I was reading a blog post by Robert Lesser this past weekend, and it got me thinking. He has been thoughtfully chronicling the issue of when/where to deploy outbound vs. inbound marketing on his blog over the past few months. To be fair, he does talk about the idea of finding an optimal mix (so I'm not saying I disagree with his thread, per se).
Yet one comment in his blog piece made me stop dead in my tracks. He wrote, "With marketing contributing at most 40% of sales' leads, outbound lead generation is critical for most organizations."
Wait ... what? Really? Is that how we see the 'brave new' B2B world these days?
As someone who is an advocate both for greater sales and marketing alignment and for more buyer-centric marketing, I constantly speak and write on the fact that what matters is your buyer's process and making sure that the interaction with a given buyer is appropriate to where (s)he is in his/her process at a given point in time. Efforts by both sales and marketing team members, and via both inbound and outbound efforts, subsequently should cascade from there -- i.e., it's not about one versus the other ... it's about where the buyer really is and what type of tactics are appropriate.
So it's not an either/or equation ... whether we're talking about marketing/sales or inbound/outbound contributions. Instead, it's more important to conceptualize delivering the right information, via the right channel and via the right 'voice' ... to the right persona ... at the right time.
Let me explain ...
More than ever this is something established by the buyer, not by anyone on the marketing or sales team. Power has permanently shifted from B2B seller to buyer -- something I detailed in a post on my Propelling Brands blog and that I've been speaking about at this Fall's B2B Marketing University series. The major implication for our marketing and sales efforts is for us more than ever to assume a posture of 'responding to pull' versus 'driving push.' And a related implication is that buyers are more than ever self-educating themselves, mostly online, and waiting until the latest possible moment in their process to engage a sales person -- increasing the importance of marketing's role managing 'upstream' buyer dialogue and ensuring a seamless handoff.
So it is in this context that I believe metrics such as 'sales contribution to pipeline' vs. 'marketing contribution to pipeline,' as well as 'inbound contribution to pipeline' vs. 'outbound contribution to pipeline' are false metrics, are misunderstood and lead to marketing and sales people losing focus and failing to collaborate at a time when they more than ever must work together. That's why they are dangerous.
Why do I think these are false metrics?
Let me be clear, I'm not saying you shouldn't measure this, but how you read it is what matters. This type of metric speaks more to where buyers -- on average -- are in their buying cycle when they first engage with your organization. It identifies their organic condition at entry point -- something your company may not have any ability to control. Thus, it's a resultant metric, not a causal one.
But to believe me you've also got to acknowledge that we've had it wrong in terms of how we think about the sales funnel and about operationalizing marketing and sales activities for some time now. We have a long history in the B2B arena of super-imposing artificial constructs in an effort to improve our processes. This is the story of the sales funnel ... and why this idea continues to fail us, even today.
Meg Heuer of SiriusDecisions expanded on this in a past post on this site. "[I]f you are not understanding how your buyer buys, your sales funnel will always be out of sync," explains Heuer. "The sales funnel is what the buyer wants it to be [not how B2B sales or marketing teams operationally conceptualize it]. Within a given space, you're going to see some commonalities and preferences, but if you're not doing your work to put yourself in your buyer's shoes your sales and marketing will be out of sync. It will be based on no information."
Heuer also makes the point that buyers decide when/where they enter our organizations, and they may even choose to exit and re-enter what we thought was a linear flow through our sales funnel -- further complicating things.
I explain all of this to clarify that a 'percentage contribution' metric and an either/or mindset can give a false impression of how we're doing at a given point in time. They actually do not provide a positive indication of the implicit effectiveness of the efforts of marketing vs. sales or inbound vs. outbound, and they blur the reality that it is collaborative, sequenced and interconnected touch points that lead to sales, not one-off campaigns or individual, disconnected team members.
The way you should view contribution metrics, thus, should be in terms of helping you understand the organic mix that is right for your target buyer, not who/what is doing a better job of delivering sales.
How should we approach finding the optimal mix of sales/marketing and inbound/outbound tactics?
The truth is that this is not easy to do. Being buyer-centric and assessing a given buyer persona's critical path is not an easy undertaking. It requires analyzing a combination of demographic/explicit data and behavioral/implicit data about your buyer.
More than ever that means very granularly measuring what goes on in the middle of this process, as opposed to over-simplified transoms such as 'lead source,' 'marketing-qualified/sales-ready' and 'closed deal,' which I'm not saying you shouldn't measure. You should. But you also really need to know what sequence of information, mediums and engagements, and with what combination of marketing and sales, inbound and outbound resources led to an eventual closed deal.
And yet this is what we are worst at understanding as marketing and sales professionals.
MarketingSherpa's recent "2010 E-mail Marketing: Benchmark Report" captured this in the report's section on B2B marketing. The chart below conveys this challenge -- pointing out that nearly 63% (i.e., 42% + 21%) of B2B marketers call out what happens in the middle as the most challenging aspect of their programs -- not identifying lead sources or measuring resultant ROI/contribution.
The good news is that more than ever we have the tools at our disposal as B2B marketers to address this issue and to tune our mix. A primary source is your marketing automation platform -- which should serve both as a platform for executing pull-based campaigns and as an environment where you can capture and measure every interaction you have with buyers throughout the marketing and sales process. Using these insights and a scoring/routing engine, you can identify your buyer's critical path and tune campaigns to be optimized against this path.
Yet success with marketing automation requires changing our mindsets and process to be more buyer-centric. And I believe the first step is letting go of our either/or mindsets and moving to a new collaborative posture.