Stop playing ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ with your marketing efforts
It's time to take off the blindfold and put energy into engaging the actual needs of your accounts. Here are four pragmatic steps toward capturing the real demand.
Recent research we conducted on ABM suggests that success can come in all shapes and sizes and that success is being realized on the back of some key process changes. One critical area of change is leads — what they really are and how they’re handled by marketing and sales. This takes me back to when SiriusDecisions launched its major reconception of the Demand Waterfall two years ago. While I came out bullish on the Demand Unit Waterfall, many of my industry colleagues were less sanguine. Well, now it’s two years later and the core systems of the MarTech stack still aren’t built to easily implement the DUW and the process changes needed can be hard. However, the evidence shows that the architects of this model are onto something very big.
Here are four pragmatic steps that many more companies could be taking to improve their demand capture now.
#1 – Agree that ‘leads’ aren’t the be all, end all
I’ve written a lot about this and so have many others. Leads were a construct we adopted in B2B because we didn’t have anything better to represent actual demand measurably. Leads have a ton of shortcomings that contribute mightily to our sales counterparts’ opinion that many leads are useless. Thus, B2B organizations that remain committed to leads as the marketing be-all, end-all must face a frustrating reality: To make your planning numbers tie out, you’ll be forced to grow lead volumes without addressing the fundamental issue of quality. Since the classic demand gen lead is a poor predictor of real demand, a slavish focus on lead volumes commonly makes matters worse. Even if volumes go up, quality goes down.
As CEB has been pointing out for some time, B2B buying decisions are made by groups, not individuals. There simply isn’t enough information contained in a standard MQL to expect a seller to trust it out of hand. Of course, for the process of demand gen to become effective, we marketers need our sellers to trust the demand we send. To rekindle sales’ trust, we can begin by aligning our focus to their accounts. We can agree about the potential of those accounts. And since our overarching goal is to help sales productivity, we can start providing additional information to better inform their actions. For example, we should look to aggregate demand in useful ways: Perhaps two simultaneous inquiries from a single account are better than a single MQL? What about three from the same location? Think about it. What kinds of information should actually be better than your old-fashioned “lead?”
#2 – Know when to pull the plug on personas
Shortcuts designed to help have to be handled with care – there are clear limits to their usefulness. Whether applied by marketers as part of a targeting and scoring model, or by salespeople to improve efficiency, personas are an artificial construct that can obscure real demand. As management theory calls for flatter organizations and innovation encourages broader team empowerment, personas have not been keeping up. Yet still, when I interview folks about their use of personas, I’m reminded a bit of the resident I met in my youth during a stint as an overnight emergency room orderly. Before heading off for a catnap, he turned to me and said, “Don’t wake me unless there’s some really heavy trauma.”
Marketers continue to place too much emphasis on seniority in scoring models. Salespeople too often dismiss demand signals from certain titles. We’re all running the risk of missing real demand. The point is that two or three junior people researching your solution should easily trump cold outreach to their boss or waiting for the “authority” qualifier in BANT. Like leads, personas are not very predictive of how demand becomes identifiable in real life. They’re a shortcut. And you need to make sure that shortcuts aren’t cutting you short. Again, this points you to aggregating signals from multiple individuals, less by rank and more by relevance to your solution.
#3 – Understanding accounts alone are never enough – you need the people, too
Most of those who jumped into the ABM pool early have probably already realized this: While classic demand gen definitely needs improving, just layering on targeting at the account level doesn’t get you very much further towards the real goal. The real goal for marketing is to catch more of the current relevant demand in your markets and accounts – to do a better job of identifying real demand that your sellers can close – all within the economic realities of your plans and budgets.
If you have a significant ad budget, targeting accounts may help you reduce ad spending somewhat, but it’s still a brute force effort and it’s not particularly effective at increasing information that sales can leverage.
Likewise, IP-lookup to identify accounts visiting your website helps. But when you then layer on persona-driven contact lists as a way of triangulating towards potential buyers, you end up just pushing a lot of cost downstream onto your ISR team.
Although I’ve gone pretty rough on leads, one major thing about them remains critically important. Call them buying centers, demand units or your whatever your pleasure, but at the end of the day, like leads, they’re still made up of people. And to close more business, you need to know exactly who they are. If you can connect the signals you observe from an account to the actual people generating them, you can efficiently focus your attention. If you can understand the relevance of those behaviors to what you sell, you can be far more effective at engaging the people exhibiting them. And if you have permission to market to these people, you can be efficient and effective at scale.
#4 – Block out the noise, read the right signals and find real purchase intent
Part of the problem with old-school leads is that too many of them are just noise. Even if you gate all your content, there are plenty of folks who just like to keep up with everything they can. The same is true on the inbound side. A lot of your website traffic is a “nice to have” from a reputational perspective but bears little connection to actual demand for your products.
The same is true for many of the signals you can now get from around the internet. For example, Google Alerts can provide good background on things happening in a target account. So can LinkedIn — job openings, job title changes, what the company (or certain people in it) are talking about, and more. For cold calling, all this information is far better than what we had just a few years ago. Yet it’s difficult to scale with and it doesn’t really help a seller prioritize much or be truly relevant to an individual in search of a solution.
The type of information you really need to more confidently pursue demand in an account must identify real people and permit you to contact them. It should be both intense enough – frequent – to be believed and widespread enough within a function to represent a real buyer’s journey. Unlike a lead, our evidence shows that a core buying team comprising only three people may throw off dozens of buying signals as they work towards a decision. This is what real purchase intent looks like — much more information than classic demand gen systems were designed to capture and communicate, much richer than legacy demand gen capabilities are built or budgeted for. By seeking and evaluating third-party sources of information like this in your market, at a minimum, you can begin using this information to nurture accounts more relevantly. Or you can provide it directly to your inside sales teams, showing them where to focus and what specific solution-relevant topics will resonate with the active demand unit you’ve shared.
Stop playing ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey:’ Take off your blindfold and begin a totally new game
Before the unveiling of the Demand Unit Waterfall, we could all talk about the total demand in our markets in a general sense, we could model it in our plans, but operationalizing the concept without a framework to guide us made progress slow indeed. Now that we have a way of explaining what we’re after, we shouldn’t let systems shortcomings and organizational inertia stop us from doing better. Account-based marketing reminds us that companies buy. Clear thinking reiterates that individuals transact and new data sources can identify exactly the ones that are in the market now. It’s time for more companies to stop playing ‘Pin the Tail on the Donkey’ — take off the blindfold and get in the game of efficiently identifying the active demand in accounts and then spending real energy more effectively engaging and closing it.