Getting started with an outbound demand generation program to supplement your inbound marketing efforts can be challenging at first.
There’s many moving parts to deal with across numerous channels and partners. A few include:
- Calculating pipeline requirements (those number of contacts/leads beyond what your inbound efforts can achieve)
- Identifying, selecting and onboarding media partners with the necessary audiences to scale your reach
- Communicating with each partner individually regarding the requirements of a given campaign, typically via email or phone
- Delivering, managing and updating campaign creative/content
- Acquiring lead files and “normalizing” them for correct formatting
- Analyzing campaign performance by each variable – demographic/firmographic targeting, content type, messaging, the media partner, etc.
- Adjusting campaigns across each partner based on performance of numerous variables
It’s enough to make many marketing orgs shy away from outbound demand gen altogether. But one way or another, you need to scale your pipeline and get the leads that sales needs to thrive – and inbound alone is unlikely to get it done.
Fortunately, after years of facilitating outbound demand gen programs, we’ve found six steps that help things run smoothly.
1. Take inventory of your current database and determine pipeline needs
You’ve heard the adage “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.” The principle is dead-on accurate in lead gen. You can’t develop a plan and invest your limited dollars wisely without a clear, reliable inventory of your current prospect database. You must understand what it can yield in terms of leads – before you spend any money with third parties.
Specifically, you must examine your current database to determine the contacts available in a given demographic segment to fulfill your campaigns. Subtract that number from the leads you’re committed to deliver to sales to determine your outstanding need, then compare that number to your budget and expected costs per lead (CPL) to determine what you can contract to third parties. (It’s a good idea to speak with a few media companies during this process to get an accurate estimate on what your campaign’s CPL will likely be).
2. Set KPI goals based on inbound performance metrics
When you’re just stepping into the outbound game for the first time, it’s a bit difficult to set baseline metrics, but you’ll still want to set at least a few before campaign launch. The best way is to start by measuring past inbound performance of the following variables:
- Creative/assets (such as white papers, case studies, etc.)
- Persona or account targeting
- …or any other variables
Though performance will likely differ in an outbound campaign, it’s good to know which assets and personas typically convert at higher percentages. This will enable you to better assess the value of your outbound campaign performance by various media partners and channels.
With this knowledge in hand, set what you believe are realistic KPI goals such as:
- Volume by media partner, channel or asset
- Top-funnel lead to sales-accepted conversion rate
- Influenced pipeline
Not only will these KPI work as an initial measuring rod (which you’ll inevitably tweak after your first campaign), but it’ll help you organize campaign parameters when you start vetting potential partners to work with.
3. Create campaign parameters and expectations
Step 3 and Step 4 are usually done somewhat in tandem. Your campaign parameters and expectations will very likely be altered based on media partner feedback, but having the basics outlined will help you immensely during the vetting process.
You’ve likely heard the phrase “Crawl, Walk, Run.” You’ll want to start at a crawl with your outbound program.
What I mean by this is don’t go after all your target personas, using all your content through every available channel. Instead, pick one persona to start (but keep it general enough so that your cost per lead doesn’t skyrocket), and then pick a few pieces of content that have performed very well with this audience via your inbound efforts.
Then choose your filters. In my experience, targeting highly qualified leads by getting too specific with you campaign parameters (e.g., job title, industry, company size, budget, purchase time frame, geolocation) usually costs more money than it’s worth. It’s best to keep your outbound demand gen very top-funnel (less expensive CPL), and then nurture these contacts through a marketing automation system. …but then again, every industry is different.
4. Identify and vet potential media partners
No marketer should ever take this lightly. There’s some great demand generation partners out there, but they may not have much influence over your target audience. And remember, the entire point of outbound demand gen is to reach your audience (personas or accounts) where they’re having relevant conversations. So always keep audience strengths in mind when selecting partners.
Once you’ve got a list of partners that specialize in your target audience, you’ll want to start vetting them with a litany of questions:
- What channels do they specialize in?
- What content types to the have the most success with? (If you only have white papers but they typically like to promote webinars, this may not be the best fit for you)
- How are leads delivered? (Manually via excel, automated via an API, through an automation platform, etc.)
- What’s the policy for pausing or tweaking a campaign in flight?
- Do they have a specific recommendations for your campaign?
Of course, you’ll want to get references and make sure they have payment terms agreeable to your organization.
Also, keep in mind that starting out with too many partners at first will be cumbersome and can potentially derail the entire program – so don’t go too big.
On the other hand, you’ll want to have enough partners so that you can compare them against one another. Three to five is optimal for most marketing orgs just starting out.
5. Organize, deliver and check campaign assets
If you’re not organized, assets will get lost – and this can bring down an entire program due to delayed launches.
For example, if you’re running a six-week campaign that gets delayed by three weeks because the wrong assets were sent to the wrong partners or assets were missing required elements (e.g., an abstract to place on a media partners landing page), that minimizes the time available to generate leads and optimize the campaign.
What typically works best (short of getting demand gen automation software with a media library), is creating an excel spreadsheet that organizes all assets in your program by campaign and media partner. And then include any required abstract or landing page content in a separate column within the same spreadsheet. Send this to every partner and keep them informed when it’s updated.
Finally, make sure all your partners use the right content. If they’re running content syndication, check landing page content and make sure it’s the right asset. If it’s a telemarketing campaign, listen to recordings to make sure they’re sticking to the script. Mistakes happen – you’ll want to catch them as soon as possible.
6. Understand roadblocks, use automation to hurdle them
I’m not trying to pitch anyone here, but manual management of outbound demand gen programs is burdensome and easily detracts from program investment returns. I won’t beleaguer the point, but a few common issues include:
- The sheer amount of time communicating with many media partners, one at a time via email and phone calls, often through which campaign parameters are misunderstood, creative assets are lost, etc.
- Scrubbing and normalizing lead files – poor quality leads will slip through the cracks if this is done manually
- More time lost manually uploading contacts into marketing automation systems, slowing lead velocity
- Lack of program transparency when everything is done via emails and spreadsheets – much harder to learn and improve results
If you can’t invest in outbound demand gen automation tech right now, the best alternative is to set up strict procedural guidelines for each of the above steps. And get all stakeholders on the same page – internal demand gen and marketing ops teams as well as all media partners – to ensure roadblocks are minimized and resources are maximized.
This will be a bit daunting at first, but the organizations that do it right and learn from their setbacks very often completely revitalize growth within six months.