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SiriusDecisions Summit 2013: Revamping Lead Sourcing, Content Creation Processes

SiriusDecisionsSummitAt last year’s SiriusDecisions Summit, the big news was the firm’s updated Demand Waterfall — a well-known and widely adopted approach to multi-channel lead sourcing. This year’s Summit, held last week in San Diego, focused on how B2B marketers have (or in some cases have not) adopted the updated Demand Waterfall.

At the same time, the Summit also offered an interesting look at how changing technology and new content trends continue to rewrite the rules of the B2B marketing game.

The Demand Waterfall: One Year Later

Tony Jaros, Senior VP of Research at SiriusDecisions, opened one Summit session with a mock apology for “messing with your Demand Waterfall” at the 2012 event. In fact, it would be surprising if Jaros and his colleagues hadn’t heard from at least a few clients who were uneasy with last year’s major revision to the Demand Waterfall, which has become a de facto standard for defining and documenting the B2B lead sourcing process.

At the same time, most companies that use the Demand Waterfall appear ready to accept the changes. According to instant poll results at the Summit, nearly three quarters of the attendees have either implemented the updated Demand Waterfall or plan to do so.

In spite of this progress, Jaros and his co-presenter, Jason Hekl, Service Director of Demand Creation Strategies at SiriusDecisions, unveiled additional research that reveals what they consider to be weaknesses in how organizations architect their lead sourcing and approval processes. Specifically, they noted an “alarming” tendency for B2B organizations to route large numbers of marketing automation qualified leads (AQLs) directly to a sales team, rather than vetting these leads through telequalification.

Jaros also noted that 35% of the companies SiriusDecisions surveyed allow between 75% and 100% of their online inquiries to be treated as AQLs. “In other words,” Jaros said, “they’re treating all of their hand-raisers as qualified, and they aren’t using lead scoring very well. That’s typically a very dangerous thing to do” from a lead qualification standpoint, he stated.

The bottom line, according to Jaros and Hekl, is that B2B organizations are still sending too many leads to their sales teams without proper scoring or qualification. That, in turn, calls into question the overall efficiency and scalability of a firm’s demand generation process.

The Demand Waterfall session yielded one other interesting finding: According to SiriusDecisions, an average of 30% of prospect inquiries now come from inbound channels, versus 33% from outbound. That number has consistently tilted in favor of inbound channels over the past few years, and Jaros said he expects that trend to continue. Another 37% of inquiries come from “blended sources,” which makes it difficult to determine which channels really play a decisive role.

Rethinking The B2B Content Process

It’s now generally accepted that content marketing plays a vital role in engaging with B2B prospects and enabling sales teams. Many B2B marketers also continue to cite a lack of quality content as one of their biggest challenges.

According to SiriusDecisions, however, 60% to 70% of the content being produced by B2B marketers goes largely unused. This trend, said Marisa Kopec, VP and Group Director at SiriusDecisions, reflects a fundamental disconnect between the content these organizations produce and the content they actually need to fuel the buyer-seller conversations.

Kopec and Erin Estep, Service Director for the SiriusDecisions Strategic Communications Management Service, outlined a framework designed to address this disconnect with what Estep called a “proactive, thorough and rational decision-making framework to guide new content creation.” This included three key steps:

  • Ideation, which includes researching audience needs, aligning content to buying cycle state and demand type, and developing a suitable content architecture;
  • Activation, which includes a process for designing, building and delivering content;
  • Curation, which covers the process of customizing content and measuring content impact using suitable B2B metrics.

Perhaps the most interesting point Kopec and Estep raised concerns the role of a sales team in the content process. “Sales plays a pivotal role in the content supply chain,” Kopec stated. “When they don’t get what they need from the marketing content factory, what do they do? They create their own factory.” This, she explained, is a major source of “redundancy, inefficiency, pain and suffering” for B2B organizations.

In fact, the use of B2B content for sales enablement was a topic that surfaced repeatedly during this and other Summit sessions. According to Joe Levin, Head of Sales Enablement and Site Experience at CDW, his organization faced challenges managing over 20,000 pieces of sales enablement content with no unified search capabilities and no consistent user interface — a recipe for confusion, frustration and inefficiency.

One of the most important decisions CDW made, Levin said, was to make “some really tough decisions” about which content to keep and which assets to throw away. Ultimately, Levin’s team discarded 93% of its existing content, refocusing on a set of core assets and a unified sales enablement portal. Among other benefits, Levin said the company’s streamlined content approach “reduced many content searches from days to minutes” and drove a 10% increase in order responsiveness.

Sales And Marketing Technology: Just The Beginning?

Today, according to SiriusDecisions officials, sales force enablement (SFA), web content management (WCM) and marketing automation platforms (MAP) account for about 80% of a typical B2B firm’s sales and marketing technology investments. This situation, said Jonathan Block, VP and Practice Director, Technology, is going to change — and B2B sales and marketing leaders need to be ready.

First, Block stated, SiriusDecisions sees projections of 10% annual increases in sales and marketing technology spending as too conservative. “Competitive pressures will force sales and marketing leaders to invest more” than this level to stay ahead of their rivals, he said.

Second, according to Block and Ross Graber, Research Director at SiriusDecisions, sales and marketing technology investments will be spread over a much wider range of tools. In addition to existing MAP, SFA and WCM solutions, Block and Graber cited nearly two dozen other applications, covering a wide range of reputation, demand generation, sales and operations tasks.

This new technology ecosystem, Block said, presents both opportunities and risks for the B2B organizations that adopt it. While technology investments can provide a competitive advantage, they can also fail miserably unless sales and marketing organizations emphasize connectivity, shared data and reporting capabilities, as well as a commitment to defining business processes that technology investments will serve — rather than making ad hoc investments that lack a business-oriented approach.

“Organizations must focus investments on integration points rather than just purchasing additional technologies,” Block said. “That long list of tools is only as valuable as an organization’s ability to tie them to useful processes and to integrate them with one another. Don’t get ahead of your capabilities in either of these areas.”