Demand Generation

Demand Generation Tips: Thought Leadership With Sean Donahue of MarketingSherpa


Sean Donahue, MarketingSherpa
The next interview in the B2B Marketing thought leader interview series is with Sean Donahue, Senior Reporter for MarketingSherpa in charge of MarketingSherpa’s newsletters that cover business-to-business marketing, mobile marketing, online publishing, search, subscription sales and great minds in marketing. Sean is exposed on a daily basis to the latest best practices in B2B marketing and is chock full of practical demand generation advice.

1. Tell us a little bit about how you got into B2B marketing and what you like most about it.

I began covering B2B marketing after 10 years as a business and technology reporter. I was in San Francisco during the first Internet bubble, where I covered nascent online marketing strategies for publications like Wired News and Business 2.0. When the bubble burst in 2001, I migrated back East and back to general business journalism, where I covered marketing as one aspect of the business stories I wrote.

Joining MarketingSherpa was my first chance to really focus on B2B marketing in-depth, and I quickly discovered a couple major reasons to like it. First, B2B marketing encompasses so many disciplines and channels: email, search, events, direct mail, telemarketing, online and offline advertising, and so on. You get to experiment any of them in any number of combinations, so there’s always something new to learn. And much of it is highly measurable, so you can make decisions based on facts and results, not just guesses and gut instinct.

Second, B2B marketing requires you to have healthy balance between creativity and analytical ability, strategic thinking and tactical expertise.

2. As a senior reporter for MarketingSherpa covering business-to-business, you are exposed to the latest best practices and you know what works. What are your top 3 tips to help B2B companies improve their demand generation?

1. Relevance is more important than ever. In this economy, your prospects are likely to be even more dismissive of marketing pitches that aren’t relevant to their needs, or that clearly address their pain points. You want to be a trusted source of valuable information that helps prospects succeed, not someone who only contacts them when you have something to sell.

We’ve been recommending for a while now that marketers think like publishers when it comes to their marketing content. Too often, marketers create new educational content based on internal triggers, such as a new product launch or the adoption of a new marketing strategy. Instead, think like a publisher, who wants to keep their readers (in this case, prospects) engaged on a regular basis with content that’s tailored to their needs and interests. That means keeping close tabs on industry trends and customer and prospect concerns, and creating relevant content that addresses those trends and concerns in a timely manner.

2. Test social media channels. Several conversations with B2B marketers last year really opened my eyes to the role that social media can play in B2B demand generation. Blogs, LinkedIn groups, Twitter feeds, and the like don’t replace workhorse tactics like email marketing or webinars, but those channels increasingly are where your customers and prospects spend time online. Joining or starting conversations there are a great way to stay in front of – and relevant to – your audience.

3. Optimize what’s working now. With marketing budgets under pressure, marketers may have to do more with less. That’s a great opportunity to focus on the tactics that are working for you now and find ways to scratch out incremental improvements that won’t require you to mount additional, expensive campaigns. We sound like a broken record over at MarketingSherpa, always imploring marketers to test, test, test. But testing and optimization are almost never “done.” You can continually improve things like SEO, email subject lines and frequency, and landing pages.

3. Lead nurturing and lead scoring seem to be coming into the mainstream. What do you think are the biggest opportunities marketers have in terms of more effective lead management?

First, just practicing lead nurturing and lead scoring means you’re ahead of the game in terms of lead management effectiveness.

We did an audience survey during a webinar last year that found that 46.6% of the audience hadn’t yet implement lead scoring and didn’t have plans to do so within the next sixth months. The folks that have already implemented lead scoring systems and nurturing programs are better equipped to deal with the effects we’re seeing from the recession, such as lengthening sales cycles and fewer leads in the pipeline.

One piece of advice for more effective lead management this year: Go back to your sales team and have a good conversation with them about what they need from you in this environment. You might need to tweak your definition of a sales ready lead – or at least highlight new behavioral patterns or triggers that will impact lead scores. Sales may also need new types of collateral from your team to help them sell this year.

Second, make sure your lead nurturing program includes more than just email touches. Multi-touch, multi-media campaigns can help you reach prospects in the way – and at the time – that most resonates with them and gets them to take that next step. Consider ways to use email, telemarketing, online events, and even low-cost direct mail pieces.

4. What innovative or overlooked demand generation tactics do you think will become more important in 2009?

We’ve just completed research on B2B marketing priorities for 2009, and I got a peek at the preliminary results just today. I will be writing a report on that data in the next week or so for our B2B newsletter that will offer a lot more details and advice.

But what I can say now is that it appears marketers are looking for ways to offset a potential decline in new leads through tactics such as retention marketing and better use of marketing analytics to pinpoint what’s working and target areas for improvement.

Beyond that, I expect further experiments with social media, which can boost your visibility with search engines and deliver more inbound leads to your websites. Participating in social media also fits in with a trend we see toward smaller, more frequent communications to ensure your name and your products and services are at the top of prospects’ minds when they are ready to make a buying decision.

5. Looking at the new year, what is your most important advice for B2B Marketers in 2009?

Be more proactive in demonstrating to senior management the contribution that marketing makes to the company’s revenues. If you’re budget is under pressure, now is the time to plan the kind of reports and clear metrics that demonstrate how marketing can help the company weather the recession. Focus on the big-picture, not necessarily the detailed data, such as email open rates or the percent of registered prospects who actually attended a webinar. Top managers likely are more concerned with metrics such as:

  • Prospects in the sales pipeline that can be linked back to demand generation activity
  • Sales revenue influenced by marketing
  • Decrease in average cost-per-lead related to demand generation activity