Are you measuring what really matters in B2B marketing? [New research]

B2B marketing — are you measuring the right things?

The need to prove marketing’s value has been an ongoing battle for pretty much as long as marketing has existed as a discipline. While it is patently obvious to everyone in the marketing department that they’re a major business driver, others don’t always agree.

It’s not difficult to see why. While today's B2B marketers can often point at circumstantial links to increased sales, they have struggled to show straight-line causality between their activities and business performance.

Of course, the discipline has had a tendency to make its life more complicated by adopting various vanity metrics (likes, shares, retweets etc). While these show some people responding to certain tactics, more often than not, these metrics have no impact on bottom-line revenue. They can also lead to self-fulfilling approaches that simply boost these inconsequential measures even further.

What matters, gets measured

Today, B2B marketers are under more pressure than ever to deliver pipeline and revenue, but are they really willing to stand up and be counted on their results?

Across the respondents to our Revenue Rift Research, just 37% use marketing-generated pipeline as a key metric. This places it just ahead of ‘social engagement’ metrics at 32% and ROI at 27% but behind tactical measures such as email opens and clicks (40%). And when we asked respondents to name the number one metric in use, while total marketing generated pipeline/revenue came top, this only accounted for 14% of the total.

At first blush, this looks as though B2B marketers will struggle in the face of a CEO or CFO asking them to ‘Show me the numbers’.

Revenue by other names

Looking across the various measures in use, we see a range of options that are de facto synonyms for revenue. For example, 45% of respondents track closed:won sales and 42% measure win rate.

On the pipeline side of the equation, half the respondents track the number of qualified leads (the most common measure used) and 39% measure net new leads.

What this shows is that, while just over a third of B2B marketers are willing to explicitly nail their colours to the revenue mast, a significant number are actively tracking sales-related metrics.

The key difference is between those who favour outcome metrics (revenue, closed:won, win rate) and those that err on the side of measures showing an input to sales (qualified leads). 

What about sales velocity?

B2B sales cycles are long. Beyond entry-level SaaS offerings, it’s not uncommon for sales to take 6 to 12 months or more. This has a significant impact on any B2B marketer tasked with boosting revenue. Whatever they do today will not generally show a return for at least the next two quarters.

Is this just the way it is?

For many of our respondents, the answer appears to be: yes. Under a quarter (23%) of B2B marketers in the survey measure pipeline velocity (ie the length of the sales cycle). This falls to just a fifth for enterprise marketers. It drops even further for professional services with just 17% using this metric. In fact, only manufacturing businesses get over the 25% mark.

To be clear, over half will score leads based on where they are in the buying cycle, they just don’t focus on how fast they’re moving through.

This is curious.

For marketers under pressure to deliver revenue, taking targeted actions to accelerate the sales process is one of the most efficient ways of achieving their objectives.

Importantly, this is not just about being able to pull revenue from next quarter into this one (though that’s certainly a benefit for quarter-to-quarter B2B organisations).

Focusing on pipeline velocity forces marketers to more closely examine each opportunity stage in the sales cycle. This enables them to spot where points of friction exist that not only slow sales but which often lead to opportunities simply vanishing into perpetual ‘no action’ loops (turning into zombie leads that can skew the overall picture of sales and marketing effectiveness).

It also helps forge better alignment between sales and marketing as both are required for effective analysis and both directly benefit from targeted action. And, of course, it generates some very specific metrics that are understandable throughout the organisation.

Getting to grips with B2B marketing measurement

It is no longer enough to simply spray-and-pray (whether that's outbound demand generation activity or inbound content marketing). Importantly, however, neither is it desirable to measure anything and everything just because you can. The metrics you select need to be meaningful across the organisation. Ultimately, this means selecting a limited number of measures that have clear business outcomes attached to them.


3 Things to do right now

  1. Be clear on the wider revenue targets of the business. Where do these come from? Is there a difference between good revenue and bad revenue? Speak to your CFO. Speak to sales. Avoid ambiguity at all costs.

  2. Understand what you need to measure (and what you don’t). Be careful of focusing on metrics that are inputs to sales vs those that demonstrate true business outcomes.

  3. Don’t overlook pipeline velocity – not only will it accelerate your results, it’ll help you view the entire revenue picture in a more productive way.


WANT THE FULL REPORT?

This is an edited excerpt from our recent Revenue Rift Report. Download your copy »


B2B revenue marketing — the pressure is on

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The direction of travel in marketing over the last decade is unmistakable. Today’s B2B marketers are now under more pressure than ever before. No surprise there.

However, when commentators talk about this, the focus tends to be on the tactical. It’s all the choices and options that cause the stress. It’s navigating an ever-changing marketing landscape that’s the main problem.

So we hear about the explosion in media channels, or conversely the threat of the Googlebook duopoly, or social in all its forms, or the bright shiny new world of AI and AR/VR. We hear how you must be all in on ABM or inbound or content marketing or, or, or...

In reality, the real issue is more fundamental than this. Put in its most brutal terms: B2B marketers are under more pressure than ever before to deliver bottom-line revenue.

Sometimes this is couched in terms of pipeline. Sometimes it is about closed:won rates. Sometimes it’s about speed of sales cycle. But the end result is that the C-suite is increasingly looking to marketing to hit numbers that have hard currency attached to them.

B2B marketers: under pressure to perform

Of course, we’re all under pressure to deliver, nothing new there. If you want a stress-free life, B2B marketing probably isn’t for you. But, to be clear, for many, the levels of pressure we’re seeing today are intense.

In our study, 52% of mid-market and enterprise marketers said they are under a lot of pressure to deliver pipeline and revenue. This increases to 56% when we look just at enterprise marketers.

What’s more, it’s increasing.

A massive 86% of respondents say the pressure has become worse in the last 12 to 18 months. Just under half (49%) say it’s increased a lot. In fact, split out the responses by sector and the picture is even more stark.

Professional services has seen the biggest change followed by technology and B2B financial services businesses. This results in 70% of professional services marketers feeling under a lot of pressure with their tech brothers and sisters not far behind on 60%. (The makers of Valium must be laughing.)

Intense is the new normal in B2B marketing

Ok, but maybe this is just the new normal. Maybe we’ve hit a steady state and just need to adapt. Maybe, like new tech on the Gartner Hype Cycle, this will all begin to plateau soon.

We admire your optimism. Sadly, it’s not shared by those we interviewed.

Some 59% of respondents expect the pressure to continue to intensify in the coming year. And you know those professional services and tech marketers we mentioned above? They expect it to intensify the most (70% and 63% respectively).

Seriously, if you know a marketer in either of these sectors, stop reading this and go give them a hug. They need it.

Pipeline and revenue: important and urgent

Given the pressure, it’s no wonder that pipeline and revenue are becoming key objectives for the year ahead. Across our respondents, 31% say increasing marketing-driven revenue is a key marketing priority. Again, the bigger you are, the more you’re feeling the pinch. Among enterprise marketers, we see this number increase to 34%.

And it’s not just about professional services and tech marketers. Over half of those in manufacturing businesses are placing revenue in the key priority bucket for the next 12 months too.

There is a truism in business that what matters gets measured. Today, with all the talk about data-driven marketing, B2B marketers are measuring more factors than ever before. The survey’s respondents are no different, tracking a wide range of metrics.

But when we asked them about the number one metric they are using to measure performance, increasing pipeline/revenue came top (just ahead of closed:won rates).


3 things to do right now

  1. Get on the same page as the C-suite. Understand how marketing fits into the wider strategy of the business. Dig deep to make sure you’re speaking the same language.
  2. Even if you’re not feeling the pressure on revenue yet, it’s coming. Start to look at what you’ll need to change if senior management hits you with a significant revenue target.
  3. Get ahead of the problem – set your own revenue targets for the year ahead now (even if these stay within the marketing department).

Want to get the full report?

This is an excerpt from our recent Revenue Rift Report. Download your copy »


The 10 questions that'll differentiate your B2B brand

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As customers, we are surrounded by choice. In every sector, in every geography, there are thousands of options clamouring for our budget — options that span products, services and ‘solutions’ of every kind. 

Just look at the current Marketing Technology Landscape graphic to see this writ large.

Thing is, most of us as buyers never consider all the options. Why would we? Life’s too short. 

The idea that we will fire up the Google machine and carefully consider all the alternatives is a myth. As is the thought that once we have our shortlist, we’ll go merrily skipping across social media to find out what everyone is saying about every option on the table.

Not going to happen.

Instead, we’ll work on some pretty basic gut-feel…

  • Have I heard of these guys?
  • Do I have a good impression about them?
  • Has anyone I know used them? (And do I trust their opinion?)
  • Is there anything that makes them better than the competition?
  • Am I going to lose my job if I make the wrong decision?

These rules of thumb (heuristics if you want to get fancy) are how we make decisions in almost every sphere of our lives. B2B purchases are no different.

Yet too many B2B companies still operate as if every customer was a 100% rational, cost-benefit weighing psychopath who will see the self-evident benefit of selecting their product based on the 200 new features added since the last release. 

Yeah, right.

But differentiation is hard. It means asking a bunch of tough questions while turning up the bullshit detector to 11. So it’s easier to focus on tactics instead (look, you can engage with us on Instagram!).

Fortunately, the motivation for working hard at differentiation is pretty clear. If you don’t, you’ll fail as a business. Harsh? Ok, if you’re lucky, you’ll simply underperform your competitors and have to spend a whole heap of cash to make up for your meh. Better?

So what does it take to get to a point where you have a clear picture of what makes your brand different (and why anyone should care)? Well, start with the following 10 questions.

1. Who are we and what do we do?

Yes, start with the real basics. Remember, this is not an excuse to go off on one about how you’re a highly innovative time-as-a-service provider resetting the global paradigm of an hours-based economy when what you really sell is a cloud-based diary. 

The keep it simple stupid rule applies here. When you boil it all down, what do you actually do for customers?

We get this in our workshops when we hear things along the lines of: We’re re-engineering cloud-based security for a mobile age. Well, I’m really happy for you. Now, what do you do for customers? Because at the end of the day, they are the ones that really matter.

2. What market are we in?

I know, I’m killing you with the complexity of these questions. But it’s surprising how re-examining the market you play in can open up new opportunities (or alert you to new competitive threats).

Again, customer-focus is key. When it comes down to it, you’re in a race to prove value. So you may think of yourself as in the financial services software market but what if you’re really in the market of making your customers more agile or more resistant to uncertainty or more cost-efficient? That can begin to differentiate you from competitors opening up new possibilities for telling a more compelling story.

3. What do we sell?

Again, simple enough. But again, be careful of bland talk of solutions, it’s a meaningless term. Let’s say you’re in the CRM market. You could easily (and accurately) say you sell a suite or solution or platform. But so does everyone else. Unless you’re Salesforce, that’s not going to cut it. 

But diving into the product, you might determine that among the 1001 things it can do, it is better than most at mining into a contact’s history and delivering interesting insight to a salesperson. So while you do sell a CRM system, the value you sell is a CRM system that helps salespeople unlock profitable hidden connections. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Now, I can imagine you coming back with a “But you just made that up, our product doesn’t have that kind of distinctive benefit.” 

Well, a couple of things... 

It probably has more distinctiveness than you realise, it’s just a matter of digging deep enough and resisting the lure of the bland me-too features that everyone talks about. 

Or, if it really has no inherent differences at a product level, create differentiation through how you do business. 

If it’s worse than that, quit and get a job with a more interesting business. Seriously, what are you doing wasting your time there?

4. What does success look like?

Too many businesses get stuck implementing tactical activity without focusing sufficient time and effort on the bigger picture. 

The first thing is to be clear about what we will see when we succeed in creating a powerful, differentiated brand. What will happen in the market? In the business? In the minds of our customers and prospects?

How will we measure this success? What will we see in pure revenue terms? When?

Once we have a clear picture of success, we can judge all activity on how likely it is to get us closer to our end goals and prioritise what we do accordingly.

5. Who are our buyers and what are they buying?

So, who buys from us? Who do we need to influence?

In a B2B sale, this can be complex. While there has been a tendency to focus on the C-suite in recent years, the reality is that in many sales (even those deemed ‘strategic’ in nature) the C-suite is not a driving force. They may approve the purchase, but no more than that.

We can often split buyers by type: decision makers (who can say yes or no), economic buyers (the money), influencers (with specialist knowledge or a vested interest) and end users.

We can go a step further and also consider anyone who may wish to sabotage the sale for their own reasons (eg, it’s a threat to their role/power base).

From here, we need to look at what each is buying. Each will have their own agenda and priorities. So while we may need to sell efficiency to the economic buyer, we may need to think ease of use for the end user. 

6. What’s our value proposition?

As mentioned above, we’re in competition to demonstrate value to customers. This is the value as they see it (not what we may wish them to value).

There are heaps of ways to express a value proposition. We tend to use a version of Geoffrey Moore’s from Crossing the Chasm:

For <TARGET MARKET> who want to <KEY CUSTOMER OBJECTIVE>, we are <CORE DESCRIPTION> that enables customers to <KEY CUSTOMER VALUE>.

So, for our own business, we’d end up with:

For ambitious B2B marketers who want to drive qualified leads and accelerate the sales pipeline, Considered is a content-led demand generation agency that enables them to deliver greater results, faster.

Importantly, this is not copy that will appear anywhere, it is simply designed to help you clarify the value you offer customers.

7. What are the biggest problems you help solve for your customers?

Your customers don’t particularly care about your business, they care about theirs. For your product or service to get onto their radar, it needs to have a pretty straight line impact on something that matters to them.

So this could be things like:

  • Helping them get to market faster
  • Removing cost from their supply chain operations
  • Accelerating data performance across a wide area network
  • Securing their most important asses against cyber threats

Whatever it is, it needs to be important and relatively urgent for the customer to fix. Ending up with three or so is good.

8. Who or what is the competition?

No business operates in a vacuum. There is always competition. Even if you’re first to market, there’s likely to be another way for customers to solve the same problems you do. 

While you shouldn’t be defined by your competitors, you should have an in-depth understanding of where they fit into your customers’ thinking. Are they the safe choice? Are they the ones that everyone loves to hate? Are they the rule-breakers?

Try reverse engineering a value proposition on to each major competitor. Then reduce it to a simple sentence/claim. Now reduce it to a word that best sums it up. This will show you the broad territories each is trying to dominate.

You can then decide whether you can deposition them out of that territory or find a more differentiated area to compete within (we generally recommend the latter).

9. How are we different and better?

So we now have a clearer picture of the competitors, how do we stack up?

Chances are, you won’t be better in every way but you need to be better in some of the key ways that count for customers (you see the theme here?). You need to be able to carve out some clear blue water that will give you scope to tell more engaging, more profitable stories. Stories that will make you relevant and memorable.

If you’re already pretty dominant in your market, incremental improvements may be enough. If, however, you are up against a competitor with major market presence, the differences will need to be more significant and more valuable to offset the gravity of their brand.

10. What barriers do we need to overcome?

If only we could simply set out a differentiated position and get on with it. Life would be a lot easier. But, back in the real world, there will always be obstacles to progress and success.

Being clear about what these are offers a clear route to ensuring they do not become insurmountable barriers.

These may be external, such as a negative perception of a previous product or a specific dynamic in the market.

They could be internal, such as misalignment between departments.

Some will be complete blockers that need to be overcome before anything else can happen. Others will be points of friction that slow progress.

Again, once we’re clear on what we need to overcome, we can make active plans to deal with it.

This is just the start

The 10 questions above are simply the beginning of a process. They represent about half of what we cover in our workshops. Importantly, they are more focused on delivering input for our thinking. The next critical step is to turn them into output that means something to customers and which supports the objectives of the wider business. That’s where the real magic lies.

Get external help 

Now, of course you’d expect us to say this, but if you’re trying to differentiate your brand, you should get a third party involved to help.

The reality is, in any positioning exercise you will struggle to see outside the walls of your own business. You will have a tendency to believe your own hype. You’ll be hamstrung by your history.

A third party will ask the questions you may not. They will challenge you to think more broadly. They’ll put themselves in the position of the customer and call bullshit when needed. And that, is invaluable.

Want to talk about your brand? Drop us a line at hello@consideredcontent.com.