What’s a Lead Anyway? For B2B Buyers, the Almighty Click Rarely Signals Intent

opinionThe following is a guest contributed post from Sanjay Castelino, the VP of marketing at Spiceworks.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Your marketing team has spent months, if not years, building an inventory of content and associated landing pages and forms to be filled out by your prospect. Each one is designed to “capture” information in exchange for something of value – a whitepaper, infographic, research report, or a free trial of your latest software.

And you get thousands of email addresses in response! The marketing team hit their number! Great, right? Probably not.

Savvy marketers have learned a simple truth. The B2B lead game is dying a slow, painful death because the value equation is unfairly balanced in favor of the brand, not the buyer. For years, marketers have benefitted from this dynamic. But let’s be honest. The lead game is a horrible experience for people looking for help solving a business problem.

Leads Are Dead

Forward-thinking organizations are dumping volume-driven lead models in favor of activities that first identify a customer’s need and then provide several opportunities to engage. These organizations understand that every click has context, and that selling isn’t about capturing email addresses and phone numbers. Rather, it’s about creating great experiences for every prospect that visits your website, storefront or interacts with your campaign.

What does that look like? Instead of seeking to capture, seek to serve. Provide free, no-strings-attached content and experiences that help prospects better understand the problem they’re trying to solve. And serve it in stages. For instance, a blog post that introduces the basics of analytics software could lead to a tool that reveals how analytics work, walking through common scenarios. The more educated they get about the problem they’re looking to solve, the more interested prospects will be in engaging with you. So when it comes time to download a step-by-step guide to making analytics work in the enterprise, the buyer who was annoyed at being asked for their email address upon arriving at your site, may proactively offer their email address, physical address, and even a phone number.

Unlike the consumer market, the B2B buying process is a journey. Understanding and helping customers navigate it is the key to delivering a great experience, driving sales objectives, and creating an environment that builds long-term brand loyalty and advocacy. How can you do that? Here are three ideas:

  1. Engage without traps. The transactional, “capture and convert” model suggests you should collect information as soon as a prospect attempts to access something they may find valuable. Toss this model in the garbage. Instead, create an experience that shows prospects how to solve the sorts of problems they’d address with your product. Give them tools to evaluate your offering alongside those from your competitors. Create guides and checklists that help them ask and answer the important questions. Serve them well and prospects will give you their contact information to hear more.
  2. Stop counting clicks and start tracking the journey. Context is the lifeblood of the B2B buyer’s journey. Tag all of your content according to which part of the journey it belongs. Move beyond counting clicks to understanding how prospects found your content and track the number of times each piece of content is leveraged. Then, understand how much time they spend with it, and where they go to next. Begin to map customers’ journeys in a way that informs future experiences they’ll have with your brand. Understanding this context allows you to make better decisions about what other types of content you’ll need to make the purchase journey more effective for the buyer.
  3. Act humanly. Respect the time a prospect puts into the journey. Someone who’s consumed three pieces of content and then provided contact information in exchange for a downloaded whitepaper shouldn’t have to wait a week to hear from a salesperson. Engage when the context calls for it. Prospects may not want to be hounded, but they do want to be courted.

Asking ourselves the right questions

How many clicks did we get last month? How many forms did prospects fill out? These are the wrong questions for marketers to ask, because marketing isn’t supposed to be transactional. Instead, we need to think of it more like detective work. Did a prospect become a buyer quickly? If so, why? What sort of content did they consume? What journey did they take, and what does that say about the next experience we should be creating for them?

Experiential data forces good marketers to ask great questions, which in turn leads to better experiences and ultimately more sales. Are you compensating your marketing team for this type of work? If not, it may be time to re-evaluate how you measure success.