An Interview with “The Funnelholic”

It’s our pleasure to have Craig Rosenberg, Editor of The Funnelholic, offer up this special guest blog posting. Craig is Vice President of Products and Services at Focus where he oversees product creation, management, and delivery.   Before that, Craig was a consultant with SalesRamp where he designed, built and managed lead generation and inside sales strategies and processes for high-tech startups. During that time, Craig built lead generation machines at over 25 different companies in a variety of different high-tech verticals ranging from business applications to IT infrastructure.

Recently, Craig responded to our questions about lead management and marketing automation.  You'll learn about the challenges facing today's B-to-B marketers and Craig’s insights for moving beyond them

You are known in the industry as the Funnelholic. What inspired the name? 

The story goes like this: three to four years ago I decided I wanted to blog about my experiences in the world of demand generation. When I get an idea I’m committed to, my attention span dictates that I get it done immediately.  I always liked the George S. Patton quote: “A good plan violently executed today is far and away better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”  I decided I wanted to blog and was literally set up in a few days.  The name was the problem. I originally wanted funnelnomics.com, but that was taken.  I dejectedly lamented my loss to my CEO Scott Albro (twitter.com/scottalbro) who said, “You need something that represents you, more fun and loose, it should be something like “The Funnelholic”.”  And there you have it! I bought the domain, loaded WordPress and was blogging! Scott was right, and it actually saved me from being constrained by an overly-serious blog title. My writing and talking style is irreverent, casual, accessible, and funny.  Oh, and I can occasionally add value too.  From a marketing perspective, everyone remembers The Funnelholic and that has been helpful in building followers and readership.

There is a lot of confusion today around lead management.  Many vendors claim they sell Lead Management Solutions. Are the terms Lead Management Solutions and Marketing Automation synonymous? 
 
This is a great question that I need to give a complicated answer to.  First let me give you a convoluted answer that I will attempt to unwind:  No one sells lead management systems, but they are closer to lead management systems than they are to marketing automation systems.  Confused?  Let me try to explain. 

First, let me give you my definition of what lead management is:  Lead management is the process of managing leads from generation to closed business. It encompasses many areas including but not limited to: planning and profiling, lead generation, lead nurturing, lead qualification, lead scoring, metrics and reporting, automation, and content.  It’s important to keep in mind that it’s both a strategy and a process that spans marketing and sales. 

To me, the lead management process is a big overarching strategy that systems such as marketing automation can support a portion of, but not all. The biggest point I strive to get across is that having a thoughtful lead management process is THE most important thing you can do. Marketing automation is part of the support you need to achieve greatness.  Marketing automation’s biggest downfall, in my opinion, is the overpromise that you plug it in and all of a sudden you get marketing ROI.  That’s just not the case and calling the system a “Lead Management System” exacerbates the issue. The system doesn’t create a lead management process, you do. 

Oh, and by the way, calling it “marketing automation” isn’t much better.  So, despite the flaws of calling systems “Lead Management Systems”, you have to ask the question of whether these are actually, “marketing automation” systems.  Lead management, despite the holes, may be a better name anyway!  Marketing automation systems ARE primarily centered around leads so now what? I think the main point is to develop a rock-solid lead management process before you buy marketing automation.  The process is much bigger than any system.

How are companies addressing the issue of Lead Management within their B2B organizations? What do you see as good?  What do you see as “bad”?  

First let me say, we are definitely seeing a lot of “goodness” with regards to lead management. The last five years have done wonders for how leads are managed within B2B marketing organizations.  There is a LONG road ahead, but the last 5 years have created a lot of enlightenment and, consequently, urgency around the importance of lead management.  Considering the way things were, it is a victory to get companies to even evaluate how they handle leads.   Let me just give you some observations from the successful ones and you can assume that if they are doing the opposite that is “bad”:

  1. They all have lead qualification functions – That’s interesting. There are some great lead management processes without scoring, and, in some cases, without an off-the-shelf marketing automation platform, but they all have lead qualification.  There was one exception. The marketing department of a low-ASP network management product used the downloadable demo as the “qualified lead” definition. The demo was converting at 40% to close.  Nothing to disagree with there, but I would say 95% of successful lead management processes incorporate a dedicated phone function supporting turning inquiries or MQLs into qualified leads for the sales team to follow up on.

  2. An understanding of lead nurturing – If you embrace lead nurturing, you can actually take pressure off your initial returns on campaigns. The successful lead management processes of today are factories, putting raw materials in, and manufacturing qualified opportunities over time. If you go back to the network management company I mentioned above, marketing’s goal in life is to get people to demo.  Not everyone will do that out of the gate, so the company’s nurturing is built to relentlessly educate until the prospect is ready to download.  Some people take three weeks, others take 48 months, but if it’s the right prospect, they’ll eventually convert them. 

  3. Unified lead definition – It sounds so simple, but sales and marketing will NOT get along without it.  The greatest test of whether someone has a base lead management program is to ask them to define a qualified lead, i.e., what they pass to sales.  If they can answer it, you have a start. (Unless, of course, they say that the definition is a C-level, fortune 1000 company ready to buy in three months.  Then you have a problem).  If they can’t answer that question, then they have a long hill to climb.
       
  4. Lead management process comes before marketing automation – Many people think the answer to their marketing ROI woes is marketing automation, but what they don’t understand is that if you don’t have a lead management process in place before marketing automation, you will “double-fail”.  Some of the best lead management programs in the world have been developed well before marketing automation.  These organizations run right now without technology. It’s their process that generates the metrics they are looking for. They’ve refined the types of leads they buy from media companies, how they convert them over the phone, the types of content to send them over time, etc. Will technology make them better? Yes. But the point is that the process came first. Lead management processes span well outside of the scope of marketing automation.
       
  5. Commitment to content – I hear whispers from people who are in the know that for successful lead management you need 35 pieces of content. Marketing organizations are leveraging content across their lead management cycle to move buyers down the funnel. The days of data sheets are over.

Right now industry experts have the adoption rates for marketing automation in the single to low double digits, with estimates of 50% within 5 years.  What do you think is the driver of that growth?

I think marketing automation is right on schedule in terms of technology market growth.  The low adoption rates now are actually GOOD for the business as the marketing automation business is still learning what’s works and doesn’t work.  There were some early mistakes and there will continue to be going forward, but that lends itself to better product particularly in a hyper-competitive market.  It’s funny.  A lot of vendors jumped into the market trying early on, taking on the marketing leaders ,saying how difficult it was to use and how you need people to support it..  I think what they found was that's the formula in general for marketing automation success — their systems needed people and process to support it regardless of how easy it seemed.   Now you see organizations more focused on preparing to implement and support their systems. This was an early learning for everyone involved and marketing automation will be better for it.

Everyone knows how to market and that’s an advantage for marketing automation. The content war in the marketing automation market is massive.  All sides are bombarding the internet with content on lead management, nurturing, and consequently, automation. 

Also, the marketing organization is the last “green-field” left in the enterprise.  Everyone has an ERP system for finance, CRM system for sales, but marketing has been left out all these years.  There is so much opportunity with technology-less vendors that massive growth is a reality.

The overall combination of the technology and getting it implemented correctly, the all-out marketing push, and the overall market potential will help accelerate this market fast.

As organizations look to select an automation platform, what advice would you give them?

I advise people, process, and then technology.  I don’t watch closely enough to know the nuances between platforms.  For the most part, I have found happy and unhappy customers for almost all the vendors.  The main piece of advice is to have people and resources allocated for sustainable success and have a thoughtful lead management process including metrics that the automation is intended to support.  This will help you truly understand your requirements to make the right choice and make the technology work for you.

Having been in this space for a long time, what are the top three mistakes that a company should avoid when it comes to lead management? 

  1. Forgetting the phone – I’m the biggest advocate for lead qualification.  I always talk about a presentation I went to where the guru was making a case for sending scored leads directly to sales.  I wasn’t going to disrupt my colleague’s speech, but that is a FAIL.  I know it sounds like a very specific piece to the lead management pie, but too many times have I seen lead management fail because they don’t leverage the phone.  
       
  2. Not defining achievable metrics across the entire process – The whole point of the lead management process is to create a process with well defined metrics from generation to close.  Failure to define and track these metrics results in failure across your entire lead management process.  By the way, there is also such a thing as too many metrics.  As my colleague Chris Jablonski (twitter.com/cjablonski) says, “Calculate the ROI of always trying to calculate ROI.”  Don’t let metrics bog you down, but leverage them as a way to know how you are doing and where to optimize.
     
  3. Forgetting that sales is a big part of the lead management process– Remember, lead management is from generation to close.  Marketing must be able to work with sales for this to be successful and vice-versa.

Put yourself in the shoes of a Marketing Director.  You have a short period of time to make a pitch to a VP on why they should invest in Lead Management and Marketing Automation.  What would you tell them?

I’d show one slide that shows ROI today and ROI after.  One of the challenges I can imagine in the marketing automation market is the fact that marketers have never bought technology.  Interesting right?  The promise of SaaS is to not deal with IT, but maybe we can learn from them in terms of requirements building and selling to the C-suite.  Anyway, I digress.  The main point is, executives just want to see how much money you’ll make the organization and if you start training them on lead management, yawns may ensue.  Not every CEO is the same, so you may need back-up explanations…but that one slide needs to say it all.