In many respects, business-to-business marketers are among the world’s most savvy. They are leading users of technology to gain a single view of the customer. They use those tools to methodically move targets through the funnel and pass off leads to sales. They are frequently data-driven in every decision they make.
But, the limitations of tools and data can also prevent B2B marketers from seeing the forest from the trees—and cause them to inadvertently sabotage the business results they are working to achieve.
Marketing automation platforms are the backbone of B2B demand generation efforts. In an ideal world, a marketer simply pours content in and the machine will systematically convert “suspects” and “prospects” into MQLs (marketing qualified leads), then SQLs (sales qualified leads) and finally, Upsell opportunities.
The problem with this funnel-driven approach is that it looks at the world as a series of marketing KPIs. It neglects to consider that those data points represent human beings. This leads marketers to focus on the science of driving clicks and form-completes, rather than the art of anticipating a potential customer’s needs and telling compelling stories that persuade them to buy your product.
This dehumanization of the customer creates a number of problems:
Problem #1: Selling before storytelling
When Traction was hired by Lenovo to develop B2B creative, our client described what they had been doing previously as akin to seeing a pretty girl for the first time and asking her to marry you.
“Nice to meet you. Wanna download a data sheet?”
“Hey there, gorgeous. Want to read my analyst report?”
We were given the assignment to re-engage dormant contacts—people who had completely ignored Lenovo marketing for an extended period of time—and “engage” them in a conversation about Lenovo’s new servers (which were great products, but a commodity nonetheless). Rather than bombard them with speeds, feeds and case studies as Lenovo had done in the past, we told them stories they could relate to about the drama that can happen when servers go down.
The result of this shift in approach? We outperformed our quarterly goal for re-activated contacts by 575%. That’s a powerful reminder that the conversations brands have are with actual people.
People give their attention to those who have something interesting and relevant to say. They tend to ignore people who are just trying to get something out of them.
Problem #2: Clicks over quality
Marketing automation platforms score for a variety of trackable user behaviors:
- click on an email, the system gives might assign a contact 25 points;
- watch a video: 50 points;
- fill out a form: 75 points;
- Get to 100 points and, voila, that contact becomes a “Marketing Qualified Lead” and gets targeted with a new wave of communications that try to collect more points for other trackable behaviors;
- Get to 200 points and the contact becomes a “Sales Qualified Lead” and gets a phone call from a rep.
Marketers’ goals—and their bonuses—are frequently based on how many contacts are converted from “prospects” into “MQLs.”
The problem is that the system rewards the behavior of the user, not the impact of the marketing. If a contact downloads an amazing piece of content that increases brand favorability and purchase intent, the system scores 50 points. If the contact downloads a crappy piece of content that they take one look at and drag to trash, the system scores the same 50 points.
The download is the trackable behavior, so that’s what gets scored. This can lead to a situation where a clickbait title is perceived as more important than the actual quality of the content itself.
The net outcome is that marketers frequently underinvest in quality content. Low quality content may seemingly indicate interest because someone downloaded it, but then it doesn’t help move customers farther along their Journey because people aren’t interested in it—so a great deal of money gets left on the table.
In other words, lousy content sabotages business outcomes.
Problem #3: Disjointed websites
According to Google, digital destinations are the very last stop for as many as 57% of B2B shoppers. In other words, by the time people reach your website, they already know what information they are looking for.
However, because marketers are focused on KPIs instead of humans, many B2B websites aren’t architected intuitively to anticipate and deliver the content people are looking for.
For example, the team at Traction was recently investigating Salesforce Commerce Cloud for an upcoming project. On the overview page for that solution, there were ten calls to action that led to various form-gated pieces of content; nine case studies; and eleven content features to “learn more” about. A couple of the content features aligned to the navigation on the page, but for the most part they appeared random and disconnected.
This is commonplace in B2B. As a user, I’m forced to hunt and peck my way through a poorly organized experience to find the content that will address my questions. It’s not intuitive and I’m impatient. So, while I might interact with a piece of content and drive their “performance,” I might also get frustrated and leave (and not come back).
Problem #4: Mobile overlooked
According to Google, mobile drives or influences over 40% of business-to-business revenue. By 2020, they predict that 70% of B2B-related searches will be on mobile devices.
When marketers fail to remember that their audience is made up of people, not data points, they can create experiences that are lousy on smartphones. Long blocks of dense text. Video that plays horizontally on a vertical screen. PDF downloads that you can’t read without zooming in and panning around. Phone numbers you can’t click on to dial. These are cardinal sins when it comes to creating content and experiences for the mobile customer.
A mentor of mine who has been a CMO at multiple large companies once said to me, “The only person in a marketing organization who is charged with looking at things holistically to maximize growth is the CMO or VP. Everyone else is tasked with optimizing downward.”
Marketing automation tools are powerful tools, but they perpetuate that problem.
Failing to recognize your customer’s humanity is a data problem—because the data points that matter most in business are how much money did you make and how much growth did you achieve.
Aligning an understanding of your customers’ context and needs with the tools you use to automate the business process of demand generation is an oft-forgotten step. However, it is one that when done thoughtfully, can help ensure you establish relationships with potential customers, create great content that moves the needle, develop smart websites that are selling machines, and deliver an experience that is optimized to how people consume content in the real world.
Doing all that will drive the business results that CMOs ultimately are held accountable for.
February 22, 2019