Managing and measuring performance of the B2B sales funnel - Pt 2

Updated: Jul 15

Introduction

This is the second part of my post on what it takes to enable timely engagement with buyers in the B2B technology buying process. In part 1, I looked at the origins of demand management, approaches and tools for modeling demand so Marketing can drive measurable business outcomes. Delivering the right message at the right time has a significant influence on funnel velocity and conversion, the focus of this blog.


Driving and scoring engagement with buyers

It may be sacrilege to say so, but most of the touches that B2B buyers have with your company, through whatever channel are irrelevant! Or, to put it another way, the chances of someone buying something from you this week solely because they landed on your website last week, are very low. And yet Marketing often treats something as non-committal as someone signing up to their newsletter via the website as a sales lead. At this point we (may) know their name, job title, company name, work email and willingness to receive communications from us. We certainly have no idea of their intent. They are not an MQL!

Right-minded modern marketers taking a strategic approach to managing customer engagement, will generally make two assumptions about this visit that drive follow up action:

1. The person who completed their form did so because they have some indefinable level of need/ want for information. This should be respected and their customer experience (and brand experience) should be managed.

2. If the company/ job function/ job level, that is now known is one that identifies them as being in the company’s target universe, their buying status/ influence/ role is of interest as it may influence an existing or future sales opportunity for their company

This combination of evaluating an engagement for the customer and for the sales funnel – and, more important, taking action on both of these things in real time - usually leads to automated lead nurturing and lead scoring strategies.

Lead nurturing is a means of continuing the engagement with a contact that has expressed interest (by completing a form and opting in – or not opting out) by pointing them to relevant content that relates to their [specific company], [company type], [job function], [job level], [industry], [peers’ interests] etc. We can select any and all of these options, and more, as determined by the data collected and our knowledge of what works (through historical testing). The more personalised this is to the contact's needs, the more effectively it will drive the desired outcome – higher engagement; accelerated interest.

Nurtures are often created as automated emails using a pre-defined workflow, and/or by tagging content in the CMS or marketing automation system and/or using some form of logic presented in an algorithm (often called AI, but usually not).

Lead scoring turns the engagement with this content into numbers, using a rule-based system (e.g. a click on an email hyperlink is worth 5 points) and usually combines the score of this behavioural data with structured data scoring (e.g. 'SVP' job level scores 5) to create a combined score for how good a ‘fit’ this profile is to the kind of things that historically predict a good sales outcome. A threshold score (e.g. 75 out of 100, or an ‘A1’ lead) will then be used to determine when the lead justifies sales engagement. When the focus is on ABM, as I mentioned in my last blog, 2nd and 3rd party data can be used to score at an account level – combining firmographic, demographic, behavioural and intent data to get a more representative view of the buying journey across the whole buying group in multiple locations and functions. The systems needed to capture all of these data points can be quite sophisticated if action is to be taken in a meaningful way. I will look at this in more detail in a future blog.

Ultimately, a tech business needs to see a return on its investment in sales and marketing. Our strategies for getting the right message to the right person at the right time to take the right action, need to be seen in this context. While the right action is contextual, it all needs to add up to a satisfactory return on the overall investment using financial KPIs – cost per lead, cost per customer, customer lifetime value, ARR, net margin and EBITDA. Marketing attribution and ROI practices are therefore worth consideration.

Attribution: lead sourcing, influencing and ROI

Marketing lead attribution in B2B is often used to associate marketing-sourced leads with sales target outcomes. Put simply, it identifies the primary source of a won deal as being a marketing owned activity versus sales-sourced or ‘other’ usually by use of ‘tags’ created in/ recognised by search engines, marketing automation systems and CRM systems and stitched together to create marketing ‘campaigns’. This raises two important questions, which I will deal with at another time but are key to understanding attribution: what is a lead? what is a campaign? These are usually defined at a company/ system level.

Marketing automation and CRM systems, which are usually using separate databases organised differently from each other, have to have the same definition of a lead and opportunity, which are the entities that are usually used to denote ownership (and therefore source). Attribution models are then based on how this is defined – see this article for a useful overview.

More important in this context is that this is clearly a meaningless way of attributing the value of marketing activity to closing deals, since it clearly does not reflect all of the engagement across all of the buyers journey of all of the buying group involved in the decision. The Marketing ROI (see more on this here) is therefore impossible to measure at this detailed level. Single touch lead attribution takes one arbitrary lead (contact) – albeit scored, based on a number of data points – and assigns all of the value of the closed deal to that person, either on his/ her original action, the last action (or single touch attribution) taken before the lead was created in the CRM, or linear (or U-shaped) attribution across all of the touch points before the lead is created. What about all of the other influencing actions, post lead creation – and all of the other people/ behaviours involved?

In reality there is no perfect way to attribute value across the entire B2B journey, but the concept of influence across many channels, opportunities, organisations and people has led to the emergence of multi-touch attribution models and systems to support them. This is a data-driven approach and normally requires a customer data platform, or at least native cloud integration with the MAP, CRM, Google analytics and all social platforms to execute effectively.

SiriusDecisions has recently updated their 2012 waterfall model once more to begin to move away from a dependence on measuring ‘leads’ to start talking about ‘demand units’ and this is heavily driven by concepts such as ‘intent marketing’, ABM and multi-touch attribution.


Conclusions

The complexity of the B2B buying cycle challenges marketers to think strategically at how to define and capture all of the data points that show purchasing intent: to determine the right time to engage sales and to invest high value resources. The fundamentals of B2B marketing’s role: to fill the sales funnel with well qualified opportunities that will convert to orders at the required rate and produce the right quantifiable outcome has not changed. But the digital age has reduced product differentiation, increased competition and fragmented supply chains. At the same time, it has provided a wealth of digital data that can cast new light on how to convert more sales at lowest cost, while providing the customer with a superior experience This is the fifth in a series of Blogs on B2B marketing strategy. The first focuses on the need for marketing execution to be focused on driving clear business outcomes which are clearly defined in the marketing strategy and anchored in a well-articulated business strategy. It argues that the role of marketing tactics are to get the right message to the right person in the right place at the right time. The second article focuses on the role of brand strategy and the value proposition in creating the right message. The third considers messaging and personas in the context of targeting the right person. The theme of determining who the right person is continues in my last blog. This leads us on to the right time, discussed here. In my next Blog I will look at channel strategy, ensuring we are delivering our message to the right place, with a particular focus on search and social strategies.

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