A few weeks ago, I published a series of blog posts that ask the question, “Why don’t marketing leaders manage ‘demand’ as an operational process.” I noted the core challenge for many B2B marketing leaders is we simply do not build, manage or optimize demand “… as an operational, repeatable and sustainable process.” Sure we have marketing processes, but mostly they are periodic, ‘activity-based’ (and over-complicated) processes, focused on the planning and production of things such as content and events.
What we fail to conceptualize is the more holistic, perpetual process of continuously moving buyers from their earliest lead state to a revenue close – i.e., a true, central ‘outcome-based’ process. Moreover, we never really take a step back and consider that all of our other marketing and sales processes should be rationalized, optimized and simplified against this central process. In fact, when we take this point of view, it explains much of the disconnect that exists between marketing and sales. For decades, B2B marketers have produced campaigns, and B2B sales team members have produced revenue. The two could not be more diametrically opposed.
The perspective fortunately is changing. With 72% of marketing automation ‘top performers’ reporting their number-one goal today is to increase revenue, according to Gleanster, the r-word increasingly is top of the agenda for B2B marketers. And an increasing number of B2B companies large and small are measuring marketing performance via – or at least asking initial questions that drive toward – a revenue basis. Marketing campaigns and content increasingly are being built with the buyer’s content needs during the buying process in mind. And as I mentioned in my previous blog post, thanks to marketing automation technology, we are no longer challenged when it comes to the technology to track our buyer’s interactions with our content and programs.
So you would think we would have all the right ingredients to succeed with perpetual B2B demand generation – to build, manage and optimize literal lead-to-revenue factories. But no.
Our drive towards a managed demand process continues to fall apart at execution.
As it turns out, getting our stream of inbound and outbound buyer education working in tandem with our lead qualification efforts, automating everything and getting everyone on the marketing and sales team partnering and operating on a continuous basis around this process … well that’s where we still struggle.
Fortunately, there is a better way.
The key to a managed demand process and to operating perpetual B2B demand generation is adopting a new approach – a new mindset, if you will. It is one that I call “demand process stewardship.”
In fact, while it may not yet be commonplace, I would go so far as to say that effective demand process stewardship is the ‘secret sauce’ for successful, modern B2B demand generation.
What is demand process stewardship?
While we increasingly talk about and envison the concept of perpetual lead-to-revenue paths – thinking about buying process and aspiring to a state where we continuously collaborate with our sales teams to keep their pipelines filled with high-quality opportunities – we don’t actually do much to deliver the continuity or perpetuity of these processes in our demand generation efforts.
We constantly cause breaks in the process. In fact, understanding these breaks is perhaps the best way to wrap our head around the concept of stewardship.
Examples of these ‘breaks’ include:
- Different perceptions of our buyer target: Are we all on the same page about who we are targeting?
- Delivery of the buyer’s experience: Are we managing an end-to-end dialogue with a buyer across marketing campaigns and sales touchpoints that in aggregate makes sense and provides buyers with the answers they require to propel their process forward?
- Assessment of lead state: Are we carefully keeping tabs on a buyer’s potential at every stage of our interaction – ensuring we don’t move from automated to live interaction too quickly, yet operating nurturing right up until the optimal point when we have a real, live sales opportunity?
- Team interference: Are we carefully orchestrating marketing and sales interactions so that each team and its members are engaging to his/her highest and best use, or are marketing and sales activities literally competing for the buyer’s attention?
- Islands of buyer data: Are we carefully correlating and acting on the conglomeration of insights we are garnering from a buyer across interactions and systems, or are we collecting and duplicating information in multiple systems and not really ever getting to a single (and actionable) buyer record?
- Different process goals: Are we all working with different goals in mind – some activity goals and some outcome goals, and none of them aligned?
Our first goal of demand process stewardship, thus, is to ensure continuity and integrity of the multiple layers that define an integrated demand process – making sure the breaks we defined above do not occur. Below is a model I use to illustrate the core, integrated layers of a demand process:
Another goal of demand process stewardship is to ensure that these integrated layers are working together and are being optimized against a unified revenue goal.
The final goal of demand process stewardship is to ensure there is active monitoring, management and accountability for each individual demand process flow. Call it ‘a single throat to choke,’ but for every definable lead-to-revenue path (which you may segment by buyer audience, by solution, or by whatever the case may be, but for that ‘lowest common denominator’ of how you divide your B2B demand generation efforts), there needs to be a single block captain. There will be input and interactions from numerous people along the lead-to-revenue path, but someone needs to be the process ‘steward’ – responsible for the core planning, management and optimization of this process and accountable for the results.
What does demand process stewardship look like?
It can be difficult to visualize the concept of demand process stewardship. While having that central block captain is critical, stewardship is more than merely knowing who the steward is.
Effective demand process stewardship really becomes an overall design ethic – one that is focused on how we design the layers of a demand process to work together. And this is why demand process stewardship is the core of effective B2B demand generation.
Where do we start? The central organizing logic for designing demand processes is our buyer dialogue thread.
B2B buyers go through a series of steps – a buying process – each time they decide to purchase something from us. This process, which may be highly formal or highly informal, initiates with a problem, is followed by an iterative series of questions (and answers) and eventually results in the choice of a solution (or the temporary or permanent abandonment of the process, altogether). While the specific content consumption path for each, individual buyer in a Web 2.0 environment is more varied than ever, the holistic process – i.e., the ‘information requirements’ that buyers make at each stage of their decision path – are surprisingly predictable and repeatable. And they provide a basis for planning our dialogue thread with a given buyer throughout each stage of his/her process.
Buyer dialogue thus should be rationalized via a clear understanding of the buying process and of the buyer’s subsequent information requirements. Hand-off from marketing to sales must ensure that there is continuity in this dialogue between upstream marketing content offers and downstream sales education.
Demand generation requires more than mere buyer education, though, as we want to qualify our buyer as a potential revenue opportunity in tandem with this education. We also want to think about the true ‘organic’ point at which a buyer will be inclined to engage with a sales resource – a point I think of as the true moment of a ‘qualified lead.’
We also want to make sure that our marketing and sales teams, as well as our technology systems and data, work together in tandem with our buyer education and qualification. What individuals and systems will handle buyers at specific stages in the process, and what do they need to accomplish with the buyer at these stages? How will these individuals and systems measure their performance? And what are the live and automated buffers that exist between these individuals and systems to optimize end-to-end interactions with the buyer?
Below is a model I use to visualize the design of demand process layers to ensure integration and fundamental demand process stewardship. Note I am not suggesting that this specific configuration, below, is the right one – that depends on a number of factors including the nature of sale, nature of the buyer, etc. – so realize the specific stages and roles below are hypothetical, albeit a strong illustration of what this might look like.
What are the barriers to effective demand process stewardship?
I’m working on a column for BtoB Magazine where I will jump into the final question here of why it is that we as B2B marketers struggle with getting to demand process stewardship.
Stay tuned for the link to that article …