The Leading Cause of an Ineffective Demand Generation Strategy

September 23, 2015

Drumroll please…the reason only 3% of enterprise marketers in a recent ANNUITAS study claim to be “effective” when it comes to demand generation…is…marketing is tough.

OK, that’s not the real point of this post, but I must clarify up front: There is no single black and white reason as to why such a teeny tiny percentage of marketers chose “effective” when asked how their demand generation was doing.

Figure 1

The truth is – there is a lot that goes into the role of an enterprise marketer today that makes it a pretty tough gig. Don’t believe anyone who says they have it all figured out.

The team at ANNUITAS spoke with over 100 B2B enterprise marketers, individuals who have willingly taken on the responsibility of driving leads for large organizations in 2015. 60% of respondents indicated they feel their demand generation efforts are not very effective, and LESS THAN 3% stated they are effective.

This is a time in marketing where buyers don’t make it easy. They don’t trust anyone. They are spending more time keeping vendors at arm’s length than ever before as they’re bombarded with marketing content and sales calls alike. To top it all off, they are increasingly looking to solution providers to have a well-planned, orchestrated customer experience prepared for when they are ready to consider a solution.

It’s not an easy time to be marketing to today’s buyer. But, as this study shows, knowing this buyer inside and out may actually be the Achilles heel for many marketing organizations.

What’s going on?

Although there are a variety of factors contributing to this disconnect, from my interpretation of the survey results, the biggest driver is a lack of solid buyer understanding. Only 44.3% of respondents utilize buyer personas in the planning of Demand Generation Programs and activities.

The report explains further:

“While the term Buyer Persona is widely used throughout the marketplace, many organizations are still in the process of trying to make it part of their day-to-day planning. Moreover, the approaches and methods used are still rather immature, in that they are inwardly focused and are potentially a source for misalignment with sales.”

In her blog post about the study, Erin Kelley of ANNUITAS says quite succinctly “If you don’t know your buyers inside and out, there is little guarantee that your demand generation programs will work in the way you expected.”

What about the buying process?

Of the 44.3% of companies in the study using buyer personas, only 33% include an understanding of the buying process as part of these personas. This has a major impact on decisions related to where to deliver content, what to send, and when to send it.

Erin advises “Before you can dictate a content strategy, nurturing logic, or a social media plan you need to know how your buyer consumes content…Once you know your customers, program decisions become simple, as all the answers are determined by what supports them.”

Don’t ignore the stakeholders.

What’s worse, and most surprising of all, is the lack of consideration given to what ANNUITAS calls the “Buying Process Stakeholders,” or understanding the role each individual plays in the overall buying committee. The study found that NO company, out of the 100 enterprise organizations surveyed, considered this committee.

In our Intelligent Guide to Buyer Personas, Ardath Albee advises “B2B buying decisions are made by committee. This means they must work together in some way to reach consensus or a purchase decision will not get made. The process of developing buyer personas should include discovery about how each of them interacts with the other personas on the committee.”

I also recommend this article in the Harvard Business Review, Making the Consensus Sale. The article quotes a recent CEB survey, which found:

“On average, 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase. Complicating matters, the variety of jobs, functions, and geographies that these individuals represent is much wider than it used to be. Whereas an IT supplier might have once sold directly to a CIO and his or her team, today that same firm may also need buy-in from the chief marketing officer, the chief operating officer, the chief financial officer, legal counsel, procurement executives, and others. The people on buying teams have increasingly diverse priorities, and to win them over, suppliers must bridge those differences. The upshot is longer cycle times, smaller deals, lower margins, and, in the ever more common worst case, customer deadlock that scuttles the deal.”

Go right to the source.

When developing buyer personas, the ANNUITAS study found that companies are still very much operating in a kind of bubble when it comes to understanding their buyers. Only 51% interview their customers, and only 34% speak with prospects when developing buyer personas. Wait. What?

Only half of the companies surveyed spoke to buyers when trying to understand their buyers?

OK, this likely reveals more of a lack-of-priority issue than an accusation about the ability of these marketers. As noted, marketing is hard, especially in enterprise organizations where stakes are high and change is difficult. But developing personas in such an insular way is dangerous, as it results in a biased and unreliable perspective of buyers. It is one of the major reasons why personas fail.

Overall, this report shows that understanding your buyers is the first step to a more effective demand generation strategy. Would you agree? How will you adjust your own plan of action to account for these common mistakes and ensure that your demand generation strategy is as effective as it can possibly be?

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