In the last five years, we've seen some significant advances in marketing technology. One byproduct of those advances is that B2B marketers are hyper-focused on lead generation. And once we found better ways to manage leads, we got hungry for more leads. Leads became an end goal.
As marketers have been under more pressure to prove ROI on their efforts, leads have been an easy KPI to measure.
Unfortunately, leads don't always lead to revenue, which is of course the most important KPI for any business. That's true for a few reasons. Most of the B2B buying process is anonymous. People are getting the information they need from a website or from social content sharing and not always electing to download gated content. Even if they eventually fill out a form, 75% of the buying process actually takes place before the hand-raise.
If Marketing is investing all its energy trying to convert those anonymous visitors to leads, they're missing out on the opportunity to drive revenue. That's because many of the companies that are your most desirable customers will never fill out a form. Think about it: When was the last time you filled one out?
Furthermore, B2B purchases are actually quite complex, in a way that makes targeting leads a less-than-relevant endeavor. Most B2B purchases—especially technology purchases—span multiple departments, which means that multiple stakeholders are involved in any buying decision. While Marketing is busy looking for more leads, Sales is trying to cultivate deeper engagement with multiple influencers at one company.
As an industry, we need to shift this lead-focused mindset.
Don't be afraid to go small
With the increased focused on leads, we've favored quality for quantity. We easily lose sight of the fact that leads do not automatically equal revenue, especially when Sales is always asking for more. In fact, when Sales has to spend hours going through stacks of leads, it's often wasted time, and Sales ends up complaining about lead quality. Marketing usually responds by delivering more leads, expending time and money to run SEO and paid-search campaigns, top-of-funnel display advertising, and catch-all retargeting tools that generate lots of leads.
But when the leads don't convert, the cycle starts over again. In addition to being frustrating, it's a poor use of resources. To break out of that pattern, Sales, Marketing and the executive team need to align on prioritizing quality accounts.
Target key accounts
You've probably often heard, "You never know who might become a customer"; but the truth is, for the most part, you do know. Your future customers share various key attributes with current customers, which means you actually know a great deal about them.
Rather than work toward volume by using the top-of-the-funnel strategies mentioned earlier, Marketing should develop strategic tactics to reach those prospects—including targeted display advertising, content personalization, social media, and event marketing.
The key is to conduct campaigns that are tailored and targeted at potential prospects. For example, if your buyers are manufacturing companies, a billboard on the highway will never deliver ROI. Nor will sponsoring an event that includes pharmaceutical companies. That sounds obvious, but many marketers cling to the idea of broad exposure rather than a focus on key accounts.
Educate account stakeholders
Once high-value accounts have been identified and engaged, Marketing has the power to significantly influence what happens when Sales gets to that meeting. Rather than focus on getting a conversion and handing off the lead to Sales, Marketing can continue to educate key stakeholders who influence the closing of a deal. If the decision-makers are already familiar with the company and product, the pitch is already off to a good start.
But familiarity is only the beginning. If marketers run in-depth campaigns with dynamic content that reach stakeholders across all departments, Marketing can accelerate the sales cycle—and even affect whether or not a deal closes.
Track buying signals
To provide ongoing relevant information to the prospect and share insight with Sales, Marketing must measure and respond to buying signals across the entire buying cycle. With sophisticated analytics, marketers can capture information such as type of content consumed on the website or the frequency of visits. Those buying signals can be tracked even when visitors are technically "anonymous," not having filled out forms. With that information, marketers can target the most valuable prospects with display ads and other campaigns, thus accelerating the sales cycle for the most valuable accounts. In addition, Marketing needs to communicate this buying activity to sales teams; the more information reps have, the better they can tailor pitches and customize approaches to close the deal.
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All in all, marketers must rethink the attention and emphasis currently placed on leads. Requirements for a paradigm shift include a revised mindset and strategy, as well as support of the entire organization. But when it happens, Sales and Marketing will become more aligned and the entire company has greater opportunity for growth.
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