There has been lots of ink spilled and pixels illuminated about how B2B CMOs and sales leaders need to respond to the current economic environment. However, buyers’ changing behavior and preferences may have more day-to-day impact on demand generation activities and success.
Several recent Gartner surveys provide guidance on the challenges these functional leaders face. CEOs’ top priority for all CMOs is customer acquisition, retention and engagement, but B2B marketing leaders say improving lead quality is their top objective. Sales leaders say improved pipeline creation is a top priority, yet 75% of B2B buyers prefer rep-free purchases.
In the traditional buyer journey, marketing teams conduct their digital campaigns and, after the right kinds of engagement, hand those leads or prospects off to sales as “ready to buy.” This siloed process limits the success of demand generation programs by preventing a singular focus on the right buyers and their challenges.
In addition to this process disconnect, buyers would rather complete their transactions in a self-service, digital environment. But due to the limitations of digital learning through the skimming of information, buyers often regret their purchase decisions.
It turns out that the best way to support buyers making better purchases – or those that are high quality with low regret – is for marketing and sales to work together in an interconnected manner to help buyers progress through the buying process.
Partner on these three important elements of demand generation to improve business outcomes and drive revenue: audience, messaging and measurement.
Understanding the Audience
Marketing teams use quantitative data to determine and understand their appropriate target audience. This could include market data, sales data from the CRM, even third-party data. Even though this can be a well-informed process, it is often completed without input from other customer-facing functions.
Sales teams believe their own identification and understanding of the audience is accurate. They have regular conversations with customers and prospects. Their collective wisdom represents the voice of the customer, which drives their decision making. They may also be guided by a formal or informal repository of competitive intelligence. And their own anecdotal feedback loop reinforces their beliefs.
This approach of two separate audience development processes can, naturally, create different audiences. It’s not uncommon for marketing and sales to be targeting different industries, company sizes and/or types of organizations.
Bring both perspectives together to develop the right audiences for demand generation campaigns by asking questions such as: Are the targeted organizations a good fit for the products and solutions? Do audience segments make sense? Consider segmentation beyond industry or size of company such as common customer challenges.
Crafting the Message
Buyers are learning product and service information on their own by seeking out reliable information among an avalanche of digital content. It’s worth noting, however, that a recent Gartner survey of over 700 B2B buyers revealed more than half have encountered conflicting information from a supplier’s website and the sales rep – the former of which mostly comes from marketing. This makes it hard for the buying group to agree on a given purchase, causing deals to stall.
Buyers are turning to third parties for validation and additional learning, such as social media and review sites. They consume information from these sources nearly as much as supplier-owned channels to determine what they should buy.
Buyers want to trust their suppliers, but presenting conflicting information is not the path forward. Marketing and sales have to work together to present a cohesive message. Buyers need to understand the distinction between the value of a solution and the confidence that the solution is right for them.
It turns out that when marketing and sales present the same information — known as information consistency – buyers are much more likely to complete a high quality deal (i.e., the purchase met or exceeded expectations). In sync messaging not only leads to happy customers but also real commercial outcomes.
Measuring What Matters
Marketing and sales track different metrics in the buying journey, often leading to inefficient and ineffective customer engagement. For example, 62% of sales leaders describe their sales and marketing functions as defining qualified leads (QLs) differently. Marketers that collaborate with sales on determining the optimal shared metrics can close this gap and improve lead quality.
Consider this example: A technology company had a lead quality problem. Their free product trials created too many unwanted leads that were wasting sales reps’ time, so the company wanted to reduce the number of leads handed off to sales. Rather than follow the traditional practice of two different stages of qualification – MQL and SQL – marketing and sales agreed on a single definition of a QL. Once a lead was qualified, sales followed up within 24 hours. This collaboration was built around a shared culture between the functions, something that is often missing in alignment conversations.
In this case, marketing and sales were aligned from the beginning to the end of the buying process by focusing on lead quality. Their primary metric to determine lead quality was the conversion rate from QL to opportunity. This specific, joint priority was the focal point of their efforts, analysis and conversation for 12 months. They were able to generate significantly more opportunities from a steady pool of leads and activity with this focus, thereby increasing revenue.
As this example illustrates, bringing together marketing and sales data along with each function’s unique point of view will improve the demand generation results that ultimately lead to increased revenue.
Jeffrey L. Cohen, a director/analyst in the Gartner for Marketing Leaders practice, presented on this topic at the 2023 Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo, May 22-24 in Denver.
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