Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Why Provocative Content Works Best for Acquiring Leads

Consistently acquiring enough new leads has become a major challenge for many B2B companies. Business buyers now have access to a wealth of online information, and they can easily perform research and gather information about products and services whenever they want, on their own terms. Therefore, they are less likely to respond to lead generation campaigns.

It's now clear that compelling marketing content is essential for successful B2B lead acquisition. Offering access to a content resource (a white paper, an e-book, etc.) is quickly becoming the go-to tactic for lead acquisition. So, what kind of content is most effective for acquiring new leads?

Content performs three basic functions in B2B marketing.
  • It educates potential buyers about the problems and issues they're facing and about how those problems and issues can be addressed.
  • It explains how your solution works and describes the benefits your solution provides.
  • It reassures potential buyers by alleviating the fears that always surround major purchase decisions.
The diagram below (based on the six B2B buying stages developed by SiriusDecisions) illustrates that the primary function of content depends on where a potential buyer is in the buying process.
  • Educational content is most relevant for prospects who are in the early stages of the process.
  • Content that explains your product or service becomes most important for prospects in the middle stages.
  • Reassurance content takes the leading role in the later stages of the process.

Most of the potential buyers who receive lead acquisition offers are not "active" buyers, and of those that are, most will be in the early stages of the buying process. Therefore, educational content is usually the best type of content to use for lead acquisition.

But there's a catch. Not all educational content is equally effective for lead acquisition. The best kind of content for acquiring leads is content that is both educational and provocative. No, we aren't talking here about content that includes scantily-clad models or outrageous political statements. What I mean is content that provokes new thinking.

The essence of provocative content is insight that teaches prospects something new about issues that are important to the future of their business. Provocative content can provide new insight by:
  • Describing problems or issues that prospects are not aware of
  • Making the full ramifications or consequences of problems or issues visible to prospects
  • Introducing prospects to new solutions for known problems or issues
The second defining characteristic of provocative content is that is speaks in a "strong" voice. Provocative content is intended to give prospects a mental "poke in the ribs" that will capture their attention and make them think about their business in new, and not always comfortable, ways. In grammatical terms, the language of provocative content is more "imperative" than "descriptive" or "explanatory."

Successful lead acquisition comes down to making prospects curious enough to respond to your offers. Provocative content creates that necessary curiosity by presenting new and valuable insights in a powerful and unequivocal way.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Marketing and Sales Alignment: Putting the Whole Puzzle Together

There's no longer any doubt that a high-performing B2B demand generation system requires a coordinated effort by both marketing and sales. Changes in the attitudes and behaviors of buyers have made it essential for marketing and sales efforts to be tightly integrated.

Most of the discussions about marketing and sales alignment have focused on the lead managment process. In this area, alignment primarily means that marketing and sales have agreed on:
  • What constitutes a "sales-ready lead"
  • How the "hand-off" of leads by marketing to sales will be handled
  • How sales will follow up with the leads supplied by marketing
  • When leads will be passed by sales back to marketing for additional nurturing
  • How new leads acquired by salespeople (through prospecting) will be handled
Having marketing and sales aligned on a well-designed lead management process is important, but that's not the only place where marketing and sales need to be on the same page. In other words, lead management is only one piece of the marketing-sales alignment puzzle.

There are three other critical pieces of the puzzle - value creation, target market definition, and messaging.

Value Creation

Value creation refers to how you create value for customers. It's critical to have marketing and sales aligned on this issue because it's the foundation for your entire demand generation process. To create alignment, marketing and sales should agree on the core value propositions that you will offer to potential buyers. (For a list of questions that can help you define core value propositions, see this earlier post.)

Target Market Definition

Your target market definition includes both the kinds of organizations that will make your best prospects and the identity of the individuals within those organizations who make or influence the decision to purchase your product or service. Marketing uses this definition to design lead generation campaigns and programs. If marketing and sales use a common target market definition, there will be fewer disagreements concerning the quality of leads produced by marketing.


Messaging refers to the content you use to "tell your story" to potential buyers. Messaging is embodied in all kinds of communications vehicles, including traditional marketing collateral documents, white papers, e-books, webinars, and sales presentations. There is often a huge disconnect between marketing and sales when it comes to messaging. Various studies have shown that between 50% and 90% of the collateral materials produced by marketing are not used by sales, and the American Marketing Association has reported that salespeople spend 30 hours per month searching for or creating their own sales materials. These problems can be avoided if marketing and sales agree on the major components of your company's messaging.

The Whole Puzzle Matters

Aligning marketing and sales across all four of these issues is not easy given the culture that exists in many companies. But consider how much better your demand generation would perform if you marketers and salespeople had a common view of:
  • How you create value for customers
  • What kinds of organizations make your best prospects and who the key players are within those organizations
  • How to effectively communicate your value to potential buyers
  • How to manage leads effectively throughout the buying process

Monday, February 13, 2012

Why "Shorter" Sales Cycles Mean More Work for Marketers

Last month, MarketingSherpa published a chart-of-the-week that showed how respondents to its 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Survey answered the following question:

"Q. Please select the time period closest to the length of your organization's entire sales cycle, from first lead inquiry to purchase."

The chart shows that, on average, sales cycles were shorter in 2011 than in 2010. Jen Doyle, MarketingSherpa's Senior Research Manager, attributed the shorter sales cycles to a decrease in average deal size in 2011 (which MarketingSherpa's survey also revealed).

I have no doubt that deal size has a big influence on the length of the sales cycle, so I can see how a decrease in average deal size would result in shorter average sales cycles. But I suggest that something else is partly responsible for these survey results.

The most significant development in B2B marketing and sales in recent years has been the emergence of what I call the self-directed buyer. Today's business buyers are self-educating and performing research independently, before they identify themselves to potential vendors. In a recent survey by DemandGen Report, 77% of B2B buyers said they did not talk with a sales rep until after they had performed independent research, and 36% of buyers said they didn't engage with a salesperson until after a short list of preferred vendors was established. Other research has shown that business buyers are often more than half way through their buying process when they first meet with potential vendors.

So, the visible sales cycle that we can measure is representing a smaller percentage of the buyers' full decision-making process. This fundamental change in buyer behavior has far-reaching implications. Most importantly, it means that most B2B companies have no real choice but to adopt a new approach to demand generation. Gone are the days when you could rely primarily on your sales reps to acquire new leads and shepherd those prospects through the complete buying process. Today, your prospects are learning about their problems and forming opinions about potential solutions and solution providers before you know who they are.

In these circumstances, it's imperative to have marketing content that can function as a "surrogate salesperson," especially for buyers in the early stages of the buying process. Today, your marketing content must:
  • Make potential buyers aware of your company
  • Teach prospects about the causes and effects of important business problems or challenges
  • Educate prospects about potential solutions for these problems or challenges
  • Demonstrate your company's expertise
  • Persuade prospects to identify themselves and give you permission to communicate with them
If you don't have content that can perform these marketing functions, why would you think your company would have a seat at the table when a prospect is ready to have a serious sales conversation?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

If Your Marketing Content Was for Sale, Would Anybody Buy?

Would prospects pay to get access to your marketing content? That may sound like a strange question since, of course, we don't charge prospects for our marketing content. Or do we?

The truth is, we regularly ask potential buyers to pay for the privilege of reading, or watching, or listening to our content. The payment may not be in "coin of the realm," but it's something that is just as valuable - the time and attention of our prospects.

We ask our prospects to pay by:
  • Responding to our offers
  • Downloading and reading our white papers
  • Attending our webinars
  • Reading our blog posts
  • Viewing our online demos and/or other videos
  • Reading our case studies
  • Viewing the pages on our website
There are many other examples, but you get the idea.

So, why will (or should) our prospects invest their time and attention to consume our marketing content? For content to be "worth the price of admission," it must deliver value to potential buyers. Content can create value for prospects in a variety of ways. For example, it can:
  • Describe the nature and causes of an important problem or challenge
  • Describe the likely impacts of the problem or challenge on the prospect's business
  • Lay out the alternatives for dealing with the problem or challenge and explain the pros and cons of each approach
  • Demonstrate how companies similar to the prospect have successfully addressed the problem or challenge and describe the results they obtained
From these examples, it should be clear that marketing content creates value primarily by helping potential buyers identify ways to improve their business. Most of this content says little about the specific products or services offered by the company that publishes the content.

Does this mean there's no place for promotional content? Not at all. When prospects reach the right stage of their buying process, they will want and need to learn about the features and benefits of your particular product or service. At that point, they'll be willing to "pay" for your promotional content. Just don't try to sell the dessert before your prospect has enjoyed the main course.

What about your marketing content? Does it attract enough "buyers" to help you grow your business?