3 reasons why your leads are bad & how to evolve the way you deliver for sales
Contributor John Steinert argues that B2B marketers now have both the learning and the tools to move beyond leads to a more effective approach.
I grabbed a day recently to take in the #Flipmyfunnel show in Boston. While I don’t agree with every perspective presented, a number of points really resonated as people start succeeding more and more with account-based thinking.
One example was a case study presentation moderated by TOPO leader Craig Rosenberg and featuring Sol Weinreich and Travis Drobbin, marketing and sales collaborators from the SEO company Conductor.
These guys stated outright that, in their experience: “leads are bullsh*t”. The way their business is evolving, they’re much more effective when marketing delivers demand intelligence on an account basis.
So what exactly is wrong with leads? How can you start adjusting your own processes to deal with the problem?
Here are several considerations that might just inspire you to put “evolve our leads concepts” high on your priority project list heading into 2019.
1. A series of unfortunate events – History and negatives of a lead-based fixation
Oops, we should’ve listened to Sales
Leads became the unit of measure for B2B marketing because the concept already existed in sales and it seemed the obvious (easy) place to start. The problem is that B2B salespeople use the term “lead” as a kind of shorthand for their much more robust process.
No good salesperson would ever rely on a single person within the target company to drive an opportunity to close. Sales pros know how to identify and work all the key influencers and personas.
And yet, when marketing adopted the lead concept, suddenly this understanding of how deals really progress was abandoned. So, with the rise of marketing automation, we became locked into the idea that a lead, and worse, a good lead, was essentially a single individual.
Now look at what we’ve done – the side effects of original sins
The reality of B2B marketing life is that whenever we deliver something good (or even just OK), our colleagues always want more of it. So once we were lucky enough to deliver some real leads to the pipeline, we were asked to deliver more, and more, and more. This has had three very negative side effects:
- Insatiable demand. It’s created a demand for leads that we can’t meet with our own demand gen activities alone. As we’ve scaled, our conversion rates have declined and we need to pour more into the top of the funnels to meet expectations of what should come out at the bottom.
- Nurture abhors a vacuum. Low conversion rates — precisely because leads as individual people aren’t a good predictor of account demand status — created huge demand for “leads” and an industry sprung up to address this. And like any industry, you get players all along the quality spectrum.
- Oversimplification’s negative implications. With the growth of the 3rd party lead provider industry, the leads-as-individuals fallacy leads to additional fallout. Before they take action, salespeople want to know that the prospect account has expressed interest in your company. To deal with scale, we accepted “a single download of your content” as shorthand for that. But does anyone really believe a single download means anything in the world of complex purchase decisions? And how do you know if that download’s even real in the first place? How many gift card offers, tele-promotions, etc. do you receive a week asking for you to take a whitepaper or a demo?
Everyone likes shortcuts, but you can’t get there from here
Another major problem with oversimplification is that, when we asked who salespeople really needed us to engage with, they told us they wanted the “senior decision-makers”. Of course they did! If we could deliver those, it might save tons of effort! There’s only one problem (actually, there are a lot of inter-related ones):
- Senior folks aren’t very responsive to content no matter how good it is. They’re busy and they depend on their best people for that – the real specialists; the actual problem-solvers in an account. Stipulating senior titles to your provider practically guarantees you’ll miss the deals still in early-stage development, when your chance of shaping the deal is highest.
- Everyone’s going after the same people. As a result, until their teams bring something smart to them, Senior folks will ignore practically everything. If you do get a “senior title,” there’s a huge chance it’s the result of a personal incentive. In fact, my admin and I like to collect Starbucks gift cards for the team!
- If no project is happening, it really doesn’t matter if you have a “lead” from the senior guys or not. Focusing on senior players actually distracts you from the real deal signals that are out there every day.
Complex B2B business decision-making is a team sport with players at all levels; it’s also one where the real key influencers tend to be the in-the-know specialists. They’re the ones driving the projects. Senior people come in and out of the process.
As marketers, you’re in a position to be the radar screen for your sellers. Instead of mimicking their laser focus after a deal process has been identified, you need to help them prioritize their work before they dive deep. You can do this by establishing better ways of showing them what’s really going on in their accounts.
2. Re-interpreting what sales needs from marketing
It’s not what I said, it’s what I need to do
Instead of trying to do exactly as we’re told, we should be thinking harder about how we can better enable salespeople to do what they do best:
- They said “leads” but they mean “accounts and active deals.” Salespeople are assigned a number of accounts and a quota to hit. Not every account will buy in the quarter, so where to focus now remains one of the most vexing challenges (as Richardson Sales Training research shows). They don’t want leads – random people – they want to know where the real buyer’s journeys are. That’s where they’re going to invest their time and effort.
- They said “senior titles” but they mean “where’s the buying center?” Salespeople know they have to engage the folks who’ll release the budget for a project. But they also know that’s not how projects begin. If you can show them an active buyer’s journey and the people involved with it, they’re great at engaging those folks and then laddering up to the influencers they know they also have to get on board.
- They said “qualified” but they didn’t mean “late in the game.” In an attempt to protect themselves from growing volumes of suspect “leads,” salespeople have added super-strict constraints around what they were willing to accept. We’ve all seen old-school concepts like BANT (which stands for Budget, Authority, Needs, and Timeline) still hanging around. But, as Jacco Van Der Kooij, the founder of sales consultancy Winning by Design explains in a
SalesHacker post, by insisting on BANT they certainly weren’t saying “I want to be late to the table” or “I like having to drop my price every time”.
3. Where results improvement really comes from
You can approach restructuring your demand gen efforts from several directions, such as taking a more account-centric approach. Hundreds of our own TechTarget clients are well down the path to implementing ABM and you can find useful guidance from experts like TOPO, SiriusDecisions, Forrester and a host of others.
Whether or not you call your initiative ABM is frankly irrelevant. The focus is simply on improving your business results by better aligning what you do to help sales bring home the bacon.
Examine your KPIs, refresh them as necessary
Take another look at patterns in your historical results. Look closer at what’s really going on inside conversion rates, in the marketing funnel, and especially at connect points. Find out what you’ve been doing for efficiency sake and re-evaluate it from the perspective of effectiveness. For example, is your lead dispositioning improving meeting quality or only meeting volumes?
Look for sources of better account insight
When you pass a lead, how much do you really know about what’s going on in the account? What indicators do you have that the prospect is really in a deal cycle? There are data sources available right now that can tell you the actual people researching a solution, their specific interests, even the competitors they’re considering. You owe it to yourself to find and share information like this with your sales colleagues.
Concentrate on better enabling sales
According to sales consulting leader Richardson, moving the status quo is the single biggest challenge your sellers face today. You’ll never move the status quo if you wait till you’ve got BANT to begin working the deal.
Tap into real purchase intent data in your own systems and from 3rd parties to better understand what your customers have cared about and what’s driving change in your markets right now.
Re-tool your content to reflect more of what your targets care about. Most importantly, create sales enablement materials that address the business outcomes improvement you’ve helped deliver and that explain how partnering with you can help companies get there with less risk.
Learn how to work smarter and better
The concept of “leads” was adapted for B2B back when we were all just trying to figure out how demand gen could work in our industry. Unless you were selling “boxes”, the method was never great, it was just better than what we’d had before.
Now we’ve got both the learning and the tools to work smarter and better. The best marketing organizations are moving beyond leads to smarter, more effective approaches that deliver higher yields with less total expense.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.
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