Sunday, March 30, 2014

To Gate or Not to Gate - The Marketplace Will Decide

One of the long-running debates among B2B marketing experts and practitioners is whether companies should require registration for access to content resources like white papers, research reports, or case studies, or whether they should make such resources freely available. We usually say the issue is whether to use "gated" or "ungated" content.

Many marketing experts and thought leaders have chimed in on this issue, and there are reasonable arguments supporting both approaches. I won't repeat all the arguments in this post, but below is a sample of the opinions you can easily find on this topic.

Over the past few years, I've seen the views on this issue shift. Five years ago, I think most marketers believed that virtually all content resources should be gated, although a few marketing experts like David Meerman Scott have been arguing for some time that most content should be freely available. My sense is, most marketing experts now believe that companies should make a significant amount of content available without requiring registration.

In my view, the marketplace will ultimately resolve this issue, probably in favor of making most content resources freely available, but this won't happen overnight.

In the 2013 B2B Content Preferences Survey by DemandGen Report, participants were asked:  "Which type of content assets are you willing to register for and share information about you and/or your company?" The table below shows how the survey participants responded.

These findings demonstrate that a majority of business buyers are still willing to register and share basic information to gain access to most "long-form" content resources. The results also show, however, that most buyers are not willing to share detailed information to gain access to content. Even in the case of webinars, which are usually viewed as high-value content resources, only 20% of survey respondents said they are willing to provide more than basic information.

Many companies are now making a substantial amount of content freely available, and as this practice becomes more prevalent, potential buyers will expect to get access to content without registration. This expectation will likely make buyers more selective about the content they are willing to "pay for" with contact information. They will still be willing to register if they believe that a content resource will be particularly valuable, but if the resource looks or sounds like others that are freely available, they will be much more likely to ignore it.

For marketers, the fundamental question is:  Would you prefer that business buyers consume your branded content anonymously, or would you prefer them not to consume it at all? I believe the answer to this question is clear.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Why Your Content Marketing Plan Must Focus on More Than Lead Generation

Most of the attention given to content marketing in the B2B space has focused on its role in lead generation and lead nurturing. In reality, companies are using content marketing to support several objectives. The table below shows how B2B and B2C marketers ranked their objectives for content marketing in the latest content marketing survey conducted by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.

As its popularity and use have grown, we have started to view content marketing as a distinct marketing discipline with its own set of principles and best practices. Overall, this is good because it has allowed us to create a body of knowledge about how to do content marketing effectively. The downside is that this approach can lead us to view content marketing as an end unto itself, rather than as a means to achieve other important business/marketing objectives.

It its definition of content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute says that the objective of content marketing is to drive "profitable customer action." I don't disagree with the general sentiment, but this definition doesn't reveal how content marketing relates to specific marketing objectives.

Content marketing should be viewed as a "new" mechanism for achieving objectives that have been essential to revenue generation and growth for a long time. As the diagram below illustrates, content marketing supports every major customer-facing component of a B2B demand generation system.

For most small and mid-size B2B companies, content marketing has become the most effective way to build the brand (what I call reputation building in the diagram). The role of content marketing in lead generation and lead nurturing has been widely discussed, and it's now recognized that content marketing is an indispensable component of lead generation and lead nurturing.

A growing number of companies are placing increased emphasis on sales enablement programs to boost the effectiveness of their sales reps, and the right content resources are pivotal for successful sales enablement. Finally, many companies recognize the importance of building and maintaining strong relationships with existing customers, and providing customers the right kind of content is critical to achieving this objective.

At the highest level, the core principles of effective content marketing are the same, but your content marketing tactics must be based on the specific marketing objective you are trying to achieve. Therefore, the content marketing program you use for reputation building won't be identical to the program you use for lead generation.

Recognizing that content marketing is implemented through multiple programs that support multiple objectives also makes it possible to measure the value of content marketing more accurately. A content marketing program that supports reputation building should have different performance metrics than a program that supports customer retention and expansion. By measuring these programs separately and differently, you will get a more accurate picture of the value that content marketing provides.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Match Your Content to the Type of Demand You Need to Create

I've written frequently here about why it's important to develop marketing content resources for specific buyer personas and specific stages of the buying process. This kind of targeted content produces better marketing results because it enables you to increase what I call personal relevance and situational relevance.

There's also another factor you need to consider when developing marketing content. To make your content more effective, you must understand the type of demand you need to create. The demand type concept was developed by SiriusDecisions a few years ago, and it's basically designed to describe where your market is in the typical evolutionary cycle.

SiriusDecisions has identified three demand type categories.

New Concept
A new concept is a truly disruptive product or service. It usually solves a problem that most potential buyers don't know they have, or it may address a condition or set of circumstances that most potential buyers perceive to be an inevitable fact of business life, for which no solution exists.

New Paradigm
A new paradigm is a product or service that will solve a known problem or fill a known need in a new and novel way that differs significantly for other existing solutions.

Established Market
An established market represents a product or service that is accepted by the majority of prospect organizations as necessary and best-of-breed. With an established market product or service, most prospective buyers will understand the nature and ramifications of their need, and they will have a general understanding of what solutions are available.

Obviously, these different market environments require different approaches to content marketing. With a new concept, both marketing and sales must be highly evangelistic. Your first job is to show potential buyers that a given set of conditions constitutes a problem and that an effective solution to the problem exists. Therefore, your marketing content needs to contain a significant thought leadership component that is designed to create awareness of the problem and instill confidence that the problem can be solved.

With a new paradigm product or service, most potential buyers are aware of the problem they need to solve, and they may have already implemented one of the conventional solutions. Therefore, your marketing content must demonstrate why and how the new solution you offer is significantly better than the more conventional solutions. In this situation, your primary competition is the existing solution paradigm rather than other solution providers.

When your product or service competes in an established market, the key to success is differentiating your solution from those offered by your competitors. Since your solution is probably similar in general functionality to those of your competitors, your marketing content needs to emphasize other sources of differentiation, such as a lower total cost of ownership, easier and/or faster implementation, or more responsive customer support.

When you're using these demand types to guide your marketing efforts, it's important to remember that the type of demand you need to create will change as your market evolves. Therefore, to keep your marketing content effective and compelling, it needs to evolve in step with your market.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Building a Simple and Effective Lead Qualification Framework

The essential starting point for building a tighter alignment and a more productive relationship between marketing and sales is developing a joint framework for qualifying sales leads. Without a common understanding of who constitutes a qualified lead, it's simply impossible to get marketing and sales on the same page.

Marketers and salespeople frequently have differing perspectives about who is a qualified lead. When I'm working with a client on a demand generation project, I interview marketers and salespeople separately, and I ask a simple question:  How would you define who constitutes a legitimate sales lead?

The marketers typically say that a qualified lead is someone who works for a company that is in their target market, has an appropriate job title, and has expressed interest (in some way) in what their company offers. The salespeople, on the other hand, will usually say that a legitimate lead is someone who meets the marketers' criteria and whose propensity (and ability) to buy has been established using criteria such as BANT.

When this kind of disparity exists, is it any wonder that marketing and sales are often at odds?

The solution to this problem, of course, is to involve both marketers and salespeople in the development of a lead qualification framework that both groups will use.

There's certainly no need to start from scratch when you're developing a lead qualification framework. With a few minutes research using Google or another search engine, you can find many examples to use as a guide.

Many B2B companies use the Demand Waterfall(TM) developed by SiriusDecisions as the basis for their lead qualification framework, and SiriusDecisions has also developed a "Lead Spectrum" that defines seven lead qualification levels. I am an admirer of the work that SiriusDecisions produces, and I have referred to their models on several occasions in this blog.

When it comes to lead qualification frameworks, however, I usually recommend that companies start with a simpler model. Then, you can add lead stages or lead qualification levels if you identify specific needs for the additional detail. The objective is to develop a lead qualification framework that contains as much detail (but only as much detail) as you really need.

The "starter" lead framework that I typically use with clients has four lead qualification levels - Inquiry, Profiled Lead, Sales-Ready Lead, and Sales Opportunity.

The conceptual approach underlying this framework is simple. The first significant event in the lead qualification process occurs when someone identifies himself or herself and indicates some initial interest in your company (or, more likely, in a content resource your company has published). This makes the individual an Inquiry.

Your first task is to determine which of your Inquiries fit within your target market. Depending on what information you collected when the individual identified himself or herself, you may be able to perform this task without needing more information from the lead. For example, if you have a company name, a few minutes of research will enable you to determine whether the company fits your target market definition (in terms of size, industry, etc.). On the individual level, you may have collected a job title during the initial identification, but if not, a little research should enable you to obtain that information. If a lead fits within your target market, you then have a Profiled Lead.

For marketing/sales alignment purposes, the most critical lead stage to define is what I call a Sales-Ready Lead. In an optimized demand generation system, marketing is primarily responsible for acquiring new leads and for nurturing leads until they are sales ready. Once a lead becomes sales ready, sales assumes primary responsibility for managing that relationship. What transforms a Profiled Lead into a Sales-Ready Lead is the level of interest the lead expresses (either explicitly or via behavior) in what your company offers. For a discussion of how I define Sales-Ready Lead, see my earlier post titled What is a "Sales-Ready Lead?"

The final lead stage used in my starter framework is Sales Opportunity. The critical defining characteristic of a Sales Opportunity is that the prospect's buying process has advanced far enough that you can reasonably project when a buy/no-buy decision will be made. In other words,  with a Sales Opportunity, you can forecast (within reasonable parameters) when a prospective deal will close.

A simple lead qualification framework is not that difficult to develop, and it can drive a significant improvement in marketing/sales alignment.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why Both Marketing and Sales Must Focus on Early Engagement

Today's conventional wisdom is that business buyers are using online information to educate themselves and that they're delaying conversations with sales reps until later in the buying process.

Research from several sources has been used to support the conventional wisdom. For example, SiriusDecisions says that business buyers are now performing 67% of their buying process online. CEB and Forrester Research go even further and say, respectively, that business buyers are 57% or 67% through the buying process before they engage with salespeople.

These research findings have led many marketing industry thought leaders to advocate a model of B2B demand generation in which marketing plays the dominant role in lead acquisition and lead nurturing. Supporters of this view argue that buyer independence has made lead generation by sales reps less effective and more inefficient than in the past. This model also seems to match how most business buyers now prefer to obtain information.

The key word in the preceding sentence is most, because it's also clear that some buyers still prefer to obtain information via sales reps. For example, research by ITSMA shows that many business buyers want to interact with salespeople earlier in the buying process than the other studies suggest.

In ITSMA's 2012 How Buyers Consume Information Survey, over 70% of B2B technology buyers said they want to engage with sales reps before they identify a short list of preferred vendors. When asked at what stage of the buying process they find it useful to engage with salespeople, 24% of the respondents said during the "epiphany" stage (when they haven't yet recognized a definite need but are learning and exploring possibilities), 23% chose the "awareness" stage (when they have an identified need and are clarifying objectives and researching alternatives), and 24% selected the "interest" stage (when they are identifying a list of preferred vendors).

The reality is that the B2B demand generation environment isn't as simple as the conventional wisdom would suggest. It's clear that a large majority of business buyers (probably 70% to 80%) are performing independent research before they interact with a sales rep. It's also clear, however, that perhaps one in four buyers will turn to sales reps early in the buying process.

The important point here is that early engagement is vital to success, whether it's created by content-based interactions or in-person interactions. Forrester Research says that solution providers who engage prospects early in the buying process win 74% of the deals, while the win rate of those who engage late in the process is only 26%. Early engagement probably isn't the only cause of the higher win rate, but it's clear that early prospect engagement plays a major role in successful demand generation.

The bottom line is, B2B companies must be ready to engage prospects on their terms. Marketing must have content resources that are specifically designed for early-stage buyers, and sales reps should always be leveraging their existing relationships (with both customers and non-customers) to uncover new opportunities.