What’s missing from your demand generation master plan?

At a recent roundtable held in association with LinkedIn, Jess Pike discovered the biggest demand gen bugbears – and found out how to overcome them

How much simpler would life be if the much-talked-about funnel was a giant flume down which prospects could slide, Borrower-like, until they reached the watery deeps below? Minimal effort from marketing (a little nudge over the top should do it) and your fun-loving prospects would be hurtling happily into a tranquil pool of advocacy and retention.

Sadly, the reality of the funnel is quite different, and the various challenges surrounding demand generation are as complex and multifarious as ever. So how can you ensure your demand gen approach is as effective as possible from the top of funnel right down to the sharp end? Here are the key findings from April’s roundtable, held in association with LinkedIn.

What works for one prospect won’t necessarily work for another

Direct mail, for example, might be pooh-poohed for being dated and unoriginal in some circles, but it’s proven to work within certain demographics. We may even be witnessing the post-modern revival of the calendar as a physical piece of DM – collateral that some customers (believe it or not) really value.

Admittedly, lots of brands rely on (and increasingly invest in) their digital channels, but marketers should resist making assumptions about what’ll work on each channel: one attendee presumed that a piece of thought leadership content would be better received on one channel, and that a career advice tips article would work best on another; the opposite was found to be true. The latter ended up working well on the first channel, and the thought leadership piece on the second. This, in turn, underscores the importance of rigorous A/B testing (even when the intuitive ‘right’ answer seems self-evident to everyone involved). 

So what can you do?
Consider thinking outside the box with the channels you’re using. If you’re not getting anywhere with email, look at whether a piece of clever DM or a printed version of one of the executive summaries of your whitepapers could do a better job of boosting brand awareness. Or what about a personalised video on an iPad?

It’s not about channels; it’s about overall marketing objectives and target demographics

One thing every roundtable attendee agreed on is that too many marketers focus myopically on individual channels without looking at the wider, fully integrated campaign picture. Knowing what your message will be on Instagram means very little if you’re unsure how Instagram fits into your campaign as a whole. Today’s consumers, whether B2B or B2C, are multi-channel and multi-touchpoint, and every campaign you create should reflect that.

So what can you do?
Take a holistic approach and make sure you’re dedicating enough time to campaign planning and persona-building. Can everyone in your team sum up your marketing strategy in one succinct sentence? Are they all aware of the wider drivers of the business? This will help ensure campaigns are tied to business objectives rather than channels.

Working out what you need do at different price points is a perennial struggle

At lower price points, the focus is often on engaging your customers online and pushing them towards an online purchase (thus freeing up your sales team to focus on prospects with a propensity to spend more). Post-purchase the focus is likely to be cross-sell, up-sell and retention, particularly for brands operating in the SaaS space – but during both phases, marketers will generally be opting for scalable online channels – such as email – to grow their accounts. Reducing the amount of human (salesperson or otherwise) time spent interacting with the customer is often the aim.

At higher price points, it’s all about making the big sale (which often takes time) and creating demand for second and third purchases – the golden goose of cross-selling. With account-based marketing (ABM), there’s definitely a requirement for a wider education piece around how lengthy the process can be: as one attendee pointed out, making a key account sale in her business can take anything from a year to 18 months. There’s also the question of proving the influence that marketing has in the context of ABM initiatives; too often a strong-willed salesperson will lay claim to a win despite the fact that marketing has been interacting and engaging with the prospect for many months.

When it comes to ABM, it’s also worth remembering that external factors will always influence your demand generation efforts. Market forces, over which you have little control, won’t always work in your favour. Say you work for a large enterprise firm looking to sign off on a big deal with a bank. What happens if the bank in question gets smacked with a £1 billion fine? Months of hard work and careful relationship-building could end up being completely wasted, and there’ll be little you can do about it.

So what can you do?
Framing expectations is crucial here: be realistic about what you can achieve and emphasise external factors that might impact your end result. If you do so proactively (ie. before metrics are in and being shared) rather than reactively you’re more likely to get senior board members on side.

Generating content is a whole new world for some brands…

…while for others, cutting through the noise is the biggest challenge. What so many marketers forget, pointed out one attendee, is that you need to be providing content for current customers as much as prospects: existing customers are just as important in retention terms, and great content can be a clever way to position yourself as a reliable, trusted authority on a particular subject, enabling your end customers to squeeze maximum value from the products/services they’ve bought from you. Content areas that seem to be widely well-received include pieces on upcoming changes and future trends (as unoriginal as prediction pieces are, they do work), and insights on your prospect or customer’s customers: anything that sheds light on their behaviour will always go down well.

So what can you do?
The genesis of great content begins by answering the questions being asked by existing customers and prospects. Start by looking at their painpoints and seeing how you can address those through your content. And don’t forget to keep an eye on the competition’s content via social channels: this’ll help provide inspiration too.

Aligning marketing’s objectives to those of the wider team is crucial

Several roundtable attendees talked about the challenges they sometimes face getting their colleagues in sales to jump on leads speedily – and not leaving hot leads to cool off. There were also murmurs of discontent around how to communicate with other internal stakeholders. When it comes to the wider business, using the right language is crucial: in one attendee’s business ‘demand generation’ and ‘lead generation’ aren’t terms that are used outside the marketing department. Marketing’s role in marketing itself to the wider business should never be underestimated.

So what can you do?
When interacting with internal stakeholders, focus on the objectives they’re trying to achieve. This should keep you focused on speaking in a language they understand and avoid the interminable marketing jargon that’ll end up just turning them off.

Demand generation isn’t just about the here and now

And this is something you should bear in mind when seeking budget sign-off from the c-suite: outline which strategies you think will deliver growth in the short term, but keep an eye on the horizon too (think five and 10 years ahead). Your c-suite peers will thank you for setting expectations, and you’ll find that it’ll help you secure budget for campaigns that look likely to deliver longer-term impact.

So what can you do?
Delivering ROI will always be a big focus for those board-level budget holders, which is obviously fair. But ensure you’re also emphasising the importance of long-term strategy and long-term growth. A focus on the here and now won’t necessarily drive the ROI they’re looking for in the months and years to come. Also – remember that having an understanding of wider business issues, such as upcoming GDPR legislation, will also help boost your standing and encourage your board to see you as having a truly holistic and business-focused viewpoint.

Data segmentation is a persistent bugbear for marketers

Most marketers struggle with the fact that their data is scattered across multiple disparate platforms, systems and reporting tools – and that there’s often no single version of the truth to rely on. The consequences of poor system integration can be far-reaching: firstly it means data sets are often unreliable, and secondly, it can force marketers to do much of the grunt work themselves when it comes to reporting. Missing data sets, in turn, means marketers often feel ill-equipped to pass on leads to their colleagues in sales – one of the alternatives is longer online forms, but these can irritate customers and prospects, and could ultimately lead them to go elsewhere.

So what can you do?
Think about the data you really need: is propensity to spend or a telephone number actually more useful than location and email? And consider how AI might fit into your overall marketing strategy: one of its main benefits is the associated efficiency savings – meaning less time spent crunching data and more time focusing on what really matters. 

The age-old question of what to measure (and where) is still causing headaches in marketing departments

MQLs, SQLs and conversion rates are common metrics used to measure marketing’s success (or otherwise), but are they always the right measures? Having the wrong metrics in place can often drive the wrong marketing behaviours. That said, one attendee decided early on in a new role to give her team sales targets to work to; although these have since been disbanded, they did help the department keep their eye on the (revenue) prize. And don’t forget the metrics your agencies are working to: one attendee revealed that she has a gainshare agreement in place around demand generation, whereby the agency wins a cut of any profit made.

And when it comes to measuring the immeasurable, don’t despair! Even something as seemingly intangible as awareness can be measured through things like branded keyword search, while trust can be measured using metrics like net promoter score (NPS).

So what can you do?
It’s crucial to ask: ‘So what?’ of any metrics you’re collecting or considering as measures. What does this figure actually mean to the business? How's it going to help you drive improvement? Remember, what gets measured, gets managed – so it’s important that your metrics are focused on the goals you want to achieve.

The value of risk-taking is sometimes forgotten in B2B…

With so many disparate channels and such large volumes of data to contend with, campaigns are sometimes designed around channels and metrics rather than overall marketing objectives. But while data definitely equals power in marketing, marketers (and their c-suite stakeholders) should remember that granular metrics, despite being inherently useful in the world of marketing, shouldn’t be the sole focus: a tunnel-vision approach can inhibit innovation and creativity, and deter you from taking intelligent risks that lead to brilliant marketing campaigns.

So what can you do?
A major inhibitor of innovation and creativity is the fear of failure. If marketers are going to take more risks, they’ll need the freedom to fail (on occasion). Consider the culture of your organisation – is the penalty for failure greater than the reward for creativity? These need to be balanced if marketers are to become less cautious.

Attendees

Gonzalo Villanueva, international marketing director, Bloomberg
Nico Lutkins, marketing director EMEA, LinkedIn
Wayne Smart, head of marketing, Travelers
Keisha Baker, head of international demand generation, VE Interactive
Kath Dewar, marketing director, Iris Software
Antonia Wade, head of global marketing, Thomson Reuters
Kate Sinclair, partner, marketing, Lane Clark & Peacock
Doug Marshall, head of marketing, Wilmington PLC