Whatever demand gen channels you use to generate marketing leads, there’s value in always promoting a mix of content and other offers that span the entire buying cycle: early-stage, mid-stage, and late-stage. That’s not simply because prospective customers will engage more readily with content that better aligns with whether they’re researching best practices, actively evaluating potential vendors, or somewhere in between.
When planning campaigns or designing ads, it’s easy to gravitate towards late-stage content (Webinars, analyst reports, demos, case studies) on the assumption that such offers generate more “qualified” leads. And this much is true: late-stage offers are more likely to attract prospects who are genuinely in the market for a particular product or solution. However, an over-reliance on late-stage offers has two key downsides:
* It leaves an entire subset of potential prospects on the table, namely individuals earlier in the buying cycle who aren’t quite ready to watch a demo, attend a Webinar, read a case study, etc.
* Engaging with prospects earlier in the buying cycle means a greater opportunity to educate and nurture that individual, increasing your chances of a win when a genuine need occurs. (Conversely, engaging solely with late-stage prospects likely means the buyer has already formed an opinion of your brand, or established his/her purchase criteria, absent any guidance or influence from you.)
Long-term, using a healthy mix of early-stage and late-stage demand gen content means you’re not just capturing those hot leads who are ready to buy, but also engaging with potential customers that you can nurture over time. Ultimately, by building brand credibility and trust through a systematic, well-designed lead nurturing program, you’ll close more deals by having educated the buyer first.
Besides an effective lead nurture program, the other key factor in properly leveraging early-stage content is use of the appropriate KPIs. Marketers are often under pressure to evaluate lead gen programs very quickly, often within weeks, and to declare success (or failure) based on the rate at which those contacts convert to sales-ready leads and pipeline, even if the average sales cycle for their product is weeks or months longer than the window of measurement.
If you’re employing a mix of content, for example: in a program like content syndication, the reality is that those prospects downloading early-stage content may take months before they’re ready to engage with a sales rep. Use of very short-term metrics will almost certainly devalue those leads and the perceived ROI from the program.
Another channel where a healthy content mix is vital is paid search (SEM). Many B2B companies have a tendency to over-rely on late-stage offers (demos, in particular) in their search campaigns, on the assumption that search lead automatically wants to evaluate a product. However, it’s critical to align search offers (and not just ad copy) with ad groups tailored to a particular buying stage. In fact, a failure to align offers with ad groups can be a prime culprit in poor conversion (click-to-lead) rates.
For example, ad groups that are focused on search queries around a particular product category, say “CRM Software,” are ideal for demos, trials, buying guides and other information tailored for active buyers. Whereas ad groups that are problem- or issue-focused, say “How to Manage a Customer List,” are better suited to educational white papers or ebooks that don’t sell your solution quite so overtly, but nonetheless serve to capture interest from prospects suffering the problem that you can solve.
Resist the pressure from your sales colleagues to only offer demos, trials and Webinars because they’re perceived to generate “better” leads. A mix of early-, mid-, and late-stage demand generation content is the most effective way to capture prospects who are ready to buy while also building a store of prospects that you can convert to active buyers over time.