Investing Strategically for Marketing Performance in 2021

In 2021 as we return to a new normal, how do we strategically invest to maximize pipeline creation and close?

Challenge: In 2021 as we return to a new normal, how do we strategically invest to maximize pipeline creation and close?

With vaccine shots going into arms around the world, we can see a return to ‘normal’ in the coming months and years ahead. But what will this new normal look like and how do we prepare best for it? Many trends were accelerated with the pandemic: work-from-home and online shopping to name a few. But I believe the buyer’s journey has also changed fundamentally which, in turn, requires us to change how we prioritize our investments. 

For many years, we have talked about the customer journey – and even recognized that 70% of this journey happens before a prospect ever engages with our brand. So we responded by creating early, mid and late stage content to make relevant offers building awareness and engagement. 

However, in the years before the pandemic, consumer application technologies have increased expectations of the buying process. With a few clicks on your phone, you can get a ride (Uber/Lyft), get food delivered (Postmates/Grubhub), transfer money (Venmo/Paypal), buy groceries (instacart/Amazon Fresh), and more. The most precious thing our prospects have is their time — and they have less of this than ever as their job responsibilities have expanded. And the pandemic has only accelerated both their expectations with these services and the demands on their time (going from Zoom meeting to meeting). 

This is the new normal environment that will be slowly returning over the coming year. So how do we meet these new demands from our prospects?  I believe there are four key areas for investment in 2021: Deep and Relevant Content, Smart Sales Outreach, Multiple Product Demo Options, Improved Product Experience.  

Deep and Relevant Content:

As B2B marketers, we know that we need early, mid and late stage content: infographics, explainer videos, blogs, case studies, whitepapers, eBooks, analyst reports, ROI calculators, and more. All too often, this content is written by marketing people who don’t live the experience of the prospect – whether they be a security engineer, data analyst, software engineer, CFO, supply chain director, etc.  

What our prospects really need is useful content that teaches them something and not a 10 page graphical eBook that barely scratches the surface of the topic at hand. Imagine content that actually educates them about the challenges they face with relevant information. This could take the form of code snippet samples, security breach mitigation recommendations, tips and tricks for handling month-end close, excel pivot recommendations to cleanse data, etc…  

We expect the prospect to ‘tune-in’ to our channel of communication — but why would they do so unless there is something in it for them? I realize that this advice might mean making their life easier with their current solution — but it builds awareness and trust of our brand. Isn’t that what we wanted after all? Certainly it’s OK to insert content that shows the benefit of our solution, but if we only insert promotional content — we should only expect engagement at the very end of the buyer’s journey when they are really considering alternatives. Therefore we need to invest in deeply relevant content that builds engagement earlier with our prospects.

The challenge here is to create more deeply meaningful content which likely requires our internal subject matter experts to write or create content. Therein lies the challenge. We can’t have people who are removed from our prospect experience to write insightful and enlightening content. They can assist our subject matter experts (likely who are not writers) but the source material must come from a subject matter expert. Getting these SME’s to create this deeply relevant content should be part of your 2021 plan.

Smart Sales Outreach:

Who likes getting an unsolicited call? Anyone? These calls are an interruption of your day — and we must remember this as we make our outbound call plans. To make matters worse, often B2B BDRs are calling on sophisticated prospects with little more than scripts, qualifying questions and a request to set up an appointment. No wonder we get a bad reputation here. 

Imagine if the callers were more deeply educated on the buyer persona, the challenges and the solutions faced by their prospects. If they can ask smart questions, provide relevant information and actually help the prospect in some way, the call becomes actually more interesting.  As a demand marketer receiving unsolicited calls, when a BDR called me with an understanding of the challenges I face, asked smart questions, listened and offered relevant solutions, then I would gladly set an appointment. But they only had 30 seconds to earn my trust and two minutes to prove they could help me. If they just wanted to set an appointment – b’ bye. 

This takes ongoing training to raise the level of our BDRs or AE’s to make smart calls. This is a significant investment in training by internal subject matter experts and the creation of supporting materials for the BDRs. We can hire BDRs for critical communication skills and process, but we need to enrich them with the detailed knowledge that will be useful to our prospects. [As a side note, some organizations actually hire target personas to become BDRs or AE’s – preferring to then train them on sales and communication skills.] So investing in your BDR skills to truly understand the challenges and issues faced by your prospects should be a key investment area for 2021.

Multiple Product Demo Options:

Full disclosure – I am a fan of product led growth. If we claim our product is better than the prospect’s status quo — let’s show them directly. Now some products lend themselves more easily to a freemium experience than others. For larger, integrated solutions requiring significant deployment services, it may be impossible to provide freemium or similar experience. However, there are many different options to consider because customers expect the ability to explore on their own – especially if they are not ready to speak to a sales person. 

I advocate creating a number of different experiences to drive early engagement with your product:

  • Recorded product demonstrations 
  • Turning ‘features’ of a solution platform into freemium products of their own
  • Screenshot demo as step-by-step, guided tour
  • Short-lived, virtual instance of your fully deployed product for exploration
  • Customer webinar recording of their deployment and benefits
  • Weekly live demo webinar one-to-many

Most products have different use cases which then would require different versions of these product experiences above. Well, that is the hard work that needs to be done in 2021. Identify these use cases and the best options to display this to your prospects and get to work on creating this extremely helpful content. No doubt it will take time from systems engineers and product marketing, but the resulting assets can be used repeatedly at various stages of the customer journey.

I encourage you to be creative in thinking about how you can create various types of product experiences. Prospects today want the ability to explore on their own and ‘see’ your product in action. The real challenge is for us to consider how we create these compelling experiences as part of the revised journey.  These experiences need to create a ‘goose-bump moment’ — that moment where the prospect clearly sees how your product fixes their challenges. If you can deliver this — you will drive further consideration and likely some direct engagement with sales. Invest in 2021 in creating new and compelling product experiences appropriate for various stages of your customer journey.

Improved Product Experience:

The product engagements defined above assume that the prospect’s product experience is compelling. Sometimes we need to look critically at our own solution, compare it to alternatives and be honest with our assessment. I recommend you go through the complete onboarding and usage process to really understand what your prospects will see as they become customers or as they trial your product.  You do not want to accelerate prospect engagement with your product if this demonstrates that your solution is non-intuitive, clunky, hard to use, etc…

So, spending time to identify and improve the product experience is worthy of marketing effort. If these experiences are not compelling, I would rather take marketing headcount and/or funds to accelerate remediating these issues. It may be time to slow down demand generation to fund key improvements before stepping on the accelerator. So my recommendation for 2021 here is to have an honest assessment of the product relative to both the prospects current solutions and to your competitors.

So There you have it — four strategic recommendations for guiding 2021 investments that will take advantage of the new normal. Give your prospects more of what they want as part of their buying journey. These tips should help your content, communications and engagement have greater impact — all while helping you scale.

Lesson: With prospect demands to get relevant information when and how they want it, in 2021 you can provide: Deep and Relevant Content, Smart Sales Outreach, Multiple Product Demo Options, and Improved Product Experience.  


B2B SaaS Marketing in a Time of COVID

Challenge: With our new ‘COVID normal,’ how do we deliver against our increasing pipeline requirements?

[First, let me say that my heart goes out to all those impacted by the COVID pandemic. It impacts everyone in different ways – and to some whose lives have been tragically disrupted.]

OK – the pandemic has been with us for seven plus months. We have executed our initial fire-drill response programs to show our customers and prospects that ‘we are in this with you.’ We have adjusted our team operations to work remotely and be sensitive to the varying needs of our team members. We now have back to back Zoom calls that suck up all the time ‘gained’ from no commute. And we have even figured out how to manage our hair with little or no external help. Yes – we are now operating at our ‘new normal.’

But more importantly, we changed our marketing go-to-market. Let’s summarize these top level changes:

  • Shifted from in-person events to online events
  • Re-allocated funds to digital marketing
  • Optimized our landing pages for conversion
  • Improved our nurture programs

OK – now what? Quarterly revenue targets are increasing for sales and therefore so are our targets for marketing sourced pipeline. Unfortunately, reaching buyers on the phone is more difficult than ever because no one is in the office, which also makes mailing packages and ABM programs more difficult. So where do we turn next? How do we convert more MQL into Opportunities?

Before making recommendations, let’s first recognize that our prospects are facing the same issues we’re facing, namely:

  • A tsunami of Zoom calls
  • Stress about COVID
  • Stress with increased family responsibilities 
  • Feeling isolated

My recommendation – let’s make their life easier. I know this might be radical, but what if we:

  • Provide truly helpful content that helps them do their jobs
  • Educate them about things they don’t know that will actually help them
  • Make it easy for them to learn about how our products and services work
  • Simplify the process to successfully trial our product

Now more than ever our prospects need us to make their lives easier and we can do so by making the process of engaging with us simpler and more satisfying. Let’s give them what they crave most: a bit of time back in their day with informative and easy to consume content. And most importantly, a great experience to trial our product and see for themselves how their life improves with our company’s product.

Lesson: Focusing on our customer’s needs is more important now than ever in every step of the buyer’s journey.

What’s in a Name?: Demand Orchestration vs. Demand Generation

Does the term ‘Demand Generation’ really reflect what we do?

DemandOrchestrationChallenge: Does ‘Demand Generation’ Reflect What We Do?

Over the past 10+ years, my functional marketing role has been called ‘demand generation,’ and certainly in the tech community, this term helps quickly communicate where we fit within the marketing org.  However, recently I was speaking with a prospect the other day about a project, describing my typical engagements, how I work with clients, etc. When I was summarizing the typical activities, I found myself describing what I do as ‘demand orchestration’.

Let’s look at the functional areas managed by the “demand generation” leader:

  • Marketing KPI’s, Dashboards and Attribution
  • Customer Persona and Lifecycle Definition
  • Lead Flows and Processes
  • Marketing-Sales Interface and Handoff
  • Marketing Campaigns, Programs and Themes
  • Third Party Demand Programs
  • Webinars, Field Events & Tradeshows
  • Paid and Organic Search
  • Website Design and Conversion Rates
  • Martech Stack and Team Enablement
  • Lead Nurturing and Qualification
  • Lead Engagement, SLA and Qualification
  • Lead Development Rep Training and Playbooks
  • Account Based Marketing
  • ….and so on…

However, as a demand team leader the most important responsibilities are actually more like this:

  1. Align with Sales on Business Plan Targets & Splits w/ Marketing
  2. Build Forward Looking Demand Model for Opportunity and Lead/Account Targets
  3. Create KPI’s, Dashboards and Measurement Processes
  4. Design Bottom Up Demand Plan Across Various Channels
  5. Build Out Demand Team and Assign Functional Areas
  6. Create Planning Process Leading to Program Execution
  7. Track and Optimize Programs Ongoing
  8. Ongoing optimization of people, process, programs and systems: weekly, monthly, quarterly and annually

So what struck me at that moment in our conversation was that demand gen leadership is really about orchestration. The areas that most frequently rise to the top of my attention are:

  • Do we have the right mix of programs to address top, middle and bottom of funnel?
  • Do we have the right skill sets on our team?
  • Are we optimally executing against our plan?
  • Are there opportunities to optimize demand funnel volumes and conversion rates?
  • What is our prospect/account user experience and how can we improve?
  • How are we assisting with customer lifetime value in retention rates, upsell, and cross sell?

These activities essentially have to do with orchestrating people, process and systems to accelerate growth, therefore the role is more accurately described as orchestration. In my experience, I contribute most to an organization in the orchestration of these resources to ensure the team meets and exceeds pipeline and won business targets.

Should we call the function Demand Orchestration? Does that more accurately describe what we demand leaders do?  Does it even matter what we are called? What probably matters most is that demand generation leaders focus on the people, process and systems to optimize performance and growth. Let me know your thoughts.

Lesson: As demand generation leaders, our focus is to orchestrate people, process, programs, and systems to optimize revenue generation that meets or exceeds business goals






Revenue Attribution Maturity Assessment: The Journey to Reporting Nirvana

MarketingDashboardChallenge: Accurately Reporting Marketing Contribution Without Over-Investing Time and Budget

For many years marketing teams have aimed to identify their contributions to their companies’ success. Over the last five years, there have been significant advances in the tools available as well as the business processes by which data can be managed to support greater insights and gain competitive advantage. In fact, marketing groups today are frequently responsible for driving a specific percentage of company revenue so identifying revenue sourced by Sales or Marketing is critically important to measuring business performance.

But measuring marketing contribution is time, resource, and budget hungry. So how much should you invest? What tools will contribute to success given the maturity of your organization? In working with many different organizations, I have noticed common themes on the road to attribution maturity. Knowing where you are on this maturity timeline will help you plan for what may come next for your organization. While every company is unique, I believe there are common attribution lifecycle stages – and companies move through them as they need greater detail and insight.

So check out where you in attribution maturity so you can balance investment against the value of increasing visibility.

Stage 1 – Early Startup

  • Definition: Sales and Marketing have agreed upon revenue contribution percentages
  • Typical Revenue: $0-$500K ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Handshake agreement on total new account revenue sourced by Marketing vs. Sales
  • CRM Deployment: Early deployment often still optimizing data and reporting process/structure
  • CRM Usage: Consistent campaign association is not yet defined for Leads, Contacts and Opportunities; Marketing automation may not be integrated with CRM
  • Attribution Process: Manual monthly or quarterly update of opportunities as Marketing vs. Sales sourced
  • Primary Challenges: Manual update of opportunities becomes overly time consuming

Stage 2 – Maturing Startup

  • Definition: CRM deployed with basic campaign attribution reporting
  • Revenue: $500K ARR – $5M ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Attribution to Marketing or Sales identified and defined by first or last touch for new business; starting discussion on up-sell and cross-sell attribution
  • CRM Deployment: CRM standard utilization enforced, Sales forecast process optimization ongoing, Marketing automation integrated
  • CRM Usage: Both Sales and Marketing have created a data dictionary and have established standard processes for updates that have moderately successful usage
  • Attribution Process: CRM reporting using first or last touch for Marketing vs. Sales attribution
  • Primary Challenges: Both first and last touch neither accurately describe opportunity drivers nor comprehensively reflect Marketing and Sales program impacts

Stage 3 – Growth Startup

  • Definition: Specialized attribution software deployed in first version
  • Revenue: $5M ARR – $50M ARR
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Comprehensively defined Sales vs. Marketing source new business, upsell/cross-sell business and optimization of handoff processes
  • CRM Deployment: Utilize industry best practices for data integrity and reporting, generally solid compliance from Sales and Marketing teams, and relatively accurate sales forecasting; Initial deployment of third-party attribution tools
  • CRM Usage: Sales operations focusing on tight rep compliance with CRM, Marketing Operations focused on data quality and completeness
  • Attribution Process: Sales vs. Marketing sourced opportunities identified by campaign touches driving the MQL; utilizing both Sourced and Influenced models to optimize marketing performance
  • Primary Challenges: When sourced and influenced models do not accurately capture full account-based attribution impact or when weighted touch models are required to adjust campaign influence over customer journey

Stage 4 – IPO Readiness and Public Company

  • Definition: Specialized attribution software deployed in second iteration
  • Revenue: $50M ARR – $500M ARR+
  • Sales-Marketing Alignment: Business operations teams fully integrated across Sales and Marketing with BI dashboards/reporting; Monthly/Quarterly attribution reviews for program and process optimization; Early deployment of predictive revenue models
  • CRM Deployment: Sophisticated CRM deployment managed by business operations team with sophisticated reporting (BI tools) and data accuracy for regulatory compliance
  • CRM Usage: Well established guidelines and training; key processes are reinforced with end user compliance
  • Attribution Process: Multiple attribution models including weighted touch attribution and account-based models supported by analytics team to assist in utilization and interpretation of the data
  • Primary Challenges: Managing time, cost and complexity of attribution reporting as well as the ability of most marketing team members to absorb the complexity of these models

What has been your experience? Do these levels ring true? Was this helpful to your planning?

Lesson: As organizations grow, so do their needs for better attribution. It is important to make the right investments at the right time to keep attribution management time and costs in line with overall revenue goals.



Marketing Attribution – Worth the Effort?


Challenge: Considering the Challenges of Marketing Attribution, How Deep Should You Go?

Marketing attribution is a hot topic. You need to know which programs are worth the effort and expense and marketing must demonstrate its contribution to revenue. In fact, both marketing and sales must both carefully plan and measure their unique contributions to more accurately predict revenue.

However, Sergio Maldonado’s recent guest post on Scott Brinker’s Chief Martec blog raised some very important questions about the veracity of marketing attribution. The article challenging various aspects of marketing attribution is timely and worth a careful read. It also caused me to re-evaluate my ongoing efforts to focus on attribution.

The journey starts with developing a standardized way to tag Leads, Contacts and Opportunities to marketing campaigns, followed by a methodology to differentiate sales from marketing contribution (as well as sourced versus influenced). Adding various program costs and labor investment to the formula provides a more complete picture. However, this tells just part of the story as it analyzes attribution from first ‘form conversion’ to closed deal, without consideration for pre-conversion activities.

Tracking and attributing the activity of all stakeholders before form conversion is more difficult. Furthermore, attribution-to-revenue calculations only provide results for Contacts associated with a closed-won Opportunity, whereas other Leads and Contacts not associated often influence the deal. Therefore, this methodology ignores Leads and Contacts that influence but are not associated with the opportunity as well as all awareness phase marketing touchpoints that positively affected the opportunity.

By focusing only on campaigns with direct attribution, marketing may erroneously optimize for those programs only – at the expense of awareness and early stage funnel activities where attribution is much more difficult. The resulting focus on ‘directly attributable campaigns’ that occur at or after the first form conversion can easily result in a decreased ‘share of voice’ and ignore important early stage touch points. Often, sales prospects are unaware they have a problem or they’re unfamiliar with solutions better suited to their challenge. Awareness programs focusing on the earliest stages of the sales cycle are key to growing sales in the long run.

So if strict adherence to attribution metrics will lead to sub-optimal marketing resource allocation, should marketing invest time and resources in it? Unequivocally yes. At the highest level, Lord Kelvin was right when he said, “When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it.” The attribution process is not at fault here (though it can and will certainly improve), rather the issue is how this data is used to make marketing investment decisions. Even though early stage program investments are not measurable in the same way that later stage programs are, they remain an important part of the marketing mix. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the marketing team to explain and defend these ‘awareness’ investments for the long-term health of the organization. The marketing team should also look for important correlations to justify these programs (correlations of direct/organic traffic with various programs, for instance).

In my opinion, marketing must continue to pursue attribution while keeping in mind the limitations of the current systems. Marketing investments should be made recognizing that the team cannot measure all aspects of the marketing mix, and more importantly, additional attribution effort investments should be made with an eye on overall effectiveness. While imperfect, I am reminded of the saying, ‘Even one candle sheds a lot of light in a dark room.’ Without attribution, marketing has no guidance about future investments.  But at the same time, marketing programs with impacts that are difficult to measure must not be ignored.

[Important note: Management should also look at the costs and benefits of the attribution process itself to ensure it is worth the effort. Tracking every last ounce of attribution adds significantly in terms of labor and cost, and at some point, these programs reach diminishing marginal returns. How a marketing team should optimize its spend on marketing attribution is a discussion for another time.]

Lesson: Spending time and resources on marketing attribution is critical, but it is just as crucial to realize program and system limitations to make truly optimized investment decisions.


If You Don’t Know Where you’re Going, Any Road Will Take You There

Challenge: How do you build and maintain long term motivation from your team?

Start with the end in mind. That’s a really simple statement but it can be challenging to put into practice. How often do you leave the office and say ‘What did I do today?’ or ‘Did I really accomplish what was most important?’ In today’s multitasking work environment, we’re pulled in so many directions and by so many means: Phone calls, emails, meetings, travel – and all in an environment of change. Yesterday’s plans are put aside for new action plans.

Fortunately, a few simple steps can bring clarity, sanity and most importantly, increased motivation for your team members. This starts with a process of developing organizational objectives from the executive staff and then translating them for everyone in the organization. Organizations just need to translate CEO objectives into those that fall onto the VP Marketing and so on to all in marketing. Simple, right? What if your organization does not have this in place? Good news – you can still put this into action, all on your own.

In outbound marketing and lead generation, you are responsible for sales targets. You can take the quarterly sales objectives and drive these into executable programs. These might impact new opportunities, increase awareness, target verticals or geographies, support sales enablement and more.

So you can ask – do these new requests I just received via email or on a call support my target objectives? Are these tasks somehow more important than the ones already on your plate? Our time is a zero sum game. We only get one chance to complete the day ahead of us and spend our time most effectively. If we get new incoming requests, we need to compare these to the current tasks in plan. Put your plans into place and take these to your manager, Director or VP. This will start a conversation regarding which programs will best support the target objectives. You may even develop a set of quarterly objectives for the team (positive steps!). Once agreed, as plans change, you can raise these up to ensure that the new plans better support your objectives.

The result? Not only will you have better alignment and coordination in your team, but also better motivation by feeling more connected with the organization. You will feel more engaged knowing that your activities directly contribute to the advancement of the organization. Being a part of a successful organization and knowing the role you play is a great source of ongoing motivation.

Lesson: Aligning objectives throughout the organization drives increased motivation