The days when marketing teams handed sales leads and hoped revenue would follow are long gone. In today’s B2B marketplace, B2B buyers have shifted their expectations and buying habits, making the traditional funnel obsolete. The B2B landscape isn’t changing, it has changed.
Why Pipeline Marketing Is Important
The best revenue generation tactics are perfectly aligned to a marketing methodology called pipeline marketing. Pipeline marketing might seem like another fad or buzzword. But it is not. It is often seen as the next evolution of lead generation since it is grounded in proven marketing tactics and data. A pipeline marketing strategy offers an alternative acquisition methodology to those who have successfully generated leads but are struggling to convert those leads into customers.
In today’s marketplace, winning customers requires coordination among sales and marketing teams, supported by technology. The trifecta will be essential to the success of the business in the new revenue era.
The Illusion of Lead Generation
The scalability of any business depends heavily on the effectiveness of its digital marketing program. All too often, digital marketing investment is placed entirely into performance media and channels that drive leads. Though these channels deliver leads efficiently, they have a number of downsides that leadership has not considered.
Digital marketing that is too focused on lead generation neglects longer-term objectives. One of the reasons is that the targets keep increasing, so teams are pressured to achieve their KPIs without considering the future or more efficient ways for the business to generate revenue. The result of this reactive approach is a vicious cycle that repeats itself.
A second reason is that you won’t be able to operate your sales team at full efficiency because of the growing number of low-quality leads that slip through the qualification process. This problem balloons as sales teams grow to accommodate the increase in leads. Thirdly, it is tough to break the cycle once it starts. Leadership usually invests in both staffing and infrastructure, both of which are sunk costs.
While generating leads look good on paper(and in front of leadership), a lead is only a potential customer, the keyword being potential. Customers generate income, not leads. Converting a potential customer should always be the focus of both marketing and sales teams.
Digital marketing that is too focused on lead generation neglects longer-term objectives.
What is Pipeline Marketing?
Pipeline marketing, or a marketing-influenced pipeline, combines sales and marketing functions to convert prospects and leads into paying customers.
Pipeline marketing is both a method and a process. Through pipeline marketing, your decision-making process starts at revenue, and you work backwards from that. We replace the acquisition funnel and move towards a blended approach that prioritises data, aligns internal teams and observes attribution but not in absolutes. In order to better understand pipeline marketing, let’s take a closer look at the traditional funnel.
Traditional Lead Generation and Sales Funnel
A funnel or pipeline is the route that your customers take from the point of the first contact with your brand to the moment they purchase your product/service.
Top of the Funnel: Lead Generation
At the top of a sales funnel, a business is trying to spread awareness about its brand, products, service, etc. At this stage, the focus is on the masses rather than a specific group of people.
The objective is to gather as much information about your potential clients as possible. This stage is also known as the awareness stage because you attempt to make potential clients aware of your brand.
After making potential customers aware of your brand, the next step is generating leads.
There is a multitude of ways in generating leads. The standard methods encourage website visitors to sign up for an online newsletter, gate an e-book download, or offer some incentive for contact information.
The Problem With Low-Quality Leads
Many traditional lead generation programs focus solely on the top of the funnel to generate volume.
Unfortunately, you have no way of knowing if these leads are real leads or people who accidentally clicked submit on a Linkedin lead form at this point in the traditional funnel. The key problem is that they have no intent to purchase.
This type of approach can produce a large volume of leads, but it is usually costly. As a result, the conversation rates are typically poor. The sales team starts working on these leads in some businesses and are juggling multiple leads with no desire to purchase. It’s an uphill battle.
You might also see an increase in customer acquisition cost (CAC) over time as the program targets broader audiences and the top funnel gets wider and wider. It makes more sense to scale while you keep your customer CAC at a consistent level, focusing only on high-quality leads and not forgoing total audience growth.
Middle of the Funnel: Building Relationships
As you move further down the traditional funnel, marketers start building relationships with their leads. Building relationships with potential clients is usually an avenue for value demonstration, but the traditional funnel ignores the five stages of buying awareness. It automatically assumes that prospects have moved forward in the buying process.
At this point, some leads may be pushed further down the funnel and closer toward becoming a customer, while others may leave your funnel entirely. It is always frustrating to see leads unsubscribing from your email list.
Bottom of the Funnel: The Payoff
At the bottom of the sales funnel, your leads and potential clients become customers. This stage of the funnel is where traditional models officially stop marketing processes and complete the handover to sales.
Despite this being the most important and exciting part of the funnel, many businesses spend their time focusing on the top of the funnel. After all, generating many leads looks good for marketing and pushes the responsibility of revenue to sales.
Power of Pipeline Marketing
The premise of pipeline marketing is connecting the money you invest in marketing directly to future revenue and sales. Instead of approaching marketing/lead generation and sales as separate processes and methodologies, you combine them.
Combining marketing and sales can pay huge dividends, especially for entrepreneurs and businesses that have small teams. Approaching marketing and sales as one activity instead of two can dramatically increase your efficiency and sales.
Pipeline Marketing Statistics
While this may seem confusing and unnecessary, it becomes hard to deny its effectiveness once you understand the influence it can have.
Let consider the following statistics:
- Almost 80% of marketers describe their lead-generation strategies as only somewhat effective.
- More than 50% of marketers devote at least half of their total budget to lead generation.
- Almost one-quarter of marketers do not know whether their lead-generation efforts result in sales.
- Nurturing leads can increase sales by more than 20%.
These statistics indicate that many marketers are too focused on lead-generation strategies that are of questionable efficacy.
Pipeline marketing puts additional emphasis on revenue outcomes. Instead of generating more leads, pipeline marketing emphasizes building relationships with high-quality potential clients and moving them towards revenue. Sales continue to be supported by marketing regardless of where they are on the funnel.
Fundamentally, pipeline marketing focuses on quality rather than quantity. Now, let’s explore some ways we can use pipeline marketing to track performance in a real-life setting.
Flywheel and Pipeline Marketing
A good pipeline marketing program generates quality leads by building influence and offering value to audiences through a flywheel model. By the time they enter the sales process, they should be equipped and ready to purchase.
To visualise how this plays out, let’s explore the flywheel. At the attraction stage, marketers should build value through content. Here, there are no expectations for lead generation or even contact detail capture. It’s all free value upfront.
While you attract and build an audience, you want to engage your audiences and deploy some lead generation strategies. Digital marketers can build those relationships with prospects through channels such as email, performance content and remarketing.
Marketing continues to support activity during the sales process by removing friction and improving the acquisition experience (also called the delight phase). Channels that are activated include remarketing, deploying conversational marketing and sales programs or even ABM support.
Pipeline marketing may produce fewer leads, but these leads are higher quality and more interested in your product/service.
High intent leads
In the case of pipeline marketing, your targets are qualified leads. Qualified leads have demonstrated intent in purchasing your solution. You can use intent signals from both your own data sources or external data sources. Internal data sources include behaviours such as pricing page visits or contact requests. External data sources include intent signals or data from ABM tools.
These qualified leads or targets have expressed a high interest in your product/service and, therefore, are worth prioritising in sales and marketing efforts. As you invest more money and effort into qualified leads, your revenue and ROI will both increase.
Now that you understand the basic principles of a pipeline marketing strategy, you may be wondering how to allocate your budget to support your pipeline marketing?
Ammunition is a good analogy for budget allocation. It is crucial to choose your targets wisely since you only have a limited supply of bullets.
You want to aim for single targets when the opportunity presents itself but also reserve ammunition on things that don’t have definitive targets. A similar strategy is known as suppression in the military. Shooting multiple bullets at a target suppresses it, without necessarily hitting it.
Your budget should be split out between items that you can track directly and items that you cannot track. That means distributing it evenly across multiple marketing channels, even those that don’t get direct attribution for revenue. If pipeline marketing does not always produce directly attributed revenue, how do we know if the program is working? Read on for ways to track pipeline marketing.
Tracking Pipeline Marketing
What metrics should we use to measure ROI when pipeline marketing invests in activities that cannot be attributed?
Here are some metrics you can look at to measure the success of your pipeline marketing program.
They say that time is money, but many businesses fail to track how fast they are generating revenue. However, there is a way to measure precisely how fast your business is making money.
Sales velocity is a metric that is designed to quantify how quickly your business is generating revenue. It quantifies how fast leads are moving through your sales pipeline. Acclerating this metric will improve revenue generation taking it out of your competitor’s hands.
Sales Velocity Formula
Sales velocity is made up of four variables: the number of opportunities in your pipelines, the average size of each transaction, your lead to customer conversion rate, and the length of time it takes to move a lead through your entire sales pipeline.
To calculate your sales velocity, you multiply together the number of opportunities, average deal size, and conversion rate. Then, you divide this number by the number of days it takes to move through your sales pipeline.
A one-time calculation of your sales velocity does not reveal that much about your business. To get a complete picture, track these variables and calculate your sales velocity at regular intervals.
Improving Sales Velocity
In addition to tracking these intervals, a successful business should experiment with various ways to improve the conversion rate, optimize the average deal size or shorten the sales cycle. Evaluating and optimizing these variables is a highly effective way to increase your revenue.
If you have a top-of-the-funnel focus, you can only control the number of opportunities your business has. Meanwhile, pipeline marketing can impact all four of the variables used to calculate sales velocity. As a result, pipeline marketing can have a profound impact on the success of your business.
Vanity Metrics vs Revenue Metrics
In this data-driven age, the sheer number of statistics can seem overwhelming. It can be hard to identify what metrics provide valuable insight into your business and which are distracting.
Distracting metrics are also known as vanity metrics. Vanity metrics may look nice, but they are easily manipulated and do not drive business value. They do not put you any closer to your goal of revenue creation. Examples of vanity metrics include clicks, views, web traffic, and even time on-page.
Instead of focusing on these misleading metrics, you should pay attention to revenue metrics. Revenue metrics are, as the name suggests, tied directly to revenue. A revenue metric might measure the cost of customer acquisition, lifetime value and conversion rates, such as lead to opportunity conversion rate.
Revenue metrics are found throughout the funnel, so you must develop a tracking methodology. A tracking methodology will help you analyse where drop-offs are happening, helping you drive strategy with data.
When you see your revenue metrics increasing, it can be an early sign of success so you can be confident that your pipeline marketing strategy is working.
As we have discussed at length, many sales strategies overemphasise lead generation. The failure to recognise the difference between contact creation and customer creation reinforces this misconception.
Contacts are the closest you can get to an estimate of your workable pipeline. Contacts are deemed leads in the traditional funnel, but in the pipeline marketing model, we use contact to access total marketable audiences. We use contacts as a base to measure velocity and conversion rate.
High intent leads
In the case of pipeline marketing, your targets are qualified leads. Qualified leads have demonstrated intent in purchasing your solution. You can use intent signals from both your own data sources or external data sources. This is where ABM marketing solutions can assist.
These qualified leads or targets have expressed a serious interest in your product/service and therefore are worth a serious sales touch. As you invest more money and effort into qualified leads, your revenue and ROI will both increase.
The emphasis that pipeline marketing puts on the flywheel and decreased leads may seem counterintuitive. Unfortunately, the overemphasis on lead generation has led many businesses astray.
It is important to remember that leads are not a source of revenue. They represent a revenue opportunity. You cannot exchange leads for cash, and leads do not improve your bottom line.
Most successful businesses focus their effort and money on pipeline marketing that looks at the entire buyer’s journey.
If you incorporate pipeline marketing into your business, you can generate more qualified leads and sales that take your business to the next level.