Corporate websites currently rank as the No. 1 source of new leads for businesses, according to Demandbase's 2011 B2B website demand-generation study, and the percentage of leads coming from the corporate website is expected to skyrocket in the next three years. In fact, B2B research and analyst firm SiriusDecisions predicts that 71 percent of leads will come from the corporate website by 2015.
Today's self-directed business buyers are able to find the information they need, when they need it, through social media, solution provider websites, or a plethora of other content channels. The rise of the informed buyer marks a transformation in the role of sales organizations as the need for direct-sales interaction shifts toward the latter end of the buying process. Given this change in how B2B decision makers are shopping, it's easy to recognize that a consistent and relevant inbound marketing experience plays a vital role in progressing sales.
In a recent survey of B2B companies, marketers indicated that digital was their most important channel for lead generation. Yet, only 20 percent of marketers believe their websites are performing to their maximum lead-engagement potential. Luckily, with the right vision and sponsorship, marketers can reinvent their corporate sites to engage savvy buyers with personalized and relevant web experiences throughout the sales cycle.
Here's a look at the four biggest challenges to enabling effective inbound lead nurturing:
Challenge: Sales and demand-generation teams -- those with the most customer insight and engagement mastery -- have little control over the enterprise site experience.
Solution: Sales and demand-generation experts must guide the user-centered corporate website strategy.
The historical rise of demand generation as "external marketing" programs and enterprise websites as an "internal marketing" engagement mechanism explains why two critical marketing drivers coexist with little cohesion, but this mindset is grossly out of touch with how people purchase today. Many demand-generation teams would have to move mountains and resource changes to make it happen. When evaluating talent to lead the charge, demand-generation experts will emerge as the natural choice.
Challenge: Corporate website success is not defined by its ability to deliver sales-ready leads.
Solution: The corporate website must engage and support the entire sales cycle.
How is the success of your corporate website gauged today? Most corporate websites have a number of principles -- and it shows. Engagement with, and nurturing of, potential leads seldom makes the list of priorities.
For inbound marketing websites to capture first-time visitors (a.k.a. "suspects"), they need to identify something about the visitor to chart a course. Lead engagement today means being smart about when we ask for data, how we ask for data, and how we use the data to fulfill the promise. Marketing practitioners are collectively getting much smarter about lead capture to balance user and organizational needs that will allow dialogue to progress.
Jon Miller, VP of marketing at marketing automation provider Marketo, provides this sound advice on lead capture: "Don't get field happy." Miller recently published an interesting case study based on the results of the company's own lead-generation campaigns. Writing on the company's blog, Miller describes how Marketo created three different forms and used them on three different versions of a landing page:
- short form -- five fields
- medium form -- seven fields
- long form -- nine fields
Marketo's experiment produced the following results:
- short form -- conversion rate 13.4 percent, cost per conversion $31.24
- medium form -- conversion rate 12.0 percent, cost per conversion $34.94
- long form -- conversion rate 10.0 percent, cost per conversion $41.90
The impact of long forms on conversion rates has become well known among business marketers, and best practices call for web forms to have the absolute minimum number of input fields -- usually five or six. However, 68 percent of respondents still have five or more fields on website registration forms. Marketers understand that the best way to tailor sales strategies is to understand their customer, but this approach of information retrieval is affecting their bottom line.
As Greg Ott, CMO of Demandbase, explains, "It's been well established that shorter forms mean lower site abandonment, but sales and marketing still need as much contact information as possible to accurately score, route, and follow-up on leads. One of the most common applications of Demandbase's Real-Time ID Service is to provide all of the business attributes of a site visitor (industry, revenue, number of employees, region, etc.) that would be asked on a lead capture form, but populated behind the scenes in to hidden fields, enabling customers to significantly shorten their forms without losing data."
As a result, companies not only reduce site abandonment and dramatically increase conversion rates, but they also get better lead data quality since users notoriously enter bad information.
It's also important to keep in mind that conversion optimization extends beyond shorter forms. Segmentation strategies that enable personalization by vertical industry improve the user experience and provide marketers insights into what's working to engage and convert by audience.
Challenge: Sites are built around company product and solution innovations.
Solution: Build sites around the buyer's journey.
According to a recent B2B lead-generation survey, 37 percent of responders either moderately know their buyer or barely know their buyer. In addition, nearly half of those surveyed do not know where their users are most likely to abandon the website. While the website continues to be a top area for marketing investment made by B2B companies, both for dollar investment and resources across marketing and IT, businesses aren't paying close enough attention to what's working and what's not.
Eric Wittlake, B2B blogger and director of media for Babcock & Jenkins, offers the following insight on site lead engagement: "Supporting buyers in initial exploration has little to do with specific products or services. By adopting an industry perspective and leaving speeds and feeds aside, marketers focus on the information their audience values early in the buying process."
Challenge: New requirements may demand new technologies, resources, and processes.
Solution: Sites need advanced intelligence including personalization, multivariate testing, advanced analytics, and marketing automation to service inbound leads.
Designed with distinct feature sets to serve the masses, most corporate websites lack the ability to serve demand-generation needs which require advanced functionalities like dynamic testing, granular tracking, and system integration -- all beyond the bounds of "'routine"' site development and administration. Developing new site features and processes to support demand generation means re-conceiving how teams can work together to share collective knowledge, adopt new technologies, and uphold stellar buyer experiences, internally.
According to Darren Guarnaccia, senior corporate VP of product marketing at Sitecore, "Your website can become a 24/7 extension of your sales team by offering meaningful, relevant content that progresses the conversation with each site visit based on historical interactions. Today's websites should fill a critical role in supporting lead nurture through the entire sales process."
An incredible opportunity exists for companies ready to wholly embrace their buyers with an exceptional inbound marketing experience. By designing fulfilling buyer experiences, inbound marketing masters will build trust through relevant, helpful interactions, and accelerate the sales cycle in the process. How is your company preparing for the inbound marketing surge? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
A few final points:
- Business-to-business (B2B) websites today have been carefully crafted by brand stewards and product marketing experts to exude innovation, creativity, and product excellence.
- Most B2B corporate websites are inside out and need significant reinvention to support the journey of self-led buyers through the sales process.
- 2012 will be the year that progressive B2B marketers reinvent corporate websites to become the 6th player on their sales team.
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