A recent report about B2B buyer behavior has received a lot of attention for its findings about the best time to contact leads.
The report, “B2B Buyer Behavior—Web & Phone Channels Industry View/2013,” was published by Software Advice, a company that helps connect marketing software buyers and sellers. Most responses to the report have focused on the timing angle (e.g., “Wednesday at Lunch Time Is Best Time for Prospecting Calls” in Forbes).
I certainly understand this emphasis—everyone likes specific advice like that.
However, as someone who helps companies implement marketing automation strategies, what strikes me about the data is that it supports three fundamental truths about marketing automation.
1. Marketing automation doesn’t work without meaningful human involvement.
Software Advice found that after a lead indicates online that they’re ready for a sales call, the response time is vital. There’s a big difference in conversion rates between an immediate call and one that’s even a few minutes later.
This is a perfect illustration that marketing automation can do its job, but if people don’t do their part, then the potential benefit is lost.
The term “marketing automation software” can be confusing. It almost sounds like you load the software and let it take over your marketing. It’s not like that at all. Marketing automation is a great tool, but it’s just a tool—and it’s for sales as well as marketing.
The return you get from investing in marketing automation will be determined by how well marketing and sales professionals use the tool.
This isn’t just true once the tool is in place. Human involvement by both sales and marketing is also crucial at a strategic level, before the software is ever implemented. Marketing automation can help you achieve all sorts of goals, but if they’re the wrong goals, you’re not going to get the business results you want.
It takes an effective B2B marketing and sales strategy to make marketing automation work, and it takes people to develop strategy.
2. It’s crucial to gauge digital body language to determine customer lifecycle stages.
Software Advice emphasizes in its report that not all people who provide contact information are in the right customer lifecycle stage for a sales call.
If they aren’t, they may be put off by one. At the least, the call would have little chance of leading to sales-readiness qualification.
That’s why you need to carefully analyze buyer behavior—historically as you begin, and then on an ongoing basis—to determine which buyer behavior actually indicates sales-readiness and which behavior indicates that more nurturing is needed.
Also, despite the report’s findings about general trends, the best time to contact leads will be greatly affected by the nature of your customer personas and industry. Lunch may be the ideal time to contact some personas in certain industries, but for others, it might be right after 5 when they’re finally able to catch a breath.
There is no cookie-cutter solution for determining the best time and way to communicate with leads. You have to continually monitor buyer behavior to figure out what works for you.
Fortunately, marketing automation software excels at aggregating and analyzing data so that you can constantly refine your strategies based on how your targets actually respond.
3. People, not businesses, make B2B purchases.
The report discovered that leads are less likely to convert on Mondays and Fridays than during the middle of the week. It also revealed that certain holiday periods (e.g., the week before Christmas) are good times to contact leads, while others aren't (e.g., the summer holidays).
What this shows is that even in B2B marketing and sales, actual people are making buying decisions, and these people are affected by their calendars like everyone else.
Marketing automation can generate leads, but these leads aren’t just names on a list. To effectively nurture and convert them, it’s essential to realize that they’re going to have normal human tendencies. The better you can anticipate and adjust to those tendencies—based on real data as well as professional judgment—the higher your conversion rates will be.
The Bottom Line
Marketing automation is only as good as the people who are using it, and it requires constant monitoring to ensure it’s achieving strategy. Because of this necessity for human involvement and expertise, many companies turn to marketing automation agencies to help them attain the considerable benefits of the technology.
The full Software Advice report is available here.
Photo courtesy of Andrew Wippler, Creative Commons.