FlipMyFunnel Roadshow: Creating a demand generation engine with account-based marketing

Needles at FMF
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As part of the FlipMyFunnel Roadshow in San Francisco, Feb. 25, one of the first sessions put the focus on creating a demand generation engine with account-based marketing (ABM).

Together, Ken Wincko, senior vice president, marketing, PRNewswire, and Adam Needles, chief strategy officer, ANNUITAS, a B2B demand strategy firm, discussed how the online news service and multimedia platform transformed its demand generation strategy using ABM-based inbound and multichannel marketing.

According to Wincko, search-based marketing surpassed traditional media as a destination in 2015 for the first time. In that vein, PRNewswire is trying to help its customers cope with the change. But first it had to change its own approach. In the past, PRNewswire did everything manually, Wincko says. And everything was product-centric and had that “spammy” feel, according to him. “There was no narrative,” he says. “No backend KPIs.”

As the incoming SVP of marketing in 2014, Wincko had the vision to transform PRNewswire in a buyer-centric platform. For that he needed a lead management framework.

Lots of skeptics

The slogging at PRNewswire on this initiative remained tough, with many in the C-suite skeptical about the chance of success for the new process. To create a new buyer-centric ethos at PRNewswire would require allies, according to Needles.

“We needed to orchestrate and work together,” Needles says. “If the lead-to-revenue process is broken you have a real gap.”

Self-directed buyer’s journey

To create a buyer’s journey that could take PRNewswire to the next level required clear stewardship for each step in the process. “You have to look at it in an integrated way,” Needles says.

In the new buyer’s journey—or sales funnel—the buyer has flipped the funnel, in the parlance of the conference. Sales cannot just target accounts, according to Needles. “(Accounts) want to engage in their own (buying) process,” Needles says, “but not directly (with sales).”

And statistics bear that out. B2B buyers by a factor of three to one prefer to self-educate themselves about products and services rather than talk to a sales representative, according to Forrester.

In that case, B2B marketers must transform the buying process and buyer’s pain points into a buyer’s journey based on content. And it’s not only about ABM but also behavioral-based marketing. Because B2B marketers cannot fight the flipped funnel phenomenon, they need to build an always-on inbound demand generation engine instead, says Needles.

“If we have the right customer, we can use ABM to engage the right buyer’s behavior,” Needles says.

Be contextual

According to McKinsey & Company, 60 percent of B2B buyers’ journeys have a multi-buyer component. Therefore, B2B marketers must be contextual in their use of ABM to talk to as many as eight to 10 influencers in a typical buyer’s journey, according to Wincko.

“The starting point is to engage (these influencers),” Needles says. To do that B2B marketers will need insights in how to engage. Then after the insight phase, marketers will have the proper lens to view their customers and “attack” them in the proper context, according to Needles.

To achieve this lens for PRNewswire, ANNUITAS had to research both the company’s prospects and current customers, according to Wincko.

Everyone writes content for two audiences

In PRNewswire’s universe there are basically two business segments where it emphasizes growth: small businesses (e.g., startups) and agencies (e.g., PR, content). With these two niches, a lot of marketers look to distribute content, according to Wincko. “You have to talk to these people in a unique way,” he says.

To do this, they needed to create more than 25 buyer personas across the entire buyer lifecycle. That took PRNewswire from 15 content pieces to more than 300 content pieces now, which all map to the buyer’s journey for one of these segments. For example, if a principal at a boutique PR agency has to prove measurable communications results to a client, an available content piece can fulfill that need.

As the boutique agency principal progresses in her buyer’s journey, she will come to a very granular piece that acts a trigger, indicating that she has now come into the market for a specific solution. In this example buyer’s journey, the principal theoretically needs a crisis communications solution. To provide all the content for these buyer’s journeys, Wincko had to enlist the help of all departments at PRNewswire, not just marketing.

By shifting from a batch-and-blast email marketing approach to a more complete picture of where the buyer is in her journey, B2B marketers can more accurately say a specific buyer’s action means a particular buying intent, according to Needles.

Let the buyer take control

Every time a customer hits an engagement channel (e.g., pay-per-click, outbound email, website, paid social) she creates a buying interaction. Take those interactions and create a heat map, which will enable B2B marketers to look at the total number of interactions and interpret that as a predictive signal, says Needles.

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Derek Handova

Derek Handova

Derek Handova is a veteran journalist writing on various B2B vertical beats. He started out as associate editor of Micro Publishing News, a pioneer in coverage of the desktop publishing space and more recently as a freelance writer for Digital Journal, Economy Lead (finance and IR beats) and Intelligent Utility (electrical transmission and distribution beats).