Every B2B sales leader at one point in time has uttered those four magic words: where are the leads? And yet despite the technology, systems and strategies at our disposal, every year, it seems lead acquisition becomes more expensive, complex and fragmented.
Paul Robertson, Marketing Director at Inspectorio, is a seasoned B2B digital marketing and HubSpot course trainer for General Assembly, where he teaches organisations the key strategies they need to consider to maximise lead generation while maintaining an authentic brand experience.
Paul recently appeared on the AZK Media podcast, Target Market, where he discussed how B2B marketers can effectively automate and scale lead generation in a sustainable way.
We’re seeing B2B marketing budgets being slashed, yet the pressure is on marketers to 'just generate leads'. Do you think there’s too much emphasis now on ‘automating lead generation’, and not enough focus on building authentic connections with customers?
Most automation certainly has its place but it does need to be done well. There are often two major challenges I've seen when it comes to automation, which may result in that lack of authenticity, you mentioned.
Challenge, one is when data is kept across numerous systems that are not connected. When you have fragmented data, you create a disconnected experience, and then it becomes hard to automate with any degree of sophistication or apply personalisation.
What I really mean by that is you could ask the buyers the same questions again on a chatbot when you already have the information, but it's sitting in another channel.
A second challenge I see when it comes to automation and authenticity is many B2B businesses don't have enough content that truly resonates with the buyer. If we ever think about every interaction a contact takes on our website, particularly the contacts that have been cookied and are in our database, they're all offering signals to us.
Let's have a look at a SaaS business and a couple of examples there. For contacts visiting a case study page, for example, viewing a big book demo page without submitting a form, there are some really hot opportunities there to reach out and send an automated personalised trigger and try to reconvert.
You could offer them another piece of content on what they were interested in to try and entice them back. Maybe they got distracted. The answer to that question is, in my view, automation. Because when it's done really well it can absolutely build a connection with a customer - but you really need to put the work in. That's where the business shift needs to evolve to where you do need to put the hard yards in and grow something that's scalable, and better bang for your buck over time.
Do you have any examples of bad automation that you've seen?
Yes, an example of automation gone wrong is when I've actually been looking at purchasing some SaaS products myself. I noticed that I received a message from someone I had dealt with some time ago at the company. What that person had done was they had blasted several members of the team, selling the same product. Three to four teammates also received that same message. What that does is then we had a colleague of mine respond back saying we're not interested in that product when it actually was of interest to me.
In this scenario, a hit and hope or spray approach led to some challenges and didn't do the brand any favours when it came to making a purchasing decision with them. That's why it;s important to just find and dealing with the one, right person, and try to nurture the relationship with them.
Another thing I've seen more frequently happen is automated outreaches with no opt-out link at the bottom. There are some tools, this is perhaps one to one communication that's been done. But you need to include an opt-out, link on everything in my view. Just giving the person some ownership for what gets to the inbox is really key.
We often see organisations confuse MQLs with SQLs. Can you explain the difference between the two, and what marketing initiatives work best for each lead type?
If we go by the definitions of the tech vendors and analysts, let's say an MQL is a lead who has demonstrated some interest in what the brand has to offer. They may be more likely to become a customer compared to other leads.
If we have a look at what some of the qualifications could be to determine the MQL, it could be the pages a person has visited on your website, what they've downloaded, basically engagement with the business's content, which could be emails or nurture programs and whatnot. The inputs for what an MQL is could also be based on historical data, which shows if a contact takes particular actions, they have a higher likelihood to close.
An SQL, in theory, is a prospective customer that is ready to talk to a sales team. Maybe they've shown the above interest in the MQL stage that we talked about before. They may have been bettered by marketing and then handed off to the sales team. Before answering the second part of the question as to what marketing initiatives work best, I think we need to delve into this topic a bit more.
Back in 2017, Gartner predicted the death of the MQL. They actually started looking more towards opportunities and revenue. During the last five years or so we've seen the growth of account-based marketing, or ABM, as well, where the shift has turned more to accounts rather than leads.
I would question, does the MQL to SQL process add value for every brand? On the surface, I think that question needs to be definitely thought about in more detail.
One thing I have seen that's worked really well though is nurturing contacts that have already engaged with you in the places they're already visiting, such as social nurturing.
What you can do is if someone has engaged with your brand, you can create things like dynamic lists, and then serve relevant ads based on what the contact has done before through LinkedIn and different social channels. Then if someone's showing buying intent, you would put buying intent related assets in front of that person. It could be to a watch demo video with your SaaS product or a book demo video or case studies. It's all about personalisation, I would say on this theme. But yeah, have a think about that MQL to SQL process, because you might potentially get lots more leads in that close.
At AZK Media, we see a common mistake B2B organisations make is expecting one downloadable asset, a press release, or a video on LinkedIn to suddenly generate a bucket load of leads. Do you agree these marketing initiatives should not be activated in silos, but as part of a coherent marketing + digital + inbound mix?
Absolutely. I would say breaking down silos can have a huge impact in driving optimal outcomes and performance. This is not just in the case of prospect or acquisition marketing, but across the whole customer lifecycle.
Think about what some of the leading companies are doing now, they're creating a strategic advantage through customer experience. In the case of SaaS, they're integrating insights and data from the product, sales, marketing and service teams to really create that holistic and contextual experience for their customers. There needs to be some integration there.
Let's have a think about acquisition marketing, though in a bit more detail. The best ad campaigns I have seen have really clear alignment between the ad targeting, the ad image and the copy that's used in that ad, and the landing page. The targeting needs to be based on research and what is a good fit for your business and you really need to get the sales team involved in this to help you set effective targeting.
Then the next step is really the ad image and copy which needs to have a lot of relevance to the audience group you're targeting. If you're targeting a CFO, call out the CFO in the ad copy, maybe you want to call out the industry, the person works in all the regions. After the ad copy, you'll often be sending people to a landing page.
The landing page should never surprise or shock the person and should have relevance to the ad copy and be a continuation of that experience. If you have a think about breaking up those silos, imagine you've got one team just doing the targeting, and then another team just doing the ad image or copy. Then a third team doing the landing page, you might want to lay design on top of that. Then people are clicking off to a landing page that has absolutely no relevance to what was mentioned in the ad. It becomes incredibly hard to create a unified and consistent campaign.
That's where we see the cost per leads balloon out and the landing page conversion rates suffer.
At AZK Media, we are passionate about content marketing and inbound, but we also believe organisations need to collaborate with their agency to help ensure the content reaches the right audience at the right time. What are your thoughts on this?
Absolutely. I'd say you can hire the best content and web design agency, but they're not going to lead optimal outcomes for your business without that great internal project manager who can also double as a subject matter expert for your business. I've seen it time and time again, an agency can really only take an external view of your business, they're not going to be a part of the day to day discussions that occur. They really rely on someone who can take advantage of the extension they offer to your team or function.
Thinking about a scenario I've seen, quite often the sales team have amazing insights about objections that some of their prospects are saying, or they've also got some really great insights about things that are resonating well with prospects and customers.
The agency is just not going to know these insights if they're not told, they might be great at content, for example, but they still need to know the type of content that will resonate with your audience.
As with the last question we talked about, I really think what you put in is what you get out when it comes to agencies or external partners, if you take the time to put in a crystal clear brief, that allows the agency to take advantage of the knowledge that you've transferred in that brief to producing content that's more on point.
For digital marketers looking to partner with the right content and inbound marketing firm, what qualities should they be looking for?
I'll say when thinking about partnering with an agency, have a think about who that agency has worked within the past. Do they have knowledge of your industry? Or your business size? Do they know the ins and outs of your industry? If they do that could potentially give them a big leg up. Also, look at their past work, I would actually take the time to reach out to people that have used them before.
What worked well, what didn't? What's the working style of the agency? Is that aligned with you? These are some of the questions I would be asking.
Also, have a look at how the agency presents itself. If they're a content marketing agency, how often are they producing their own content? What's the style of it? Is there any evidence of engagement? If the content agency isn't leading by example, that could potentially be a red flag.
Also, think about budgets, do they align with what you have available in your budget? Is your budget aligned with what the agency is used to working with? These are some of the questions I would think about when partnering with an agency.
When it comes to inbound marketing, what should organisations START doing?
If you create value for your audience, you're automatically doing better than most businesses.
I'm a big advocate for creating an integrated customer experience from first touch marketing experience. This might be someone seeing your asset on LinkedIn, as we talked about before, all the way up to the sales team. If that eventuates, then to the customer and post-purchase to buy.
If we have a think about it, a great customer experience does not just lend benefits to inbound marketing, it can also lead to better results across the board in terms of word of mouth or referrals, or your customers will be more likely to leave you reviews on G2.
Why I think it's so important, marketing is the only team that actually has touchpoints with prospects and customers across the whole lifecycle. We ever think about that first touchpoint on LinkedIn or the website, or email nurtures, then the sales team marketing should have some input into some of the sales.
Marketing can offer a lot of help across the board to unify the cross customer experience. We've seen data from Deloitte show if you invest in the customer experience, you're more likely to outperform the market and have better results across the board. So focus on having an integrated customer experience from the first touch all the way to sales, all the way to customer success - and try to gain some post-purchase delight.
What excites you most about marketing?
One thing I've always loved in marketing is the technology that continues to grow in the marketing world. The industry is never stagnant, it's always expanding and developing. It's a continuous learning journey. I spend quite a bit of my free time absorbing knowledge about the industry and thinking about new strategies and opportunities to innovate or try out new things.
I have never been bored with discussing marketing. It's really a great industry to be in and things that we're talking about right now will no doubt be dramatically different in five years' time.
Target Market is a podcast series by AZK Media where the world’s most premium thought leaders across technology, marketing and data come together to share their insights.