Earlier this year, I talked to a CMO at a B2B tech company whose sales counterpart was lobbying strongly for the company to adopt Account-Based Marketing (ABM) as part of their demand generation strategy. The reason? Though the marketing team was doing a great job generating raw inquiries at the top of the funnel, the sales reps weren’t receiving the number of “sales ready” leads they needed to hit their pipeline targets.
And therein lies, as any B2B marketer who’s been paying attention for the last year will tell you, the predominant argument for why B2B companies should convert to an ABM strategy: traditional demand generation is broken. The lead funnel is obsolete. Inbound marketing doesn’t work, or at best is grossly inefficient.
But I’d like to offer a different interpretation. Maybe demand generation isn’t broken. Maybe companies are just really bad at it.
Think about it: most companies have no problem generating leads at the top of the funnel. Heck, you can pick up the phone and buy hundreds of leads on a Cost Per Lead basis. Where the system breaks down most often is mid-funnel. Where most B2B companies generally have a much tougher time is converting those top-of-funnel leads to MQLs, SQLs and revenue. Studies show that few companies use technology like marketing automation to its full potential. In more unvarnished terms, their lead nurturing programs are woefully inadequate.
Now, that’s not to say that ABM isn’t a fit for the company I described earlier, or that ABM can’t increase marketing ROI even for those companies who do a first-rate job with lead nurturing. Far from it. But my suspicion, based on the marketers we talk to every day, and the visibility afforded into the way they generate and nurture leads, is that one factor in ABM’s popularity is that many, many companies are failing miserably – or at the very least, are grossly ineffective – at nurturing leads to maturity.
If your sales reps aren’t getting enough qualified leads, I’d wager that one or more of the following five reasons is to blame. When our firm works with B2B companies to improve their nurture programs, these are some of the most common issues we uncover:
1. Relying too heavily on BDRs to respond to new leads.
We’ve worked with companies where as much as 80 percent of all new leads never make it to the next stage of qualification. The reason? Responsibility for responding to and qualifying those leads lies solely with a BDR team. If the BDRs can’t reach the prospects, the lead goes no further. The solution? Integrating automated email follow-up to all new leads as part of an Initial Lead Qualification program that runs concurrent with, and complementary to, BDR outreach.
2. No segmentation.
A one-size-fits-all nurture strategy, without any attempt to personalize or segment copy or content based on persona, industry, or other key differentiators, means that any email communication will be ignored by a significant percentage of your nurture database. In B2B email, relevancy is absolutely crucial. Even simple segmentation: making minor copy changes to emails to accommodate just two different personas, can have a dramatic impact on campaign performance and conversion metrics.
3. No mid-stage nurture.
I’ve written elsewhere that companies should abandon the notion that you can somehow know enough to deliver precisely the right information at the right time, at every step of the buyer journey. But to ignore the buyer journey altogether is to pretend that more qualified leads don’t have different information needs. A simple mid-stage nurture program, one that identifies those prospects showing signs of active interest and markets to them accordingly, can help surface sales-qualified leads far before when the prospect might otherwise trigger (or request) sales follow-up.
4. Don’t give up too soon.
Many companies run nurture campaigns of a finite length, the notion being I suppose that new leads should be nurtured for a fixed period of time until they convert to qualified status, and if that doesn’t happen, said leads should be abandoned, and more new leads should be generated at the top of the funnel. That is a colossal waste of marketing investment. If you’re paying $50-100 or more per MQL, i.e. for leads that meet your target criteria and have shown any interest whatsoever, that lead should be nurtured INDEFINITELY. Why would you quit after 6 months?
5. Mix up your offer strategy.
If your nurture program consists of primarily early stage offers (white papers on trends and best practices and the like), you’ll struggle to identify and engage with prospects who may be ready to take the next step and actively evaluate your product. Conversely, if your nurture emails are simply a constant drumbeat to download trial software or take a demo, you’ll miss the opportunity to educate, and build credibility with, those prospects who aren’t quite yet ready to look at product. The ideal nurture program is a mix of early and late stage offers that appeals to a mix of prospects.
For more ideas on how to improve your nurture program, download our free white paper: “Top 10 Tips for Lead Nurturing Success.”
Howard, Great article. I find it’s always a battle on generating new “contacts” and turning those “contacts” into real leads and ultimately SQLs. For your point about giving up too soon, what about contacts that are unengaged? I assume you don’t include those that have not been opening your emails for x amount of time. If they aren’t engaged at all, they should probably be removed from your database at some point. Thoughts?
Thanks Jim. Yes, good point. There are valid reasons (email reputation being one) not to continue to send indefinitely to leads who show zero engagement over an extended period of time. However, even then, I’d recommend some kind of re-engagement program (often called a “Wake the Dead” campaign) before removing them completely.
Good insights here, Howard. I agree, when it comes to getting qualified leads, you don’t need to create new ones – check on your list, utilize what you already have. If your list has successfully converted leads in the past, there’s a high chance that you will find value on the leads that needs to be nurtured yet. You just need to be more patient.