Why Lead Generation Is Dead

When a CEO contacted to enquire about our training services after reading one of my blog pieces, it was one of my favorite days as a marketer.

The whole sales process took two days. He didn't fill out a form and wasn't in our system.

I'm not sure how he came to our website or my blog article. (I suppose I should have inquired.)

This chance would not have come my way if I hadn't been routinely producing thought-leadership articles. The CEO wasn't seeking for a training solution, and no amount of advertising or product material could have piqued his interest.

The issue with product-centric content that stays behind a landing page with the goal of collecting someone's contact information (lead generation) is that it's out of step with how today's buyer wants to investigate.

When they're "just looking" and don't want emails or phone calls from the vendor's sales staff, it's too early in the process.

In B2B, the best way to succeed is to adopt a long-term approach to engaging, educating, and participating in the ecosystem. Not only will this increase demand over time, but you'll also spend less money to get higher-quality inbound leads with a competitive advantage.

Thought-leadership material should be designed for engagement rather than lead generation, but measuring it is far more difficult.

This presents a problem for CMOs whose executives are used to the measurability of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) as a predictor of buyer intent in the past and are hesitant to pay something they consider unmeasurable.

As a result, transitioning the company toward a more demand-centric model necessitates feeding sales' short-term thirst for buyer intent detection while also generating the long-term thought-leadership material needed to reach the dark funnel.

What exactly is this dark funnel?

Buyers undoubtedly utilize the internet to investigate goods and services, but they do it in a different way now than they did a decade ago.

Because most searches originated with Google back then, most lead generation content marketing methods focused on maximizing buyer intent keywords and phrases.

Because the buyer found the information there, SEO techniques succeeded, bringing them to websites where the anonymous visitors might be converted by downloading a white paper that claimed to provide the answer. Sales was then given the lead to pursue, nurture, and schedule appointments with.

It was so successful that the bulk of B2B enterprises followed suit. Buyers have mainly tuned out as a result of being flooded with material and sales communications. They now begin their searches by asking peers, whether via a direct communication or network engagement.

"All of the ideal customers that are looking for a solution like yours, are potentially buying solutions like yours, and you can't reach them," says Latané Conant, chief market officer at 6Sense.com. You're not bringing people to your website, you're not seeing their behaviors, and you're not interacting with that purchasing group."

As a consequence, your perfect consumers are looking for what you have to offer, and you have no clue.

You can't buy your way to success any more

"There will always, one can assume, be a need for some selling," Peter Drucker wrote in Management (1973). However, the goal of marketing is to make selling obsolete. Marketing's goal is to get to know and understand the consumer so well that the product or service fits him perfectly and sells itself."

"Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy," he went on to remark. The only thing left to do is make the goods or service accessible, which means logistics rather than salesmanship, and statistical distribution rather than marketing."

That's where I see today's progressive definitions of a MQL going—only counting the sales-ready hand-raisers—at which time there should be no need for a sales development representative (SDR) to qualify and pass to an account executive.

(Which is why many organizations are transferring SDRs to marketing, where they are responsible with figuring out how to improve the individual's buyer journey rather than setting appointments.)

For many that have put a lot of money into the predictable income model, that's a tough pill to take, so they continue to push product-oriented material to create leads and let their SDRs follow them down by sending a number of emails, phoning, and berating them into having a meeting.

When such conversations occur, they often discover that there is no money, authority, need, or deadline (BANT). They may be interested in the product, but there is no way to sell it to them, thus it fails.

It's difficult to grow that strategy because it's out of step with how customers want to shop. They want to privately digest information and then request a demo or speak with sales when they're ready.

Defeat (the most of) your landing pages

The goal is to improve the purchase experience, which involves getting rid of the majority of your landing pages. They generate friction, raise bounce rates, and, most importantly, give the consumer a bad experience.

You know what I'm talking about if you've ever been hesitant to download a "free" white paper because you didn't want to be joined to a mailing list.

The desire for MQL conversion is also indicative of a lead generation culture in which marketing's job is considered only as sales enablement rather than as a strategic business driver.

"It makes me sad when I see marketing viewed as a service organization to the company, in that they're doing one-sheeters for sales, or they're doing a webinar, or the CEO wants a press release," says Casey Carey, CMO of Kazoo HR. [And then there's a list of] strategies that appear out of nowhere. I believe we sometimes get into the trap of trying to satisfy everyone and accomplish everything. However, it's doomed to fail."

That isn't to say that generating sales leads isn't an essential marketing role. However, you must work closely with sales to clarify what the MQL handoff should include so that there is no hesitancy in pursuing it. (As a result, they can't blame marketing for poor lead quality.)

Engagement, not lead creation, is Carey's first priority when it comes to content.

He claims they've shifted their attention away from whether a single piece of content generated any MQLs and toward if it's creating engagement among their target audience.

"One of the things we looked at was our MQL quality," Carey explains. “We recently received an inbound email that began, ‘We've conducted a thorough review.' Kazoo is one of the top three players. We'd want to set up a demo, and we'd like you to go through these 10 points with us.'"

"If you want people to consume your content, consider you, and believe it's potentially a good fit for their business requirements, you need to make their education process as friction-free as possible," says Ken Lempit, president of demand generation firm Austin Lawrence Group. And believe me when I say that any leads that fit their ideal customer profile will be promptly pursued by sales, who will be eager to speak with them about your recent white paper downloads or business cards dumped in a fishbowl at a trade event."

Granted, fewer volumes will emerge from this progressive MQL definition, but you should be able to show improved close rates and reduced client acquisition costs. Furthermore, focusing on education rather than lead creation frees up marketers to concentrate on demand development and removes redundant data analysis falsification.

To put it another way, marketing encompasses all four Ps in the mix (product, place, price, and promotion).

Jane, please get me off this wacky ride!

The whole lead-to-conversion process has broken down for at least five years, so the writing has been on the wall. It has resulted in poor marketing techniques, excessive sales turnover, and missed quotas.

The traditional lead generation numbers may still appear nice in the boardroom, but the consequences will not. It's putting either sales or marketing up for failure, depending on who can deflect responsibility the best.

Overall, it fosters a short-term mindset that won't help the company accomplish long-term growth goals or position marketing as a key business driver.

If you want to get off the lead generation hamster wheel, you must first demonstrate that no sales process fits neatly into the neat, linear box we assume it should.

In this new environment, marketing should first assist sales in identifying such possibilities as early as possible utilizing available signals that indicate buyer intent, then focus on the long-term plan that generates consumers and delivers them to the table ready to purchase.

There is a lot of waste in the existing system, and it should be simple to identify if you look at the reality behind the figures.

It's a good idea to start by asking each client and prospect how they discovered you. The second step is to analyse all won transactions to figure out where they came from.

Don't depend on attribution from your CRM or other software to tell you where the lead originated from. Even though it claims it came from a direct search, it most likely came from someone advising them to look, at which time the prospect went to Google and searched the company's name directly.

Make sure you and sales are on the same page about what constitutes a good lead and when the handoff should occur.

Recognize that the closer you go to a sales-ready MQL definition, the less leads you'll get.

Ascertain that everyone knows that although the quantity will be much reduced, the quality will be significantly enhanced. If you've done your homework, you should be able to show that the lead-to-close ratio on white paper downloads and advertising clicks does not justify the customer acquisition costs associated with chasing them.

Create marketing activities that need you to speak with buyers, thought leaders, subject matter experts, analysts, and prospects, such as podcasts, videos, essays, and publications. This will enable you to progress with the consumer and uncover what they genuinely care about, allowing you to generate customers rather than just react to demand.

When someone is ready for a demo or to speak with sales, direct them to someone who is competent to address their questions, rather than an SDR who will ask BANT questions to pass on to an AE.

Let's face it: sales and marketing have been riding the gravy train for far too long.

It's long past time to use smarter marketing and sales strategies that engage customers on their terms rather than forcing them into our sales funnel, as we should have done all along.

Thanks to Jason Myers at Business 2 Community whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

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