Lead Fatigue

Last week I had one of those great media lunch meetings where a publishing representative lets rip about the market and offers up insights and views that confirm some of my long held suspicions. Obviously I’ll not divulge names but needless to say it was a significant player in the IT space and the discussion was centred around lead generation programs.

The bottom line is lead gen programs are getting harder to fulfill. Good assets from big brands will always do well, but older assets and those items which are badly thought out or simply way too product centric (a client favourite especially from product marketing and therefore an obvious attempt to sell and not educate) are not getting picked up like they used to. It’s putting pressure on publishers and creating distrust in the market from users. Opt outs are increasing and more “mickey mouses” are appearing in lead lists. Quality is suffering.

As I have long suspected IT professionals are becoming increasingly jaded at vendor and publisher practices. Traditionally they were subject to online advertising campaigns well before any other B2B segment in the market. This is now being replicated with lead generation programs where users are offered up all manner of enticing white papers, articles, web events and podcasts and simply have to leave a few tit bits of personal information. Bang – next thing they know a random sales person is calling chasing them for meeting and hard selling them a product. This is fine if they are in late stage buying cycle but in so many cases this is simply not the case and the user is left confused and abused. Bad brand experience or what.

However they are not the only ones. Internal vendor sales staff are now biting back. Sales people hate chasing cold or low quality leads. The answer “er I don’t remember downloading anything from you” is scarily typical.

So who’s to blame. Marketing? Well no. Marketing has simply been instructed to make sure that all investment efforts now deliver leads. In many cases performance bonuses are based on driving ever lower cpl (cost per lead) metrics. This is crazy.

Frankly the system is reaching breaking point and until vendor executives go back to marketing 101 and recall exactly what marketing’s entire role should be then it’s not going to get better. Just in case anyone is listening lets review:

Firstly marketing should be the brand stewards. That is: to ensure the brand awareness is maintained or improved and most importantly developed in line with current and future business growth plans. It should always be ahead of where the company wants to go not reacting to it.

Secondly marketing needs to provide a range of messages and collateral to help move prospects down the sales cycle. Someone doing high level investigation into a particular subject probably won’t react too favourably to a hard sales call. They will likely respond well to a follow up email that offers some more information related to the original download they made.

Thirdly marketing should support sales efforts by facilitating the dialogue with customers and yes creating high value sales leads.

It should not be hard for a vendor to create an asset map with different items available to support both different job functions and buying stage requirements. CIO’s need very different information than IT project managers or even technology experts – yet all are vital to the sales process. Vendors should offer up a maximum amount of generic literature for free. They should think about who their sales teams typically engage with most successfully. They should also think about the functions that create barriers to the sale.

Example – a CEO in a major company is unlikely to get involved in the vendor review process but may stop a sale if he’s unfamiliar with a vendor. Getting information to him is key but do you really think he’s going to register to get it? Same can often be said with more senior IT functions.

Bottom line is this – vendors need to remember that assets should be considered very much part of the brand communication strategy. If the vendor makes a big brand promise, the assets are the proof that the claim is substantiated. They should be provided in a way that reflects the vendors business practice. More subtle communications is what customers expect from vendors offering sophisticated business solutions. Offering a suite of assets reflects an understanding of the customers needs throughout the buying process. Campaigns need to be planned accordingly and in many cases success should not be judged by cpl metrics but by just how many assets got distributed out there into the market.

With economic constraints likely to push more vendors into lead generation obsession, I fear this is only going to get worse before it gets better.

Dick Reed
Just Media, Inc.

Posted on September 18, 2008 in Dick Reed

Responses (6)

  1. danortega
    September 18, 2008 at 2:03 pm · Reply

    From my experience the “long” play seems to work much better than the quick and dirty, the only problem is that the long play takes so long it exceeds the board of directors patience (since they have a 90 day view of the world). It you want the long play–information centric from the perspective of the customer– then you need to target more than one person to ensure some level of continuity if that person leaves. As fatiguing as it is for people who are targeted, it’s even more fatiguing for the targeters.

  2. Dick Reed
    September 18, 2008 at 9:53 pm · Reply

    Dan your comments are sadly true that the “executive expectations window” for marketing results is way too short these days. In six years of working with tech companies I can count on one hand the clients who took a campaign view that was longer than six months and only two who considered beyond 12 months. Given sales cycles are often 6-9 months in this sector it’s no surprise marketing professionals often operate via revolving doors !

  3. Frank Cutitta
    September 19, 2008 at 6:46 am · Reply

    Well said Dick…The problem with most companies is that they look at the sales cycle as only related to the hot prospect which could be only a 3 month cycle. When in fact sales cycles can vary dramatically for the exact same product depending on where the prospect is in their “information gathering and digestion cycle”. This cycle could as you say be 18 months..Even worse sometimes the actual lead gen effort ends when received by the call center when in fact this should be the BEGINNING of the next lead nurturing stage…We’re now doing audits on call center scripts in much the same way we audit white papers,webcasts and social networks.

    IDG Connect has some impressive new research showing how this timeframe can vary and precisely what content should be paired with precisely what kind of format for optimized engagement intensity.

    Lastly most IT vendors take what I call a “soviet style” of content asset development…Giant hulking, unmanageble assets (60 minute webcasts, 48 page white papers)that is supposed to create the impression of unsurpassed intellectual power. Unfortunately we live in a world of 5 minute (maximum) YouTube videos. So let’s spread out the content asset investment into smaller pieces each of which can be used to measure behavioral movement (ie propensity to buy) over a longer period across and tailored to a more diverse set of purchase influences..

    Sorry for the missive but our studies over the past 18 months confirm the points made by you and danortega…ane even go further..FC

  4. Dick Reed
    September 19, 2008 at 8:53 am · Reply

    Hi Frank

    Interesting data and something we will have to discuss more next time you are in Bay Area. I suspect 2009 will start to see the move towards quality over quantity. I just hope marketers and executives start to understand and track the different value lead costs as clearly a scrubbed and filtered lead has more value than regular “contact lead” with littel or no associated data.

  5. Anonymous
    September 22, 2008 at 11:50 am · Reply

    Great points Dick.

    I think a related argument, is the responsibility of top executives in these IT vendors over this trend. Marketing departments have been so overwhelmed by the direction to generate leads, that their resource for traditional marketing, as you say, has been edged out. Since sales lead generation is arguably a sales department requirement, then instead of squeezing existing marketing budgets and resources to “also fit in” SLG, the CEO’s or VP of Sales and Marketing of these companies should have been re-directing budgets from the Sales Department to the Marketing Department, to accommodate both roles without cannibalizing the Marketing role.

    The failure of most IT vendors to do this, has directly led to the shocking decline in print revenues for IT media in the US and most major markets worldwide – and in turn, that lack of presence is what specifically impacts on SLG itself. Users are much less likely to respond to a gated request to download something from a company they have little knowledge of, than one that has properly branded itself in the market it seeks to gain leads from.

    Ralph

  6. salphole
    December 19, 2010 at 8:39 pm · Reply

    “When in fact sales cycles can vary dramatically for the exact same product depending on where the prospect is in their “information gathering and digestion cycle”. This cycle could as you say be 18 months..Even worse sometimes the actual lead gen effort ends when received by the call center when in fact this should be the BEGINNING of the next lead nurturing stage…We’re now doing audits on call center scripts in much the same way we audit white papers,webcasts and social networks.”
    Are you sure that this is so?

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