As B2B companies begin to lay the foundation for their marketing efforts, it’s often executed in a ‘point and shoot’ approach. Doing things that do not scale in the beginning and testing vigorously makes sense early on as you’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. But once you’ve established an initial customer base and have achieved product market fit, it’s important to move to the next stage — building a scalable, repeatable demand generation engine.
Depending on budget and go-to-market assumptions, the ideal demand engine consists of a mix of organic and paid channels. It’s important to establish proper sales and marketing operations, inbound marketing, outbound marketing, and paid advertising.
1. Sales & Marketing Operations Infrastructure
When building out your demand generation engine to produce a predictable flow of leads and sales opportunities, one of the most overlooked and critical aspects in doing so is laying the foundation with a stable sales and marketing operations infrastructure.
This infrastructure involves not only choosing a marketing automation (MA) platform and CRM, but also thinking about who on your team will be the team lead for your marketing and sales platforms, along with ensuring there is a strategic process in place to fully leverage your system of record.
Choosing a marketing automation platform and CRM requires an understanding that you have to set up the platforms correctly. Just having an automation platform in place isn’t a guarantee that everything will work perfectly. It’s well worth the investment to work with certified partners who can help you set up your platforms to future-proof as you grow.
Choosing a Marketing Automation Platform and CRM
As you begin your search for a marketing automation platform, it’s important to recognize the needs of a growing B2B company, your desires, and budget. In addition, familiarity with a specific platform should also be taken into account.
When doing your research, you’ll inevitably find the large Marketing Automation players in the space such Marketo, HubSpot, Pardot, along with the Marketing Automation platforms geared towards smaller businesses such as Autopilot and Active Campaign. While each platform has its pros and cons, all are respected solutions for growing and mature B2B organizations. These companies also have a large partner network, where you can work with experts who are certified in helping you set them up to maximize your investment.
Assigning a Marketing Automation Lead
After deciding on which Marketing Automation platform you’ll be implementing, it’s critical to assign a marketing automation owner. An MA owner is someone who does not necessarily need to be a marketing automation expert, but rather it could be someone who is willing to learn or learn and understand enough to be a POC for a consultant or agency. This is, by far, the most overlooked step in this process, and one that can hinder your progress greatly if you do not have someone internally leading or helping lead these efforts.
Building a Strategic Process
While an experienced team member or agency should have a proven process to follow, and the expertise to guide you through that process, the reality is most early-stage startups do not have this luxury just yet. Instead, they need to form a reliable process that they can get behind to ensure their marketing automation platform is implemented properly.
Build a marketing technology roadmap
Determine your short and long term goals and make your CRM the center of all marketing technologies and as your single source of truth. Don’t try to over architect in the beginning, streamlining every stem in the process. Overbuilding adds unneeded complexity and can absorb attention for troubleshooting and training. Begin with building a solid foundation to confidently expand upon and build on top of, automating gradually. This helps with internal change management and system adaptation, matching growth and scale at an even and consistent rate.
Define and map lead stages
The primary purpose of marketing automation is to help your organization scale by generating quality leads and nurturing them to conversion, with the ultimate goal of turning them into customers. Lead stages allow you to track where leads are at within the sales funnel (opportunity and account stages are highly useful for the same reason) which increases visibility into how quickly leads are moving from one stage to the next. Or in many cases, identify bottlenecks to address and resolve, promoting a smooth process for leads to flow through the pipeline.
Define your lead qualification process
What constitutes a marketing qualified lead? When does the marketing to sales handoff (or sales to customer success) take place? Determining the qualification process will promote effective cross-functional communication and collaboration while providing the various teams a consistent, reliable and repeatable process and set of rules to follow. Also consider establishing the proper lead flow controls. Things such as behavioral and demographic lead scoring, SLA’s for various lead types, etc. are all things to consider at this stage.
Lead attribution modeling
Also commonly referred to as “lead source”, lead attribution is a critical component to any successful organizations growth. Without knowing the exact channel your leads are coming from, you cannot successfully determine which channels convert the highest and are the most effective. A common mistake is to categorize lead attribution as the campaign the leads were generated by. Rather, it should be the specific channel (direct, paid, organic, events, etc). You can then use a multi-field approach to add additional layers and attribution detail (ie. leadsource_a = paid, leadsource_b = advertising, social, etc. and leadsource_c = ad campaign, social network, etc.) which structures a data model at a 50k foot view while enabling the ability to zoom in as far as needed.
Segment, target, and personalize
The data you collect at each stage in the marketing and sales process facilitates granular segmentation within your database. This empowers you to run targeted and personalized communication and engagement with your leads, opportunities and customers. This creates an environment for successful re-engagement, up-sell, and cross-sell opportunities as well.
For example, you can segment your prospect lists, thus messaging but industry, persona, or deal size. This will require some trial and error. However assuming that every message is relevant to all your prospects is a common mistake and should be considered before launching campaigns. Although the upfront work of doing this is time-consuming, the benefits are much greater and can be scaled over time.
Stick to your process
This implementation process takes time, effort, and resources. Laying out this foundation is critical to success and reducing technology and data gaps in the future. You’re building and structured this foundation and formulating these processes for a reason, so stick to your process and modify and expand when needed and appropriate. Doing so prematurely or without keeping the larger picture and future goals in mind only causes more headaches down the road.
Data monitoring and maintenance
Set up smart lists, reports and automated internal notifications to maintain data quality. Routinely check these and correct any issues or fill gaps to prevent dirty data as your database grows and becomes larger. In many instances, data is manually input or modified by various teams at various points in the process. This data is imperative to enable marketing to segment, target and personalize. Remove dead, junk, or uninterested leads on occasion. If there’s no opportunity to engage, there’s no reason to inflate and clutter your database.
2. Inbound Marketing
While having a marketing ops infrastructure in place is critical, you’ll need to put your system to good use by way of building a consistent, repeatable demand generation process to drive top of funnel lead engagement, while also educating prospects and visitors at every stage of the process. One of the best ways to do this is through inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing includes all things related to the creation, use and promotion of organic resources, such as eBooks, social media, case studies, blog content, free tools and more. With inbound marketing, your goal is to bring leads to you in a consistent manner, and to do so organically (i.e. non-paid channels).
Once a visitor reaches your website, you’ll want to capture their information (usually through a form) so that you can put them into a nurture sequence and get them primed for a discussion with your sales team, or to disqualify them if they are not a fit, which is equally as important as qualifying prospects for fit.
As your company grows, you’ll want to focus more on inbound marketing. In the beginning, spending most of your budget on advertising will make sense, but it won’t be a sustainable method as your company grows. With inbound leads coming in organically, you’ll be able to ramp up your lead generation efforts in a much more cost-effective manner.
Content is Still King
Content marketing is still one of the best performing channels for inbound marketing. Who doesn’t love free traffic? Ranking highly for specific keywords can take time, often at least a few months depending on a variety of factors, but once you have the traffic coming consistently, you’ll want to keep investing in content to maintain and improve your search rankings.
How do you actually do the keyword research? Here’s some advice on how to do keyword research for your SEO efforts, which will in turn fuel your demand generation engine.
- Research all the relevant keywords for my niche using Google Keyword Planner or SEMRush
- Aim for search terms that have a Keyword Difficulty (KD) of 70% or below (we’ve seen this work really well)
- Export the data to Excel and created keyword groups with 3–5 keywords in each group
- Create blog posts for each topic and aim for 1% keyword usage
- Clean up technical SEO errors using SEMrush to make your site easier for Google to crawl
- Make sure to use a meta description and include alt tags in your images
3. Outbound Prospecting
When building out v1 of your demand generation engine, it can be overwhelming and may seem like there is a lot of work to be done before you start driving leads consistently and predictably. Much of that is true, despite being well worth it. One of the exceptions to this rule is outbound prospecting.
At first, many companies tend to trivialize the importance and effectiveness of outbound prospecting, citing things such as how cold emails and cold calls are no longer effective. This is incorrect. Cold prospecting may be ineffective for companies who approach these tactics incorrectly. The reality is that outbound email and outbound calls can be one of your most effective channels, especially early on in your demand engine build-out.
Creating a Stable Outbound Campaign
In order to run an outbound campaign effectively, you need to have proven the success and messaging for at least one very specific persona and at least one use case. If your message is diluted or too broad, your outbound will fall flat. A good benchmark for cold emails is a 2% interested response rate. If 2% of your cold leads reply with interest, you’ll know your messaging is working.
Secondly, you’ll need a competent research source, ideally an individual who can manually research a highly targeted list of individuals and accounts. We’ve found that external databases, such as Discover.org, RainKing, ZoomInfo and others, act as a viable source for large scale data needs, but they often convert at a much lower rate than manually researched data due to data decay and overuse (because if you have easy access to that data, so do thousands of other companies).
Once your messaging is in place and you have a reasonable number of qualified, accurate contacts, you’ll then need to form your outbound email marketing strategy by leveraging a third-party outbound prospecting software that can seamlessly integrate into Gmail or Outlook such as SalesLoft, Outreach or Reply.io.
After choosing your outbound email software, you’ll need to invest some time in the proper setup to ensure your emails are in compliance with CAN-SPAM and other local SPAM regulations, along with ensuring other items, such as SPF records, are in place. In addition, it’s highly advised that if you create a new email domain for outbound prospecting that you ‘warm’ the domain for a few weeks — this means that you invest time into using the email for regular email sending, which will ensure that when you do begin to prospect using that email, Gmail or Outlook will not flag your email since it will have a history of sending and receiving emails.
Optimizing Your Outbound Prospecting Cadence
While the initial setup is critical to a successful outbound process, it goes without saying that you’ll need an enticing offer that resonates to the specific pain-points of your personas. With that in mind, we highly encourage outbound campaigns to go for quality over quantity, which means taking a surgical approach to segmentation.
For starters, you should take a look at creating a detailed Buyer Persona guide to help establish clear and concise guidelines around speaking to your types of buyers, and how they differ based on their role, the size of the company they work for, their industry and other factors that pertain to your customers and your business.
The purpose for detailed buyer personas is to lay the foundation for your research, along with creating copy that will truly resonate with your audience, allowing you to cut through the clutter and overcome the natural challenges of cold email. The more detailed, the better.
For instance, if you know that companies with a certain technology tend to adopt your product at a higher rate, you can research companies that use that technology (and mention it in your copy) to give yourself and edge — you reduce the pool size, but greatly increase the relevance.
4. Paid Advertising
Producing traffic, and the right kind of traffic is something all companies look to improve and do more of. Whether you’re focused on organic traffic or paid traffic, or ideally both, you’ll need to drive relevant traffic to content and conversion pages on your site.
Many B2B businesses rely on Google Ads as a way to increase the number of leads they have. It’s a great channel that works. But if you don’t set it up properly, you’ll waste money — and you won’t reach your desired demand generation results. You can use paid advertising to find first-time visitors, or use it for remarketing (more on that below).
In addition, there are other use common and effective use-cases for Google Ads including:
- Competitor campaigns: Outrank your key competitors’ brand keywords by strategically paying for ads above their site and landing pages.
- Organic keyword research: During the course of your keyword research, you will find potential keywords to optimize for. You can use this as an opportunity to write blog posts that can help you rank for target keywords. If done properly, you’ll not only see which keywords are producing leads, but you’ll also see keywords are producing leads that convert, and which are not. You can then use these insights to focus on creating more content to organically rank for the keywords and phrases that convert well for your business
Did you know that 92% of visitors that visit a website for the first time aren’t there to actively buy? They just want to get to know your brand, see what you have to offer, and set the stage for future interactions.
Remarketing (sometimes called retargeting) refers to the strategy of displaying advertisements strictly to those that have already visited your website. All popular advertising platforms, including Google Ads and Facebook, offer remarketing campaigns to visitors.
Once a prospect visits your website, you have a limited amount of time to stay top-of-mind. Remarketing campaigns allow you to ensure that you get your brand in front of those one-time visitors again, on the platforms that they frequent.
Maintaining Your Demand Generation Engine
Setting up, and maintaining, a demand generation engine can be a lot of work initially, but if done properly, you’ll see it pay dividends for the entirety of your business. Often, we see companies try to skip steps, or just focus on one channel because they’re seeing some initial success. However, this is the wrong approach to take, because you’ll hit a lead plateau at some point. Rather, you should keep your sights set on testing small, figuring out a few channels that work well for your business to double down on, and then focus on conversion optimization strategies to increase the effectiveness of those channels.
Brandon Pindulic is the Founder & CEO of OpGen Media, a Marketing Operations and Demand Generation partner for leading B2B companies ranging from SMBs to Enterprises.