Denise Senter is a Marketing and Business Solutions Strategist, focused on developing executable strategies that drive business growth. She has served as VP of Marketing and an officer in 3 public companies, in addition to consulting with a broad range of companies: start-ups, small- and mid-size businesses, and Fortune 500 leaders. She has engaged JMS Elite’s business development services for several of those organizations over the past 12 years.
Why Companies with Complex B2B Sales Can’t Afford to Put Down the Phone
Execute one Google search on “lead generation,” and you will read that “content is king” and “cold calling is dead”. With social media and online communities opening a broader set of targeted channels, content marketing and inbound demand creation are touted as the solution for lead generation in the 21st century.
Content marketing is not new; B2B marketers have been employing it for years through online whitepapers and articles, webinars, blogging, and related initiatives. However, they have traditionally executed them as part of integrated programs, which include partnering with telesales – either outsourced or in-house – to further qualify responders as legitimate sales leads.
Social media has given content marketing new focus, and created a pendulum swing toward preferences for inbound-only marketing. With that swing, many B2B marketers are launching robust content marketing programs and abandoning some of the proven, more integrated approaches to lead generation.
Pat O’Donnell, Director of Life Sciences Marketing, Americas for Beckman Coulter, Inc., shared with me his experience with adopting an ‘inbound-only’ lead generation strategy:
“We initiated a content marketing program for demand creation and became victims of our own success,” says O’Donnell. “We generated tremendous interest for our content, but those marketing leads had very low conversion to the sales pipeline.”
In an effort to get better results for the sales organization, O’Donnell’s team retained JMS Elite to further qualify marketing leads through a call-based program. Conversions improved dramatically, and cost per lead was reduced by 45%.
“Outbound calling has become a tool in our lead generation programs.” stated O’Donnell.
Beckman Coulter is not the only provider of B2B products and services to experience this phenomenon. In my own experience as a B2B marketer, I have found that content marketing goes a long way to educate the market and increase market awareness of your company and products.
However, content marketing alone has not been sufficient to convert marketing leads to the sales pipeline.
Why? Because There Are Several Big Challenges That Are Not Well Addressed Through Content Marketing:
1. Identifying the actual decision maker: Decision makers for complex B2B offerings still do not do the majority of research for purchases themselves.
Responders to content marketing/inbound campaigns are much more likely to be staff members or influencers tasked with pulling together information. Gaining a clear understanding of the buying process and decision makers requires an actual conversation.
2. Understanding the buyer’s needs and readiness: Interest in the topic of your content does not necessarily constitute a recognized need for your product, nor does it provide any indication of how close the client is to making a buying decision.
You may be able to further qualify areas of interest with content-based lead nurturing, but you will not understand the prospect’s perceived needs, goals and buying potential until you engage him or her in a meaningful dialogue.
3. Building trust: You may be able to increase credibility by producing high-quality content with valuable information, but it will take a long time to build trust without personal interaction – especially if you have a higher price point product or service.
Time is a critical factor for complex B2B sales cycles. The company that gains a person-to-person audience with prospects first is far more likely to win their trust and their business.
Can you really afford to wait for a prospect to read enough blog posts and articles or participate in enough webinars to ask you to sell to them?
In his blog post, The Last Word on Cold Calling vs. Social Media, sales guru Anthony Iannarino calls the hype that says salespeople no longer need to pick up the phone, “criminal negligence”.
But he doesn’t make the mistake of sending the pendulum swinging the opposite direction. He agrees with the wisdom of the integrated approach, saying:
“An honest approach would be to tell salespeople that they need to be able to use all prospecting methods available.”
In my company, our advice is the same. Our experience with lead generation programs for B2B clients shows that the best results always come from integrated approaches: content and social selling strategies in combination with outbound calling programs, which is why we partner with JMS Elite.