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What’s Working In Demand Generation: Experts Share Successful Strategies & Tactics

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2011 was something of a tipping point year for B2B marketers. Connecting with prospects on a growing list of mobile devices and across social media platforms were just a few of the challenges added to the list of traditional campaign initiatives.

In an effort to uncover some of the secret sauce that helped leading B2B organizations fuel efficiency and growth last year, DemandGen Report surveyed more than a dozen demand generation experts to find out “what’s working” and why.

As marketers focus deeper on the funnel and look to impact the revenue cycle, there was more of a focus on the tactics and strategies that helped to convert qualified leads into opportunities, as well as new content formats that helped to break through with today’s time- and attention-starved buyers. Additionally, marketers are increasingly turning toward marketing tactics centered on social, inbound, integration and data management to maximize campaigns initiatives.

Lead Nurturing Ups The Qualifying Ante
Industry insiders note a decrease in the sales cycle, largely due to more empowered buyers engaging with sales reps later in the process. MarketingSherpa’s 2012 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report highlights how average deal cycles declined from 2010 to 2011. As a result, the average length of B2B sales cycles also is shrinking — 15% of respondents reported an average sales cycle time of 1-3 months, versus just 10% in 2010. Lead nurturing is helping progressive firms close more business faster.

“Lead nurturing continues to be the key to making the most of our marketing programs,” noted Maria Pergolino, Senior Director of Demand Generation at Marketo. “It ensures we not only find the best leads, but that we reach out at the right time. It also ensures that on months that are light on programs that hot leads are still being passed to sales.”

Tamara Graves, Senior Director of Demand Gen at Netprospex, noted that the directory company has completely redesigned its multi-touch drip campaigns, with full nurture programs slated for 2012.

Experts indicate that content is king when it comes to effective nurturing. By providing relevant, timely content, marketers can demonstrate the value proposition of their solutions and services more efficiently.

“We focused on creating more valuable content for our lead nurturing campaigns to drive leads from introductory offers to sales-ready offers,” said Mike Volpe, CMO of HubSpot. “We also regularly audited our lead nurturing campaigns and used trends form our web site and blog to determine what types of offers would work best.”

“I've found short form content has worked better to create conversations than the traditional white papers that are prevalent in B2B,” noted Ed Thompson, Director of Demand Gen at The Pedowitz Group. “Trying to be multi-threaded in our most important segments and creating outreach through as many programs as necessary to create a better dialogue.”

Interactive Media Helps Marketers Step Outside The Automation Box
While automation functionality is helping a variety of organizations across different industries more efficiently manage campaigns, progressive organizations are utilizing more interactive elements to supplement marketing initiatives and cater to the “consumerization” of B2B buying patterns.

Integrated tools, such as Kwanzoo, a multichannel engagement platform, are helping marketers enhance engagement and optimize the user experience.

“While the corporate web site remains critical, with the rise of social and mobile to add to the more traditional B2B channel mix (email, web, display), there continues to be a proliferation of online channels,” noted Mani Iyer, CEO of Kwanzoo. “It is harder than ever to gain an individual prospect’s attention and even more challenging to get time-strapped B2B professionals to visit your web site in order for the identifying and nurturing process to begin in your RPM system, for any individual prospect.”

Other companies are utilizing video-based platforms to extend the brand’s message and value proposition in a more interactive, engaging way.

“We use a variety of marketing automation and CRM platforms in conjunction with Brainshark [cloud-based software for video presentations] for distributing and tracking the performance of short-form content,” Thompson noted. “Microsites are also interesting when used in account expansion programs. I think 2012 will be very interesting as customers begin to see trends and adapt their marketing efforts to focus on specific points in the funnel and begin to increase their ability to provide a marketing forecast that aligns with the overall sales effort, Additionally, there are some in-line data appending tools you can use as part of your web forms that seem interesting. If I can ask the user for minimal information, increase conversions, and simply pay a small fee to acquire the rest of the data, that’s a smart investment.”

Social Becomes A New B2B Staple
In 2011 a host of socially-oriented features and functionality were introduced by marketing automation vendors, to help marketers glean the full benefits of social media as a lead gen and sales enablement channel. Progressive companies are utilizing social media to enable content sharing, which ultimately helps from a lead gen perspective due to referrals.

“For me, the biggest impact has been social media, specifically LinkedIn,” Thompson said. “Increasing the number of possible connection points in part of the strategy, especially in a business where your product is your expertise.”

Vendors also utilize social media to supplement other marketing initiatives. “Social media marketing helps support all outbound effort with activity on Twitter and LinkedIn, primarily,” according to Shawn Naggiar, Chief Revenue Officer at Act-On Software. “We have done a huge push of content and the creation of the MadMarketing TV channel on YouTube.”

HubSpot’s Volpe also emphasized the role of social in the company’s marketing initiatives. HubSpot reportedly increased its overall social media reach by 142% in 2011, growing its Twitter followers from 50,000 to 140,000 and closing the year out with 62,000 Facebook likes, compared to 19,000 in 2010.

Inbound Initiatives Proving To Be Effective
As the trend of buyer-centric marketing continues to unfold, marketers are challenged to compete for market share by allowing prospects to find them. This has created a need for marketers to cultivate a greater role in the discovery process, but ultimately is proving to be an effective method of lead gen.

“For Marketo, our fastest growing channels are those we categorize as inbound,” Pergolino said. “Leads from our web site, SEO, PPC, and social media are producing more qualified leads as a percentage each month, and we expect this trend to grow. Unlike paid programs that stop yielding results when you no longer purchase, inbound continues to grow past the initial program causing this to be an extremely efficient channel.”

 HubSpot, a leading provider of inbound marketing, reported that about 75% of leads generated by the sales team were inbound. “Overall, cost per lead was significantly lower for inbound leads, and lead to customer conversion rate was drastically higher when compared to outbound leads,” Volpe noted.

The company also reported that membership of its inbound marketing LinkedIn group grew from 47,000 to 70,000 members in 2011.

“From our perspective, marketers need to apply the concepts of inbound marketing to marketing automation,” Volpe said. “Create remarkable content that is perceived as valuable for your leads. Allow and encourage your leads to share your email offers via forwarding and through social media. Track lead and customer conversion rates and use data to make decisions about what content and offers you should send to different groups. Don't forget about generating those fresh leads.”

Netprospex is utilizing HubSpot to expand inbound efforts in conjunction with lead generation, according to Graves. The company also is testing integrations between its solution and popular marketing automation tools.

Data Management: Not The Same Old Imperative
Because data is a primary component of any marketing campaign’s secure foundation, quality and cleanliness have long been key concerns for B2B organizations across the board. However, an enhanced focus on integration is helping progressive marketing organizations avoid the data rut.

“We're focusing on reducing the number of systems that we use to store lead contact information,” Volpe noted. “Having to maintain overlapping lists in [a variety of systems for CRM, lead capturing, email marketing, marketing automation and analytics] is a HUGE problem for every single marketer on the planet. 2012 will be the year that HubSpot reduces this number to two systems: One marketing database, and one CRM system for sales.”

Other vendors are working closely with data providers to improve the quality of their contact lists. “We’ve worked with ZoomInfo, NetProspex and Jigsaw to get new contact data and to clean up old/bad data,” Naggiar said. “This helped our sales team be more productive. Will continue to expand on this best practice.”

Moreover, list vendors themselves are taking extra care to ensure the quality and cleanliness of their data. “Continual cleansing and appending of data is planned for 2012,” according to Netprospex’s Graves. “Considerable effort was put into finely segmenting the target to the right message, using analytics of our prospect and customer data.”

While data cleanliness and accuracy is an ongoing challenge for marketers across the board, experts indicate that it’s well worth the effort and can make all the difference in the effectiveness of campaigns.

“Data quality- from accuracy to normalization- is a huge priority at Marketo,” Pergolino said. “This is because segmentation and targeting are so important to getting the best results from our campaigns. It can take a lot of efforts to get your data clean, but the benefits almost always outweigh the efforts in this area.”

“Certainly these past few years have created some challenges in database attrition,” Thompson said. “A regular cadence helps identify and cleanse bad data, and making sure to find those key contacts who may have moved on is a very worthwhile effort. Using progressive forms helps in the process of data collection without creating unnecessary barriers. Most importantly, it's about having a commitment to managing the data and not simply letting it get out of hand.”