Sunday, March 19, 2017

Have We Really Improved Marketing Productivity?


The recent pace of change in B2B marketing has been nothing short of breathtaking. Over the past 10-15 years, new marketing technologies, channels, and techniques have appeared in rapid succession, and many of these innovations are now in widespread use. B2B marketing automation, content marketing, inbound marketing, and social media marketing are just of few of the technologies and techniques that have changed B2B marketing over the past decade or so.

By all indications, the pace of change is not slowing. During the past couple of years, many B2B companies have adopted account-based marketing, and many have begun using predictive marketing analytics technologies to support ABM and other marketing efforts. And just within the past few months, we've started to hear that machine learning and artificial intelligence will have a major impact on B2B marketing in the near future.

All of these innovations have promised to improve marketing effectiveness and efficiency, and numerous research studies purport to show that they are delivering a wide range of benefits. But have these innovations really improved the bottom-line productivity of B2B marketing? Can we show - in a credible and convincing way - that B2B marketing is more financially productive today than it was 10 or 15 years ago?

Obviously, these questions must be answered on a company-by-company basis. Some B2B marketers may be able to show that their marketing efforts have become significantly more productive over the past several years. But there is evidence suggesting that some aspects of B2B marketing performance haven't improved as much as we might have anticipated.

One indicator of B2B marketing and sales productivity is the efficiency of the demand generation process. Efficiency is usually measured by the percentage of potential buyers or leads who are "converting" from one lead stage to the next.

Many B2B companies use the Demand Waterfall model developed by SiriusDecisions to describe the stages of the lead-to-revenue process, and from time to time, SiriusDecisions publishes "average" and "best-in-class" conversion rates that link to the Demand Waterfall. The following table shows the conversion rates reported by SiriusDecisions for 2008 and 2014:

















What is most striking about this data is that it indicates there was essentially no improvement in conversion rates - particularly the overall lead-to-revenue conversion rate - between 2008 and 2014.

The 2008 conversion rates largely reflect marketing productivity before many of the marketing innovations mentioned above had become widely adopted. But research has shown that by 2014, a significant number of companies were using these technologies and techniques.

Of course, lead conversion rates aren't the only relevant measure of marketing productivity, and there may be a reasonable explanation for the lack of improvement shown in the SiriusDecisions data. For example, the 2014 conversion rates would not have captured the impact of the shift to account-based marketing that's occurred over the past couple of years. Nevertheless, this data should be a wake-up call for B2B marketers.

Senior company leaders are increasingly expecting marketers to demonstrate that their activities and programs are creating economic value for the enterprise and improving enterprise financial performance. Many senior leaders are no longer satisfied with the tactical performance indicators (campaign response rates, content downloads, etc.) that marketers have traditionally used to describe marketing performance. What senior business leaders really want to see is proof that marketing is delivering financial results and that the dollars they are investing in marketing are being spent as efficiently as possible.

The important point here is that the value of any marketing technology or method must ultimately be judged by whether its use improves marketing productivity. So that's what marketers must be prepared to demonstrate.

Top image courtesy of Kelly Teague via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

ABM Success Requires "Unnatural" Teamwork


One of the most formidable challenges related to account-based marketing is the need to build and sustain a high level of teamwork among business functions that have historically operated more or less independently. ABM obviously requires a tight alignment between marketing and sales. And when ABM is used to expand relationships with existing customers, the need for alignment will also extend to the customer service/customer success function of a company.

Some ABM experts now speak in terms of account-based everything to make the point that ABM actually encompasses far more than marketing.

Unfortunately, some company leaders don't fully appreciate how much and what kind of teamwork is required for ABM success. For example, most ABM thought leaders and practitioners agree that marketing and sales should jointly:

This level of collaboration is necessary to create a solid foundation for a successful ABM program, but it's really just the starting point. To reap the maximum benefits from ABM, marketing and sales must jointly develop an engagement plan for each target account. This account plan will usually span several weeks to several months, and will likely include marketing and sales activities that must be closely coordinated to produce maximum results. 

In addition, marketing and sales must be ready to make on-the-fly adjustments to their account plan based on actual buyer responses and changing business conditions at each account.

Therefore, successful ABM requires marketing and sales (and in some cases customer service) to work collaboratively on an ongoing basis. This level of coordination is challenging for many companies because it represents a major change in how they have traditionally managed sales leads.

In many B2B companies, the demand generation process involves a series of "hand-offs" from one business function to another. For example, marketing passes leads to business/sales development, which passes leads on to sales. The metaphor often used is a relay race in which each member of the relay team runs for a specified distance and then passes the baton to the next runner. This approach makes it relatively easy to manage demand generation within traditional organizational structures.

The relay race approach has never been the optimum way to manage demand generation, and it won't be effective in an ABM program. To address this challenge, some companies create cross-functional account teams to manage and coordinate the activities relating to their ABM accounts. To use a sports analogy, an ABM account team functions more like a basketball team than a 4 x 100 meter relay team. In an ABM account team, every team member is involved (in one way or another) throughout the entire game, and their roles change on a fluid basis.

The important point here is that successful ABM requires an exceptional level of cross-functional teamwork that isn't "natural" for many companies. Some ABM pundits contend that account-based marketing will create better alignment between marketing and sales, but this just isn't so.

The decision to adopt ABM can be the catalyst for creating better marketing-sales alignment, but ABM won't cause such alignment to magically appear. It's more accurate to say that good alignment between marketing and sales is a necessary prerequisite for successful ABM. Therefore, company leaders must be prepared to create and implement the structures, processes, and culture that are required to make the necessary teamwork a reality.

Illustration courtesy of Katlene Niven via Flickr CC.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Solving the "Dry Well" Challenge of Content Marketing


Consistently producing content that connects with potential buyers remains one of the greatest challenges facing B2B marketers. The need to make content relevant for individual buyers at every stage of the buying process, to publish content in multiple formats across multiple channels, and to publish new content frequently have combined to strain the creativity and resources of B2B marketers.

In the early stages of a company's content marketing efforts when marketers are focused on "building out" their content library, it's relatively easy to identify good topics for content resources. But after the initial build-out phase is completed, it can become more difficult to identify content topics that are relevant and fresh.

Of course, some topics need to be addressed more than once. It's important, for example, to update your content when the capabilities of your product change, or when new research about a topic becomes available. But sooner or later, many B2B marketers will feel that their well of relevant and meaningful topics has run dry.

To address this challenge, marketers need to think more broadly about the kinds of topics that can be effective in their content marketing program. From a topical perspective, there are four basic types of content (shown in the following diagram).






















Product Content - This is just what it sounds like - content that describes the features and functionality of a product or group of related products. In a 2015 study by LinkedIn, business buyers ranked product info, features, functions as their most preferred type of marketing/sales content.

Product Category Content - This is basically "educational" content that discusses issues or needs that a type of product or service can address. When a provider of account-based marketing software creates content that explains why ABM is a more effective approach to marketing, or describes what capabilities buyers should look for in an ABM solution, that's product category content. Good product category content usually doesn't promote a specific product, but it does "evangelize" the product category.

Most of the marketing content created by B2B companies (excluding pure brand advertising) falls into one of these two categories, and these are the types of content topics that marketers focus on first. This is a valid approach, but these two categories will only provide so many good topics for content resources.

There are, however, two additional types of content that can complement product and product category content, and thus provide a valuable source for good content topics.

Business Function Content - This type of content addresses issues relating to the job responsibilities of your potential buyers, but which aren't directly related to your company's product or service. For example, suppose that your company offers a sales enablement solution to financial services firms. Your buying group will almost certainly include chief marketing officers and chief sales officers. Once you've developed enough product and product category content, you can create content resources that address more general marketing and sales issues. This type of content could include topics such as:

  • How to win business from millennial investors
  • How financial advisors can use social selling to attract and win new clients
Industry-Related Content - This type of content discusses issues that are related to the industry in which the prospect operates. To continue with my financial services example, the sales enablement provider could create content around topics such as:
  • The impact of "robo-advisors" on traditional financial services firms
  • New (or pending) governmental regulations affecting financial services firms
You may be wondering why you should create content that isn't closely related to your company's product or service. One of the objectives of content marketing is to demonstrate that you understand the issues and challenges that your prospects and potential buyers are facing. Product category content helps you achieve this objective, but so can business function content and industry-related content.

Top illustration courtesy of Paani Program via Flickr CC.