Has the marketing funnel flipped or are we being patronised?

Has above and below the line gone out of fashion? Below the line advertising used to be one on one advertising – direct marketing by another name. When devising an advertising strategy or booking a campaign it was not uncommon to split budgets between above the line and below the line activity.

Fast forward to 2017 and Account Based Marketing is the thing of the moment. Now unless I’m missing something, Account Based Marketing (ABM) in B2B consists of defining the companies that you wish to target, and then using different channels to target them.

Ten years ago, I’m convinced we were doing this. Gaining data with defined job titles from defined company lists was still going on. Back then there’s a good chance we did more direct mail and not so much social media, but fundamentally things were the same. You’ll see some diagrams where the marketing funnel has been flipped upside down but I’m still struggling to get my head around whether this is just a gimmick. Terminus have even set up the rather cute #flipmyfunnel

For the purposes of my blog today I’m going to take an example of the perceived differences between ABM and standard lead generation marketing and break down each step. I’ve picked an image from Celsius GKK written by the head of the ABM Consortium for example purposes here, but I could have picked one of many.

The analogy of fishing with nets vs. fishing with spears is an interesting one but the logic is heavily flawed.

Let’s start at the top – Database selection for LG vs. Account Selection for ABM. Firstly, any marketer running a lead generation campaign in B2B without at least setting sectors such as industry sector, company size and job title should probably consider a career change. Is anybody currently buying generic CPM display activity through a network and expecting leads on the back of it? Back in the day direct marketing or below the line advertising involved targeting companies. And in B2B using named account lists derived from sales teams has been standard practice since the lead generation embryo cashed its first cheque.

Let’s now take a step down the lopsided pyramid and review Interest vs. Contact Identification. Under interest I’d suggest you’ll have a drop off whatever happens when you market. Even if everyone is relevant not everyone will buy your product. I desperately want to buy a £700 Lego Millenium Falcon right now. I’ve been on the website and Lego are cookie tracking me like the future of Danish plastic depends on it. However my fiancé has unequivocally stated that if I buy any more Lego she’ll be withdrawing other privileges which concerningly means Lego’s impressive marketing tactics have been wasted. Thus at this point the funnel gets narrower – this makes sense to me. Now on the ABM side at this stage the pyramid matches the first stage of the funnel on the left-hand side. The funnel gets bigger because we go back to our first ‘P’ and define relevant people in the company. Probably by job title – as with the left funnel you would target 10 job titles, in the knowledge it’s rare purchasing decisons are made by one person.  The funnel on the left has already done this though.

Stage three on the funnel is the bit that really messes with me. On the left nurturing makes the final audience smaller and on the right the final number gets bigger. I’ve run a few nurture campaigns in my time, I’ve even used specific ABM software on occasion to do so, and never have I ended up with more leads coming out the end of a nurture process than I put into it. If anyone has please drop me an email or show me a case study as I’ll be fascinated to see it.

Then again at the next stage at the end of the nurture journey more accounts are being converted than the number of leads to come out of nurture. Has any marketer ever had a 110% conversion rate on leads they’ve passed to their sales team? My sales team here isn’t bad (biggest compliment they’re getting this year), but none of them have attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and thus none of them are able to convert more leads than are handed to them.

And with this endeth my funnel rant. This is not to say surge data, IP tracking for display ads, or any of the other incredible tech being used isn’t great for B2B marketing. It clearly is. We live in an age where it is possible to define our audiences with more precision than ever before. But…

You can flip a funnel upside down but you won’t achieve anything. You’d be far better to focus on the best implementations of real technology, understanding your stack and understanding changes in regulatory compliance through PECR and GDPR.

Also at this point it’s probably worth pointing out that fishing with a spear is really inefficient. There aren’t many trawlermen in the North Atlantic throwing small spears over the side to catch cod.

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