This week I’m publishing a two-part blog series. This series takes a look at the challenge marketing leaders face in managing demand as an operational process. The first post presented an introduction to the topic and examined the issue of tracking B2B buyer behavior. The second post, today, looks at the fundamental issue of B2B marketing leaders’ ‘lack of an operations mindset.’ ~ABN
Problem Two: Our Lack of an Operations Mindset
Given we have a rapidly expanding set of technological capabilities – through marketing automation and similar platforms – to ‘track the buyer,’ what is remaining for us to effectively manage demand as an end-to-end, optimize-able process? I noted in the previous post in this series, “Clearly there is something else – something bigger – that is holding us back … .”
That bigger issue is B2B marketing leaders’ lack of an operations mindset.
This is the issue that B2B marketing leaders – especially CMOs – often can’t put their finger on, but that is at the core of much of our modern challenges. They talk about not being able to demonstrate the revenue impact of marketing; they talk about not having ‘hard numbers’; or they speak to not having a dashboard to really visualize marketing results. Obviously none of these ‘wants’ represent an operations mindset, per se, but they do represent the result of successfully managing demand as a process.
So how do B2B marketing leaders typically remedy this situation? They invest in technology, but when it comes to their marketing programs, they continue to do ‘more of the same.’
Therein lies the disconnect, as I note in Balancing the Demand Equation:
The disconnect: If as B2B marketers we are applying legacy mass-marketing, top-of-funnel techniques to the effort of customer acquisition and nurturing in an era of Buyer 2.0, there is a high likelihood that we will have a single, ineffective touchpoint with our buyer and then subsequently lose his/her engagement as (s)he goes through the buying process. Most of our demand generation programs thus remain highly inefficient, largely focused on awareness, and so we consistently lose track of warm leads that literally ‘leak’ out of our sale funnel, as Forrester has noted in its research. This is particularly problematic because Buyer 2.0 is moving forward in the buyer education process and will make a purchase, but if our B2B demand generation program loses touch with that buyer, the chance of him/her purchasing from us is greatly decreased.
Most B2B marketing organizations thus do not have a top-of-funnel problem. What they really have is a ‘middle-of-the-funnel’ problem.
This is why our B2B demand generation efforts cannot be haphazard or intermittent; instead, they need to be consistent and continuous processes. …
Yet it is exactly this type of a consistent and continuous B2B demand process – one that perpetually operates to move a buyer through multiple education and qualification stages (adjusting to the pace of the buying cycle), that combines both automated and live touch points and that only turns a lead over to sales after sufficient processing – that B2B marketing leaders are challenged to build.
We want a lead factory – a construct that requires understanding and enabling the multiple processing stages required to take in raw inputs and to churn out a finished product – but instead we deliver a series of ‘stage shows.’
What is at the core of this issue? It has nothing to do with good intentions; rather, it is the product of biases that are deep-rooted and fundamentally engrained in B2B marketers.
- First, right-brain/creative types are often drawn to marketing, not left-brainers.
- Second, marketing training at the vocational and academic level is focused on channels and tactics and on building consumer brands, but rarely speaks to the orchestration and coordination of multiple channels and tactics in a sequence to drive buyer dialogue.
- Third, on the off-chance a B2B marketer has some operations-analysis experience, it was probably garnered either in an MBA class or in an industrial setting, and it was probably applied to some sort of manufacturing process – meaning it never ‘clicked’ that this could also be applied to marketing.
- Fourth, the opportunities and challenges around such a complex, iterative and information empowered Buyer 2.0 are relatively recent; meaning, it truly is a changed world of marketing today from five years ago or ten years ago, when more ‘one-and-done’ tactics in more limited channels might have actually been a successful route.
It’s time for our training, bias and ultimate mindset as B2B marketers to catch up with our operational reality. So where do we need to focus our time and attention to drive change?
Below are the top-five areas where we need to focus:
> #1 – We don’t organize our marketing efforts around enabling a buying ‘process’:
Despite the best of intentions, the majority of B2B marketing activities continue to occur in a tactical silo. They are planned and executed as specific events, email blasts, Webinars, product literature and sales enablement tools, created at a specific moment in time, to drive a short-term goal. Their lifecycle is short, and the scope of these activities is incomplete when compared against the total set of information needs our buyer has as (s)he goes through his/her end-to-end buying process.
It is rare that planning these activities is rationalized against enabling the buying process at specific stages. So there is ultimately no granular, multi-stage buying ‘process’ at the core of how we organize our marketing, and this means we’re not thinking about enabling or optimizing a process from the get-go.
> #2 – We have an outbound, interruptive, push bias:
Closely associated with the previous point, much of our marketing efforts are focused on getting buyers’ ‘attention’ via outbound channels, but such a stance assumes that if we can garner our buyer’s attention, the buyer will initiate a buying process (or be immediately ready to buy).
Yet such a posture is largely at odds with the research about how buyers buy and about how Buyer 2.0 initiates a buying process. MarketingSherpa has noted over the past few years in its annual “B2B Marketing Benchmark Report”, that nearly two-thirds of B2B buyers at any given point in time will make a purchase decision in a period greater than one month or one quarter. No amount of ‘interruption’ can change this fact.
And so such an outbound, interruptive, push approach to engaging with the buyer can mean we’re more likely to be out of sync with a buying process than in sync with it, and this hinders our ability to get to a point where we’re enabling a buying process. It often requires us to reverse how we engage with buyers – looking at how our marketing programs can be better aligned to be ‘found’ by buyers in the right place, at the right time, and then how our outbound efforts can shepherd a buyer through education and qualification once it’s clear the buyer is actually in a buying process.
> #3 – We attempt to educate and qualify our buyer in single-step programs:
The modern B2B buying process is complex, incorporates a high volume of content consumption and has many steps. Yet our B2B marketing programs too often are single-step. For instance, we’ll run a single Webinar or offer a single whitepaper to garner attention, and then what? No follow-up; no logical next step is even planned other than having a sales person call.
We don’t break our content offers up into a series of short steps. By analyzing the buying process and leveraging marketing automation, we’re able to serve up a stream of consecutive next steps with content. This content is able to follow a logical dialogue thread – one that is welcome from the buyer – and this can help us take a buyer as far down the buying process as possible before serving up a qualified lead to our sales team. Moreover, this is a state that can be managed – and optimized – as a process.
The same can be said when it comes to forms and lead qualification, which should be served up in tandem with our content offers. We also try to do all of our lead qualification in one step – overloading a single form, rather than ‘progressively’ profiling our buyer over a series of steps. (It’s pretty obvious when a form is really just a precursor to an immediate sales call; see below.)
In the same way that buyer education should proceed as a series of steps throughout the buying process, qualification should proceed in an iterative fashion – i.e., ‘getting to know’ a buyer more and more over a series of steps, where additional questions are asked at each point of interaction. This process also can and should be repeatable and optimize-able over time.
> #4 – We don’t benchmark our success against revenue:
The core of process management is having a clear sense of the inputs, the outputs and the steps in-between. Yet we as B2B marketers, more likely than not, are not benchmarking success of our B2B marketing efforts in terms of its revenue impact, which means that we are not able to fully assess the output, nor are we able to assess many of the steps that lead to that output.
The “2010 Lenkold Group / eMedia Lead Generation Marketing ROI Study” notes that only about one-third of B2B marketing organizations link marketing activities to revenue outcomes.
Instead, we too often focus on activity-based metrics, such as traffic and impressions or intangible metrics, such as brand-recognition. And if we count leads, they are of the initial-respondent genre – i.e., a net-new email address from someone who engaged with an individual content offer.
Revenue is the output of a demand process; thus, if we’re not focused on this output, we’re not able to manage demand as a process.
> #5 – We organize along functional departments, not around our roles in the demand process:
The final culprit – which you might argue is both cause and effect of this system – is that we organize our marketing teams around mediums and tactics.
The lack of grounding in our buyer and his/her needs has been compounded for decades by our teams’ organizing according to communication channel – i.e., an overly-rigid ‘functional’ model versus a model built around role or contribution to the buying process. We would have an advertising department, a PR department, a tradeshow/events department, and more likely than note, these elements would not be in full orchestration and/or optimized to support the buying process.
In the pre-Internet era, these channels were fewer and better defined, and so they were a safe default. But today with an explosion of communication channels, it’s a more challenging than ever for us to organize in this way, nor is it truly rational. (Would you have a ‘Pinterest department’?) Moreover, it does not address the true cross-channel dynamics of modern B2B buyers, as Akin Arikan notes in his book, titled Multichannel Marketing. Today the buyer literally shifts with each phase of the buying process across mediums, but his/her dialogue is surprisingly linear across these mediums – which requires our logic and planning to do the same.
Our marketing organization must embody what I call ‘process stewardship’ – a concept I’ll be talking about more over the coming weeks – which should be at the core of how marketing departments are defined.
Building, Sustaining and Monetizing Demand as a Process
We’re at a crossroads in business and as B2B marketers. We’ve spent decades turning production and supply-chain activities into optimize-able processes. Now is the time to understand and begin to manage demand as a process.
The first step – as I covered in the previous post – requires us to be able to track a buyer in his/her buying process – but with this capability, we still need to go through a substantial shift in how we operate as marketers. That shift means rationalizing and planning our marketing activities as processes that we will build, manage and optimize over a longer period than just this month or this quarter.
A major change, but one that is worth the result: repeatable, predictable and sustainable revenue generation.