Let's face our tough new reality: Demand pipelines are soft, at best.

It's not easy to drive demand during this work-from-home era. Proven lead generators, like industry events and direct marketing, have been canceled or are now irrelevant, unable to provide the leads you need.

But, there's a silver lining: People are spending up to 50% more time online. Now is the time to identify who among them is open to buying, and to refocus time and attention to create the pipeline your organization needs to carry on and recover.

Right now, it's all about building operational agility into your marketing and customer experience capabilities and infrastructure, and relying heavily on the data they provide. By integrating and automating the applications you depend on for lead generation, you can get at the data you need, qualify it, and quickly put it to use to engage the likeliest buyers.

Here are three effective data-reliant ways you can address your soft pipeline and drive marketing efficiency in the midst of these challenging times.

1. Maximize inbound leads by responding in five minutes or less

Only 42% of B2B companies responded to leads within five days, a recent report found. That is truly shocking, considering it's well-established that waiting to connect with a lead for longer than five minutes from the completion of a webform results in a 10x decrease in the ability of the salesperson to connect with that lead (Harvard Business Review). The same study reported that just 4.7% of companies made that five-minute window.

That research is more relevant than ever because your prospects' budgets and their organizations' needs have changed during this unprecedented time. Today, no one can afford to wait five days to follow up with an inbound lead who is expressing direct interest in a product.

So how do you enable your sales reps to hit that magical five-minute window? You need to process, enrich, and assign the lead to the appropriate rep, and you need to do it within seconds of the lead coming in.

The automation workflow would look something like this:

  1. The lead goes from your webform to your CRM or marketing automation tool (which should be bidirectionally synced).
  2. The lead is enriched using a tool like ZoomInfo or Clearbit, allowing you to get their phone number even if they didn't provide one.
  3. The lead is automatically assigned to the correct rep based on your org's rules (by region, by persona, etc.).
  4. If the assigned rep has indicated they are accepting leads, a notification hits that rep's Slack/Teams/Workplace chat console with all of the information about the lead. The rep calls the lead immediately.
  5. If the rep has indicated they are not accepting leads, the notification goes to the next most qualified rep.

Of course, the tone of your engagement should reflect our new reality. But following up immediately continues to be a powerful tactic that companies can better utilize during this time.

2. Make buyer intent data actionable

In a perfect world, you could spend all day responding to inbound leads, but the reality is that not everyone who is ready to buy will come directly to your website and sign up for a demo.

That's what makes buyer intent data so valuable, and with a soft pipeline it's even more indispensable.

Peer-review platforms, such as G2 and TrustRadius, can provide insight into which accounts are actively researching your product, your competitors, or your industry as a whole. In fact, data from these review sites is used in at least 52% of enterprise technology purchases.

But using buyer intent data is a labor-intensive process. You have to manually go into the platform, identify high-intent accounts, check to see whether those accounts have had any other interaction with your company (like attending a webinar), route it to the right account exec, etc.—all before you can even take action on those accounts.

To be ready to fulfill the needs of the companies researching your industry or competitors, you need to automate the manual processes and make the buyer intent data immediately actionable.

Here's what a buyer intent data workflow might look like:

  1. As new high-intent accounts are identified in the peer review platform, sync them to your CRM and enrich the data with contact information from your CRM and other enrichment tools (e.g., Zoominfo, DiscoverOrg).
  2. Highlight contacts that interacted with your brand via touchpoints stored in your marketing automation platform.
  3. Automatically route critical buyer intent data to the correct sales rep or sales development rep on Slack or Teams with all the information they need to act on it.
  4. Allow the rep to take action right from the chat console, such as sending the account to a prospecting tool like Outreach/Salesloft, informing the ABM team to run ads, or sending direct mail or a gift.

3. Provide incentive to attend virtual events

Even before this global health crisis forced much of the world to stay at home, virtual events were becoming viable alternatives to physical events, knocking down geographic barriers and providing marketers access to larger, more diverse audiences (and their data).

Now that virtual events are the only option for near-term industry conferences, competition for attendance is fiercer than ever. It's going to take more than an enticing email to get someone to register and actually attend yours.

Fear not: Forrester Group research finds that although 45% of B2B technology buyers rely on conference booth presentations and collateral when making purchasing decisions, an even higher percentage—65%— prefer to do their own online research. Maximize your digital efforts, and let automation help here, too.

Make sure you have high-quality, engaging content that provides real value and makes your audience feel good about themselves for attending, and think about how you'll get them to not only attend but also stick around for the entire event.

Consider automating a gift for attendees who are all in, perhaps providing them with a gift card or a raffle for a bottle of wine. That incentive will help increase attendance and attention, leading to better absorption of your pitch and to, hopefully, future sales.

Let's sum up

While we're all navigating uncharted waters without clear knowledge of what the future holds, marketers who harness their data to refocus and maximize their efforts can help sustain their organizations and facilitate recovery.

Powerful automation technology can boost those efforts, providing more accurate targeting, personalized engagement, and more timely communication.

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Three Effective Ways to Address a Soft Marketing Pipeline in Challenging Times

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image of Bhaskar Roy

Bhaskar Roy heads growth and marketing at Workato, a leader in enterprise automation software. He has 20+ years' experience building enterprise and consumer products and bringing them to market.

LinkedIn: Bhaskar Roy

Twitter: @broy