By Ken Stout – Chief Strategy Officer, True Influence
In business to business sales, strategic planning wins out over last-minute scrambling.
Very few B2B sales and marketing pros would disagree with that statement. And yet so many marketers remain stuck in an unproductive cycle of chasing quarterly quotas and failing to meet strategic goals.
A recent survey showed that only 24 percent of B2B marketers run campaigns for more than six months. This in an era when B2B sales cycles are getting longer, often extending 12 to 18 months. I can tell you that we often see the same kinds of behaviors when we consult with our business to business demand generation customers here at True Influence.
Not surprisingly, the survey, conducted by Marketing Week and The Marketing Practice, also found that this short-term thinking is not paying off. “Highly effective” marketers are 3x as likely to allow their programs to run past six months before evaluating their effectiveness, the survey found. They also tend – at a clip of about 3.5-to-1 – to devote 60 percent or more of their budgets to long-term initiatives.
Marketers need to embrace what I call a “always-on” approach to B2B lead generation and sales marketing. This transition requires changes in the way we measure success, and also adoption of tools and resources that eliminate the short-term crises that derail long-term thinking.
Sales Marketing is About More Than Just Leads
First off, let me clarify how most B2B sellers define a couple terms, particularly “sales marketing.”
Sales marketing describes the various activities that B2B marketers engage in to create qualified leads and opportunities to pass on to sales. These include mail drops, email drips, inbound content marketing, voice-based outreach – all the highly quantifiable activities that result in a direct response.
Brand marketing is a different animal. Brand marketers certainly have their own numbers to hit – and these are getting more specific all the time in the era of data-driven marketing – but their activities are inherently seen as being more long-term and strategic. Brand marketing is how you make sales in the future.
Sales marketing is how you close business next quarter. It’s tied directly to ROI other performance metrics, and that’s where the pressure to scramble always comes into play.
These definitions are overly simplistic, of course – in fact, I think adjusting the way we think about sales marketing is one of the key steps in adopting an “always-on” philosophy. But this where the those last-minute distractions come from, and it’s a bad way to do business.
The Road to “Always-On” Sales Marketing
To accomplish “always-on” sales marketing, I believe organizations need to address three key stumbling blocks that leave them panicking to put out short-term fires.
Sales Marketing is about relationships, too
There’s always going to be pressure to meet lead goals. There’s no way around that.
But business to business sales organizations also need to recognize that every webinar invite or whitepaper offer also builds your relationship with a prospect – a relationship that may lead to a sale in the next purchase cycle, or perhaps even an a different opportunity within the target account that wasn’t even on your radar.
Too often, sales marketing views prospects as nothing more than potential leads that either opt-in or not. That’s it. Under this misconception, it makes perfect sense to cut off a campaign at three months if it’s not churning out MQLs at the desired rate.
B2B sellers need to embrace the power of well executed sales marketing to grow relationships and build their brand. Sales marketers need to maintain a consistent flow of communication with their prospects, just as brand marketers do.
Measure For The Long Term
Cost per lead is a misleading measuring stick for sales marketing performance – again, pretty much everyone will agree to that. It values short-term wins over long-term growth, and it invariably results in marketers cutting corners on lead quality.
But CPL keeps hanging around, primarily because it’s a simple, easy-to-digest data point. And cost-control is a quick way to make short-term budget numbers. Here are True Influence, we often see marketers cutting off programs on a quarterly basis, and it most often has something to do with bulk lead quotas and CPL targets.
Sales marketers are too often saddled with bad performance goals, and that’s always going to result in bad performance. To get to an “alway-on” mindset, sellers need to adopt a set of marketing KPIs that more accurately reflect the real impact of consistent, high-quality brand marketing. This primer at Lyfe Marketing offers a nice run down of many of the basic marketing metrics in use today (including CPL).
The mix of KPIs that define success for your business will vary, but here are four metrics that I think every sales marketing team should include in its “always on” strategic planning.
Lead to close ratio: Based on your actual sales cycle, and not an artificial quarterly or 6-month timeframe, this is a telling metric on the ultimate quality of the leads you are creating.
Time on site / engagement: Even if a contact doesn’t download a whitepaper, if she spends a few minutes reading an informative blog post or navigating through your site, you are building a relationship. This metric speaks to possible benefits of your campaign late in the sales cycle, or perhaps even on the next opportunity.
Cost per acquisition: A much smarter way of measuring the value of your marketing spend than CPL. This number changes every time you land a sizable contract, so tracking it constantly is useful. Include it on your dashboard.
ROI: It all boils down to this. If you are not getting return on your sales marketing investment, invest it somewhere else. Be sure to evaluate return beyond the current quarter – strategic investments pay off down the road.
Avoid near-term crises that result in scrambling
It’s easy to talk about the virtues of long-term planning when you’re not looking at a huge gap in your revenue pipeline. Marketers would like to stay focused on strategic goals – they just get distracted when they have to constantly dodge bullets.
The answer, obviously, is to avoid these crises in the first place.
Working with B2B demand generation companies like True Influence ensures that you have a steady flow of high-quality leads moving through your pipeline. We strongly encourage our customers to run engagements with us for the full life of their programs, which, as I’ve said, should sync closely to their customer buying cycle.
Our ActiveBase® B2B telemarketing services solution generates highly qualified leads at all points in the demand generation funnel. About 5 percent to 7 percent of ActiveBase results are sales-ready leads; other leads are categorized as Prospecting, Marketing Intelligence, and Marketing Qualified (these prospects have answered both pain-point and profiling question).
Of course, we can scale up our demand services if a gap does arise, but maintaining a steady flow of qualified leads over the life of a sales marketing program greatly reduces the risk of needing to scramble to find 1,000 MQLs in the next two weeks.
The best way to fix a problem is simply prevent it from happening in the first place.
Marketers Need To Be ‘Always On’ For That Next Opportunity
Business to business sales is about building long-term relationships, and your sales marketing strategies should align with that underlying value. The value of B2B demand generation programs should be measured against the entire life of your sales cycle, and marketers should have the tools and resources in place to avoid the short-term crises that undermine an always-on marketing mindset.