Lead Generation Best Practices: Thought Leadership with The Funnelholic
The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with Craig Rosenberg, author of The Funnelholic (one of my favorite B2B marketing blogs). Craig is Vice President, Products and Services at Tippit, Inc., the world’s fastest growing B2B online media and lead generation company. You can also follow him on Twitter (funnelholic).
1. Tell us a little bit about how you got into B2B marketing and what you like most about it.
I don’t think any of us planned to be in B2B when we were thinking about our careers, so like many of us, I fell into it. In kindergarten, kids are invariably asked what they want to be when they grow up. I still have the picture of a young Dr. Rosenberg, following in his father’s footsteps. My mom tells me that the class had 50 percent teachers, 20 percent doctors, and a handful of firemen and policemen. No B2B marketers. And when you leave college, you don’t say “I am going to be the best B2B marketer in the software industry.”
I spent my early career in the sales side of the business, and really cut my B2B marketing teeth in the years I worked at SalesRamp LLC, working for Stu Silverman. We were a boutique sales and marketing firm that consulted with technology companies about their lead-generation strategy and inside sales processes. I had invaluable access to a variety of sales and marketing organizations and their tactics. My experiences helped solidify my marketing ideology and clarify my belief system. At that point, I was hooked.
B2B marketing is my passion because it’s strategic, always changing, and always broken. I can talk all day about anything (ask anyone who knows me about this), but my real expertise is the “top of the funnel” — that is, outbound marketing, lead generation, lead development, and inside sales. I can talk a mean game about B2B sales as well. All of it gets my blood flowing. I actually love writing my blog, The Funnelholic. It’s my b2b “top of the funnel” labor of love.
2. From reading your blog, I see that you write a lot about lead management and lead generation, what are your top 3 tips to help companies develop integrated campaigns to generate more high-quality sales leads?
This is a great question. Here are my three tips:
- No matter what you do, don’t pass leads directly to the sales team: You can run the best integrated campaign, but you will fail if you have not built a lead-qualification process that includes both a crack lead-qualification team and a marketing automation program. Cultivate and qualify leads so that your sales team is working sales-ready opportunities and, as a result, loves you.
- Follow the metrics: Make sure they are the right ones: While ROI is the end game, it can’t drive your every move when you’re developing your campaign. Early on you should be focused on impression-to-registration conversion rates (for landing pages) and leads-to-sales opportunities. ROI needs to be realized over a longer period of time. (Prepare to give it a year — or more in some cases — especially when you are leveraging marketing automation.) Follow the metrics you can control and optimize against. Marketing ensures shots at the plate; sales racks up the RBIs.
- Test and optimize: You are doing yourself a tremendous disservice if you expect to hit your campaign ball out of the park immediately. Prepare to optimize the program as it progresses. A/B test your landing pages and creative. Don’t underestimate something as simple as changing the font size on a reg form and seeing higher conversion rates. Work with publishers who are syndicating your white papers on their sites. Test 100 leads, but during the process, don’t simply shrug and say “these leads aren’t working.” Say “how can we optimize this program”? Work with the publishers. Watch white paper syndication programs improve as you collectively optimize each of your sites. Whatever your campaign is, allow yourself the ability to make it better as it progresses.
3. A recent post on your blog discusses 3 changes marketers must make to survive our current economic situation. What advice do you have for those marketers who choose to step out of the box and redefine their target market?
We are already seeing organizations redefine their target markets. Over the past couple years, large customers in the technology industry have focused on what they consider emerging markets: global and SMBs. Now, they are heading home to their enterprise comfort zones as SMBs are gearing up to get hit the hardest without access to capital and global markets, which were already complex, becoming more difficult to solve with the global recession. Vendors focused on financial service organizations are not only re-targeting and re-messaging, but are re-productizing to move away from those markets they had recently been wooing with vigor.
You want to do a couple of things. I’ll break it up into “pull” vs. “push.” “Pull” is defined as leads that are generated via your Web site, paid search, white paper syndication, and so on. These leads are walking into your store. “Push” is defined as people you target and specifically focus your outbound marketing campaigns efforts on.
4. What tips fo you have for optimizing your “pull” marketing tactics?
Most pundits are going to tell you to focus on specific targets for your “pull” activities, like telling publishers you want only certain companies or industries. I don’t agree. There is actually no better gauge of interest than the Internet, so if you can afford it, don’t apply too many filters. In the coming years, we will all struggle to find buyers, so keep the door open — so to speak — to find buyers you hadn’t thought of.
Generate leads and then watch the data. What types of leads are converting into sales opportunities? Break them down by industry, size, job function, and so on to define your target markets. For example, I was consulting for a company post-2001 whose product manager had done a great job researching and making a compelling case for targeting Tier-1 manufacturers. He created a profile outlining their pains, needs, and objectives. Our basic lead generation campaign was outbound to this narrowly defined target.
Then a little company called Yahoo downloaded their the company’s white paper. Our lead qualification rep contacted the lead and identified interest, yet no one in sales wanted to follow up. Eventually, we convinced our product manager to call the prospect. He realized there was an opportunity, they closed the deal, and their target market expanded into the Internet. By the way, they never ended up selling anything to manufacturers — but they did build a real Internet business and got bought last year. The moral of the story is that targeting is key, but don’t ignore the people who raise their hand and, as importantly, allow them the chance to do it.
5. What about “push” marketing?
In “push” I make the opposite argument. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Research. Do some financial analysis to look for companies that not only have the wherewithal, but are more likely to see your solution as a “need to have.” I suggest any of the following:
- Hire a research firm: You don’t need to pay Gartner to do this. There are plenty of smart research analysts out.
- Get appointments with these targets: If you have the infrastructure, set up 5 to 10 meetings with prospects who may fit into your target market. If you don’t have the bandwidth, hire a pay-for-performance appointment-setting group. And when you talk to your prospects, have a range of people involved in the process.
Also, as you can see from the “pull” example — now, no doubt, part of that company’s lore —find out if there are any prospects to target. Don’t ignore hand-raisers. And get feedback from sales about creating new target segments. If you do only research, you will have to make some relatively blind bets. If you follow the pull paradigm, you have actual internal data, and you’re not making a blind bet. Add them to your target market and push out to them.
6. Given that you speak to lead management, what do you see as the biggest hurdle to managing leads effectively?
The biggest hurdle today is not having an internal infrastructure built to process and qualify leads. Marketing departments think in terms of campaigns they are running, yet many never achieve their goals. Without a solid lead qualification /lead management system in place, you won’t be a marketing machine. You need to build the infrastructure that produces sales-ready leads. To me, this infrastructure includes:
- A lead qualification group: Have a team whose job it is to reach leads and qualify them. The simple act of reaching leads makes a group such as this worth their freight.
- Lead qualification process: You can’t just hire people.
- Unify sales-ready lead definitions: Agree with sales on expectations. Lead definition has to be agreed on for this to work. If you don’t, expect yourselves — excuse the allusion — to live on Mars and sales to continue to live on Venus. Without common agreed-on deliverables, you will not succeed.
- Marketing automation: Marketing automation is one of the greatest inventions of the last 20 years for the lead-generation process. Use marketing automation to connect faster and more efficiently, understand your campaign’s lead generation effectiveness, and leverage drip marketing /nurture marketing.
7. What do you think is the biggest oversight by marketers in terms of lead generation?
Not questioning everything, all the time. Process, metrics, testing, strategy, relationships, and so on. While it might sound callous to treat people as commodities, surround yourself with the best and the brightest. Question talent and question partnerships. But don’t walk away too quickly, marketing and lead generation is an optimization process and if you are properly analyzing, challenging, and then re-testing, your success will increase. But nothing will be “always on,” where you can turn on the lead generation spigot and walk away. Work at it.
8. With the multitude of promotion channels today (ie: social, blogs, email), what is your advice for B2B marketers striving toward marketing ROI?
Test. What works for some, doesn’t work for others. But I have seen them all work in certain scenerios. And set reasonable expectations. Here is my opinion on a few promotional channels out there:
- Blogging: I wrote about this in a post Does Blogging Even Work? Well, it does work, but I don’t view it as a lead generation vehicle. But it’s a good thought leadership vehicle. The most unique selling proposition you have is yourself, and blogging has given us marketers the ability to look smart and create a personality behind the brand — something not available before. My vote? Do it. It’s not a must-do but if you have the time, add it to the list.
- Email: Does email work? I love email. I especially like it from a drip marketing/nurture perspective. Nurturing leads is one of the biggest innovations in marketing, and it has brought email science back up to the top. You should be sending targeted emails against your nurture campaigns one to two times a month, with a marketing automation solution telling you who, when and what. My vote? Do this a lot. Marketers use this to get ROI back on lead generation campaigns.
- White paper syndication: Does this work? Yes, but you have to be ready to nurture/cultivate these leads over time. The beauty of white paper-syndication campaigns is the pay-for-performance aspect. I don’t love campaigns that cost money, but you don’t really know what you are going to get. Work with a partner to pepper the Internet with your white papers. My vote? Do it, and don’t stop. This is a quantifiable way to create predictable lead flow into your lead -generation process. Once you’ve created the white paper, let the publishers do the work for you.
- Webinars: Thought leadership, branding, quantifiable lead generation, and education combined in a medium that more and more prospects are getting used to using. We just did a study on CRM buyers in the “considered purchase” category, and they go to 3 to 4 webinars a month. Either way, the very basis of drip marketing is to touch the prospect with a variety of media until that hand raises again. My vote? Do it. Use a partner to help you produce and promote them, but produce webinars at least once a month.
- Podcast: To early to call. I need to see more data on this. I encourage someone to prove me otherwise, but I am not sure the power of the podcast is mature yet. My vote? Unsure.
- Paid Search: You have to do paid search. Your competitors are. My vote: Do it. If you can’t compete effectively, outsource it to someone who can.
- SEO: This is tricky, because it is very important. I am in the third-party lead business, and I can safely say there is typically no better lead than the lead who goes to your Web site, fills out a form, and asks for your sales rep to call. But SEO is complicated. Make sure you educate yourself on how you are going to attack SEO and do it right, or you’ll just spin your tires. My vote: Do it, but have a plan and realize it takes time. If necessary, hire a consultant. It’s that important.
There is so much out there, and technology is changing quickly, and there are always new tactics. Keep an eye on your competitors and test as much as you can. Then you can call yourself a true lead generation person.