Sunday, August 27, 2017

Why You Need to Be Careful With One Feature of the New Demand Waterfall

The new SiriusDecisions Demand Unit Waterfall has received lots of accolades since its introduction this spring, and the accolades are richly deserved. But one of the new demand stages should be labeled Use With Caution.

In May, SiriusDecisions unveiled the latest iteration of it venerable Demand Waterfall with great fanfare. SiriusDecisions calls the new version the Demand Unit Waterfall, and it's depicted in the following diagram:

Source:  SiriusDecisions

The first version of the Demand Waterfall was introduced in 2006, and over the past decade, thousands of B2B companies have used the waterfall model to track and manage their demand generation efforts. So it shouldn't be surprising that the introduction of the Demand Unit Waterfall has generated quite a bit of interest in the B2B marketing world. Here's a small sample of the reactions from pundits and practitioners:

For an in-depth discussion of the new Demand Unit Waterfall, I recommend that you watch the recording of this SiriusDecisions webinar.

The early reaction to the Demand Unit Waterfall has been overwhelmingly positive, and I agree with those who say that it more accurately reflects the realities of B2B demand generation.

  • By focusing on demand units, the new waterfall recognizes that most B2B buying decisions are made by groups of people, not by individuals.
  • By eliminating the waterfall stages that focused on the sources of individual leads and on the "ownership" of demand generation activities, the new waterfall implicitly recognizes that demand generation has become a team sport that involves marketing, business development, and sales throughout the whole process.
Use Caution With "Active Demand"
My biggest reservation about the new Demand Unit Waterfall is the possible implications of the Active Demand stage. SiriusDecisions defines Active Demand as the demand units that are showing evidence of acute need or buying intention. In other words, Active Demand refers to demand units that are currently "in-market" for the type of solution you sell.
SiriusDecisions analysts are suggesting that companies should focus their outbound demand generation activities on in-market prospects. Not surprisingly, this is the approach also advocated by many providers of B2B predictive analytics software.
This approach may work for some types of B2B companies, but it won't work for all. Here's why.
The identification of in-market prospects relies heavily on the use of intent data, which is data regarding the online behaviors of potential buyers. Intent data - particularly third-party intent data - can be valuable for some types of B2B companies, but it can be almost useless for others. To learn more about the limitations of intent data, take a look at this post by Jingcong Zhao at the Marketo blog, this post by Todd Berkowitz at the Gartner blog, and this white paper by Infer.
The bottom line is, business and marketing leaders should be cautious about relying on their ability to accurately identify in-market buyers. And they should be particularly cautious about focusing all - or even most - of their marketing efforts on such buyers. I've discussed this issue in two earlier posts. If you'd like to see my view on this issue, take a look at Why B2B Marketers Need to Care About "Casual Learning" and Why Marketers Shouldn't Go All In on In-Market Buyers.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Say What? Producers of Thought Leadership Undervalue Its Impact

Business buyers broadly agree that thought leadership content has a significant impact on their purchase decisions at every stage of the buying process. But they consistently rate the impact of their organization's thought leadership content substantially lower.

That is one of the more ironic findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fifty-one percent of the survey respondents worked for organizations that produce thought leadership content.

The goal of this study was to better understand how thought leadership content impacts B2B purchase decisions. So, Edelman and LinkedIn asked survey participants several specific questions about how thought leadership affects their own purchase behaviors. Survey participants whose companies produce thought leadership content were also asked comparable questions about the impact of their organization's content on the buying behaviors of their potential customers.

The following table shows how survey respondents evaluated the impact of thought leadership content on various aspects of the B2B demand generation process. In this table, "Thought Leadership Producers" refers to survey respondents who said their company uses thought leadership content in its marketing efforts. The study report indicates that these respondents were "typically marketers and communicators within an organization."

As this table shows, there are several significant differences between how decision makers view the impact of thought leadership on their attitudes and behaviors as buyers, and how they perceive the impact of their organization's thought leadership content on their potential customers. For example, 45% of decision makers said that thought leadership had directly led them to award business to a company, but only 20% of producers said that thought leadership content had helped them win business.

The authors of the study report contend that producers of thought leadership content tend to underestimate its impact on influencing sales. They write, "Beyond its ability to drive awareness, very few creators of thought leadership . . . ascribe downstream marketing and sales impact to their own thought leadership efforts."

It's likely that many business and marketing leaders are underestimating the impact of their company's thought leadership content, and it's easy to understand why this can happen. It's not hard for someone to recognize how good thought leadership content has affected his or her personal buying attitudes and behaviors. It's more difficult for a marketing organization to accurately measure the impact of thought leadership content on its potential customers.

The Edelman/LinkedIn research clearly shows that outstanding thought leadership content can make a significant impact on potential buyers at every stage of the buying process. So marketers need to be sure they aren't underestimating its value and impact.

Top image courtesy of mags via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

B2B Customer Experience Still Requires a Human Touch

Customer experience is the new competitive battleground in B2B, and many companies are making big investments to deliver great experiences via digital channels. But, company leaders must remember that great customer experiences still need a deft human touch.

Providing great experiences to existing and potential customers has become a competitive necessity for all kinds of companies. It's also abundantly clear that most of us now rely extensively on digital technologies to consume information and communicate for both personal and business purposes. Therefore, many business leaders now view providing great customer experiences via digital channels as a top strategic priority.

While "digital customer experiences" are obviously important, human interactions still play a vital role in customer experience delivery, particularly for B2B companies. In fact, recent research indicates that business customers highly value the human component of the customer experience.

Earlier this year, KPMG Nunwood Consulting published a report discussing several important aspects of B2B customer experience. The report was based on a survey of 2,974 members of decision making units in B2B companies. Survey respondents included end Users, Influencers, and Decision Makers, and all were located in the US or the UK.

Not surprisingly, the research found that customer experience plays a vital role in competitive success. Three-fourths of the survey respondents considered customer experience as a major factor in supplier choice. The research identified six "pillars" that describe the psychology of customer experience, and the report argues that the key to customer experience success is preparing for the critical "moments that matter" across a customer's life cycle.

The study also addressed the role of the relationship manager in delivering great customer experiences, and the report identified four major relationship management models.

  1. A relationship manager owns the customer relationship, and that individual is the customer's primary, if not exclusive, contact.
  2. A relationship manager is the primary customer contact, but he or she has a supporting team that is involved in delivering experiences to the customer.
  3. The customer has a team of individuals at its disposal to provide support, but there is no single "owner" of the customer relationship.
  4. The company uses a fully automated solution - no human interaction is required.
The survey report states that "[customers] frequently prefer to have one person to deal with and have them acting as their ambassador - the one person in the organisation that champions their interests and ensures that the services are provided to them in the highest standard." 

Specifically, the research found that Influencers perceive the "sole relationship manager model" to be 19% better performing than the account team model. Decision Makers said the sole relationship manager model is 5% better, and Users said it is 9% better.

The most important lesson from this research is that great B2B customer experiences often require a human touch.

Image courtesy of Yoel Ben-Avraham via Flickr CC.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Beware! Thought Leadership is a Double-Edged Sword

There's no safe middle ground with it comes to thought leadership. It's a classic double-edged sword. Great thought leadership makes a positive impact on buyers at every stage of the buying process. Poor thought leadership, on the other hand, will result in lost business opportunities.

These are some of the major findings of a recent study by Edelman and LinkedIn. How Thought Leadership Impacts B2B Demand Generation was based on a survey of 1,329 business decision makers representing a wide range of industries and company sizes. Fourteen percent of the respondents were C-level executives, and another 43% had titles of Vice President or Director.

Like several other studies, the Edelman/LinkedIn research revealed that business buyers view thought leadership as important and spend considerable time consuming it. Nine out of ten survey respondents said that it is important or very important/critical for companies to produce thought leadership that provides a vision or point of view on important issues. About half (49%) of C-level respondents said they spend an hour or more per week reading and/or viewing thought leadership.

The Good News

Many B2B marketers have long believed that thought leadership content can be an effective tool for creating awareness and competitive differentiation. The Edelman/LinkedIn study shows that great thought leadership content has positive impacts at every stage of the buying process. For example:

  • Forty-four percent of respondents said that engaging with a company's thought leadership content can cause them to provide their contact information to the company for follow up, and 31% said that it can prompt them to reach out to the company to follow up on some of the points raised in the content.
  • Fifty-two percent of respondents said that looking through a company's thought leadership content is one important way they "vet" a company that they are thinking about working with.
  • Thought leadership content led 41% of C-level respondents to include a company in an RFP.
  • Over 80% of respondents said that a company's thought leadership content could increase their trust in the company.
  • Nearly half (48%) of C-level respondents said that a company's thought leadership content had directly led them to decide to do business with the company. 
The Bad News
So, the Edelman/LinkedIn research shows that thought leadership content can be a powerful demand generation tool, but it also shows that thought leadership is a double-edged sword. When it's done poorly, it has significant negative impacts on a company's demand generation performance. For example:
  • More than half (53%) of C-level respondents said they have lost respect and admiration for a company because of its poor thought leadership content.
  • Over a third (35%) of C-level respondents said that a company's poor thought leadership content had directly led them not to do business with the company.
The Lesson
The most important lesson for B2B marketers from the Edelman/LinkedIn research is this:  If you plan to use thought leadership content in your marketing effort, make sure that you invest enough time and money to develop thought leadership content that's truly valuable to your target audiences. Poor thought leadership content can be worse than none at all.

Image courtesy of Soren Niedziella via Flickr CC.