The potential benefits to B2B marketers of adopting marketing automation are significant, but the technology, by itself, cannot singlehandedly deliver sales. This is the story of any business technology: Gaining the benefits often requires process change and re-alignment that the technology will amplify, but that it cannot affect on its own.
This is why the practice of holistic lead management, of having a defined and repeatable process for managing leads, with common lead-stage definitions and uniform sales/marketing understanding of the process, is critical to achieving success with marketing automation. As we've covered before on this blog, shifting power from vendor to buyer in B2B marketing means that lead management is more important than ever for unifying our sales and marketing efforts and for wrapping them around the buyer and his/her buying process. That is why it's important to discuss (and deploy) lead management in tandem with marketing automation and why it is a central theme in our B2B Marketing University series (which we are re-launching for 2010 beginning in Washington, D.C., on March 3).
This also is why we recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to help us study the intersection of lead management best practices with marketing automation technology. We were looking to identify the challenges B2B marketers face in the adoption of lead management and best practices for finding success.
What did Forrester have to say?
The Forrester study concluded consistent repeatable processes can help companies achieve stronger, more-sustainable sales pipelines. These lead management processes can also help deliver more control over marketing program execution and visibility into the impact of marketing on sales. And this ultimately provides greater accountability for marketing spend against budget results.
Report author Laura Ramos cited six key findings in the Forrester study, which we've summarized below:
Actively manage demand: B2B marketers work diligently on campaign execution to fill the sales pipeline, but more often than not, they watch account reps cherry pick the strongest leads and ignore all the others (despite the opportunity for many of these to become strong leads down the road, when these buyers are ready to buy). Without lead scoring, sales routing rules and prospect nurturing programs, a 'leaky' pipeline will develop and the leaks will only get bigger and more frequent as prospective customers drop out of the sales funnel. As shifts in buyer behaviors become more prevalent, marketing programs must become more complex and more buyer-centric. It becomes more challenging to manage demand (and plug leaks) than ever before and it becomes necessary to implement new practices to actively manage demand.
Lead Management pays: Despite its recent adoption, most B2B marketers in the study agreed that lead management solutions deliver real business value. These solutions have helped many marketers achieve healthier pipelines as lead management gives the marketer more control over the longer sales cycle, which in turn increases lead quality and conversion rates. In addition, companies with lead management practices replace ad hoc, manual campaigns of the 'spray-and-pray' approach with those that are more agile, are buyer-driven and are aimed at nurturing stale contacts, winning back defectors. This plugs pipeline leaks and delivers higher-quality leads. This new approach also gives marketing greater accountability for its impact on the business and helps achieve efficiency in spending and resource use.
Process and collaboration are key: Lead management must first and foremost be treated as a process change that requires close and continuous interaction with sales. It’s not enough to simply roll out the latest and greatest technology without discussing your sales and marketing teams' joint goals for demand generation. You have to start from square one – define your process in collaboration with sales, implement milestones for your organization, select a leader to move the project forward and then implement marketing automation technology.
Four practices to see value more quickly: Value add is the ultimate goal behind implementing these new processes. The sooner the value is seen, the better. There are many risks and issues surrounding a process change (and associated deployment of new technology) so it’s important to identify the steps that can achieve positive results more quickly. (1) Start by finding out who your best customers are, how they buy and which activities increase their propensity to buy. (2) Next, take that customer profile to create lead scoring and process definitions, talk with sales about lead quality/scoring criteria and then create a lead model. (3) After you have the lead model, use the customer profile to then determine the type of content that different personas need in the different buying stages. (This should be part of a holistic content marketing strategy, which, as my colleague Adam Needles likes to assert, is the 'doppelganger' to lead management – it is the buyer-facing piece of the process.) (4) Finally, work with sales to plan your first simple nurturing campaign based on the things you learned to engage potential buyers successfully. Get that right, and then continue to repeat and refine as you build your demand generation processes.
Lead Management improves marketing’s standing: Lead management is a repeatable and consistent approach that helps you get to know more about your customers and better engage with them. These repeatable and consistent processes increase program execution efficiency and allow marketing and sales to collaborate more effectively, given common definitions and consistent expectations for the roles both organizations play. This improves overall ability to close deals, earn revenue and turn customers from sources of near-term revenue into long-term sources of value.
Technology vendors can be more than just platform providers: Vendors are now expanding their roles to include marketing execution partners – both internally and externally – to promote greater professionalism and success. (That's why Silverpop invests in market education, such as this study, our Demand Generation blog and our B2B Marketing University, and works with its partner network to deliver complete solutions to B2B marketing organizations.) Ramos suggests B2B marketers should choose a vendor that balances flashy features, promised ease of use and low price with shared expertise, successful implementations and a community of like-minded users and implementation partners.
Holistic lead management, together with marketing automation, can work for you to plug your leaky pipeline and drive repeatable, sustainable revenue but only if you commit to adopting best practices. You need to choose a solution that best aligns with the new process for your sales and marketing organization. The Forrester report has more insights to help you do this. To read the Forrester study in its entirety, register for a copy. You can also learn more about the report findings on the playback of the January 26 webinar featuring Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst Laura Ramos and Silverpop CEO Bill Nussey.