DrakeJourney“B2B marketers implementing a lead-to-revenue (L2R) process for the first time or expanding an immature program often feel they are navigating uncharted waters — but they are not alone!”

That’s according to a December, 2013 Forrester report by VP and Principal Analyst Peter O’Neill, Gauging Your Progress and Success, a benchmark-style assessment of what top-performing marketers do.

It’s apropos to the start of a new year, the time when business budgets are finalized and dollars allocated based on hard looks at – and hard decisions about – what yields the highest ROI.

For marketers, the calendar turn can be particularly nail-biting, because they’re increasingly under the gun to prove the value of their campaigns and programs. (Being viewed as a “cost center” is a fast track to a pink slip.) Even the most experienced marketing pros can struggle with identifying and deploying the best strategies, tactics, techniques, and metrics that, collectively, net a positive impact on business goals and revenue … not to mention a positive impact on executive management.

So the question is:

How can modern marketers find a clearer path to effective, sales-generating customer engagement?

And it’s the focus of this 2-part series where we’ll share key takeaways from the Forrester report. Hopefully these data will help you benchmark your current processes, and also provide insight and guidance as you embark on sales and marketing in 2014.

Part One: How top performers approach the sales funnel.

First things first: what’s a “top performer”?

Forrester defines it simply enough: a company whose growth during the last fiscal year exceeded its plan.

Note that companies self-reported this information in Forrester’s reference survey: Q4 2012 B2B Marketing Tactics and Benchmarks, which looked at small and medium-size businesses and enterprise companies in the US, France, Germany, and the UK, each of which had 100+ employees.

Top performers use different tactics across the sales stages

The B2B marketers were surveyed about their use of 16 different marketing tactics across the four lead-to-revenue (L2R) stages, with respondents naming the four most effective tactics they had deployed (not necessarily the most expensive or heavily resourced – merely the most effective).

As Forrester reports, it turns out that top performers use different tactics in each of the phases when compared to lower performing companies.

Here are the notable differences:

Awareness: Get Found. Top performers have proactively embraced the reality that today’s buyers are empowered and willing to begin their purchase process early via search engines, social networks, and other digital venues.

Forrester terms this investigative process a “declaration of need” which primarily refers to a buyer’s digital footprint and a vendor’s ability to track it, understand it, and ultimately match needs with findable content that will start a dialogue.

The result is a strategic shift from traditional product-based collateral to issue-and-solution-based collateral that directly addresses where prospects are in their discovery phase; i.e., “How do I solve/fix/address XYZ?”

To establish brand awareness that will pique the interest of buyers in this early stage, great marketers invest in the following:

  • Understanding who their target audiences are and what they’re looking for.
  • Having digital content readily available that focuses on their targets’ business issues, needs, interests, and pain points.
  • Pay-per-click advertising and search engine optimization (aka “paid” and “organic” search) to ensure their digital content is found in a “need-match-engage” interaction.
  • Thought-leadership tactics such as webinars and guest blog posts on complementary sites where their targets are likely to visit.

Lead -Generation: Socialize. This is less about social media and more about getting out there – literally and figuratively – and giving prospective buyers the opportunity to get to know a company.

As you can see from the graph below, trade shows top the list for generating quality leads. Depending on the business type, size, and location, it’s likely that other in-person events would also yield some success, such as roundtable sessions or even small networking events at a local restaurant.

Forrester points out that another key difference at this stage is that top performers continue to use SEO … and use it well: Since buyers at this stage are investigating their issues in much more detail, top marketers have content at the ready, optimized for longer-tail keywords to ensure it gets found by deeper-dive search queries.

Thirdly, social strategies make an entry here, with top performers using buyer’s journey research to craft their social approach.

One more thing to note: Take a look at how in-person events squash virtual events when it comes to effectiveness. It’s a reminder that human contact remains a premium value in business dealings – an important point to keep in mind.

Lead Nurturing: Engage Deeper. What distinguishes top performers in this stage is their focus on increasing digital engagement with warm and hot leads; i.e., more events (in-person and virtual) and more communications (email and social).

With a lead-vendor relationship established, top performers work to move leads down the funnel by actively and directly engaging with them. Tactics include targeted email campaigns, web events, and increased social media communication.

By providing contextual information that aligns with a lead’s interests and needs, great marketers build affinity and increase the chance that their company will be selected among the competitors.

By contrast, average marketers tend to stay the course in this stage, continuing with passive techniques that are better suited for early lead generation, including content marketing and SEO.

Post-Sale/Retention: Continue to Actively Market. Top performers tend to maintain focus on existing customers, aligning their retention strategies with the numerous cross-industry studies that indicate it’s less expensive to keep an existing customer than to acquire a new one.

Using an optimized range of activities and tactics, marketing leaders aim at most effectively maintaining customer loyalty and expanding the relationship to the next revenue milestone, be it service renewal, upgrade, or new purchase.


Next up: Tools of the trade

In Part 2 we’ll look at how top performers get better – and provable – results that directly impact the sales pipeline, significantly contribute to revenues, and make senior management happy.

Photo of “New Albion. English galleon “Golden Hinde” by Sir Francis Drake painting” by Simon Kozhin, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Read more: How to Benchmark Your Business’s Success