7 Steps to Effective Pipeline Management – Part 1

The primary driver of B2B Marketing in high-tech markets is to feed the sales pipeline and generate a quantifiable contribution to revenue targets.

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Marketing is primarily thought of in the context of demand generation – particularly driving sales leads – but this is just part of the equation. In my experience there are 7 key steps to align marketing activity with the sales pipeline. Each of these must be supported by KPIs that ultimately generate an acceptable ROI.

  1. Understand Buyer behaviour
  2. Be found
  3. Convert interest to action
  4. Create a community of interest
  5. Nurture leads to create sales opportunities
  6. Support the sales process
  7. Retain and develop customers

Understanding Buyer Behaviour
One of the best books I’ve read on the B2B buyers’ journey and the need to understand how buyer behaviour should drive sales and marketing strategy is ‘The Leaky Funnel’ by Hugh Macfarlane. In this book, Hugh reminds us that Sales and Marketing have a shared role to play in supporting a buyer through his (or her) journey from ‘blissfully unaware’ they have a problem to searching for a solution, selecting from alternatives and so on. Only by understanding this journey for your products and services in your market can you hope to determine buying signals and to shape your sales and marketing tactics accordingly.

In many high-tech environments – led by technophiles or Sales – one could be forgiven for thinking that all Marketing needs to do is tell people the product is available (and is of course the best on the market) for them to beat a path to your door (the ‘better mousetrap syndrome). Why should they care? It’s Marketing’s job to communicate this.

Getting Found
Buyers will be searching for information for many reasons, depending on where they are in their buying cycle: they may be trying to confirm that they have a problem – perhaps they have reached a point of pain recognition, which is forcing them to dig into what the problem might be that is causing it. They need to be educated – and companies that can show ‘thought leadership’: relating to their business pain, identifying its causes and talking about potential alternative solutions are well positioned to begin a dialogue which may lead to an opportunity.

However, this is a different reason for seeking information – and requires a different response – to those who know they are looking for a particular type of solution and are researching suppliers. Marketers must use appropriate media channels and content to address these different needs. SEO/ PPC, Blogging, social networking, web communities and traditional through-the-line media channels and events must be deployed to provide buyers with multiple means of finding you. Content is King!

Converting Interest
Your website or landing page is key to converting interest into action and creating top-of-funnel enquiries. To engage with a potential buyer, you need to know who he is and this requires him to ‘raise his hand’ by registering his details on your site. I could fill many pages on the debate about whether a form should be required for downloading content, what fields it should contain and how long it should be, but there are many other sources for this. Suffice to say this requires a lot of testing, but typically the bar should be set low to encourage completion. In B2B environments, the buying cycle can be long, allowing for additional information capture throughout the process.

However, a dialogue can not begin until the buying party declares an interest; and the power lies with the buyer – often buyers want to remain anonymous until they have conducted their own research. This supports the need to promote thought leadership through multiple channels and the rise of social networking only serves to support word-of-mouth sources and delay the point at which a buyer will declare his hand. High pressure sales tactics are not well received amongst knowledgeable buyers. I have seen a marked decline in the value of trade shows during the early stages of B2B buying, for example, as there are many more effective channels for buyers to research vendors.

In Part 2, I will look at the remaining stages: how to sustain a dialogue, develop the sales opportunity and build on-going customer relationships.