In this week’s Labcast, lead generation expert and best-selling author Brian Carroll sits down with OpenView for Part 1 of an in-depth discussion of successful B2B marketing tactics and strategy.
In Part 1 of our discussion with Brian Carroll, executive director of Revenue Optimization at MECLABS, Brian offers his insights on the biggest challenges B2B marketers currently face, the best ways to identify effective buyer personas and develop effective value propositions, and the role content should play in an overall B2B marketing strategy.
Editor’s note: Don’t miss Part II of the conversation, in which Brian shares his tips and recommendations for lead generation, qualification, and nurturing success.
Kevin: Hello, and welcome to this edition of Labcast. I’m your host, Kevin Cain, and this week in anticipation of our upcoming forum here at OpenView on B2B Marketing Success, we’re very fortunate to have with us Brian Carroll. For those of you who don’t know Brian, he’s the Executive Director of Revenue Optimization at MECLABS, as well as a recognized expert in lead generation. He’s also the author of the best selling book Lead Generation for the Complex Sale.
Hey, Brian, thanks so much for joining us today. How are you?
Brian: I’m doing great. Thanks for having me, Kevin.
Kevin: So as I was saying, we’re getting ready for this forum here, OpenView on B2B Marketing Success, and that’s really going to be our topic of focus today. But before we get into that I was wondering if you could just start off by giving our listeners a little bit of a sense about what MECLABS is and what your role is there.
Brian: Sure, so MECLABS, we are a research institute with a consultancy. And we actually started out doing research on the Internet to really understand how customers buy, and we’ve conducted ten years of research, done 1300 major experiments and have tested 10,000 sales [past].
This year we actually surveyed. We own MarketingSherpa whom some of your listeners maybe familiar with. We also own MarketingExperiments, so this year we have surveyed 41,000 marketers to understand what really works to drive their success. We’ve benchmarked that data, and then we compile it to actually put together reports and analysis, then we actually teach. So we’re helping marketers to train and adopt the best practices that we’re seeing in the marketplace.
And so, what I do in the group is, I lead all of our activities. What is revenue optimization? It’s really leading the revenue activities across our three brands, which is MarketingSherpa, MarketingExperiments, and MECLABS. And so, I work with executives both on the services side, as well as on the content side of our business. And so I’m responsible for revenue, demand generation, sales, and marketing inside our group.
Kevin: Very good. Well, it seems like in a role like yours, and working for an organization like you do you are in a pretty unique position to assess the needs of B2B marketers and the challenges that they’re facing. Can you give our listeners a sense of what some of those greatest challenges might be?
Brian: Definitely. We just published our Lead Generation Benchmark Report and also our B2B Marketing Benchmark Report, as well. And we surveyed between those 1,900 marketers asking them, what are your top challenges? And what’s really interesting, Kevin, is for the past three years the number one business challenge for marketers is driving high quality leads. And the second on that list for the past three years for 2009, 2010, and 2011, and we’re just about to do our 2012 study, has been driving high quantity leads. So the lead generation is at the top of the list.
Kevin: That’s really interesting. And so, is that something that you would have expected, or was it a little bit of a surprise to you?
Brian: I think because of where we are in the economy, in just with the biggest struggle we’ve seen companies that have a channel or also a field sales organization, the biggest struggle we see is not having enough selling time. So I think, between marketing and sales the number one touch point between the two groups is lead generation. So I wasn’t necessarily surprised by what we found. It’s just that I think a lot of marketers are trying to figure out what’s the best way to do that. And so that’s where this is a priority I have. I need to improve quality, but I think there’s a lot of confusion around the “how,” not necessarily the “what”.
Kevin: Well, okay, so let’s get into that. How, so what kind of advice do you offer for people who are looking to develop their lead generation programs. What’s really the starting point? Is it identifying the right buyer persona? Is it creating your value proposition? Is it developing the right content? What strategy do you guys recommend?
Brian: I think it all starts with our customer, and the better way to understand our customer, and something that we teach, and if your listeners, Kevin, you may want to see a video we put together of 15 years of research we’ve been doing in this space in about 11 minutes. And in that we’re just teaching to focus on the customer, building your customer theory. In a perfect world we don’t [inaudible 04:45] theory of our customer. So start with your ideal customer profile, building that. This goes with targeting and segmentation [when] we do content marketing, or you’re doing proactive outbound marketing — really getting clarity. And what I find is that there is often a lot of misalignment between who are our best customers. And so the challenge is managing how far you are from ideal.
The other thing is that you brought up value proposition. I think that is one of the single biggest issues, and this is not just a marketing issue. It’s actually a CEO, top executive issue, is defining your value proposition, which is answering this question: If I’m your ideal customer, and that’s why the ideal customer is really key, why should I buy from you versus of all your competitors? That’s what you’re trying to answer. And then when you get to a product level, and then when you get to an offer level, getting really clear. So it comes down to, you don’t make up a value proposition; you discover it. And everyone listening has one if you’re selling a product or service. But you need to understand what that is in the mind of your customer. And then there’s a whole host of other things, but those are the two things I would start with.
The third and final thing I would say would be really important is getting clarity on when you’re doing lead generation, what exactly does the word feed me. And so we find 80% of marketing-generated leads handed to sales people get lost, ignored, and discarded because of total misalignment between marketing and sales on that very question. So, this is where we talk of creating universal lead definition, and we could spend time on that. But those are the three things I would say that marketers need to focus on first.
Kevin: Well, you raise an interesting point and that’s something that I’ve certainly heard quite a bit is this whole question of aligning marketing and sales. So not to get us too far off topic, but can you give us your thoughts there?
Brian: Right. What I’ve seen is that in most companies they are sales driven and that marketing typically is . . . sales often feels they succeed despite marketing, not because of it. And what I really think is needed is in a sales driven organization there needs to be a lot more marketing leadership. And where I think marketers have a huge opportunity just being around really working along with sales, to see them as a customer and looking at . . . what we need to do is, our sales organization is often the last, and then our service organization after it, they are the human touch. They are the personification of our brand. They’re the experience that our customers will have. And this would also be true with your website, if it’s acting in e-commerce as a sales person.
But you need to really get clear on is that, I find that marketing isn’t necessarily as connected with the customer and with sales, and so I would say doing practical things, huddling up with your sales team and asking these three questions: what are the things that we should start doing that we’re not that would really help you sell? The second question I would ask is, what are the things [inaudible 07:59] that aren’t adding any value to helping you move the needle? And then the third question is that most sales people struggle with content and advancing conversations in sales training.
So really imbedding and looking at how can we work alongside you to help you accelerate your deals and your pipeline that’s already in your funnel? So, the spirit I would say that marketers need to look at is marketing really, in my opinion, and especially in B2B, the whole purpose is to help the sales team sell. And so, I think the leadership is that we’re there to support the team and move the needle. And I think even with branding, with PR, without other aspects of marketing communication for your other listeners, that all marketing contribute to helping that customer make a decision. That’s where I would start with your sales team, is helping them with things that would help the customer ultimately make the decision to buy from your company.
Kevin: Sure. So if we want to get back than a little bit into lead generation specifically, you mentioned the role of content, and being someone who’s the content sort of professional by trade, I definitely would like to talk about that a little bit more. But what other areas would you sort of recommend for people, whether they’re tips or strategies can you give folks?
Brian: Well, would you like that in respect to lead generation or sales and marketing alignment?
Kevin: Let’s go with the lead generation.
Brian: Okay. I would say, the biggest thing I would start off with is, I often get asked by marketers what are the one or two things that I could put my budget in that would really drive leads? And my answer to that is that there aren’t one or two things that you can put your budget in that are going to drive all your leads. You actually need to start thinking, and I encourage marketers to really look at their lead generation as it’s like a portfolio manager does in mutual funds. You need to be able to measure what’s working to move the sales needle. And I would say get very clear working with the sales team. Don’t measure cost per lead alone. What you really need to measure is how many leads are transferring to opportunities that the sale team can pursue. So that’s one thing; getting really clear on that.
The other thing I would say is, be able to measure what is your marketing contribution to sales pipeline. And from there, what’s the marketing contribution to revenue? Begin with really asking these questions. If I were a marketer, and I’m putting together my plan for 2013, I would be asking questions like, how much pipeline, or how much of quota are you looking for marketing to help contribute this year? And really look at it, because companies often view marketing as an expense, not as an investment. You need to flip that dialogue to looking at things that can move and drive the needle.
The other thing I would say is being able to plan a lead generation calendar. Rather than relying on one or two tactics, look at it like a portfolio manager does in a mutual fund. You’re going to make investments in things you know work based on your metrics, based on having clarity, universal lead definition and lead conversion and sales [inaudible 11:30] etc. But then I would also say that building your lead generation calendar so that you are looking at your year, you’re basing that on what your sales team’s needs and requirements are, and you’re putting together programs that will align with that. And I find other marketers were doing things and were running from campaign to campaign, not spending enough time really analyzing what’s working.
And the final thing I would say to that is, how do you know what’s working? I can tell the ROI that marketers are going to get from lead generation by the frequency they huddle between the sales team. So right now think of football season, we’re in right now, what would happen if the team never huddled between plays, and they only did it once a quarter? They wouldn’t be very successful.
Brian: But we do this right now as marketers, we do quarterly business plans. We aren’t syncing up. And I would say that marketers need to be digging in on the leads they’re generating, so it’s not about more leads. Often it’s about higher quality leads. And really understand what the team is doing with those leads; what’s working, what isn’t. How many of those are converting the pipeline, and go through iterative process to keep refining that quality. Most of the things I’ve talked about are operational and collaborative, but that’s really what’s needed. And I would say those are the biggest tips, I would say, marketers need to be doing right now with demand generation and lead generation.
Kevin: Those are some great points, Brian, and I want to stop you right there, because we’re going to actually continue this conversation next week. So, I encourage all of our listeners, if you’re interested in hearing more about how to use lead generation and B2B marketing success, to tune in next week to hear more.
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Brian Carroll is the executive director of Revenue Optimization at MECLABS. A widely recognized expert in lead generation, he is also the author of the bestselling book, Lead Generation for the Complex Sale. You can read more of his writing at the B2B Lead Roundtable Blog and follow him on Twitter at @brianjcarroll.