A Day in the Life of Account-Based Marketing: Day 4 - What’s wrong with the funnel?

We all know how the marketing 2.0 story goes:

  1. bring in TOFL (Top Of Funnel Leads), as many as you can

2. segment them into groups with messaging relevant for different personas/ verticals / titles

3. nurture those groups and give leads a score for completing different engagements with your company

4. let the most engaged / highest scorers float to the top of the bucket and pick those off for Sales Development Reps to call and turn into meetings / opportunities.

Well, in theory, this is working well, and B2B companies like mine are building massive lead-gen engines that follow this general plan. The prevailing theory is that it takes 6–8 marketing touch points (points of engagement with your company, your content, your account teams at events, webinars…) until a buyer is ready to speak to a sales representative.

I’ve always had a healthy dose of skepticism about this approach. Here’s why:

  1. Nurturing is not always necessary. My company’s lead-gen campaigns initiated by marketing (not partner initiated) brought a hefty load of new leads into the top of the funnel last year. Of those leads, 8% were converted to meetings / opportunities (in our company meeting =SQL). Of those meetings, 43% were created immediately after the first touch — meaning after the first time they were scanned at an event or filled out a form or whatever action they took to engage with us initially. This means that a whopping 43% did not need to be touched multiple times before they were booked as meetings. That’s not to say that the 57% that we did nurture to the 6–8 touch points are not valuable — they are — just that the numbers show that the nurturing piece of the pie may not be as big as the marketing automation companies will have you believe.
  2. Using email as the nurturing lynch pin may be flawed. Of the 57% that we nurtured to bring to a meeting, 10% of the meetings booked after some nurturing had an email as their final touch point before the meeting was created. (The rest had an event, webinar, web visit or some other last touch.) That’s not bad, and no doubt the nurturing of the database is a necessity in today’s marketing mix, but I’m not sure email marketing warrants the attention it gets in terms of our marketing resources. It’s just as valuable for converting existing leads as, say, partner events. Yet, we don’t have an entire cottage industry dedicated to partner events the way we do with email nurturing.

The question is “why?” Why do our email nurturing programs not convert more leads directly? I don’t think this has anything to do with our company. We have a great email marketing rockstar running our automation team. We have good, engaging content and webinars with hundreds of registrants. We have the same open and click-through rates as everyone else in our industry.

I think the answer is that we’ve plateaued in terms of the value of email in the marketing stack. Its out-sized importance in converting TOFL leads is waning. People dread emails, their inboxes are full, and most emails go unopened.

In addition to email fatigue — i do think we were sold a bill of goods by marketing automation about segmentation. We have not seen great differences when we have segmented the database by vertical or title and adjusted the content to match. It has yielded slight increases in opens and click-throughs, but nothing game changing. Same with changing time of sends, subject lines and the like. All yield open rates that are not actually statistically significant.

To some degree ABM is a categorical rejection of the TOFL model. ABM still utilizes content marketing and email nurturing, but does not expect us to drop leads into the database and wait for them to be spun into gold. Was the whole email nurturing craze a waste of time? Of course not. Marketers needed to learn there was no magic pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow to get to where we are now. The question is what to do now that we understand some of the limitations of marketing 2.0. For me, ABM is a test of one of the many paths we can try next.