B2B demand generation is a tedious, time-consuming process. To see how companies are mastering this function, we spoke with sales and marketing leaders at mid-sized companies to learn their biggest pain points and the strategies they are deploying.
We'll be detailing our interviews in follow on posts, but we thought we'd kick it off by sharing some of the key trends we're seeing.
1. Rise of the Machines: AI-Powered Ad Optimization
Photo Credit: Vecteezy!
The days of having team member(s) running tests, and adjusting ad bids/copy are coming to an end. Over the last few years, a number of automated solutions have been developed that not only automate manual tasks, but actually add new capabilities that would not have been feasible to do by hand.
Many of these new solutions are specifically account-focused for B2B audiences and use AI to develop an Ideal Customer Profile (often by directly analyzing your existing CRM data). From there, some of these solutions will then use AI to run hundreds of multivariate tests and automatically adjust bids, placement, and so on to get the best ROI for your ad spend.
2. From Popups and Email to Live Chat
Nearly all sales and sales automation tools today rely on one key piece of data - the user’s contact information, usually an email. If you're not familiar with the term "sales automation", this generally refers to cold email outreach tools that help automate the repetitive, manual tasks of running an outbound campaign. Without an email address, most of these tools can’t do anything, so capturing emails using a variety of lures, incentives, and gated content has been the norm. The problem is, even the best email capture methods only convert at 2-5%, and who likes visiting a website to immediately be greeted with a popup?
The talented Guillaume Cabane, a well known Growth Marketer with experience working at Apple, Segment, and Drift, suggested an alternative approach at a recent talk. He proposed that we should try to emulate an Apple store experience with our websites. When you visit an Apple store, you’re free to explore, learn about the products, and an Apple associate is readily available to help you if needed.
Companies like Drift have embraced this approach, with their B2B focused live chat solution for sales / marketing teams. They are ditching long-accepted marketing practices in favor of transparency and openness, where resources like white papers and pricing are now openly published. You can get help immediately from someone on their team, instead of waiting days for someone to reply to your contact form submission. And it seems to be working. In one case study, a Drift customer saw 20% conversion for website visitors to leads.
3. Mining Anonymous Website Visitors
Photo Credit: Gian D.
The other primary tool used today for dealing with the 95-98% of website visitors who do not provide an email address is anonymous website visitor identification. Of course, this topic is also near and dear to us at BigPicture, since it is a foundational piece of our product. The technology to identify anonymous website visitors has been around for over a decade, but only recently have we started to see meaningful developments and improvements. For example, LeadLander has offered reverse IP lookup since 2004 to figure out what company the visitor is associated with. There are two primary problems that tools like LeadLander face: data quality, and being able to act on the data.
Older website visitor identification tools are often limited to detecting only larger companies. Big companies like Microsoft and Oracle that have their own dedicated IP address range are relatively easy to identify. However, smaller companies are often using an ISP to access the internet, and are harder to identify. For example, a small company may use Comcast as their business ISP. If they visit a website, they’ll show up as Comcast, which is obviously not useful for prospecting and account-based marketing. The vast majority of tools in this space suffer from this limitation, limiting you to only being able to identify visitors from large, established companies.
However, recent developments in AI and natural language processing (NLP) help to filter out the "noise" and connect more of the dots to surface both big and small companies. Granted it's not perfect quite yet, but we're now in place where the data is much more reliable.
Acting on Data
Older tools like LeadLander essentially functioned as reports. They were great at telling you who was on your site, but it was up to you to actually take that data and do something with it. In time, this meant that the data would turn into a vanity report, unless it was someone’s specific responsibility to take action on the data.
Sales/Business Development Representatives are usually tasked with leveraging this website visitor data. The standard practice is to use a tool like ZoomInfo or LinkedIn Sales Navigator to lookup contacts at that company that match the typical buyer profile. As you can imagine, this is a highly manual and not very straightforward process.
This has changed in the last few years. Clearbit offers their IP Reveal and Enrichment products as APIs, making it possible to now automate how that data is used across other sales tools. Zapier has also become a common way for tech-savvy sales teams to take action on such data. And apart from the typical use case of identifying new leads at the top of the funnel, companies are beginning to incorporate this tech further down the funnel to help prioritize prospecting efforts based on which accounts are on the website and showing engagement.
Companies like 6sense and ourselves offer automation as a built-in piece of a larger offering. We believe this offers a distinct advantage over generic automation solutions like Zapier, as we're able to tailor the actions and filters available to be specific to sales and marketing teams. In offering a more sales and marketing-specific automation product, we are also able to trigger directly off of website events (such as when a company visits your site), versus a product like Zapier, which is more suited to backend automation and moving data between different tools.
Finally, companies are using company data to improve inbound, like RightMessage, Mutiny, and Drift doing live personalization of the website to tailor content and messaging. For example, you might look at the industry of a visiting company and steer them towards case studies and content relevant to them. For more technical products, you could look at what technologies a visiting company is using, and emphasize how your product works with those technologies.
4. Commercial Real Estate Databases
When it comes to finding new opportunities, demand generation teams look for a variety of signals that may hint at an account being in-market. This includes well known data points like fundraising information on Crunchbase, mentions in the news, or job postings.
An interesting strategy that we've been hearing about recently is leveraging commercial real estate leasing data to gauge the state of the company. What's unique about this data is that it may reveal non-public information that gives your team an edge.
For example, if a company just signed a lease on a large office for 200+ people, but their LinkedIn says they have 50 employees, it's likely that the company is doing well and expanding. This could mean they now have a budget for other products/services and/or are planning to hire.
Several companies we spoke with were seeing success with this strategy and were using tools like Compstack and Reonomy.
5. Buyer Intent Data
Similar to #4, another source of intent data are tools such as Bombora and The Big Willow. These tools uncover buying intent by processing billions of web sessions daily to identify buying teams researching specific problems and vendors.
For example, say I want to be alerted of companies that are searching for Account-Based Marketing (ABM) solutions.
Bombora will compute a Company Surge Score (on a scale of 0 to 100) for every company in its network that are visiting pages having to do with ABM. When a prospective customer has a Company Surge Score above 60, it indicates that its content consumption on ABM is significantly above average - thus indicating they may be in the market for an ABM service.
This offers teams an enormous competitive advantage and enables them to:
- Better segment and send relevant emails to interested people
- Have more engaging conversations with higher likelihood buyers
- Focus on interested buyers and tailor advertising messages for more efficient demand
This all translates to being able to move in on deals before the competition is even aware of them, with the right message and at the right time.
6. Sharing Lead Data
Let's be frank. It's pretty easy to find anyone's business email these days.
Most companies have some sort of common email pattern like email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, etc, and it's straightforward to figure out the pattern using a company tool like Hunter.io. So all you need is a first/last name, a company domain, and you're likely in business.
What's new here, are companies that are doing this as a service at scale, and are validating the quality of the data by requiring you to create an account via your company Gmail or Outlook account. Once you create an account, you give the service permission to mine your contact book. In exchange, you get free access to the core product.
The first company we saw doing this was Elucify, which was acquired by CircleBack in 2018. Since then, the company we've been hearing about most is Apollo, which allows you to search it's database of over 200+ million contacts.
What do you think? Are you open to share all your contacts, if you can get free access to a huge lead database?
7. Reverse ETL
ETL, an acronym for Extract, Transform, Load, has traditionally referred to the data pipelines your engineering team builds that move all your company data to a central data warehouse. A complete setup will combine the data from all the various tools your team uses, such as your CRM, automated marketing, website events, etc. and enable you to join all the data to generate new insights into the customer journey.
While collecting all the data from your various tools can be a challenge, there are a variety of hosted ETL tools on the market such Segment, FiveTran, and Airbyte. These help to automatically sync data from your tools into popular data warehouses like Redshift and Snowflake.
With all the data now in your data warehouse, many organizations have stopped there, thinking the job is done. But what is the benefit of all the unique insights you can now generate if your team doesn't know how to access them? This is why it's important to push the data to where your team lives, such as your company's CRM and sales automation tools.
Tools like Census are helping to fill the need here, marketing themselves as "Reverse ETL". They can help push the insights back into your tools, to provide more context in your CRM, optimize ad campaigns, or better personalize emails.
In general, we're seeing that some of the lines have blurred when it comes to prospecting / demand generation and whose job is sales vs marketing. Additionally, it's a very interesting time in the space as AI has opened a number of doors for things that were not previously possible.
We've found that the organizations who are seeing the most success are those that are aligning sales & marketing, open to new technologies, and open to trying new strategies to move the needle.