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Truths Revealed: Marketing Automation and the Sales Funnel

By Kirk Rynearson

Apr 18, 2019

About 7 minutes

“Lose 10 lbs. in 14 days!"

“Earn thousands of $$$ in your spare time while sitting in front of the TV!”  

Bold claims. Both possibly true. And it makes you wonder, Where’s the rest of the story?

b2b lead generation tipsUsing Marketing Automation for the care and feeding of Sales Funnels is a core of today’s marketing methodology. There’s widespread use, but mixed results. Let’s look for the gaps between theory and practice and see what works today.

The Sausage Factory

When I first heard the terms “Marketing Automation” and “Sales Funnel,” I pictured a huge meat grinder. Online prospects were identified, filtered, and collected. Fed into the funnel, the crank would turn and Sales Qualified Leads would roll out like sausage links at a Jimmy Dean factory.

Now I know what best practice these concepts reveal: Marketing Automation needs a human face, and the Sales Funnel is not really a funnel.

Two Caveats

First, we acknowledge that the term “Sales Funnel” has been tweaked. Some call it a “Demand Waterfall” and separate inbound from outbound or tele from automated processes. It still describes how people with a desire for “better” become buyers.

Second, there’s common agreement on obvious limits to what automation can do. An ATM on a street corner dispensing a handful of cash? Automated. Venture capitalists evaluating a private equity buy-in? Not automated.

B2B is Really Human to Human

But even as the web integrates further into our lives, one thing continues to grow more relevant: B2B is really H2H, or Human to Human.

How we assimilate information and form opinions may change, but ultimately, the effective “call to action” remains a human voice.

Brand Management

Marketing Automation excels at managing large numbers of contacts. With it, your corporate presence can project across multiple platforms: websites, social media, emails, and text.

Segmented target markets? Check. Personalized messaging? Check. The scheduling and automation of workflow “touches” define Marketing Automation and make it a prime vehicle for Brand Management.

… is not Lead Generation

I think it’s a mistake, though, to expect automation to really move the needle on how or when a Prospect evolves into a Buyer. 

Marketing Automation is like a line of snowplows that clear a buyer’s journey highway after a heavy snow of suspects and prospects. You still need to plow the local roads; it’s the last mile that makes the connection.

The Arena

The purpose of automated digital outreach is to build an environment where your brand can exist.  It’s a competitive ecosystem, and you’re fighting a holding action against other brands in a virtual arena. All are competing for bandwidth and mindshare.

At a minimum, Marketing Automation needs to maintain your brand presence AND prepare the field for action. This is Brand Management. You’ll still need a team on the ground for Lead Generation. 

It’s not a laboratory…

I don’t recognize some of the Sales Funnel descriptions I’ve read that sound like clinical procedures. There, subjects are precisely nurtured and eliminated or advance down a linear, narrowing path. Catch them early, drip-feed relevant collateral, and harvest when ripe.

b2b lead gen and marketing automation… it’s a subway.

My experience sees something metaphorically closer to a collection of strangers on a typical subway. They get on at different times, from different stops, and may happen to be going in the same direction, if they got on the right car.

You hear periodic announcements over the loudspeaker about the final terminal destination. They might be listening or sleeping, eating or talking, texting or streaming, or getting off at the next stop. Or… maybe they’re considering riding to that last station. 

How to do Lead Generation on ‘the subway’:

  1. Identify who on the car is considering a ride to the end destination.
  2. Strike up a conversation. Don’t be a salesperson.
  3. Make the case that you are a competent, knowledgeable guide for where you’re going, and …
  4. You are possibly interesting or of some value once you arrive at the terminal.
  5. Don’t get thrown off the train.

From “Lead” to “Buyer”

Lead Generation is based on engagement. Automation sets the stage and identifies a cast of suspects. Lead Generation qualifies which actors to work with, tweaks the script, and directs the action.

Ultimately, a decision is a combination of rationality and emotion. The engaged connection is the bridge that Prospects are helped across on their way to Buyer territory.

How “Sticky” is your connection?

The essential quality in engagement is “stickiness.” How ‘sticky’ is the connection? How likely is the prospect to reply to a third email or pick up the phone when they recognize the caller ID? 

We watch digital outreach wash over prospects like radio broadcasts — maybe received, maybe ignored. Forging an engaged connection is what skilled people do. That’s what is required to bring a buyer off the ‘subway’ and into a conversation.

Geeks aren’t Freaks

Do Sales Funnels have varying shapes or qualities for different industries? Products have distinct sales cycles and emerging technologies may require more discovery or evaluation. 

IT may be populated with STEM majors, but they’re not immune from the thirst for one-to-one connections that define today’s consumer. Authenticity and transparency are prerequisites, and people still buy from people they trust and like.  

Action, Reaction, and Synthesis

B2B always tries to identify the best media platforms for reaching markets. It works until it doesn’t, and falls into two epochs: Before and After the internet.

Print. Radio. Television. Telemarketing. The web arrived, and now email, social media, search and paid search are top of the food chain.

As new communication vectors deploy, prospects learn, grow wary and change behavior. They’re guarding against marketing’s intrusion. They’re protecting their crown jewels: time and privacy.

State-of-the-Art or Where We Are Now

  • Searching for the holy grail of non-intrusive outreach that responds to hand-raising.
  • Harnessing technology to broaden our reach, utilizing human contact to forge meaningful engagement.

What’s next?

How we do things changes. Why we do things is more of a constant. Marketing persuades using different tools, but its ingenuity provokes timeless innovation. 

Read our Marketing Automation is NOT a Silver Bullet eBook.


Tags: advertising