One of the biggest challenges b2b marketers face is what to do with all of those “names” that come into your system that aren’t really “leads” yet; contacts collected from white paper downloads, webinar registrations, trade shows and other activities. How do you separate hot leads from long-term leads from tire-kickers? How can you efficiently nurture those long-term prospects, learning more about their interests in the process, until they are really ready to engage with sales?
Those are the types of questions marketing automation / demand generation software vendors seek to address with their offerings. They apply technology to a difficult process. For b2b companies who are able to use such software effectively, the competitive advantage is akin to Indiana Jones taking on his would-be assassin in Raiders of the Lost Ark:
The challenge for b2b marketers in adopting marketing automation / demand gen systems isn’t with the technology, which is stable and reasonably easy to use. It’s with internal processes, office politics and other issues. In the scene above, although Indy clearly had the technology advantage, if he’d been a lousy shot, or didn’t have his gun loaded properly, he’d have ended up as shredded professor in a hurry.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Steve Woods, CTO and co-founder at marketing automation provider Eloqua, for a wide-ranging conversation about the future of marketing and the challenges faced by those adopting marketing automation / demand generation systems. Here are six key points that surfaced from our conversation.
1. “Marketing automation” is a misleading term. You can’t really automate marketing, of course, any more than you can automate gourmet cooking or great painting. “Demand generation” is a better term, though still not precise. “Software-that-helps-turn-raw-names-into-qualified-leads-by-delivering-the-right-content-at-the-right-time-and-monitoring-response” would be most accurate, but kind of a mouthful.
2. The buying process has fundamentally changed. Many marketers are starting to get this. Most sales people still don’t. Buyers no longer rely on sales people for basic information or exploratory “consultation.” They get 95% of the information they need from the Internet—online publications, analyst reports, vendor websites, blogs and other social media—before they have any contact with sales. They expect sales and marketing pros to be using the web as well to understand their problems before the sales conversation even starts. The key role of sales is to provide that last 5% needed to reach a buying decision: the company’s differentiating value, or what pain the prospect will experience if they don’t buy the right product or service.
3. Customers are those who’ve advanced from email service providers (ESPs). Small b2b companies often manage their email campaigns through hosted email services like Constant Contact, VerticalResponse or ExactTarget; when they’ve outgrown those and need more sophisticated segmentation, response tracking and automated response features, plus the ability to create and manage targeted microsites, they graduate to marketing automation / demand generation systems.
4. Building the logic behind the nurturing process is the hard part. Marketers who can do this effectively will command (or should be able to command) a premium. The technology is relatively easy. The hard part is mapping out the information delivery process. If we know that John Doe is the CIO at a medical manufacturing company with $100 million in revenue, what information should we deliver first? And we offer him two paths in that message, what should we provide if he chooses path A? What should we do differently if he chooses path B?
5. It won’t work if the processes and incentives between sales and marketing aren’t aligned. If, for example, marketers are focused on delivering leads who meet a defined threshold of interest as soon as they cross a certain point, but sales reps are comped on the number of calls they make, there is a fundamental disconnect. Calling even the right prospect at the wrong time, or trying to sell them the wrong product, can destroy the value of the marketing investment made to that point.
6. There is a crying need for this. It aligns vendor messages with buyer needs, saving money and corporate reputations. Prospective buyers are overloaded with information. Sending them more junk—information they can’t use or that isn’t relevant to them—makes your company look out of touch and reduces your ability to get the sale. Quick example: I used to have high-speed Internet service through AT&T. They would actually send me promotional mail for the dial-up service. Why on earth would they waste my time and their money trying to get me to downgrade my service with them? On the other hand, providing compelling information at the right time can reduce the sales effort required, shorten sales cycles, and make you look smarter than your competition as well.
The “science” of marketing automation / demand generation is well-established and readily available. The winning users will be those who manage to get the “art” part right.
Note: this post was originally published on the WebMarketCentral blog in September 2009.