The lead-gen process relies on multiple factors, and ideally many channels. Like never before, marketing integration, using ever-more sophisticated tools and metrics, along with sales/marketing alignment is helping perfect lead-gen efforts.
The end goal for any integrated marketing platform is to generate leads by engaging marketers in dialogues with their audiences. As a result, successful integration has a profound impact on the number and quality of leads being fed into the sales pipeline, said Paige O'Neill, VP-marketing at Aprimo.
“Marketing needs to lead organizations in this area,” O'Neill said. “By creating a marketing environment that incorporates all channels—from Web and social to direct mail, and call centers and everything in between—lead-gen efforts perform better because marketers can tie every aspect of a campaign back to a single overarching strategy.
“This dramatically improves the efficiency of a marketing department, an increasingly important advantage as channels continue to multiply,” O'Neill said.
Maria Pergolino, senior director-marketing at Marketo Inc., sees four key attributes of the successfully integrated marketing plan. They are: developing unified, measurable themes across marketing and revenue teams; determining an aligned strategy; implementing an integrated campaign that is audience-focused; and employing diverse channels.
“Because integrated marketing amplifies the marketing message across all strategies and tactics, it allows lead-generation campaigns to see increased results in almost every program and channel,” she said
Perhaps the most influential element in building effective marketing integration is the increasing availability of advanced tools and metrics. Social media tracking, closed-loop ROI reporting, lead scoring and grading, SEO keyword reporting—these measurement tools not only provide insight into a prospect's specific interests and sales-readiness but also help marketers determine which campaigns are working and which need to be revised.
Along with a more data-driven, results-based approach, marketers need to look to deeper stats, said Adam Blitzer, COO at Pardot.
“Most marketers aren't actually following leads through the sales cycle, measuring the number of marketing-sourced opportunities and ultimately the amount of revenue generated by marketing efforts,” Blitzer said. “Taking this extra step gives the marketing department even more leverage. When you can put a true dollar value on marketing's contribution to the bottom line, you're speaking the language of your C-level executives.”
The integration of various marketing functions also is creating an opportunity for demand marketers, said Doug Sechrist, VP-demand marketing at Eloqua Corp. By bringing functions like content marketing closer to the demand-gen process, marketers can better align content—typically used to generate awareness and thought leadership—to the buyer's journey.
Along with the tools marketers now have to evaluate products and services, new channels are popping up regularly; most prominent among them: social media.
“Social media offers an opportunity to extend marketing's reach, optimize the value of existing marketing efforts and increase the return of marketing programs,” Sechrist said.
While social media is having a large impact on lead-generation efforts, using it effectively as a lead-gen tool can still be problematic. However, one advantage of social media stands out to Bryan Brown, director-product strategy at Silverpop, as an effective lead-gen methodology: social sign-ins, which allow individuals to use log-ins from social networking sites like Facebook to sign into a third-party's website.
“A social sign-in capability allows marketers to gain a better understanding of their customers' interests, which later can be used to provide highly relevant, targeted messages,” Brown said. Besides increasing lead acquisition and continuing the social experience for socially engaged prospects, social sign-ins can be a more appealing alternative to the traditional multiquestion form, he said.
“Most people prefer social sign-in to manually populating a long form, making it an ideal option for both marketers and their customers and prospects,” he said.
Along with the ideal of marketing integration is another much-sought-after goal: the integration of sales and marketing. But the persistent gap between sales and marketing is a real problem for a lot of businesses and can result in tension, lost opportunities and poor lead-gen results.
Marketing is often faced with a limited budget for lead generation, and the sales team can be frustrated by the low-quality leads that can produce. To fix this, sales and marketing need to communicate more effectively—and they can, Pardot's Blitzer said.
“If you're working toward the same goals from day one, and you establish tactics to meet these goals, it gets harder to point fingers at the other department,” he said. “Agree on such things as what defines a good lead, how much presales nurturing should take place, how quickly sales must follow up on leads and what to do when leads say they aren't ready to buy.”
Blitzer stressed that concrete metrics—evidence of marketing's contribution to overall business success—enable companies to feel more comfortable adding resources to marketing's efforts. In turn, sales can see how marketing helps it meet its goals.
“The sales team usually has very defined processes, so why not start there?” said Kristin Hambelton, VP-marketing at Neolane Inc. “Start by piggybacking on those processes used by sales, aligning content strategies and marketing goals with stages of the sales cycle.
“By establishing a common language and metrics, marketers can better support the sales team and its ability to generate leads and nurture them from awareness and consideration to intent and conversion,” Hambelton said.
The most fruitful next step in lead generation is using digital channels to augment the sales channel, said Yuchun Lee, general manager of IBM Corp.'s Enterprise Marketing Management Group.
“In the b2b space, the two major channels in business are the sales force plus the online channel, such as a website,” Lee said. “Other than making sure your site works for ordering and research, we see that the insight and behavior from site visitors is extremely valuable and informative for direct sales.”
Along with others, Lee said the long-awaited convergence of the marketing and sales functions may finally be at hand.
“In the old days, meaning five years ago, I saw plenty of cases where companies spent millions of dollars to generate leads,” Lee said. “By the time you actually got the leads back to the organization, half of them dropped on the floor, meaning no one followed up.”
Lee said much of that had to do with the inability of companies to pull leads from all the different channels, making sure the leads flowed effectively to the sales managers and ensuring follow-up takes place. But he sees this changing.
“Organizations are starting to pull together their lead management optimization as part of a system engagement that allows for a holistic way of interacting with the customer,” he said.