Demand Generation Best Practices Aren’t About Digging Deeper

It’s 2016 and the current debate about marketing tactics in Silicon Valley resembles the tactics for farming crops in the increasingly parched San Joaquin Valley. Let me rant a little and explain.

I just got out of a long meeting. A meeting that many marketers have every quarter. The topic: what campaigns and spend levels do we need to hit this quarter’s lead quota. These meetings are incredibly important, but today’s meeting turned in a less useful direction when the focus switched to which tactical “best practices”  to use in the upcoming quarter.

digging deeper wells

Photo Source: Rakshith M Gowda. Shared via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

This unfortunate turn in a marketing meeting led me to draw an analogy with California’s current, and historic, drought.

“Digging Deeper Wells” Isn’t a Marketing Best Practice

With California farmers not getting enough surface water for their thirsty crops, they’ve turned to digging wells. Farming, you see, has exactly two sources of water: surface water (rain, reservoirs and snow melt) and ground water (digging wells). They can’t control rain, but they can invest in wells. So they dig. 20 years ago they might have dug a few hundred feet. Today they are digging a few thousand feet. And so goes the discussion amongst farmers: tactics, timing, ROI and viability of digging deeper wells.

The “digging deeper wells” analogy is relevant to marketing spending because fresh leads are getting tougher and tougher to find. Organic—the surface water of B2B marketing—is the preferred source of leads, but few organizations generate enough organic leads to meet their growth objectives. So they hire marketers and allocate budgets for lead generation. The ask: create the campaign equivalent of digging well water. The budget is set by how deep the hole needs to be to hit water.

Herein lies the problem. Instead of building demand generation engines based on innovation, many marketers simply recycle and reuse demand generation tactics from the recent past: purchase yet another compiled email list, send yet another nurture email to the marketing database, launch yet another Google AdWords campaign, host yet another webinar, and set up yet another gated white paper. Yes, these tactics continue to work. But they are no where near as efficient in 2016 as they were in 2009.

Demand Generation Best Practices: Build for the Future Instead of Replicating the Past

Unlike the exactly two options available to farmers seeking water for their crops, marketers have nearly unlimited options for building future-oriented demand generation success. As a professional marketer my value is from strategizing, executing and measuring demand generation programs that are relevant to today’s target buyers and that will likely out-perform tactics from five years ago.

So instead of just re-allocating larger spends across traditional SEM and content tactics, I suggest marketers build fresh new plans based on projections for the competitive climate, projected company differentiation and latest assessment of target buyers. In other words, instead of defaulting to digging deeper wells, it is very possible for B2B marketers to find fresh sources of water by looking for buyers in fresh locations. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Revisit your target personas, segments and use cases—does your recent product release have new differentiated features or appeal to new buyers? Can you re-segment your existing database? Can you find new and different target lists? Tap into the green fields with your new campaigns.
  • Partner with sales on a target account strategy—here’s an opportunity to proactively reach out to your sales team: offer to provide augmented contact info for, say, five specific job titles at a handful of target accounts. To benefit from this offer, each representative needs to provide the specific account names for research. And together you are building personalized emails and talk tracks to earn meetings and win deals.
  • Find fertile activity patterns in web visitor behavior—still using point based lead scoring? Stop. It never worked and there are better approaches like predictive lead scoring. Even if you can’t invest in fancy predictive lead scoring solutions this quarter, you can start doing the analysis toward identifying sales-ready buyers. Explore the behavior of every user with > 5 visits in the past 90 days. Explore the behavior of every user who has an email address associated with a forecasted deal. Build charts of the findings, share the details with your extended go-to-market-team … and start using those findings to define sales-readiness.
  • Look for “first time” events and partnerships—think you have to be at the largest trade show in your industry with a major presence? Don’t make this an either-or decision. The cost of participation in hyper-targeted shows will be less that for the mega-events, and you’ll have less competition for buyers’ eyes.
  • Switch it up with your pre-paid channels—you probably have an existing multi-quarter media buy in place. How about making experimental changes to your ads, landing pages and assets and perhaps even the target audience within the publishers’ site/publication portfolio.

These are just a few of the ways you can get away from drilling deeper wells and the associated diminishing returns. There are many, many, many others.

Embrace Strategic Demand Generation Best Practices

The best practices from five years ago aren’t the campaign tactics. It’s the relentless focus on relevance, measurement and data. As you move forward apply what you’ve learned from:

  • Predictive analytics brings data to marketing decision-making.

    Predictive analytics enhances marketing decision-making.

    Being relevant, helpful and targeted—are you still promoting that allegedly evergreen white paper from 2014? If the content is still good, make it great with a modest refresh. Update the trend data, add fresh quotes from customers and analysts, insert new use cases and correct your boilerplate. Even evergreen content needs a bit of pruning and fertilizer. If the people in your marketing database trust you, they’ll quickly jump at an updated white paper from you—which is yet another reason to reopen a dialog. And new prospects will reach out for the new and timely information you’re providing.

  • Measuring everything—if you’ve set up your infrastructure correctly, this is free. You’ll be able to compare different channels, classes of offers and campaigns against your benchmarks. Once you have a meaningful engagement sample, you can compare new programs against historical success.
  • Listening to your data … and customers—in 2016, data has earned a seat at the table for campaign success decision-making. Bring it to your meetings. Discuss what it means. And absolutely use data to challenge ingrained assumptions on the team. If you don’t have a large enough sample size for statistically significant findings, bring qualitative feedback (from prospects, buyers and customers, not employees) on the utility of the campaign asset.
  • Taking smart risks—don’t be afraid if a great campaign effort doesn’t generate lots and lots of leads. Reduce risk from any single campaign by having a portfolio of campaigns running concurrently. That way every campaign is a success if you have data for improving decisions about future campaigns. With multiple campaigns you can act like a portfolio manager and not a water-hungry farmer: cancel the clearly ineffective campaigns quickly, double-down on the clearly effective campaigns, and iterate and improve those that have unfulfilled potential.

In summary, the best practices from the digital era are a refreshed point of view on campaign strategy, more than deeper reliance on going back to the well with specific campaign tactics.

What Do You Think?

Look at your plan for next quarter. Do you stand a better chance of winning by writing your own 2016 playbook or following legacy demand generation best practice of digging deeper wells?

 

Affiliate Marketing for B2B Publishers

It’s time to shake it up again at “Bill Freedman’s Soon to be a Major Trend.” I’m going to start experimenting with Affiliate Marketing links. In this post we’ll take a look at the Affiliate Marketing players, the transactions and the industry dynamics. And we’ll explore my first foray into Affiliate Marketing featuring DreamHost, my web hosting provider for over a decade.

The main purpose of this web site is to share perspectives on B2B marketing. But it’s also a site where I experiment with new technologies and tactics. Experimenting with Affiliate Marketing is consistent with the blog’s charter, so let’s dig in!

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Affiliate Marketing is hardly a new topic, but it is new to this site. It is a form of performance marketing that rewards “affiliates” for promoting third-party products to their audience.

Let’s dig deeper, starting with the cast of characters in a web-based affiliate marketing program and then digging into the transaction details.

The Affiliate Marketing Cast of Characters

  • Brand – This is the organization that provides rewards in exchange for sourcing new customers
  • Publisher – This is “the affiliate” or organization that publishes and promotes links to the brand’s web site and purchasable products
  • Customer – The is the publisher’s audience who ultimately buy products on the Brand’s web site.
  • Affiliate Network – The Affiliate Network acts as a broker between the Brand and Publisher. It provides infrastructure and services like account portals, metrics, links, etc. that make it easier for brands to attract Publishers, and for Publishers to share affiliate offers on behalf of the Brand. Amazon Associates is an example of an Affiliate Network.

The Affiliate Marketing Transaction Flow

The actions taken by the Customer, Publisher, Brand and Affiliate Network are outlined in the diagram below.

affiliate marketing transaction flow

Affiliate marketing transaction flow.

The Publisher attracts Customers to their web site, typically through valuable content. Only when the Customer buys a product does the affiliate marketing transaction flow take effect. Affiliate marketing programs rarely compensate for impressions or even clicks. As a result, the Publisher is typically rewarded in the form of high Commissions for Buy transactions, especially compared with cost per impression or cost per click compensation schemes. In many situations, the Affiliate Network facilitates setting up the relationship between Brand and Publisher and is the clearing house for metrics and payments. Larger Brands may run programs without an Affiliate Network intermediary.

Setting up an Affiliate Marketing program makes sense for Brands that seek an incremental method to extend their distribution reach via trusted partnerships. Participating in affiliate marketing programs make sense if the Publisher is confident they can drive purchases and earn commissions.

Before You Begin with Affiliate Marketing …

It seems easy and low risk to join the affiliate economy. As with many things the model makes sense but reality can be very different. I have three pieces of advice for anyone looking to join an Affiliate Marketing program:

  1. First, build an audience. Without an audience and web traffic, it’s pretty tough to convert affiliate links into cash. So focus first on your audience by creating assets–content–that they value. Yes, you can deploy affiliate links starting on day one, but your ultimate affiliate marketing strategy may evolve as your audience evolves.
  2. Keep it relevant. Affiliate ads pay per action, which means that you get paid only when readers click on the ad and make a purchase. The more relevant the offer/link is to your site content, the higher the likelihood visitors will click on the ad and perform the desired action. If visitors don’t purchase, it is a win for the vendor (through their branded link or ad), but not for the Publisher.
  3. Assess each program’s value. There are lots of Brands offering affiliate programs, but not all affiliate programs are created equally. Read the fine print and make sure the compensation from the Brand is a fair exchange for promoting their products through your web site.
  4. Integrate offers wisely. Use site design to balance the core content with affiliate and other offers. Skew too far toward affiliate offers and your site looks like a NASCAR race car. Skew to far to content and you’re missing monetization opportunities. Use experiments wisely to find the optimal mix … but do it in a way that doesn’t ever scare away readers.
  5. Keep your “SEO Juice” to yourself. When adding affiliate links to your site, make sure to include rel=“nofollow” in the link tag. That way search engines will not automatically confer domain authority to the affiliate.

I’ve used DreamHost shared hosting since 2003. I’ve grown up with them. I’ve enjoyed extremely high service levels and I’ve even stayed with them through some ugly outages (they’re ancient history now). While you can always find a cheaper hosting provider in this highly competitive (dare I say cut-throat) business, DreamHost has earned my loyalty. DreamHost’s core shared hosting service is competitively priced, includes unlimited storage and bandwidth, includes a parade of new feature releases every month and is backed by honest and transparent customer service.

They’ve also offered an affiliate program forever. I’m just taking advantage of promoting in on my blog now.

Affiliate Marketing link: DreamHost Web Hosting

My motivation is two fold. First, I want to understand how the Publisher side of affiliate marketing programs work. I’ve offered Google AdSense for some time on this blog (and made a modest return from it). Now I’d like to learn about another blog monetization channel. Second, I want the coin. Yes, I expect to profit from including DreamHost affiliate links on my site.

Click here (affiliate link) to sign up for DreamHost’s truly great shared hosting service.