Strategic and technological innovation in the B2B marketing arena often can feel like alphabet soup -- lots of new terms and ideas, but how this innovation interrelates can sometimes be even more complicated.
On this site, we've been focusing on three topics over the last few months -- lead management, marketing automation and content marketing -- three topics that cover critical, integral pieces for effective demand generation.
But how to they fit together?
I've begun addressing this topic in a presentation on 'Field Marketing 2.0' (hat tip to SiriusDecisions, which originally coined this term) that I give on the B2B Marketing University tour. My presentation talks about how to be effective in the Field Marketing 2.0 era, and it focuses on what I believe are the three, key building blocks for achieving buyer-centric demand generation -- for really making this stuff come together and work. So I thought it would be useful to bring some of these ideas together here on the blog and tie them to our past posts.
Focusing Demand Generation on the Buyer
More than ever -- in an environment where the B2B buyer has power and where the nature of the B2B buyer is changing -- it's critical that our demand generation activities have a 'buyer-centric' posture. This is something I highlighted in a recent MarketingProfs Daily Fix blog post, "Re-casting How We Think About B2B Marketing Automation."
What does this mean?
Well, we need to know what stages our targeted buyers go through in their buying processes, and then we need to make sure our marketing programs serve up the right information at the right time and in the right format/domain. This ensures buyers have the information they need to make their own assessments at different stages of the buying process and move their process forward. Research shows buyers do more on their own -- online and via social media -- before ever contacting a sales team member. So we need to help power this process as marketers.
Considered in this way, demand generation is not merely about getting a prospect's attention; rather, it is about incubating a prospect with the information (s)he needs to move forward until (s)he is at a stage where that prospect is ready to speak with a sales representative. It also is about helping to convince a prospect -- before (s)he talks to a sales representative -- that your product/solution should be on his/her short list, if not the top choice. A critical point, often missed: It's nearly impossible to move a B2B buyer along faster in a decision-making process than (s)he is ready to go. Buyers are in charge these days, and according to MarketingSherpa's "2010 Email Marketing Benchmark Guide," approximately 59% of potential B2B buyers in the market for a product/solution will make a purchase decision in a time period greater than three months. This means the majority of potential B2B buyers won't make a decision this quarter -- a problem for our sales team, which operates on months and quarters.
Our demand generation strategy must be built around the buyer and his/her timeframe. Demand generation cannot be merely about filling the top of the sales funnel; rather, we must understand the complex interactions that go on at all stages of the funnel and be tuned into optimizing 'middle-of-the-funnel' dynamics. The sum of our marketing tactics also must be more focused on educating an empowered buyer, rather than on trying to aggressively 'sell' him/her. Do we want to make a sale? Yes. But, again, we can't push a buyer to that sale faster than (s)he is ready to go. Instead, we must leverage serendipity to make sure we're in the right place and right time to optimize against sales opportunities.
The Three Building Blocks for Buyer-centric Demand Generation
This brings us back to the three building blocks. Finding success with developing buyer-centric demand generation programs -- especially improving middle-of-funnel dynamics and enabling buyer education -- requires three core components. These are a lead management framework, a marketing automation platform and a content marketing strategy.
[caption id="attachment_664" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Source: Silverpop; click to enlarge"]
So what are these elements, and how do they work together?
> Lead management: Holistic lead management is a critical building block for a demand generation strategy. This framework defines the operational view of a lead from early entry into an organization, through marketing nurturing, to hand-off from marketing to sales, through additional sales nurturing and finally to close. Lead-stage definitions and lead management processes serve as a key lingua franca between marketing and sales; thus, holistic lead management represents how a sales team member views the demand generation process. And this translates insights into the buyer's current status into what this means for marketing and sales processes.
"Lead management is a process," explains Carlos Hidalgo of The Annuitas Group in a recent post, "Where Do You Start with Lead Management." "It’s not software." And this is a critical point. Lead management is a method of operation for how marketing and sales will move a lead from upstream nascence to downstream maturity. Moreover, lead management defines critical parameters for lead scoring, routing and nurturing. This is critical logic for guiding demand generation activities. Lead management is critical to finding success with marketing automation, and it is critical to informing the routes and stages that relate to buyers' information needs and thus to content marketing.
> Marketing automation: Given a well-defined lead management process, marketing automation becomes the engine for moving the process forward. The marketing automation engine takes continual cues from lead scores -- driven both by buyer demographics and by behavioral cues (e.g., downloading a whitepaper) -- as well as segmentation and routing logic, to make sure that leads are moved forward through the lead management process. And this is an intelligent, 'semantic' sorting that the marketing automation engine does very quickly -- triggering actions that are based on what it learns. Some people get caught up with the word 'automation' and assume that it is merely about reducing manual tasks. But, as I noted in a recent post, titled "What is Driving B2B Marketers to Adopt Marketing Automation Technology," "I believe that — in addition to the ability of marketing automation to improve operational efficiency — the strategic reason to adopt marketing automation is as a way to manage buyer-centric, mass one-to-one marketing on a scale basis."
> Content marketing: The third element is content marketing. In a world where buyers are doing more education on their own timeframe and ahead of speaking with a sales representative, it's more critical than ever to take advantage of this gap and to fill it with information buyers can use to propel their process forward. Holistic content marketing thus represents the dialogue view of demand generation. It is the architecture behind the information exchanged with the buyer; it is the rationalization of what content buyers need at various buying stages and what media and channels are going to convey this content.
I explained in a recent post, "What Are the Keys to Finding Success with B2B Content Marketing":
Content marketing is not merely something to do in addition to the other marketing tactics you are deploying; rather, it’s meant to be a unifying mindset — raising content to a more strategic level. I detailed this in my recent Propelling Brands post, “Content is no longer the static prose of taglines and brochures; rather, it is the connective tissue of a new era of ‘bottoms-up’ B2B marketing … and powers buyer dialogue.” My colleague, Kristin McKenna, put it a bit more succinctly in her own recent post on this site: “Essentially, content marketing is the notion that delivering (through sharing) high-quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable buyer actions.”
Content is not only critical to educating the buyer, but the content consumed also can tell you something about where a buyer is in his/her process. Behavioral cues based on Web pages accessed and documents downloaded then become critical information for your marketing automation platform to score against and to drive where a lead sits in your lead management process. And thus you can see how much these three elements are really intertwined.
What are your experiences in leveraging lead management, marketing automation and content marketing together for more effective demand generation? What are successes you've had in leveraging these elements against each other, and what are the challenges you've faced? Please share your thoughts.