6 steps for achieving breakthrough demand gen: How better data supports more effective outcomes
Contributor John Steinert explains how to keep off the low-quality high-volume treadmill.
When I look at successful organizations, whether they’re startups or more established players, I’m often struck by how lean a company can run in marketing and still get impactful results from that team.
The common element in place at more nimble marketing organizations is a laser focus on three fundamentals: the right targets, the right offers and the right content hooks to engage these targets.
At other companies, however, I’m often struck by how hard things are. A ton of energy is used up just navigating organizations, processes and systems. Many times it seems that the fundamentals end up getting starved for attention.
We’ve been spending a lot of time these days working with client tele-organizations (lead-, business- and sales-development reps, as well as inside sales reps), and the most effective ones stand in stark contrast to the others.
Specifically, I’m struck by two characteristics of the best inside teams we see, whether they’re in smaller or larger organizations. First is how truly adaptable these organizations can be in adjusting what they do based on near-real-time feedback. Second is how quickly they’re able to test, adopt and wring value from better inputs.
If you’re experiencing difficulty reaching the outcomes you seek, consider re-examining your fundamentals. Consider testing your ideas in collaboration with your inside teams before you roll them out across other demand generation use cases. Make sure that you have the foundational elements in place that are necessary to find the right targets, to match what they’re looking for to what you can offer and to shape your content to meet the customer needs that behavioral data can uncover for you.
We see better performance today coming from teams that are able to access better insights and then quickly evolve their approaches based on this new information. To help you assess this approach in your own organization, here are six areas to probe before and during conversations with potential partners.
1. Strategic Total Addressable Market (TAM) alignment
With clear documentation of your ideal customer profile (ICP) and some good market-sizing information in hand, you’re ready to work on efficiently finding and engaging those companies and personas.
The better a provider can prove to you that they have your audience, the less time and effort you will spend chasing false positives — companies and responders who seem interested in you or who you may be interested in but who actually have an extremely low likelihood of buying at this time or perhaps ever.
It’s a reality of modern marketing that large numbers of these folks come to our websites, click on our emails and participate in our social streams. While that’s generally good for our reputational growth, it doesn’t help the bottom line, especially in the near term.
Beware of providers who claim to offer extraordinary numbers of potential companies or leads. If we do our TAM analyses honestly, most of us can clearly identify a good estimate of how many companies we can really sell to and how many of those are likely to be in-market at a given time.
Demographics, firmographics and high-quality technographics are definitely a good start, as is a close analysis of the internet properties that attract your audience in significant numbers. Challenge any provider to clearly explain to you why their source will help you improve on what you’re achieving today.
2. Real demand within the TAM
Efficient growth of your demand throughput comes from two things. The first is, of course, the precise alignment of the data source to your TAM, as I just described. Second is the ability to prioritize those accounts that are truly in-market ahead of ones that are simply a good match.
At any given moment, most of your target companies are probably not in the market. So, while you can message to them, they don’t warrant a whole lot of aggressive action. Then there are those you really need to be doubling down with. Consulting firm SiriusDecisions calls this category of accounts the “Active Demand.” Sorting companies who are actually in a buyer’s journey from those who are not will save you huge amounts of energy in your engagement efforts.
Growing your demand throughput significantly requires identifying as much real active demand in your market as possible inside of your TAM. Efficiency in doing this comes from good TAM alignment plus clear proof of relevant activity. What’s relevant activity? It’s frequent behavior from relevant personae around topics relevant to your specific solution, including consumption of material designed specifically to support purchase decisions.
The farther you stray from this kind of matching, the larger your funnel aperture will be, and the more effort and time you will spend on disqualifying bad matches, which leads to higher opportunity cost. The tighter the alignment, the more you are able to commit focused resources on engagement and development of the opportunity pipeline.
3. Accuracy and actionability
On a cost-per-touch basis, marketing automation can look incredibly efficient. The problem is that, for many companies, it can quickly become relatively ineffective. You can buy more and more low-cost leads, but your pipeline contribution remains more or less stagnant.
The availability of these low-cost leads is certainly one of the drivers of the growth in sales organization-aligned cadence-based tele/email approaches. And yet, on a cost-per-touch basis, that’s even less efficient. Too often, both approaches devolve into brute force needle-in-a-haystack processing of large volumes of low-quality data.
If a new data source doesn’t immediately identify exactly who you should email or call, and why, you’re going to have to deal with this kind of processing effort. That’s expensive in both resources and time, and it’s also discouraging to the teams involved.
The more accurate and actionable the targeting data, the fewer resources you spend on sorting through it. The fewer resources you spend on churning through useless information, the more attention you’re able to pay to getting your content and conversations correct. More accurate actionability means better conversion rates wherever your point of engagement.
4. Use-case applicability
A boss once explained to me that “salespeople are like water rolling downhill” — they seek and find the path of least resistance. The fact is that most people, and especially most organizations, behave in much the same way.
Therefore, when you’re looking for ways to boost demand capture quickly, it’s best to work within use cases you already have in place. Make as few changes as possible. If you’re going to add in third-party insights, instead of creating new campaigns, look to campaign types where better data alone will yield better results.
With all the money many marketers invest in events, they are a terrific place to start. Ask the prospective vendor to clearly describe how they will help with event recruitment and conversion. Likewise, if there are account lists you’ve already decided to pursue — because they represent a segment within your TAM, a territory, a type of channel strategy and so on — make the vendor show you how they can enrich this list to help you become both more efficient and effective.
5. Rich content insight with more and better hooks
With a close match of your TAM, a significant volume of accurate, actionable demand available and your priority use cases covered, you can go to work serving up your best content and working on making your prospecting interactions more and more productive.
Whether or not you choose to add additional data sources, you must put in place a methodology to keep track of your tests and learnings and share them across the whole sales and marketing team. Without this, you get too little leverage on your successes, and you’re likely to make the same mistakes over and over again.
Behavioral data linked to accurate TAM matches is the most effective indication of active buyers’ journeys, achieving much better results than predictive analytics. Unfortunately, most companies don’t have a rich enough supply of this information to leverage it quickly and confidently into changing what they are doing or saying in their outreach efforts.
A vendor who can prove TAM-matched accuracy and actionability should also be able to show you exactly what the prospective customer is interested in, and even which of your competitors they appear to be considering. With this information, you can optimize the areas you emphasize in your offering, map your messaging to their preferences and, when you call them, reference your company’s experience in the areas they care about. You do this, of course, not by saying, “I see you are interested in XYZ.” That’s too creepy.
Instead, you talk about the business outcomes you’ve helped achieve, tying it back to the relevant need and your solution. Insist that your prospective supplier show you the hooks they recommend you use.
6. Ease of integration
When considering adding anything to your stack or your processes, you need to look at the integration challenge from at least two angles. First, as discussed in section number 4 above, you want to be able to add value to existing workflows with minimum additional work.
This is really a question of time-to-value: How quickly will you be able to get the kind of positive feedback that will protect and help nurture the investment decision you’ve made? Ask the vendor what their typical customer experience has been in this regard. Specifically, ask them, “How soon can I expect to see results that I can share internally?”
On the flip side, you also need to know how easily these results can be scaled across more and more of your potential users. Ask how much expertise you need to build. Ask how both marketing and sales can benefit. Ask about the integration of the data into the workflows you’ve already got in place in your marketing automation platform, your CRM system and your tele-cadence tool.
Breaking through — improving insights, not systems
Over the past several years, there are two trends in demand generation practices that we believe are symptoms of the difficulties companies experience as they try to impact the fundamental drivers of demand gen success. Both the over-reliance on high volumes of data and brute-force processing with marketing automation and/or tele-heavy cadences may seem like they’re having an impact — but they aren’t getting at the root causes of the problem.
Rather than getting caught on these treadmills, successful marketing organizations recognize that improving their access to better insights enables them to focus more energy on the relevance of the interactions they have with their target audiences. In this way, they are making each campaign, each email and each telephone conversation better for their prospects and their pipelines alike.