To Funnel or Not to Funnel: B2B Marketing as a Growth System

Monday, October 21, 2019

B2B Marketing is not just about generating lead, nor is it something you need a marketer for. 

In this article, you’ll find where marketing can help sales and why it is often better not to leave it for marketing professionals.

Your Marketing is not a Funnel

You have probably seen your fair share of marketing funnels like below (or google  “B2B marketing funnel” and switch to image search).

Funnel or not to Funnel

B2B sales funnel is not much different.

In it's simplest form, it can be divided into 3 segments:

  1. Top of Funnel (TOFU),
  2. Middle of Funnel (MOFU) and
  3. Bottom of Funnel (BOFU) activities.

Top of funnel to attract prospects, middle of funnel to educate them and bottom of funnel to make you trustworthy, to put it simply. 

If you focus solely on new customer acquisition, your marketing (or sales) won’t be that far from the funnel model.

However for most B2Bs the money really comes from repeat sales to existing customers, not from acquiring disposable customers (which is often bad business). 

New customer acquisition tends to be hard and expensive, while additional sales to existing is much easier and lot more profitable. 

New customers are often unprofitable first, and probably even for some time: They are expensive to acquire, and require more service up front than existing customers, yet their initial purchases are often well below your averages thus turning many new customers on red.  Profit will often come only if the new customers keeps on buying for more. These additional sales are lot easier to get. And with additional purchases they tend to buy more expensive, higher margin products and services, and require less service meaning more profits.

For most B2Bs, big part of marketing is about keeping customers and developing new sales opportunities from them.

The Growth Bow

Thus I prefer to visualize marketing along the customers’ journey with a bow like shape that I call the Growth Bow.

On the left side, you'll find potential customers coming towards the initial sale at different stages, and on the right side, you'll find customers developing towards higher and higher value.

The goal of your sales and marketing is to attract new prospects and turn them into loyal customers. That is, to cover and optimise the whole customer journey, from the first touch to your brand (=company) to the end of the relationship and beyond (to include ex-customers as well).

From your perspective, this journey can be divided into four main areas:

  1. Lead generation for sales,
  2. Prospect nurturing during the sales process,
  3. Onboarding new customers, and
  4. Keeping and growing accounts.

Succeeding to grow fast is not about acquiring more leads and customers quickly, it's about being the quickest and most (resource) efficient to acquire leads and turn them into loyal high (customer lifetime) value customers.

Customer acquisition is always very expensive and is really financed from the future profits from the customers, so the more profit you'll make, the quickest and with least costs, the more you can invest into either being even more efficient, or acquiring even more leads.

#1. Lead Generation: Attract and Warm Up Leads

Let’s start with the obvious, that is lead generation. 

To sell more, sales needs more, and better leads. Leads that have a need. Leads that know who we are,  and may even trust us. And especially leads that are just the right kind of customers for you.

If, on the other hand, a business does not have enough good quality leads to satisfy it’s growth ambitions, sales have to work from lower quality prospects who needs much more work to win a deal, have limited growth potential, are poor payers, have difficult needs, needs more support...  All in all, if you have to work with low volume and quality of leads, it is not just sales who will suffer, but eventually the future of the whole business.

On the other hand, if the business generates plenty of leads, sales can keep bar high and focus on those who are the right fit, have a recognized need, have a budget, timeline and sponsor for the project… And better still, if those leads are already made familiar with the business so that they trust and see the business and key employees as true experts in the field, selling is obviously so much more efficient.

But although lead generation is important, it is just one part of the new customer acquisition which in itself is just one part of sales and growth.

Until recently, marketing was often seen as mainly as lead generation activity, and in many B2Bs, it’s success is still measured by the number of leads generated. However for a healthy growing company, there is so much more how marketing can help sales and business. In fact, lead generation is probably the most difficult to get results. So if you are considering where to start, I usually recommend to consider the following three before lead generation.

In so many B2Bs, lead generation is left on sales, meaning lots of cold calls or cold emails to find those few interested. Mostly because this used to work. However during the digital era, customer behaviour has changed, and they are much harder to reach by phone or cold email. It is often said that it takes over 20 call attempts to get a discussion with a C-level executive. How many discussions you’ll need to have before finding a prospect who is actually interested? Let's say one out of four is interested. That means a salesperson needs to make 80 call attempts to have four discussion to generate one lead. But that’s not a customer yet. Let’s dive into how much effort it will take to win the deal.

#2: Prospect nurturing: Helping sales to win more.

The next step is to convert leads into customers. 

Now it does not matter whether leads were generated by marketing or by sales by e.g. with cold calling, the real selling starts when a lead is qualified. Traditionally after this point, the client is in the capable hands of sales. Unfortunately very few end up buying.

Only just 3% of those who were interested, are typically ready to buy. 

This does not mean they are ready to buy from you though. You still need to win them over. But they have developed their need to the point where they are ready to buy from a vendor.

The rest, 97% are interested but not ready to buy yet. 

Maybe they haven’t really recognised the need yet. Or learn enough to be confident that the problem is worth solving? Or they might still have other more pressing things on their agenda. Or...  The road from interested to ready to buy can be long and full of obstacles. No wonder few salespeople can and are willing to do the work. Quite often they ran out of reasons to follow up. There are only so many times you can call and ask if there is any progress on the customer’s side.

It is quite typical, that sales can ultimately win about 10% of the prospects who showed initial interest.

What happen to those 90-97% who were originally interested?

Some lose interest, end up buying elsewhere or cannot afford to buy eventually, but a considerable portion of those 90-97% interested are not just ready to buy yet. Either they need more time and information to develop their need or they need more touches with you, your company and your products to trust and prefer you over other vendors, or both.

And this is where marketing can really make a difference, especially with quality content. Blog posts, PDFs, ebooks, webinars, events...  help customers to develop their needs further, educate them and build trust towards you as their trusted guide on that journey.

#3: Onboarding to initial success: Turn new customers into lifelong customers

A new customer don’t know how you operate, nor how to use your product or service in full extend. In B2B too many new customers that have been acquired with great cost and effort end up fleeing far too early before they have really returned on customer acquisition investment.

You may not even recognise why new customers aren’t as satisfied as rest of your clients. When the majority of your work is done with existing clients who are familiar with all the industry terms and conventions you use and are experts themselves using you products and services, it may be hard to understand how difficult it may be for a new customer to feel welcomed, get their expectations right and get value out of your products and services.

In B2C the best ROI in marketing is often a welcome letter for a new customer. In B2B things are a bit more complicated but the principal applies.

You’ll need to reassure they made the right decision. They don’t know you yet, so educate how you operate, how to work with you, what to expect, answer frequently asked questions, introduce your company and team…

It will be hard to sell more to a customer who haven’t yet succeeded or was not satisfied with their first purchase from you. So onboarding new customers properly is the key to unlock future sales.

#4: Keeping and growing existing customer accounts: developing and discovering new opportunities.

Existing customers are the biggest asset for growth and sustainable business. However few are really managed properly.

“I am your new key account manager, and I am calling to arrange a meeting with you”

I got that kind of call every now and then. And this call is typically the last time I heard from that new account manager. A year or two later the next one from the same company will call. And no proper account management has been done in between.

The sad truth is that 80% of the customers are probably not really managed, that is, actively taken care of, at all whether assigned to key account manager or not.

Marketing can greatly help here to keep customers informed, develop new needs and with the help of marketing automation, detect rising opportunities for sales, allowing key account managers spend their time more wisely with those needing their attention rather than driving around to meet their list of accounts.

It is often quite easy to sell inexpensive products and services even without selling with some marketing to your existing customers.

So what is B2B marketing and how can it be done without professionals?

Most B2Bs don’t have a marketing department, nor someone really responsible for marketing. And to be frank, nowadays marketing does not necessarily need marketing professionals to be done professionally. 

In B2B you often sell expertise, or with expertise, to customers who are professionals in their business. Expert to expert, so to speak. You help customer to succeed with your products or services.

And the same expertise first approach applies to marketing. Nowadays B2B marketing is mostly content based. Instead of helping one customer at a time, you help many customers at a time with a blog post, a video, a webinar, a podcast, a presentation or an ebook to get the results they want to achieve (with your products and services).

In a way, marketing is just scaled up sales. Done by the same people, the true experts.

And that is also the reason why marketing professionals, whether inhouse or agency, have difficulties getting results. They are not substance experts. Nor do they really understand your customers’ business.

In most cases, the core of B2B marketing is showing what you know best: your expertise and knowledge, and how that can be applied in helping your customers to succeed in what they want to achieve. This is something you really cannot delegate to marketing pros.

That being said, when the operation scales, there are a lot that can be delegated to a marketer or an agency, while you (or your experts) concentrate on the content side of marketing. However modern marketing tools, such as Loyalistic, automate and streamline much of this making it a feasible option to keep running the operation without a marketing pro even on a bit larger scale. And you should never try to outsource something you don’t understand yourself.

The key of your marketing operation is to use content to pave customers journey from getting attention all the way to becoming a loyal customer who recommends you spontaneously. You can start building you operation from any of the four phases discussed in this article. Once you get going, it is easy to expand the operation to other phases without adding much effort.

Content Marketing as a Way to Go Abroad [VIDEOBLOG]

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

For many businesses going abroad is a challenge. Antti Pietilä, CEO of marketing automation software company Loyalistic, and his guest Jos Schuurmans, founder of digital marketing consultancy company Cluetail, talk about how reaching the international audience can be made easier by using content marketing.

3 Content Marketing Pitfalls to Avoid

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

This blog is based on my answer on Quora.

For small and medium-sized businesses, typical pitfalls are often quite different than those of larger businesses, especially in business-to-business operations.

In such SMB B2B context, content is often produced by substance experts, not professional content writers, as such a content requires deep expertise. At the same time, smaller organisations seldom have budget for a full time content creator who is both professional in the subject as well as in content production, and such skills are almost impossible to find from freelancers or agencies. Sure, not all B2B content requires an expert, but most do. As experts are often well educated, learning to write is a lot easier than turning a writer into an expert.

If your content team consists of substance experts, not professional content writers, the pitfalls are as follows.

Grow your business by following the top notch advice picked up at SaaStock18

Monday, November 19, 2018

We just got back a couple of weeks ago from SaaStock 2018 in Dublin, Ireland where we had a chance to listen dozens of keynotes from world's leading Software-as-a-Service leaders, thinkers, doers and financiers, and share thoughts with fellow entrepreneurs, marketers and CTOs.

SaaStock here we come

Should you be interested, if SaaS is not your line of business? Very much so. If you want to see the future of B2B sales, marketing and growth, there it is.

If SaaS is your line of business, you can skip straight into what were the key take-aways, was it worth it, and are we going back in 2019? 

SaaS business is years ahead of other businesses in sales, marketing and growth

For the last 20 years, I have been working with leading companies in both B2C and B2B in sales and marketing: consulting, designing tech solutions etc. I have read over 500 business books, wrote over 200 blog posts about customer loyalty and worked with the best consultants, tech and agencies in that space.

Then a few years ago when we started building our own product, I wanted to learn everything I could about how to succeed in SaaS business.

The Biggest Mistakes a SaaS Company Can Make, And What You Can Learn from Them

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

As the founder and chairman of The Finnish Software Industry and Entrepreneur Association's (Ohjelmistoyrittäjät ry) SaaS club, I have followed quite many Software-as-a-Service companies and entrepreneurs over the last 8 years, seen many to succeed, and many more who haven’t. So what are the biggest mistakes I have seen? This post is based on my answer to that question on Quora.

Although the question was about SaaS companies, my answer may be relevant to you as well even if you are not in SaaS business.

The biggest mistakes are made when laying the foundation

Oh boy, the amount of mistakes a SaaS company can and will make are numerous. The really successful ones must have made thousands of mistakes, and navigated through them the most to get to the top. The faster you grow, the more mistakes you are likely to make, as decisions have to be done at high speed with very limited information. It's a small wonder they even survive.

But one might argue these are not mistakes, but experiments, and the purpose of a startup is to learn fast. To learn fast, you have to experiment a lot and fail fast.

However, let's forget the variety of mistakes and zoom into the the topic of biggest mistakes. And these mistakes are made early on while the foundation is layed.

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