This article is taken from a talk at our Revenue Marketing Summit London 2022.
Hi everyone. I’m Dan Jackson-Whiteside, and I’m the Global Head of Demand Generation and Marketing Operations for an organization called Mind Gym. As the name suggests, it's a gym of the mind. Essentially, we do behavioral change programs. We go into organizations, we look at the people that work there, and we aim to change the way they think, the way they feel, and the way they behave at work.
Octavius, our CEO, has drummed into me the fact that we want to be a challenger brand. We want to go out there and be provocative. This article is born squarely from his ideas – he's always talking about separating the fact from the fad.
Let's take a look at what we’re going to cover today:
🤥 The first thing we're going to do is uncover three of the most prevalent falsehoods and demand generation.
🧪 Then we're going to dispel some of those myths with science and data.
👊 Finally, I’m going to share some top tips for combating those myths now and in the future.
Before we get into it, I want to share a personal story.
I was born deaf, and my deafness has increased with age. I've had grommet operations, I've been in and out of hospital, and throughout the 34 years that I've been on this earth, I've always had to get my hearing aids through the NHS.
It's a horrible process. They don’t ask you about your environment or your lifestyle. They just run a test and force a hearing aid on you, so you end up walking around with something that sounds like a Bose headset and amplifies noises you don't want to hear. I don't want to hear someone in the toilet. I don't want to hear an aircon unit switching on down the corridor. Not only do you get a terrible product, but that whole process takes six months.
Now, about a week ago, I started to look online for some new solutions to my hearing aid problems. Like I said, there are certain things I don't want to hear. I also want something a bit more aesthetically pleasing that allows me to exercise at the gym without having to take them in and out.
After a little research, I decided to give Specsavers a try. When I turned up, I was welcomed by some lovely people. They sat me down in a little pod, ran some tests, and talked me through my results. We went through a whole analysis. And this is what I love about the B2C customer experience: they asked me what I want and what I need.
I picked up my new hearing aids yesterday, and they’re incredible. When I take a phone call, it comes through my hearing aids. When I listen to Spotify, it comes through them too. There’s a recharging dock, which means I don’t have to change the batteries. What’s even more incredible is that this whole buying experience took a week, not six months. A week.
This experience really made me think about how we approach B2B marketing. There's so much we can learn from B2C. It doesn't matter whether you’re running a dating app or selling Mind Gym courses – it should be simple. We should be thinking about our customers’ needs and ensuring they end up with something they really, really want.
Myth #1: You can control the buyer’s journey
All of this brings me to my first myth, which is that you can control the buyer’s journey. For me, there’s a certain misguidedness in plotting the buyer’s journey as a linear path leading from awareness all the way to renewal. That may work to a degree in B2C, but it rarely does in B2B.
Forrester and Gartner’s research shows that 80% of the B2B buying process occurs without a human from the vendors’ side being involved. Yet in marketing, we're still structuring our sales funnel like we can control the buyer and shove our products down their throat, a little bit like the NHS do with my hearing aids. That’s not how it works.
The buyer’s journey is complex. There are parts of it that we can capture – say, if someone downloads a white paper or attends a webinar – but there's a myriad of things going on in the buyer's world that we can't see. They might read a bad Trustpilot review. They might check out a forum and encounter a customer who's not talking very fondly about you.
On top of that, there are all kinds of institutional dynamics going on. They might be part of a consortium of buyers. Maybe they’re getting pressure from below to invest in certain tools and pressure from above to tighten their purse strings, and it ends up being a total mess.
In marketing, we have to be more aware of this. It’s nice to imagine that the buyer’s journey is a clean and well-defined path, but that’s not the reality.
We know that in B2C, your self-interest is generally well aligned to solving the problem at hand. Think about the Specsavers story I shared earlier; my journey was quick and defined because I knew my problem, so they were able to offer a solution to it.
In an institutional setting, it just doesn’t work like that. We've got a fear of regret. We've got a fear of being found out. We've got a fear of being blamed. We want to make decisions that are easy to defend, decisions that deliver incremental improvements in saving your ass, as opposed to doing what's best for the organization.
I'd like to quote a psychologist called Gerd Gigerenzer, who describes this as defensive decision-making.
Defensive decision-making occurs when the decision-maker does not choose the option that is in the best interest of an organization, but instead chooses a less effective but lower-risk alternative to protect him or her in case something goes wrong.
That’s the dynamic in the B2B buyer’s journey. The pain of failure is far greater than the pleasure of success. I call this ass-covering disguised as rigor, and it’s why the buyer’s journey gets so messy. The more people who get involved, the less likely the blame is to fall squarely on you if something goes wrong.
With that said, let's get into some top tips that are going to help you navigate the chaos of the B2B buyer’s journey.
Top tip: Abandon the funnel and follow the buyers
Buying is complicated, but you need to meet your buyers where they are, so my first top tip is to abandon the funnel and follow the buyers. At Mind Gym, having understood how B2B buyers behave and why, we talk about them in stages. There’s the early stage, the middle stage, the middle-to-end stage, and so on.
We have an open-ended culture, so if a marketing-qualified lead goes quiet, we’ll ask sales about it and give them some content to help seal the deal. It might be something as simple as a piece of content on objection handling with the CEO. Messy as the buyer’s journey can be, there’s still enormous value in having content ready for every stage of it.
The CMMI Institute put out an interesting piece of research recently, showing how much content marketing produces for each stage of the buyer’s journey. They found that 56% of all content produced is for the early stage of marketing – that’s your white papers, your reports, your ebooks, etc. That’s great for thought leadership and brand building, but what about the rest of the journey? How are we keeping people engaged as they enter the middle and end stages?
If we really want to drive demand, we need to better support our sales teams. To do that, we need to get out of the habit of focusing most of our energies on so-called top-of-funnel content.
Myth #2: lead generation and demand generation are the same
I've done 10 years of lead generation, and I've only been in demand generation for a year and a half. I like to see demand generation as a young pretender in a boxing match – someone coming in with a point to prove, who’s going to try and take the IBF world title from a boxer who’s been around for decades: lead generation.
I think there's something very pertinent about the fact that the boxing match is going on and we're always trying to draw distinctions between the two realms, rather than talking about how they work together. Lead generation and demand generation’s differences should be celebrated, but they can work together. Let me explain why.
Demand generation is much more about brand building in the long term than sales activation in the short term. You're making prospects aware of a problem, you're increasing your brand authority, you're offering free resources, and you're engaging a wider audience.
Lead generation, as we know, offers to solve the customer’s problem. It presents the benefit of your solution, uses gated resources, and focuses on capturing high-quality leads.
What if they could work together?
We always talk about marketing working with sales, yet within our own teams, we’re butting heads. What if, instead, our content marketers could create content for each stage of the buyer’s journey, demand gen could build the brand among a wide audience to move them along the journey, and then lead gen was there to capture them when it happened?
Lead gen, demand gen, and content marketing are not independent of each other, and they can and should work together. Let’s look at how to make that happen.
- Embrace demand gen and lead gen in all their differences. While the two are different, you shouldn't be choosing between them. They’re complementary and crucial for tolerating growth.
- Define and differentiate lead gen and demand gen for yourself and for the sales team. Even those of us who work in demand gen or lead gen often struggle to pinpoint the differences between the two. If we can’t articulate that difference among ourselves, how are we going to articulate it to the sales team?
Myth #3: Demand gen = marketing
In demand gen, we are specialists, and we're proud of what we do. I am especially proud to be a marketer today. It's one of the very rare environments where you get open feedback and you're always unlearning to relearn.
However, within demand generation, there’s a tendency to a kind of black-box mentality. We do a lot of things: there’s paid social, remarketing, there’s white papers, there’s campaigns, there’s events, and we tend to ringfence all of these activities. We don’t want anyone else to get involved until the leads are generated.
I don't think that's the right approach. The more that sales are aware of what's inside the black box and how to use it, the better. Too often – even in my organization – other teams are not even remotely aware of the impact that marketing has, so we need to be much more open about what we're doing.
The power of sales and marketing coming together for sales activation is incredible. If you’ve ever run an ABM campaign, you’ll know it can be one of the most impactful things you ever do in your organization. It’s so powerful simply because of the collaboration with sales. That collaboration shows you who your key accounts are. That collaboration creates a singular unified approach between both teams.
Now I’m going to share some top tips to help you make sure that demand gen is a sales and marketing initiative, even outside of those ABM campaigns.
- Set shared goals. When you have shared goals around MQLs, SQLs, meetings booked, pipeline, customer acquisition cost, lifetime value, or whatever is most important to your organization, it’s going to be so much easier to collaborate effectively. And always remember, the closer you can get to revenue the better. If you're telling sales that you've 1000 MQLs, but they have no value whatsoever, you’re doomed from the start.
- Create and maintain an open line of communication. I don't just mean a Slack channel. You also need to ask your sales team the right sorts of questions. What does the sales team need from the marketing team? From start to finish, what does the standard sales cycle look like? What does a bad lead look like? What content and campaigns tend to attract the most high-quality leads? What can each team do better?
- Establish SLAs around lead follow-ups. At Mind Gym, we ran some independent research and found that it took up to 14 days for sales to follow up on a lead. That’s when we knew it was time to put some new processes in place. Now we have a sort of round-robin, where you get 48 hours to follow up on a lead before it gets passed on to the next person, and that time to follow up has plummeted.
- Evaluate and remove channels with low conversion rates. Our paid social campaigns have amazing conversion rates because they’re hyper-targeted and we create the right content for that audience. But then on our website – and I'm embarrassed to share this – the conversion rate is 0.14% conversion. Understanding those conversion rates is vital in allowing us to optimize our channels as needed.
- Invest in technology that supports alignment. There are incredible technologies out there for account matching, data enrichment, and data management. These technologies are going to help you take the pain away from the sales team to make demand generation as seamless as possible.
Those were my three top myths. However, I want you to remember that one person’s myth can be another person's truth. What works for one company might not work for another. What works for one project might not work for another. You might even find some truth in these myths of mine.
But this is what makes marketing interesting, isn't it? What I love about marketing is this always-learning approach that we're taking together. We’re always trying new things and adapting to an ever-changing market, and it’s wonderful.