Thought Leadership Interview #5: The Veteran Speaks: Sewell on B2B Demand Gen

When I was running around Silicon Valley as a consultant, I heard quite a bit about Howard Sewell and and how he was one of the best in the business. Well, he is.

He is president of CDI (Connect Direct ) Inc., a full-service agency with offices in Silicon Valley and Seattle specializing in turnkey, integrated demand generation and lead-management strategies for high-tech vendors.  In 2007 and 2008, CDI was named one of the nation’s Top 100 Agencies by BtoB magazine.  Plus, Sewell’s blog, Direct Connections, is a must-read.

I am very happy to have Sewell in the thought-leadership mix here, and, as you can see below, he’s a great resource.

1.       What are the three trends you see emerging in 2009?

In my opinion, the biggest trend will be a continuing move toward marketing automation and lead management — not a new phenomenon, to be sure — but I see 2009 as the year when marketing automation really gains momentum and becomes as much a must-have as CRM.  This will be driven by companies’ need to ensure that no leads or inquiries are falling through the cracks, and that they’re squeezing the maximum potential out of every marketing dollar.

In a down economy, when companies are competing for fewer buyers, the most successful marketers will be those who figure out how to be in the right place at the right time, capturing and engaging potential customers while they’re in the research process. I think we’ll continue to see more and more innovation in online advertising, with new tactics, vehicles and strategies that enable marketers to find active buyers more effectively. For example, vehicles like RSS sponsorship (e.g. Pheedo) should gain traction because they’re a relatively uncluttered medium and early adopters are gaining the advantage.

I suspect mobile marketing may be poised for a breakthrough. The larger opportunity is still squarely in the consumer domain, but at CDI we’re starting to test mobile response (texting) as part of integrated B2B campaigns, and though it’s early yet, the potential is there. The fact is that more and more of our audience is working on mobile devices, and so it’s only a matter of time until B2B marketers follow suit.

2.       What are the biggest challenges for 2009?

The keywords for 2009 will be optimization and efficiency — making the most of the programs you have in place and maximizing return from the dollars you spend. The good news is that for most companies, there’s a lot of opportunity for improvement. A good chunk of the work we do as an agency these days is improving existing programs — whether it’s a Webinar invitation, a landing page, a PPC campaign or a lead-nurturing process. The challenge for clients, however, is having the insight to know what needs fixing.

3.       What are three metrics that B2B marketers should care about and why?

A few short years ago, measuring ROI (return on investment) from B2B demand-generation programs was a pipe dream. But with the growing adoption of marketing automation systems, and the ability to track not just leads or even qualified leads but actual deals (and assigning those deals to specific programs), more and more of our clients are looking at ROI as the ultimate measure of marketing success. It’s really the only metric that matters.

4.      What are the top oversights marketers are making regarding lead generation?

  • Good landing pages. Most B2B landing pages stink. Sorry, but that’s the ugly truth. Companies know better, but too often landing pages (or registration pages or microsites) end up being an afterthought in campaign development, and results suffer for it. SEM (search engine marketing) is the obvious example. Where most SEM campaigns fail isn’t in selecting the right keywords or optimizing bid strategy, but in failing to convert clicks to leads.
  • Lead management. A recent Aberdeen survey reported that sales doesn’t follow up on fully 28 percent of qualified leads, which sounds horrible until you read that only three years ago the figure was 60 to 70 percent. Still, the fact that marketing can generate qualified leads at tremendous cost and yet 1 in 4 of those leads is ignored is alarming to say the least. Companies that don’t have formal lead-management and lead-nurturing processes in place are simply throwing money away.
  • Offer strategy. Next to targeting the right audience, offer is still king. Yet so many companies either ignore the offer altogether, fail to sell the offer effectively (instead of focusing on the merits of their products) or cobble together offers that simply aren’t compelling. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on media or how fabulous your creative is; if your offer stinks, your campaign is going to fail. Period.

5.       What will you prescribe to marketers to carry out effective lead generation?

Look very closely and critically at the way you do things today. What programs and campaigns are really yielding results? Are there programs that just get rolled out every quarter without regard to metrics? Is your current lead-management and lead-nurturing process maximizing the value of every inbound inquiry? Are foundational programs like SEM operating at peak efficiency, or are there improvements — ad copy, landing pages, offer tests — that could make a difference? Before you try the new and untested, fix what you already have in place.

6.    What three Web 2.0 applications, cutting-edge technologies or lead generation sources do marketers HAVE to consider to be successful?

  • Marketing automation, for all the reasons already stated, but primarily for being able to systematically and automatically respond to, follow up with and nurture all inbound leads.
  • Web visitor identification. If you don’t know which companies are visiting your Web site on a daily basis, even if those individuals don’t fill out a form, you’re missing out. There are plenty of technologies that can provide this information at relatively low cost and even alert your sales reps automatically.
  • On the media front, content syndication. It’s not new, but it’s a more competitive space than ever. In this economy, content syndication can be a very effective complement to SEM in providing a consistent stream of inbound leads at a fixed cost. Plus, unlike search, with most content syndication deals you can filter the leads by geography and company size to ensure that every lead you pay for meets your minimum demographic criteria. Syndication gets a bad rap sometimes for generating lower quality leads, but in my view, the problem is more often rooted in lead follow-up than lead quality.

7.       What do you hope for in B2B sales and marketing for the new year?

As a service provider, my fondest wish (admittedly with a large dose of self-interest) is that companies get off the proverbial sideline. Judging from the conversations we have every day, there’s a huge pent-up demand for lead generation currently, but companies are just nervous to spend money because they don’t know where the economy’s heading. The optimist in me says that if the economy can just achieve some measure of stability, perhaps helped along by the proposed stimulus package, companies will come back into the market with a vengeance.

Craig Rosenberg is the Funnelholic. He loves sales, marketing, and things that drive revenue. Follow him on Google+ or Twitter

  • Craig, Howard,
    Great post, and your priorities are excellent ones for 2009. The one that I would add, that often seems to be overlooked, is data. In order to succeed with the nurturing, lead management, and personalization needed to get great leads to a sales team, the underlying data has got to be clean, consistent, and well managed. If that is overlooked, the strategies that rest upon it will start to flounder.

    Great post though, you call attention to things that marketers definitely need to pay close attention to in 2009.

  • Thanks for a great interview post. Its right on the mark and I am pleasantly surprised to see the point on content syndication which will be a key thing for B2B marketers to gain good SEO rankings.

    @Steven, I agree with your point about data. I think one big think in 2009 will also be about strategies to BUILD and MANAGE lead databases which are a big challenge and companies haven’t allocated as much time / budget to it and are realizing the importance of harnessing the potential of their lead databases. Related thoughts:,,

  • I have heard the Aberdeen statistic (percent of leads not being followed up by sales is 28%) a couple of places and doubt the accuracy. I don’t think lead quality has improved and I don’t think that sales has changed its habits. To find that sales now follows up on 3 out of 4 leads instead of the 1 out of 4 a few years ago is just too good to be true. Sales does not follow-up on leads because they find that the leads really aren’t valuable most of the time. How likely is it that a sales person will follow-up on 100 so-called leads when it is likely that just 5 of the leads represent activity within a reasonable time window? What sales needs is fewer, more qualified leads and I don’t see that happening in the market right now.