Nearly every B2B CMO is under pressure to generate leads, especially when new in the role.
A seminal Forrester report found that less than one percent of B2B leads ever convert into customers. That means that 99 percent of our efforts are inefficient and failing. If you find yourself knowingly nodding your head, you’ll find this article from 2017, “Forget About Leads. This Is What You Need to Focus On to Boost Sales,” written by Sangram Vajre, co-founder and CMO of Terminus unsettling and yet motivating. Things haven’t changed all that much, as much as they’ve changed.
Lead generation is a slog. And I get it — sometimes fanatical prospecting is our only recourse, especially if your company has made some bad hires in the past (both sales and marketing) and they have failed to change the operations towards a more collaborative approach in terms of customer acquisition.
The ultimate goal is to unite marketing, sales, product management and customer success under one umbrella where everyone is operating cross-functionally. But that’s a whole other topic, and in fact, we’ll be writing on product management very soon, as we think founders as product managers have a certain half-life, with decaying value over time in the role.
Back on topic… while you don’t want to be judged long term by the number of leads you’re bringing in, you likely will have to set aside such ambitions in the short term, and produce and promote content that brings in qualified leads and provides intelligence for sales.
Content Alignment with Sales Process
Before we get into the creation of content that supports a sales process, we have to clear up some misconceptions about B2B marketing. The problem stems from old ways of thinking. Like the 90s — when branding was enough for a good salesperson to fill their calendar full of appointments.
Marketing was project-based; we produced sales sheets and brochures, went to trade shows, placed advertisements and did PR. The internet revolution brought us websites, email and the rise of brand content. But marketing, sales, and product management all operated in silos with competing priorities, even though some collaboration existed cross-functionally. Marketing viewed its mission as branding and positioning. Sales’ job was to prospect and close.
Then we moved into the “lead generation era.” And we got better at the synchronization between marketing, sales and business development. But the KPIs around MQL, SAL, SQL still reflect silo-based thinking because of what happens when leads get handed off. Marketing can say, “we hit our metric of leads” regardless of whether or not the leads were qualified or not. And this feeds the mistrust between sales and marketing. Business development and sales have plenty of issues too—the sales manager’s iron fist of every lead has to be nurtured with X number of touches over Y period of time.
This has led us to a new paradigm according to a 2020 report from Forrester. Buyers increasingly expect “to be treated as equal partners, through experiences that are increasingly open, connected, intuitive, and immediate.” With the buyer wanting more openness and access to information on their terms (increasingly delaying giving up their credentials as they research solutions) you can see why lead generation is becoming correspondingly more difficult.
Even though your mandate is to generate leads for sales now, it also is the time to work collaboratively with sales (and everyone else that’s customer facing) to get the organization moving in the right direction to meet the buyer of the future while you grind out the leads sales needs today.
The Real Goal of B2B Marketing
Think about what the goal of marketing is in B2B enterprise SaaS — it’s to get your salespeople involved in consultative conversations that lead to a deal. The only metric that matters in the end is ROI. Every other metric (web analytics, MQLs, SQLs) are secondary — precursors, if you will.
Today, the goal of marketing is to digitally replicate and enhance the conversations that salespeople used to do on their own by picking up the phone, sending emails and networking.
Notice I didn’t say “replace.” Salespeople still have to do all that stuff. But they need marketing’s help in the form of lead intelligence — because reaching out cold “ain’t gonna cut it.”
And as you move through the collaborative maturity model, you start to discover that it’s not really about converting individuals either — it’s more about supporting the decision-making in accounts comprised of multiple individuals with different pain points throughout their unique approach to the buying process.
Content Should Uncover Lead Intelligence
In B2B, a lead is — at best — an indicator of potential need. Just because someone downloads a white paper doesn’t mean that they’re not ready to buy. Innovative B2B companies are testing limiting what content is gated, relying on analytics to tell us who the visitors are (known and anonymous). Where a large group of people are in a buying process, marketing is establishing content repositories that enable sales to track who reads what, and as well, enabling a champion to invite others into the portal (see Proteus, Uberflip, CloserConnect and Pathfactory among others).
If your mandate is to generate qualified leads, I would consider putting thought leadership content on the back burner for now and concentrating on the content your business development and sales reps need to advance the sales cycles they’re already engaged with.
That means there needs to be some sort of collaborative analysis between sales and marketing about:
- Whether or not the inbound leads fit in the ideal customer profile.
- Who in that company might be involved in the buying decision (personas)?
- What stage of the process are they at (and how can we find that out)?
- How can we best start an engagement with those potential buyer titles?
- What do we know about them, industry and competitors that would help us create engagement?
- Can we find engagement through social proximity?
It’s not even a question anymore about Account-Based Marketing — the innovators and early adopters are already there. And even though there’s still a lot of experimentation in the space, there’s no question that this is the direction of the most innovative B2B companies are going.
And even though ABM maturity requires a change in governance over customer acquisition, you can still move in that direction with a lead gen mandate, assuming that every piece of content that you develop is advancing the sales process in a meaningful way.
Now Pilot ABM
How does one move the organization in this direction? Because everything in ABM starts with account selection, you have to constantly ask why we are targeting each account in the first place. Is it because it would be a nice logo to have, or do we actually know for a fact that they’re looking for a solution to a problem we address? CMOs in this position need to constantly work with all customer facing entities on an ongoing basis so they can fully map out any and issues that come up in the sales process.
That’s the essence of generating content for lead generation — answering the question of, “what is the prospect trying to do, and how can we help them solve their problem?” All content generated must also be mapped and cataloged according the logical (or typical) next step in that buying journey.
And let’s forget about the “handoff” between marketing and sales, as every account is going to be a little different and require customization. We’re going to have to accept that there’s going to be a “back and forth” between sales, marketing, business and product development, and figure out how to make that as friction-free as possible.
The Only Metric That Matters
Always keep in mind what is most important: sales. Marketing is more important than ever in helping them do just that, because it’s tougher and tougher every day for salespeople to engage on their own without solid intent data behind the outreach. Ask a rep what it’s like to get someone on the phone these days, and I’d be willing to bet they say it’s five to ten times harder with everyone working from home.
Getting there in B2B means getting your salespeople engaged in fruitful, consultative sales conversations. But generating leads, in and of itself, is not enough, and if you’re judged by that standard over the long term, it’s a recipe for disaster.
If you haven’t already, start building the collaborative relationships between all of the stakeholders regardless of the lines of authority drawn on the org chart. And when your pilot programs are successful, you’ll be surprised how quickly the organization gets aligned around customer acquisition.
Want to talk about firing-up the lead generation engine while positioning your firm for intermediate-term success? Book a meeting with our agency’s president, Ken Lempit, at this link, or if you’re not quite ready to talk, replay our recent webinar, “Getting the Leads that Sales Needs...while preparing your organization for success,” a webinar with plenty of actionable strategies and tactics for new and tenured CMOs.