Most B-to-B companies focus on too many marketing tactics without taking a strategic approach to demand generation, resulting in weak performance and ROI of marketing initiatives. This is one of the key points brought up at the Industrial Marketing Digital Summit by Adam B. Needles, chief strategy officer at ANNUITAS, a B-to-B demand generation firm.

Needles quoted a Forrester Research study that reported B-to-B marketers are juggling too many tactical balls, with 75 percent of them using 15 of the 26 marketing techniques surveyed. The findings held true across the SMB segment as well as larger enterprises.

The number one pain point for these organizations is the lack of quality leads for sales. This is a problem even in organizations using marketing automation technology, because the technology itself does not solve process issues. Another problem is that content does not support the buying process, because most companies lead with what they want to sell, and not with what customers want to buy. Needles referenced another survey that found 86 percent of the unique benefits touted by vendors were not perceived as unique or having enough impact to create preference.

Need for a strategic demand generation process

To overcome these challenges, Needles offers a four-step demand generation process that is strategic and perpetual with the goal of engaging, nurturing and converting buyers, driving repeatable revenue, and maximizing customer lifetime value. The four steps are:

  1. Put the buyer at center
  2. Address gaps in the middle of the funnel
  3. Build and operationalize a demand generation process
  4. Constantly optimize

1. Put the buyer at the center. Customers are living in a different world now. Due to their online research and participation in social networks and online forums, they are more informed and have more choices than ever before in terms of products and services available to them. In short, they are in control. Marketers must adapt because the power has shifted to buyers. The sales-driven culture is gone; the buyer-driven culture is here.

Companies must now build messaging, programs and systems around the goals of educating and qualifying their prospects. They must have the right content at each stage of the buy cycle and must understand at what point a potential customer wants to interact with a sales person. That’s when a lead is sales ready—when they’re ready to talk to sales person.

2. Address gaps in the middle of the funnel. Companies may be good at building awareness and generating initial contact, but too often the prospect disappears because there are no nurturing programs to support them through their buying process.

Lead management is not a strongpoint for most B-to-B organizations and less than one-fourth has a defined lead-to-revenue process, according to Forrester. Only 5 percent claim that every prospect interaction is orchestrated.

Needles also quotes a study performed by the marketing automation firm Eloqua in which the lack of lead nurturing had a negative impact on the number of leads. It is in this stage that prospects need to be understood, scored and segmented, offered relevant content, and generally cared for (or nurtured) until they are ready for sales. It is also where you continue to ask more questions of prospects that will help you further define their needs and qualify them. Also, successful companies continue to nurture prospects who many never become sales-ready because it keeps their name top of mind for referral situations or if the prospect changes jobs.

3. Build and operationalize a demand generation process. While technology such as marketing automation can help support your demand generation process from end to end, technology in itself does not build the process. The demand generation process requires a business and cultural shift in which the sequence of engagement, nurturing and conversion of buyer demand into revenue is treated as a series of steps that can be both managed and optimized.

The demand process must be structured to support each of the three phases of engagement, nurturing and conversion. You must define rules for content marketing, prospect scoring and segmentation, lead management, team member roles, and use of technology. Most importantly, the process must be used consistently and perpetually by your organization.

4. Transform and optimize the process. Improvement of the demand generation process is not an option; it’s a necessity. You should be tracking metrics and performance at every stage of the process. Two key areas to focus on are outcomes and governance. In terms of outcomes, volume and quality of leads, conversion, ROI, and customer lifetime value should all be on your list of metrics to optimize. Governance includes overall program management, end-to-end process documentation, and incorporation of best practices.
Making demand generation a strategic process is not a simple task, but it is an essential one for B-to-B companies.

For more details and several case studies, view Needles’ presentation on demand.

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Do you have a demand generation process? How have you engaged, nurtured and converted buyers? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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