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.