From Manual to Automated to Artificially Intelligent: How Inbound Lead Generation is Changing

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If leads are the lifeblood of all B2B marketing strategies, what happens when a business experiences internal bleeding… or anemia?

Internal bleeding: visitors come to your site, read your content… and then drift away. Your marketing team moans as you see how few leads come of all that traffic. Why are all those visitors bleeding out?

Anemia is trickier to diagnose because while the issue is in the blood, the problem is not quantity; rather, it’s quality.

In an anemic business, although leads may be aplenty, they’re low quality. They’re not really interested in buying your product – or at least not when you offer it to them.

We, the heads of the marketing teams, are thrilled with the influx of leads. But sales is frustrated as lead after lead doesn’t convert, and management is biting its fingernails as they grip their revenue reports and sweat.

What’s a business to do?

 

The Evolution of Lead Generation

Over the past decade, the issue of inbound lead quantity and quality has driven significant innovation in B2B lead generation. How did we generate and qualify leads way back when (for those of us who are old enough to have been in the industry 10 years ago, and young enough to still remember)?

We marketers gathered lead information from events, people who contacted the company or signed up for an offer. We then entered the info into our excel spreadsheets (or for those of us who were working in a more “advanced” office, our CRM software) and passed the buck to sales.

Sales tried to make contact with all the leads and made notes in the CRM to record any significant interaction and where they felt the prospect was currently holding in the sales cycle. They would often use the BANT approach to indicate, at a glance, the quality of the lead and the potential for conversion.

Did it work? There was always pressure on us marketers to wrack our brains for ways to generate more leads. Even when there was an influx of leads (joy!) it took up plenty of time for sales to try and convert the leads into sales opportunities, many of whom weren’t remotely interested in being converted. That’s a fail.

The end result? Potentially an anemic business. Certainly one exhausted marketing team and one pooped sales team, which was often frustrated with us marketers for bringing them “qualified leads” that didn’t go anywhere.

 

Marketing automation… the first step

While marketing automation software has been around since 1992, the general marketing industry started to take notice of it around 2006. The growth of high-speed internet spawned a burst of cloud-based marketing automation startups, including Hubspot, Salesforce, and Marketo.

These tools were more accessible, more affordable… and they delivered better ROI than the old manual lead quantification process and outreach process. Suddenly, quantification and a good chunk of lead nurturing was being done automatically, so sales didn’t have to spend heaps of time figuring out where the prospect was holding in the cycle. They could focus on making contact only when it looked like the lead was sufficiently interested.

Marketing automation has been a tremendous leap forward for many businesses. Companies that use marketing automation tools report an average 451% increase in leads, 14.5% increase in sales productivity and 12.2% reduction in marketing overhead.

While the marketing automation industry is satisfied with this progress (after all, they’ve grown from 100 million dollars in 2009 to 3.86 billion dollars in 2016), we as marketers can’t rest on our laurels.

Let’s appreciate what marketing automation has done for us, and take it to the next level.

There’s no reason to remain within the standard (and potentially stodgy) marketing playbook as is when the tools are out there to change the rules and make lead generation exponentially more efficient!

 

Not yet a cure

One of the main challenges with marketing “automation” today is that it’s only partially automated. How much time does your marketing team spend on defining workflows, continuous manual analysis and optimization? There’s a significant time investment to maintain all the tools and processes.

If you don’t spend all that time optimizing (and often even if you do), leads get lost. They find this piece of content, they’re kind of interested… but nothing else pulls them in or keeps them on the path of discovery. They surf away.

Even if you follow today’s marketing playbook to the letter, too many potential leads slip through the cracks.

And even with marketing automation, the issue of lead anemia and wasted time for sales still remains.

That lead that downloaded two white papers, watched a video and read five of your blog posts? He was a student gathering information on your industry so he could learn about the industry.

The lead that opened every single one of your emails and clicked through to your website 70% of the time? He works for a competitor and wants to keep on top of your game.

These are not prime sales prospects, to say the least, but most marketing automation software just scores them as “highly interested prospects” and then delivers them over to your sales team. Needless to say, sales’ overtures to them don’t result in any actual sales.

Waste. Of. Time.

We need to change the rules of marketing – to make “automated” REALLY automated. FULLY automated. Intelligent, helpful software that gets you more leads, and better leads, without letting real leads slip through the cracks and without dumping time-wasting “leads” on sales’ doorstep.

And it’s almost here. We’re so close.

 

Artificial intelligence to the rescue

AI powers Google searchdrives cars and detects cancer better than pathologists. Now is the time for it to harness its incredible power to bring lead generation to the next level – a level that will benefit marketing, sales… and your customers.

It’s a move we need to make. A move that revolutionizes the (potentially stale) marketing playbook we’ve all been relying on for a decade. AI is lighting the proverbial fire under our backsides and elevating our work to a level we had never considered possible before.

Imagine: the VP of Procurement is researching a solution (that you sell!) and would like to find the information on your site that will help her come to a decision.

  • What if AI could identify the next best piece of content to show her, based on the content she’s viewed already?
  • What if AI could ask her well-timed, nonintrusive questions about what she’s looking for and the content gaps she’s looking to fill?
  • What if AI could guide her on a personalized content journey of discovery and answers until she’s actually ready to talk to your sales team?

 

Sales could work smarter and more effectively if they had the power of artificial intelligence doing the grunt work.

Marketing wouldn’t have their valuable time eaten by manual workflows and optimization. AI workflows that optimize autonomously, coupled with AI insights about what works (and what doesn’t) delivered to their door would free them to do the creative and rewarding work of producing high quality, effective content. Which is what marketing really should be doing.

Customers would be thrilled to actually get the information they need when they need it.

We have been holding our collective breath, as marketers, for a decade, waiting for the next Big Thing. The time is now. Finally, the technology has evolved to meet the need.

 

Be ready for the future of lead generation

Today, the marketing playbook says: gate your content. Gate it, or you won’t know who your leads are! Write high-quality premium content, and make the audience demonstrate their interest by downloading it. Collect their email address so you can move them along the marketing funnel.

I did it, you did it, everybody did it. It was the thing to do.

The issue with this approach is that it can lead to business anemia: determined but irrelevant leads (like the contact marketer) give their info (often fake), enter into the lead generation funnel, make your marketing team excited and waste your sales team’s time. Relevant but hesitant leads (like the VP of Procurement who is just starting out on the process of looking for a solution) may balk at your gated content information collection form (which often hosts 5-8 fields including qualification questions) and bail. A lost potential customer. And a real one at that.

Just because we’re used to gated content and installing pop-ups doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Your leads would certainly be a lot happier if you didn’t keep interrupting their discovery process with forms, email signups, and other intrusions. And your sales team would be a lot happier if more leads were actually ripe when they finally made contact.

AI has the capability to provide what both your potential customers and your sales team want the most: real, interested leads.

 

What say you?

Marketing automation revolutionized our ability to better manage and engage with leads at scale. But it was counting on the human brain to guide it and tell it how to optimize its performance. We are now in a position to make another big leap from marketing automation to autonomous marketing, enhancing marketing automation and its worthwhile capabilities to the next level.

Consider the marketing playbook we’ve all been abiding by for years. Consider your current strategies and what AI can do to elevate them and make them more efficient.

What has been your experience with the evolution of lead generation in your marketing team? What has worked best, and what has failed miserably? What’s been your experience with marketing automation, and has it fulfilled your KPIs? Talk to us in the comments below; we’re interested in your experiences and want to share them with our community.

Yonatan Snir

Yonatan is the CEO and Co-Founder of CliClap, a smart, autonomous, inbound lead generation and qualification solution for your content marketing channels.

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