Well, this quarter has been a weird one. All of the possibility from early January feels a long ways away as I write this while sheltering in place in my home. It's not all bad though. I've been blown away by the flexibility and spirit of our team and the creativity and guile of our clients over the last few weeks. Despite the challenging times we live in, I'm more optimistic about the human spirit than ever before.
Like us, you're probably busy trying to figure out what the next few months will look like. Your guess is as good as ours. All we know is that the present and the near future will require us adapt quickly (Polly wrote a great blog post about this a couple weeks ago). All of us will need to constantly evaluate what we're learning and make quick decisions.
With that in mind, I took some time to reflect on 3 things that we learned in Q1 about marketing high-value B2B products and services.
1) A Dialed In Sales System Matters Just As Much As Your Inbound Program
In a B2B environment, the success of any marketing program has always been dependent on how well the sales team can actually close the leads that come in. But, we still find that marketing and sales collaboration is one of the most common topics we're talking with clients about.
Some of the most common challenges that we're seeing are the following:
- Incomplete integrations between marketing software and sales CRMs: Everyone wants perfect communication between their marketing platforms and their sales CRM; entirely automated if possible. Sometimes that just isn't achievable, but that doesn't have to be the end of the world. Our suggestion, that we've successfully implemented with some of our clients, is developing manual workflows to close holes in the integration. Having complete data is worth the work.
- Differing Definitions Of "Qualified": Often times marketing and sales teams have different definitions of qualified. This is fine. That's why the inbound methodology has both marketing and sales qualified leads. Problems arise, though, when there isn't constant conversation about how to refine qualification criterion. Establish a line of communication with your sales team to learn why certain leads don't qualify, otherwise it will be difficult to optimize.
- Lack Of Follow Up On Marketing-Generated Leads: Sometimes a sales team, no matter how many leads you send them, just doesn't seem to prioritize follow up. In this case it's best to schedule time every couple weeks to review qualified leads with the key players and identify immediate next steps on each one. A little in-person accountability does wonders.
You should spend as much time cultivating strong relationships with your sales team as you do designing your inbound program.
2) A Program Driven By 1-2 Tactics Will Plateau, A Holistic One Will Self Sustain
Last year we rolled out a growth-driven retainer product. This was meant to be a starter package for businesses that were not yet sure they could attract leads online for their product or service.
These retainers allowed a business to start out with a minimal investment (around $2,100 per month) and then stair-step their investment as they began to see results. After a year of these stair-steps they would approach the level of one of our typical full-service retainers (starting around $8,000 per month).
Our initial experience with these retainers was positive. The first phase of the retainer focused less on inbound marketing techniques and more on demand generation, leveraging a digital media spend and some smart calls-to-action and landing pages to generate immediate leads for clients.
Over time a problem arose. Clients weren't brave enough to take the leap to the next retainer level after seeing the initial results. As a result, like anything, the results eventually plateaued and without more investment over a period of 6-8 months would begin to decline.
We've seen this plateau before when talking to prospects. There's one simple reason. You cannot dabble in one or two channels long-term and hope to continue to see increasing success. More than ever, marketing is a brand-building exercise that requires sustained efforts across numerous channels if you want to achieve breakthrough success.
This leads us to what we're currently thinking about for growth-driven retainers. In 2019 the retainer was built with the understanding that each quarter we would meet with the client to determine the efficacy of moving on to the next phase of the retainer. This year, if we decide to offer that type of retainer (we most likely will not), clients will have to commit to mandatory increases in their spend throughout the year until they are actively marketing across all major channels so that we can deliver the growth they want over the long haul.
If you're implementing a marketing program, follow this same principle. It's ok to start small with a couple channels, but make sure you don't stay there.
3) People Still Read Blog Posts, Ebooks & White Papers
There's a lot of buzz about video. In fact, we're making more and more video every day. But we've also noticed a desire to move away from long-form written content to only present content via video. Our experience has been that this is a bad idea.
People still read blog posts, and download and consume ebooks and white papers. They are the engine of successful inbound programs, even in 2020. Stats across all of our client still show that these are still the most robust lead generation tools out there and the most likely to lead to qualified leads.
At the same time, long-form content without video is a mistake. There are two main ways we've found success with video:
- We use video to augment an experience, whether it's on a pillar page, landing page, etc.
- We've found that using video to promote longer form written resources is a surefire way to give people a really helpful synopsis of the content they're about to consume and push them to consume it.
The main lesson here is simple. Don't abandon long-form written content, but don't do it without also investing in video to support it.
I hope you too have learned some lessons in Q1 that you'll be taking into this next quarter. I'd love to hear them in the comment section below.
And now, let's raise a glass to Q2. Hang in there. Be strong. We'll get through this together.