Demand Generation: It’s More than Marketing Automation

automationChief Marketing Officers (CMOs), marketing leaders and media executives will invest $39B in media in 2015 and billions more on marketing technology to generate customer demand for their company’s products and services. This investment is driven by the huge mandate for marketers to create a continuous, predictable prospect pipeline that results in loyal customers.

In the marketing technology revolution, “demand generation” is often aligned (almost synonymously) with marketing automation (MA).  This is understandable as MA platforms improve a great number of demand gen processes. As far back as 2008, marketing tech authority David Raab labeled marketing automation as “Demand gen systems for the digital era,” and as MA platform capabilities have evolved, so too has the relationship between demand gen and these systems.  Marketing automation is undoubtedly an integral part of the customer acquisition equation, but its value shouldn’t blind demand gen pros to more recent tech-driven opportunities. 

Demand generation efforts are becoming increasingly diverse

Funnel_-_MidAs marketing evolves with always-on, always-connected consumers and business pros, marketers are realizing that demand generation – and, specifically, prospect acquisition – requires much more than marketing automation systems that provide basic engagement tools and the email, nurturing and scoring solutions designed to refine prospect data into sales-ready leads.  Prospects are people who consume information on their terms, using a variety of sources and not just a company’s website, email or latest landing page offer. (Wouldn’t that be convenient if our target audience would just find their way to our marketing stuff?) 

Marketing automation is a starting point, but not the finish line

Consequently, most demand generation marketers depend on prospect data generated through outbound marketing programs by third-party media providers (content syndication sites, social, email newsletters, webinars, face-to-face events, offline media, and many other channels).  These top-funnel leads become the critical “fuel” that feed marketing and sales systems to deliver on the customer acquisition mandate.

Marketing automation is incredibly valuable for capturing inbound prospect data on owned websites and landing pages, as well as activities meant to refine this prospect data into “sales ready” leads or convert prospects into customers (via scoring models and nurturing tracks). Yet, today’s demand generation requirements are much broader than inbound lead capture and refinement.  

Integration of multiple martech and adtech providers

Marketing automation vendors understand that marketers need supplementary capabilities, and they’re racing to both expand their platform functions and create ecosystems of other marketing, advertising and technology providers to offer a more holistic solution to demand generation teams.  But, stitching together multiple products to create a high-performing customer acquisition machine is a Herculean task.  Oracle, Salesforce, Adobe and Marketo – to name a few of the big dogs – are partnering, integrating and even acquiring other best-of-breed solutions to deliver a more connected, efficient platform. Examples of this effort are Oracle’s AppCloud and Marketo’s LaunchPoint (NOTE: my company, Integrate, provides outbound demand generation automation for all MA platforms).  Marketers can now use these ecosystems to include critical components such as prospect acquisition sources, predictive analytics, and data validation to fully manage and measure the demand gen factory.   

The state of play for most marketers’ demand generation initiatives

As both a marketing practitioner and working in the marketing tech world, here’s what I see as the current reality for most marketers.  You have invested in marketing automation software and connected your sales CRM system (database), websites, landing pages, content management system, etc.  Reporting is enabled with analytics tools and, for those further along, predictive analytics is being applied to improve your targeting and nurturing.  Your marketing tech investment is starting to shape up nicely and you’re more effectively generating demand and nurturing prospects.  Not all data is being utilized nor are all processes optimized, but you are on your way and improving results. So, what’s still missing?

Demand gen requires quality “Fuel” to create prospects

The above scenario works well if all your demand gen effort is executed 100% through your website and landing pages – that is, inbound marketing.  For most marketers, this isn’t the case.  More than half (56%) of companies rely on outbound marketing channels for all or part of their lead generation tactics, according to recently published Ascend2 research. The reality is that most marketers must invest in outbound marketing to drive inquiries and generate prospect data.  These outbound demand generation programs are still woefully manual, time- and resource-draining, and completely disconnected from the marketing automation effort.   

In demand gen, lead and data quality are critical and often a top objective. However, improving lead quality requires improving data accuracy which is low on the list of priorities. At Integrate, we find that 30 – 40% of lead data generated is invalid or missing important data.  This wreaks havoc on nurturing and follow-up, creating a horrible customer experience, draining sales and marketing productivity, wasting precious media budget, and impacting the performance of marketing automation and systems campaigns. Having data validation in place before data is imported into marketing and sales systems is a requirement for any marketing organization.  Validation software assures media, system and sales ROI.  

So what can you do to get control, automate and optimize your investment in demand generation?

1.  Identify all (ideally your best) data sources and providers used to generate prospects

Since only a portion of your leads are coming from your website-hosted forms, it’s critical to take a complete inventory of your demand gen efforts.  One of the most effective ways to identify gaps, chokepoints and opportunities for improvement is to develop a marketing tech blueprint. It’s a very straightforward process that starts by taking inventory of your current media partners and data sources (online, offline, third-party, etc.). Then lay out your marketing and sales systems and tools that are used (or should be used) in your customer acquisition effort. Next map out and overlay the flow of the demand gen processes to path the prospect data. Identify which workflow and data processes are manual, which are automated.

This simple exercise, whether on the white board, in PowerPoint or on the back of the napkin, will quickly identify the complete picture of demand gen operations, and where your opportunities for improvement lies.

2.  Streamline your demand gen processes by standardizing, automating and integrating all your data sources 

Now that you have a complete picture via the blueprint, you can now prioritize where to start to improve your demand gen effort.  Streamlining is often the first order of business.  In some cases, you will find redundant systems that can be eliminated by standardizing on tech platforms and their integrated ecosystems (see section “Demand Gen Requires Multiple MarTech and AdTech Providers” above). This also means making sure all processes and data flow are connected and the core systems and tools you are using are integrated. With the APIs and apps available today, this effort rarely requires IT intervention (let the IT stories fly!).  For example:

  • Are your media partners importing data directly into your marketing automation system?
  • Is data being standardized and formatted automatically as data and prospects engage with your content and assets?
  • Are data quality checks performed automatically before leads are injected into your systems for nurture and follow-up?

The next move is to look at where technology can be applied to automate processes and eliminate manual tasks wherever possible.  The mission is to rid or drastically reduce your teams’ use of manual spreadsheets, data formatting and data uploads into MA and sales systems.  

3.  Use the resulting data to measure and optimize based on which providers/sources are delivering the most value

While reducing costs and wasted resources is a major benefit of streamlining demand gen processes, the real win is with connected data that can be used to both improve demand gen performance, generate revenue and deliver a better customer experience.  Data and the resulting analytics can also be used to demonstrate ROI, critical for every marketer and marketing department today.  One of the core areas in which successful marketers are seeing an immediate win is using the data to determine which lead sources, programs/campaigns and content is delivering the most conversions and customers. 

Now is the perfect time to take inventory and gain a complete picture of your demand gen investment and effort.  While focusing on and building around marketing automation is a good start, this limited view can be costly, literally.  What’s your demand gen priorities and plans for the year ahead?  Let’s get started.  

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