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The Impact of a Great Webinar Program

Webinars are still a big part of the marketing mix, and they’re showing no signs of slowing down.

And by now, most of us know how to create content and webinars that serve a higher purpose than simply promoting products and services. After all, when someone is truly interested in what you’re selling, they’ll find a demo on your website.

A webinar program (and every other kind of content) is about thought leadership, sharing insights, and providing access to expert knowledge that can help people do their job better.

Inbound marketing (synonymous with content marketing in many ways) is not a new concept. Most mature organizations have learned that inbound leads from content promotion can be pretty “top of the funnel” and have a demand waterfall in place to separate the noise from the good stuff.

If you’re great at creating compelling content—promoted through a mix of channels—you’ll certainly stuff the top of your funnel with new contacts, but not necessarily your top prospects.

That’s where lead scoring should kick in, routing leads through your funnel depending on demographic data and behavior.

Demos and trials, for example, are high value activities that immediately trigger sales engagement, where content downloads, visits to your website, and webinar registrations are usually scored and routed differently.

So let’s talk about how to create a webinar program that does three important things:

  • Attracts New Contacts

  • Serves Every Stage of the Funnel

  • Creates Sales Opportunities

Start with a Three-Part Webinar Series

It doesn’t matter what you’re marketing—a cybersecurity product or healthcare services—you can create a three-part webinar series that casts a wide net at the top and works down to niche topics that indicate more serious interest in what you’re selling.

Let me clarify with a real-world example from a previous company.

They sold analytics software to companies who want to embed analytics in their own products. Their ideal prospect was a product manager—a decision-maker who was charged with product ownership.

Ironically, one of our key challenges was that literally EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD cares about data analytics. We could spin up tasty dataviz content, promote it with Outbrain, and get thousands of downloads.

The problem was conversion: tons of new names in the database but abysmal conversion to opportunities or even to MQLs.

The same was true of webinars. We could easily get 1200 people on a webinar about designing data dashboards, but many attendees were already using Tableau or other competitors’ solutions. They would never be our customer.

So we decided to do a Summer School series of three webinars:

  • The first was a “fan favorite” on dashboard design, meant to attract a large number of top of the funnel registrants.
  • The second was a little more in the weeds—still offering high level info—but getting closer to our message on the value of embedding analytics in a product.
  • The third was directly targeted to our ideal prospect, offering go-to-market strategy for an analytics software product. The only people who would care about this are the very people we wanted to talk to.

We knew that the number of registrants would drop dramatically from the first webinar to the third, but we welcomed that drop off.

The registrants of the second and third webinars were perfect for our SDRs to follow up with, and to track carefully through the funnel.

The registrants of the first webinar would drop into Marketo engagement programs for further nurturing.

The Set Up

Assuming you’re using a marketing automation platform integrated with a CRM system, this type of program is relatively easy to set up.

If you’re already running webinars, then this is super easy to set up.

In this example, we were using Unbounce for landing pages, along with Marketo and Salesforce (WebEx was our webinar platform, for better or worse).

Like most teams, we would send the first webinar invite two weeks before, a second invite the week before, and various reminders to folks who didn’t open and so on.

Hmmmmm

So the question is, do I create one landing page to promote the series, or separate landing pages for each webinar in the series?

The answer is, do all the things.

To get the most bang for your buck, create a landing page for the series (where folks can register for as many as they want), and create separate landing pages for each webinar. This way you have flexibility in how you promote, and you’re still able to send an email invite before each one.

This also gives you the ability to experiment with promotion and channels: maybe you’d promote the second and third (more in-the-weeds) webinars through channels where you can be more targeted (LinkedIn sponsored content and InMail, for example).

Since these webinars are designed to attract your ideal prospect, think about the watering holes where they’d likely consume content.

If you need ideas or practical guidance on how to set up a program like this, talk to us. Here at Sponge, we love to talk demand gen, campaigns, and marketing ops.

The Follow Up

OMG the follow up.

Like I mentioned, the drop off in registrants from the “fan favorite” webinar to the third—more highly targeted one—will probably be pretty big.

And that’s ok.

This program is meant to attract a lot of new names at the top of the funnel, and select out your ideal prospects at the bottom.

Here are some tips to drive engagement and opportunities from your webinar series:

  1. Generate a list of people who register for all three webinars.
  2. Craft an email or call script for your sales development team. Since the people on this list are signalling a high level of interest, the goal should be to set a meeting. At the very least, provide an introduction, and more info about your products.
  3. Track the people who attend and craft a special follow up.
  4. Track the people who watch the recording and craft a special follow up.
  5. Send future webinar invites from the rep, making the invite feel more personal (this can be automated in any system).
  6. Remove these folks from any “standard” nurture program, and serve them middle of the funnel, more product-specific content.
  7. Consider a gift card incentive to drive demos after the webinars.
  8. Track carefully and watch sales opportunities roll in!

And before you launch the program, make sure your SDRs and sales reps know about it:

  • Send them the landing page and brief them on the topics.
  • Have them register so they experience the process as their prospect would.
  • Offer to set up notifications of registrations or attendees so they can work the leads more personally.
  • Stay on top of marketing and sales follow up during and after the series to ensure you’re not stepping on each other’s toes or that nothing is falling through the cracks.

Q4 is not so far away (I know, right?). Start planning your series before the holiday season and close the year strong!

In our upcoming blogs, we’ll share more demand gen ideas that create sales opps. Meanwhile, feast on this:

Marketing’s Shift from Brand to Revenue

When you really think about it, doesn’t it blow your mind?

I’m talking about how the digital age has completely changed marketing and sales—especially buyer behavior. By now we’re all well aware that research happens quietly online, long before a human becomes a “lead” and lands in your funnel.

Imagine talking about a funnel 15 years ago.

Nope, we were sitting in conference rooms talking PR, events, collateral, and swag. We were thinking hard about corporate colors on the website, not about SEO, real-time web personalization and conversion.

Enterprise sales reps were scheduling golf outings and sending monogrammed BBQ sets to their top prospects (wait I guess that’s called ABM now).

Ah the simple days.

Fast forward to 2017 and there’s so much data on any given prospect, that our role as marketers barely resembles what it looked like even 10 years ago. Brand, PR, and events are still a thing, but what’s the real driver of increased marketing budgets over recent years?

It isn’t brochures.

It’s the rise of MarTech, the democratization of data, and the need for specialized talent to manage it.

According to the Gartner 2016-2017 CMO Spend Survey, 75% of marketing leaders say they now own or share responsibility for P&L. And sales leadership? According to a 2016 HubSpot survey, 57% of sales reps believe buyers are less dependent on salespeople during the buying process.

Marketing is now the keeper of critical data and insights that propel growth. If revenue discussions were once reserved for the CEO, COO and sales leadership alone, those days are over: marketing has earned a strategic seat at the revenue table.

Yet even with the martech explosion and availability of data, the average B2B marketer still spends hours every week aggregating data, wrestling with Excel, and struggling to unpack some pretty important insights, like:

  • Length of time leads spent in various funnel stages
  • Campaign performance in aggregate, comparing campaigns to others
  • Comparing plan vs. actuals—what assumptions were accurate and which were off
  • How to forecast impact on revenue based on historical performance and how to adjust accordingly

Most organizations have a way to track leads and opps or engagement within accounts. It’s not the lack of data—it’s the ability to do meaningful things with it.

In spite of sophisticated technologies and increased responsibilities, many teams still struggle with the ability to connect data to revenue or forecast marketing’s impact on the bottom line.

According to The CMO Survey, sponsored by Duke University, Deloitte, and the American Marketing Association, marketers say barely a third of available data are used to drive decision making in their companies. The second largest barrier that prevents them from using analytics is the lack of people who can span the world of marketing analytics and marketing practice.

Of course we need analysts and business ops talent, but the real need is for the marketing team—in its entirety—to be focused on contribution to revenue.

How do you get there? Here’s a simple breakdown:

  1. Marketing and sales alignment to define a shared understanding of revenue goals
  2. A marketing plan that makes sense and tracks back from revenue goals
  3. An efficient way to track marketing’s performance throughout the quarter
  4. The agility to adjust if you’re not meeting your goals
  5. Understanding key metrics to track and what to report to different audiences
  6. Team ownership: providing every member of your team with a way to measure their activities’ impact on engagement and revenue

Sharing ownership of a portion of the P&L means aligning with sales and setting realistic goals based on revenue targets, average deal size, and average conversion rates. Once you’ve reached agreement on revenue goals, create a marketing plan that works back from those goals—setting lead and opp targets the team can realistically achieve given your budget and resources.

Need guidance on creating a revenue-focused marketing plan? See The Modern Marketer’s Guide to Planning.

In the real world, it’s pretty easy to gloss over goal setting and funnel modeling, but lead & opp (or ABM) targets that tie back to a revenue goal is key to creating a marketing team that consistently contributes to pipeline and drives growth.

Otherwise, aren’t we just committing random acts of marketing?

In our upcoming blogs, we’ll share more detail on planning and execution within a revenue-driven framework. Meanwhile, dig in here:

That Time I Got Advice about My Marketing Career

In 2011 I was running content marketing at a software company in Burbank CA.

There was a good Mexican place down the street, a notable Armenian café around the corner, and the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains rolling down to meet the road behind the office. Coyotes would hang around the parking lot at dusk.

The place itself was meh—an 80s building with a depressing façade and joyless cubicles inside. Mostly beige from what I remember, open and light, but every bit as bleak as a brown Caprice Classic. My favorite memories of that place are the people I worked with and the enormous pine trees I could see out back, over the maze of cubicle walls.

Another memory that stands out is a bit of advice from my boss. I’m pretty sure he meant well, but I remember driving home that day wondering where I really fit in. It was simply this: “Robin, you’re creative. You need to stop tinkering. Just focus on writing and quit all this tinkering.”

Even though this was only 6 years ago, it was relatively early days for marketing automation and inbound. Marketo was still a shiny new toy—and holy crap! I couldn’t stop tinkering.

His point was that I was hired to produce compelling content—to tell stories, craft narrative, and connect with IT dudes who might care about storage virtualization and I/O optimization. Yet there I was messing around in Marketo, running A/B tests, and trying to figure out if leads were converting to opps, and if opps were turning into deals.

Why? Because no one creates content for the sake of creating content.  Plus I’m a curious person.

My content was part of email campaigns, paid social campaigns, Google search and display—my content lived behind landing pages that had to convert for lead gen. My content served the top of the funnel, the middle of the funnel, and armed Sales with material to slay the competition and win business. My content was actually like that Run DMC song about Adidas (in my own mind anyway).

But seriously, even though this was only 6 years ago, it was relatively early days for marketing automation and inbound. Marketo was still a shiny new toy—and holy crap! I couldn’t stop tinkering.

To me—like so many of us—there was nothing more satisfying than not only creating the content itself, but also setting up a campaign, sending it out into the world and measuring what came back.

Here were the tools that made it all possible.

Sure, I’m creative, but I’m also a B2B marketer. What’s the point of all this creativity if I have no idea if my shit is effective? I still live in the real world of leads, opps, conversion, pipeline and revenue.

In fact nerdy unicorns who possess that rare mix of creativity, analytical thinking, and operations chops are replacing the old guard—the CMOs who focus on corporate communications, brand, and PR.

Anyway, fast forward to present time. These days I focus less on content creation and more on demand gen, ABM, and funnel optimization. I spend crazy hours bouncing from Marketo to Salesforce to Google Analytics to Excel, piecing together data and trying to answer some of marketing’s most basic (yet still very tough to unpack) questions: What the hell is working? What’s not? How should I allocate my marketing dollars over the next 4 quarters?

Sure. I wish it were easier to untangle the metrics behind multi-channel B2B marketing. Yep, I sometimes wish I could go back to focusing more on the creative side.

But here’s the greatest thing about marketing in 2017: it’s not a matter of one or the other anymore. In fact, nerdy unicorns who possess that rare mix of creativity, analytical thinking, and operations chops are replacing the old guard—the CMOs who focus on corporate communications, brand, and PR.

While I appreciate the advice and the nod to my talent, I’d rather apply data to my creativity, and use every tool in the toolbox to help marketing teams hit goals and drive revenue.

So If you need me, I’ll just be right over here. Tinkering.

Sponge can turn you into a marketing unicorn. Hop on a demo right here.

3 Questions to Ask Before You Do Any Content Marketing

You may have heard a thing or two about content marketing. It’s quickly become the modern marketing strategy for companies of all shapes and sizes. CMOs are rushing to hire writers, in many cases former journalists, to crank out keyword-laden content to drive awareness and demand. But while content marketing has certainly gone through the hype cycle, in many ways, it isn’t anything new. Marketing has always been about solving problems for buyers. The only difference is the Internet created a more even playing field for smaller companies to compete with larger ones on the basis of content. Buyers are increasingly researching solutions to their problems online, and companies are increasingly found by their digital footprint. Content marketing is merely a way to expand that digital footprint so you are more likely to get found. However, before you embrace content marketing and start creating assets at scale, make sure to ask yourself these three questions first.

1. Define Your Content Marketing Goals

Before you create a new asset, figure out why you need it, and how you’re planning to use it to achieve one of your content marketing goals. Choose 1 of the following 4 content marketing goals, which are aligned with the different stages in the buyer’s journey:

content marketing methodology

  • Acquisition: generate web traffic, social shares, and/or other high-level engagements
  • Conversion: drive conversions, where previously anonymous visitors turn into actual leads
  • Nurturing: convince leads that they should become your customers
  • Engagement: provide ongoing learning and delight amongst your customer base

It’s easy to skip over this step, especially when you’re rushing to get content out the door period. But it’s important to determine the stage in which each asset will be used, because that will inform how you measure its success or failure over time. If you create an infographic and then get frustrated because prospects who view the infographic aren’t any more likely to convert to opportunities than prospects who don’t view the infographic, you might come to the conclusion that “infographics don’t work.” But that’s not necessarily the case because infographics are typically used much earlier in the buyer’s journey, so the right performance metrics would be traffic and social shares (possibly also leads influenced if you’re using secondary CTAs).

Setting the right goals is also important when communicating your performance to sales and the executive team. When the CEO asks how content marketing is doing, but you know he’s really asking how many leads have you generated from all that blogging you’re doing, you need to manage expectations. Educate them on the different stages in the buyer’s journey, and show how you’re working on different assets to match each stage. Then measure your performance against the metrics for each stage so you can show what’s going well, and what still needs improvement.

2. Determine Your Target Audience

Okay, so you have an idea in mind for a best practices guide and you correctly identify that its purpose is to generate leads. Now, who’s it for? If you aren’t using personas at your company, now’s a good time to do so. While defining your buyer personas can easily become a significant effort, especially if you’re trying to drive alignment and understanding across multiple departments, it doesn’t need to be. Just write down the 3-4 different kinds of people you’re marketing to, and then pick the ONE that this asset is for. Why just one? Because the whole idea of content marketing is to help prospects solve their problems, and you can’t really be helpful when you’re talking to different kinds of people at the same time.

persona-template-demographicsI used to work for a company that sold enterprise software, and we had a lot of different people involved in the sales process, including IT and business. We were working on a best practices ebook, and the whole way through the piece I just felt lost. I couldn’t tell what it was trying to get me to do as the reader. Then I realized it was because we were trying to talk to IT and business executives at the same time. In doing that, the advice we were giving was so high level it became meaningless. It was so muddled that there was no way we could make a meaningful impact. This happens all the time so consider yourself warned – before you write a single word, figure out who you want to read it and orient the whole piece around them.

3. Choose Your Format(s)

Okay, so you’ve got the idea, the persona, and an outline together for your new asset, a best practices guide. Now you need to decide what format to use – is it an ebook? A podcast? A webinar? The format will dictate how you layout the remaining content, how quickly you can go live, who needs to be involved, and how you promote the new asset. For example, I haven’t had a lot of success promoting webinars through PPC but ebooks perform very well. While certain formats are more appropriate for different stages of the buying cycle, you will know best which formats resonate better with your audience. Use the graphic below as a guide, and combine that with your own experience to settle on the right format for your new asset.

Marketing After ContentRemember that the first asset can spur a whole slew of other assets in the future as well. For example, I once ran a webinar with an industry expert on The Art of Dashboard Design. It was so popular, we turned it into an ebook, and then ran a similar webinar on our own on 30 Dashboards in 30 Minutes, then turned that into an ebook, which turned into another webinar on Dashboard Design Before & Afters, which turned into an ebook, several blog posts, and a session at our annual user conference. What started out as one asset quickly turned into 10 more – all utilizing similar content once we found a topic that resonated with our audience.

All Things Considered

There’s a lot more to content marketing than just content creation. To make content work for you and drive the results you’re looking for, you need to make sure to you set the right goals, write for one persona at a time, and leverage appropriate formats. If you’re disciplined in these three areas, you’ll be well on your way to driving demand from inbound.

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