Marketers, get your head out of your funnel — because time is definitely not on your side

Columnist John Steinert explains the need for marketers to step back from their day-to-day work and assess what’s going on with the market as a whole.

Whether you’re a CMO who’s trying to figure out how to make substantive progress in the marketplace (the kind you can point to and say, “We’re really making a difference!”), or an experienced demand-gen pro who’s finding it harder and harder to achieve significant lift for your programs, I want to share something with you:

No matter how well you do content marketing, no matter how fantastic your inbound funnel seems to be working, you may be winning those battles, but you’re losing the war.

There are several obvious reasons why this could be the case. And there’s one that’s really worth solving.

First is that the world’s a big place, and most people who could use your product/solution/service simply haven’t heard of you yet. Yes, over time, with luck and some good content marketing, word will get out — to some of them, anyway.

Second, you could be in a very competitive market. Maybe there are a lot of other companies offering the same product. Best case, you have only, maybe, a one-in-10 chance of being found and then picked.

Third, you’re probably still building up your list, zeroing in on your target Ideal Company Profile (ICP), getting your outbound messages honed, testing and perfecting your demand-gen and nurturing programs to them. There’s a lot of work to do, and you want to do it right.

The real problem here is that while you’re working hard at making progress on all of this — while you’re laser-focused on understanding your demand waterfall and tinkering with list sources and nurture streams — the larger market is going its merry way, oblivious to and unaffected by your efforts.

Marketers: Step back and take a look around

The fact is, the biggest challenge you face isn’t marketing at all. It’s time. Unless you are truly the one vendor defining the market and pushing it ahead for everyone else, time is your worst enemy. In my experience with the tech sector especially, our markets are changing faster than any of us tend to realize. And while we’re heads-down, working incredibly hard on what we can do better, we’re missing much of what’s going on out there that could really make a major difference to our overall success.

This is what I call having our heads stuck in the funnel. Until I started to make the effort to periodically (and systematically) step back from my work and assess my progress against the market as a whole, I had very little sense of whether or not the progress I was making internally had any hope at all of solving my bigger problem. Was I actually making progress in the marketplace as a whole? Was I growing the same or faster than market? Was I putting my company in a position to win for the long term? With investors? With the rest of my stakeholders?

When I finally got my head out of the funnel, here’s what I realized:

I was lacking an effective way to scale — to find, reach and engage a concentrated share of my target audience. In any given month, by focusing only on outbound to my existing list and inbound to my own websites, I was missing a significant percentage of the total demand for my stuff in the market as a whole.

I’ve worked for some pretty big companies, and I’ve had healthy budgets to play with, but I’ve never had enough to spend my way to the consideration levels needed using advertising and paid search. Likewise, I’ve never had quite the staffing I’ve needed or quite the content engine I wanted to make earned media and social get me over the hump. I needed a different approach.

When I picked my head up out of my funnel, I quickly realized that no matter how cool my products were, there were plenty of alternatives in the market promising similar benefits, and always some that were practically clones. If I couldn’t find a better way to engage my target audience than the other guys, I was easily going to miss out on many of the opportunities happening out there every day.

Lastly, while I could show all my internal constituents the great progress we were making in adding names to our database, it required extraordinary effort to work those lists hard enough to get to the real value buried within them. Worse, while I knew that there were companies in my funnel that really needed us, little we did captured their attention in actionable ways. So, we were left treating these “inactives” as dead holes, a phenomenon my friend Kerry Cunningham at SiriusDecisions calls “false negatives.”

To make matters even worse, I also had another problem: though I was faithfully sending leads to the Sales team that had qualified on all the measures we’d agreed upon, they were telling me that some were duds (Kerry calls these “false positives”).

The hardest thing to admit, though — on top of these issues — is that for all the time I spent toiling away at this work, time was ticking along.

Staying competitive in a fast-changing marketing landscape

I’ve since discovered there is a process out there that every B2B marketer should use to be competitive — not just to make up ground in your funnel, but to successfully attack the market as a whole.

  1. Find your watering hole. It starts with understanding the reality of long-tail media on the internet. The media business, whether the biggest network in the world or a single influential blogger, has really figured out how to attract and maintain a loyal following. There are so many options these days, whether you are focused on enterprise storage, martech, risk and compliance or a myriad of other categories. Chances are, they’ve been at it longer than you and can marshal resources more effectively than you can (given the variety of other tasks on your to-do list). But you definitely can find these watering holes of the web. And you can work with them to access their audience and win its attention to your cause. You can increase the market’s consideration for your offerings very quickly — by being visible and active where your audience likes to hang out.

  2. When you find one of these places, there’s a good chance your competitors are already there, or on their way. Don’t despair. Now at least you’ll have a fighting chance because you’ll know what they’re up to. And there’s nothing stopping you from putting your point of view out there, precisely where a significant audience can now have a far better chance of considering you, given your take on a topic of mutual interest.

  3. And finally, once you’ve identified where your audience congregates, you can start doing a much more efficient job of understanding their real needs and interests — far faster than you could using only the hit-or-miss tactics available to you on your own website or through the test-and-learn methods your email marketing offers.

By getting your head out of your funnel and seeing your company more clearly with reference to the market as a whole, you stand a much better chance of focusing on the things that really matter to your management and your stakeholders. By concentrating more intently on the conversations and the needs expressed by your target audience where they congregate on the web, you stand a much better chance of significantly influencing that audience and attracting your fair share of revenue.

To win in ways that make a real difference to your stakeholders — to win in the context of the whole market — you owe it to yourself to investigate this approach.


[Article on MarTech Today.]

Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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