound marketing techniques are sure to play a more influential role in B2B lead generation going forward. How could it not when a purchasing agent picks up a smartphone not to call a sales rep, but to search that rep’s corporate website? “All marketing now is inbound marketing in the respect that good outbound marketing is informed by inbound and content,” says Eric Holmen, CMO of Invoca, a platform for inbound calls marketing.

But just as marketing departments will not drive sales organizations out of existence, neither will tried-and-true outbound marketing techniques fade from use as inbound strategies become increasingly pervasive. Marketers instead will be challenged to monitor and adjust the levels of these two key factors in their revenue-generation formulas depending on the business challenges and the technological capabilities before them.

“There’s just a ton of new tech coming out all the time,” Limelight’s Kahana says. “We’re constantly adjusting, doing 30- to 60-day sprints to add something new and get to a place where we feel comfortable. We were in a situation where we had two marketing automation tools operating at the same time and it was a disaster. So we stripped everything down. We added Demandbase to our lead nurturing system and saw a 30% increase in conversions. We integrated with Marketo and saw a 101% pipeline contribution from webinars.”

Kahana pauses and admits to geeking out on all the technological wonders at his disposal. “It’s an amazing time for us marketers,” he says. “There’s literally something new every month, and I’m excited for what’s coming next.”

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