Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Digital Dialogue: The New Frontier For Nurturing Leads

By Dave Green, CEO, PipeAlign

Lots of companies use email, web links, and registration for content to generate demand and nurture leads. The problem is that most companies use such these campaigns once. They engage in a monologue instead of a learning exchange. But what about a continuously running automated “dialogue” with customers and prospects? Enter Digital Dialogue, an emerging and powerful new approach to lead nurturing.

Digital Dialogue engages customers and prospects in a scalable, low-cost, automated information exchange, primarily over the Internet. Companies that sell complex solutions can use that exchange to educate and qualify potential business buyers before those buyers talk to a live representative. This education and qualification process can last for months across numerous, inter-connected exchanges.

Digital Dialogue is necessary for inquiry nurturing because most prospects don’t want to talk to sales people early in an investigation of a complex product or service. It’s similar to a customer that walks onto a car lot and wants only to kick the tires, look at various models and read the prices and gas mileage information. That customer doesn’t want to be pressured. Car dealers dismiss such prospects as “tire kickers.” (Maybe that’s one of the reasons they need a bail out). Every industry that sells complex products or services has far more tire kickers than buyers. The bigger the price tag and the more complex the solution, the longer prospective buyers stay in a tire-kicking mode.

Marketers who give these inquiries to sales channels experience low follow-up rates and very few converted sales. Using a well-trained, highly professional tele-qualification team as a proxy for a sales person will help. But the yields are still low because most of the prospects are just not ready to talk. And such phone conversations, while not as costly as those by sales people, are still expensive.

Fortunately, Digital Dialogue is providing a powerful answer to this long-standing problem and promises to transform the go-to-market process for companies that sell complex solutions that require a considered selection process.

It’s simple enough, of course, to use email and the web to set up nurturing tracks. The problem is that the same prospect will show up as an inquiry multiple times over a few months. Others from the same location or the same organization will too. Some prospects will look at multiple products and services. Then there are permissions and preferences and your solicitation history to take into consideration.

To address this challenge, marketers need to set up a centralized, high-velocity system across the enterprise. Every market interaction from all customer-facing operations should pass through this system each day. Apart from economic considerations, BtoB companies should design a scalable Digital Dialogue capability around organizational buying behavior and relevant communications. Here’s a suggested operational roadmap to execute a Digital Dialogue:

  • Content Readiness: If you want to begin to replicate a conversation with customers and prospects, you’ll need to organize your content around communities of interest (e.g., executive versus technical) and organizational buying behavior (i.e., how much does the individual know about your product or service and your company?). The key is relevance: what matters to each individual at a particular point in time?

  • Marketing Data: Getting the most appropriate content to each prospective buyer also requires a new level of rigor around marketing information. You’ll need to establish information standards for lead qualification, pipeline metrics, and data transport to improve the yield from campaigns and the accuracy of metrics so that you capture useful information consistently across the enterprise. You’ll also need to clean, enhance and consolidate the data so that you “remember” what each individual has “told” you previously. Finally, you’ll need to organize the data model in your marketing database so that, among other things, you can track the area and depth of interest for any of your products and services.

  • Automated Systems: The aforementioned information standards will allow for a new level of automation in two key areas: data hygiene and a rules engine that looks at all the contacts in your marketing database and determines the next, best step in the conversation. The goal should be at least a twenty-four hour response cycle across the enterprise.

Companies that have set up such a Digital Dialogue system quickly discover they can increase the conversion ratio of inquiries to sales, shorten the timeline to a decision, and improve the all-important sales and marketing expense-to-revenue ratio.

For more information about implementing Digital Dialogue, go to www.PipeAlign.com and download our whitepaper, “A Practical Guide to Digital Dialogue” or go to Amazon to order our book, The B2B Refinery®.

Dave Green is the president of PipeAlign, LLC and the co-author of The B2B Refinery® and numerous whitepapers on demand generation and lead management. PipeAlign and its service provider partners help business-to-business companies improve sales and marketing efficiency through scalable demand generation and lead management practices and operations. Dave can be reached at Dave_Green@PipeAlign.com or (877) 575-5515.

Friday, January 23, 2009

3 Critical Steps To Sustain The Pace Of Integrated Lead Gen Campaigns

By Will Schnabel, VP and General Manager, Silverpop VTrenz

When it comes to lead generation, it’s applicable to revisit the old Post Office motto: “The mail must go through.” But in order to make sure this happens, three things are critically important. B2B marketers must consider these when integrating their email marketing into lead generation activities. In a tight economic climate, no sales leads can be allowed to go fallow, even hot leads can grow cool, and now more than ever, you must be able to prove the worth of your marketing campaigns.

Let no lead go to waste. To ensure leads move through the sales pipeline without falling through the cracks, marketers must work to understand their marketplaces better than ever before. By implementing automated marketing programs that can intelligently identify where leads are in the buying cycle and engaging prospective customers early in the sales cycle, marketers are more likely to favorably influence them toward the company and its products. An organized process can help move leads that are ready to buy on to sales while ensuring that those with the potential to become qualified leads are nurtured, using timely and relevant email communications, along through the sales cycle is essential.

Today’s longer buying cycles can cause hot leads to cool. It’s important to remember that, even with the best nurturing program, people don’t always move through the process exactly as planned. Even “hot” leads can get stalled. A budget gets cut; a timeline extended. To address the inevitability of hot leads suddenly going cool, you have to make sure your lead management program allows sales to send formerly-qualified leads back to marketing for further nurturing. Similarly, marketing must be able to easily alert sales when prospects sent back for nurturing become re-engaged and are ready to be worked.

Measuring the ROI of Lead Management. Marketers are under increasing pressure to demonstrate the effectiveness and worth of their programs. Simply measuring the number of leads generated by a marketing campaign won’t give you enough insight to determine the ultimate effectiveness of your marketing program and its impact on the bottom line. To evaluate marketing ROI, you need to calculate:

  • The percentage of marketing-qualified leads accepted by sales

  • The percentage of sales-accepted leads that become sales-qualified

  • The percentage of marketing-qualified leads that ultimately result in closed business

To show how marketing contributes to the bottom line, get together with your sales organization, carefully define and agree on what you mean by a qualified lead and ROI, thereby aligning your objectives. Make sure you understand your company’s revenue and sales goals. Determine the number of sales-qualified leads that marketing needs to deliver and how many new leads are generally required to meet that goal. These calculations vary widely by industry, company, and competence of both the sales and marketing teams.

In fact, analysts at Aberdeen Group find that companies with the highest lead qualification rates and lead-to-sales conversion rates are twice as likely as less successful companies to leverage formalized lead metrics that manage the flow of leads from marketing to sales and back again when warranted.

This year looks to be filled with challenges, but marketers who are ready to fully engage with prospects and utilize the technologies that enhance their efficiencies will be in a better position to succeed.

Will Schnabel, Silverpop's VP of international markets, oversees strategy, product direction and operations of Silverpop's Vtrenz solution, a leading demand management and lead scoring/routing technology. Prior to Silverpop's acquisition of Vtrenz in May 2007, Schnabel served as its president and CEO, where he guided the company's growth as an innovative thought leader in the (SaaS) and marketing automation industries. He also has served in an executive capacity at Accenture, a leading management-consulting firm.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Quality or Quantity: That is the Question In The Current Lead Gen Debate

By Susan Cordts, President and CEO of Adaptive Technologies, Inc.

In today’s competitive marketing landscape there is one measurement that matters: ROI. With that benchmark in mind, lead generation practitioners must first resolve an important question – quality or quantity? Is it possible to have both?

The answer lies in the ability for a company to balance. There are arguments for both sides of the quantity vs. quality debate. It depends on the profitability of the companies being targeted and the amount of prospective leads. Falling on the wrong side of this balance can cost a company dearly. We at ATi have analyzed this important marketing question through the prism of a single company and found a significant financial loss when they focused on driving the quantity of prospect leads without knowledge of how likely the lead was to convert to new business.

Analysis of three years of data from this company exposed the importance of identifying the tremendous potential revenue gains in striking an optimal balance between quality and quantity of leads. At this particular company, in dollar terms, ATi’s analysis revealed that $2.4 million in revenue gained from pursuing all leads came at the expense of $2.8 million in profits. The position of using quantity to drive demand generation, while ignoring the quality, was costing the company significantly.

The proponents of marketing based on “quantity” suggest that a company should cast a broader net to generate significantly higher numbers of targets to “fish out” the prime opportunities. Simply said, more is better. Advocates of quantity-based demand generation campaigns assume that mass appeal generates a higher propensity to reach “every” prospect and leave no opportunity behind. This is often a gratifying marketing value proposition to a hungry sales team. It sounds good.

On the opposite side are the proponents of selective target marketing who pursue “quality is king”. They believe that prospective buyers must be pre-qualified by restrictive demographic and socio-graphic qualifications and eliminated from the prospecting base if they do not meet the exact profiling criteria. Simply said, the quality approach produces higher response rates and greater likelihood of conversion. The issue with this approach is that there may not be enough “quality” leads to meet the organization’s revenue goals.

ATi has proven business leaders need to balance quality and quantity of leads to maximize profitability. Over-emphasis on quantity means low value prospects are being targeted and negatively impacting profits, while concentrating on quality leaves potential revenues on the table.

ATi’s research discovered that successful organizations blend quality and quantity to differentiate the value of current and future customers. They know the potential profitability of the lead and use this information to balance their approach. They know what actions to take and how these actions will ultimately reduce marketing costs and improve campaign results. An examination of the profitability of a customer often reveals overall profits are optimized on only 50-70% of the current customer base. ATi’s predictive analytics solutions identify who to target for what offer, when to communicate that offer, and which media to use so that one can maximize returns.

Thus, the argument of which provides the best return on marketing investment can only be determined through science and technology. Utilizing predictive analytics technologies to answer quality versus quantity by first identifying one’s goals and objectives and the associated value of customers to these goals positively impacts marketing return on investment (MROI). You can learn more about predictive analytics by downloading the research findings at www.adaptiveinc.com/Research/white_papers.php.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Top 10 2009 B2B Marketing Trends

By C. Edward Brice, Author of Marketing-Gimbal Blog

Well I’m glad the last half of 2008 is over. It was a wakeup call to everyone and I’m sure we have all dusted off our “Recession Marketing” Playbooks. If you’re like me you are facing the stark reality of doing more with less in 2009. In that context I thought I would share my forecast for the Top 10 2009 B2B Marketing Trends:

1.Database Marketing Takes Center Stage:
While we should all be focused on enhancing and enriching our databases the need for more targeted segmentation and messaging will put a renewed emphasis on this old tactical area that can be ignored or even forgotten. I predict a renewed zeal on enriching our customer bases to enable more targeted messaging and segmentation. In addition we will need to draw upon our in-house prospecting database more than ever before, and we will need to have the proper tools in place to enable more effective segmentation.

2.The Tipping Point for Virtual Events:
We have all been experimenting with virtual events, and most of us have made the ever ready webinar a standard part of our marketing repertoire. What I’m talking about is going one step further and really committing to virtual events where you actually represent a virtual event environment that will integrate a variety of rich media formats. I recently read where physical event attendance will be down by 60-70% this year and just look at the number of companies already canceling user conferences. I would bet companies like Unisfair do very well in 2009. The technology, bandwidth, and conditioning of the prospect experience have all come to a point where virtual events could be the preferred format going forward.

3.Social Media Takes Hold in B2B Marketing:
The use of social media will become a more prevalent part of most B2B marketing strategies. It has to be. The value of creating a two way communication channel between you and your customers is too great to ignore any longer. You want an ROI for social media? Here’s one. It’s free, it syndicates your content, it makes you more searchable, it helps you to learn more about your customer, it helps your prospects learn more about you and so on. If I read one more twitter post about how you’re trying to figure out a strategy and an ROI on social media I’m going to shoot myself. Just Do It.

4.Content Marketing is the Differentiating Factor:
At the end of the day when I get asked, "what’s really changed about marketing" , the one thing I say is that in the 21st century marketing is really about content publishing. We must create content that our prospects perceive as valuable across each stage of their buying cycle. We need to syndicate that content to support thought leadership, brand awareness, and inquiry generation; we must always update the content to keep our SEO high etc. At the end of the day it’s about content. Notice how your meetings become more about topics that you can publish on versus events, and advertising. If you’re not producing relevant value added content for your ecosystem that is searchable and syndicated across social networks you might as well close up shop today.

5.Marketing Automation Continues to Make Inroads:
As the pressure to drive operational efficiencies grows for marketers we will be required to look more and more at marketing automation technologies above and beyond just core CRM. I’m referring to those systems (i.e. Marketo & Eloqua) that can define and automate nurturing workflows, implicitly and explicitly score leads, and integrate marketing analytics for a better view of our ROI and conversion rates. The reality is that most companies today that use these systems are really just using the email automation capabilities of these advanced platforms. Most are not utilizing the powerful segmentation platforms that these systems provide. In addition most B2B marketing departments will quickly find that their current level of skill sets will have a hard time leveraging these systems as it’s more about workflow versus pretty graphics. The hard reality will be that you really need a segmentation stragey that is relevant and supported by your data to really extract value from these systems. However I expect these systems to gain momentum in 2009 and by the end of 2010 they will be fairly common and required to be competitive. I will say that more affordable and flexible licensing models will need to be explored by the automation vendors.

6.No Inquiry Left Behind:
In 2009 the marketing mantra becomes “No inquiry left behind”. We must all do a better job at managing inquires/leads and scoring them before passing to sales. This process becomes ever more important in a recessionary environment where conversion rates, inquiries, and leads accepted by sales all have to optimized continuously to get the performance we need especially with reduced budgets.

7.The Death of Print Advertising:
I’m tired of all the media produced research saying that you really need to optimize both print and online for effective brand awareness. In 2009 with ever less B2B print mediums to go around we will all realize that it’s really about optimizing our content across the buying cycle and driving people back to our website where we will embody our brand experience to build relationships and demand conversion. In short I see most of our awareness mix shifting entirely to online media channels, social media, and context based SEO. Besides how many more books are going to stop publishing and become blogs anyway?

8.Sales Optimization:
The best marketing in the world doesn’t matter if your sales force can’t convert. I would expect that more focus is applied to looking at the sales cycle side by side with the buying cycle and asking the question: What is my standardized sales content offering? Sales will need marketing more than ever in 2009 in order to provide relevant selling content and to optimize the sales cycle.

9.Focus on Installed Base Marketing:
A tough economy will put increased emphasis on marketing into the installed base customer set and driving cross-sell up sell. In fact if times get really tough the companies that best leverage their installed base for business will survive and thrive. In tough times people buy from whom they know and trust and businesses aren’t any different. If you’re selling tech you’re in for a long haul in growing new business in 2009. Leverage your installed base well and your new business will be whip cream and cherries on top of your demand Sunday.

10.Green Is In:
You may say that this was a trend back in 2008 but I really see it continuing with gusto as marketers realize that there are hard value propositions with going green. Every product management team should investigate if they can do things within their existing technology set that can drive better power consumption, or reduced waste. This can be a big winner in a tough economy, and besides everybody feels good about it.

C. Edward Brice serves as Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing at Lumension Security.A seasoned industry veteran, Mr. Brice has more than 18 years marketing experience in developing new markets and businesses for evolving technology in business application software, networking services, digital storage , satellite navigation, wireless communication, and intelligent transportation systems. He is also the author of Marketing-Gimbal, a blog about the latest internet marketing hysteria.