The role of marketing within B2B setups is often debated. A major reason for this is the type of pipeline contribution marketing holds itself accountable for.
Most marketers swear by MQLs, new leads and cost per lead (in this order). However, these aren’t effective metrics. Ultimately, marketing efforts will be rated on the financial value it generates.
In our recent CMO survey, marketing leaders expressed their top marketing goal as predictable pipeline generation. But a predictable pipeline is possible only when the pipeline plan is effective.
Revenue targets and the need for pipeline planning
For companies operating in mature sales territories, marketing is expected to contribute somewhere between 25-30% to the overall sales. In new sales territories, the figure usually goes up to 40-45%. The reason for this difference is the presence of existing sales processes and partner ecosystems in mature territories.
These expectations mean that marketing must look beyond leads. It needs to focus on opportunities. This is the only metric that will effectively measure marketing contribution to the pipeline.
Every sales and marketing team starts their quarter off with a revenue target. By working backwards from this goal, both functions determine how many opportunities they need to generate. In this effort, the pipeline that marketing will generate to contribute to the overall sales is called the marketing pipeline.
If marketing has to take itself to the finish line at the end of the quarter, proper pipeline planning is necessary. This is where the volume of opportunities required to meet the target is decided. By setting a specific number of opportunities that the team needs to pull in, marketing can become a more potent function.
Why pipeline planning is necessary for predictability
At the pipeline planning stage, marketing teams identify the market segments that they need to focus on. The marketing programs are also decided. As well as the channels and activities that will help convert more accounts into active opportunities.
Most marketing leaders want to bring in quality opportunities to the pipeline in a predictable fashion. And they want to make the process as repeatable and scalable as possible with every passing quarter. For this, they need to set up a smart pipeline planning system.
Marketers can carry out clear, informed and strategic pipeline planning through clever use of existing data. They must build systems to bring data from all their platforms and tools to glean more insights into their target accounts.
Better planning equals better forecasting
When you plan your pipeline for predictability, every step becomes smoother. With a definite strategy to meet the pipeline target, marketing teams can easily forecast the volume they expect to achieve in the quarter.
Forecasting, as we know it, is the process of estimating the revenue that can be generated from existing and probable opportunities. Marketers can draw insights from their historical data about the types of accounts that will go on to become active opportunities. This will help forecast the pipeline.
This helps marketers identify the gap between the current pipeline and the target. Using the same dataset as above, they can identify the key segments and accounts that they must focus on to close the gap.
These accounts can then be prioritized by understanding their buying journey and the stage they are in. Past campaign data can also reveal the next-best actions to convert these key accounts into opportunities.
These are critical insights for meeting pipeline targets. And what better way to gain them than through advanced predictive analytics using your own data.
How to better your pipeline planning process
B2B marketers can bring a more systematic approach to their pipeline process. It is no more about meeting pipeline goals through your run-of-the-mill processes. More marketers want to experience the joy of pipeline predictability. So here are some best practices to nail your pipeline planning process.
a. Set realistic goals
An ideal practice to start off the pipeline planning process is to segment your target accounts. You can build GTM segments of your Serviceable Addressable Market (SAM) based on a combination of your product portfolio and your target geographies and industries. Then, your Target Account List (TAL) can be distributed into these segments.
So, you will know exactly how many accounts are in each GTM segment. You can then use historical data to determine if you’ll be able to generate enough opportunities from all your segments to meet the target. This becomes the source for your planning.
b. Better segmentation for precise targeting
By breaking up your target list into segments you can make your account based efforts more personalized.
For each segment, you can determine the right mix of channels and activities to influence the buyer’s journey of the accounts. Everything starts falling in place with such intelligence.
c. Adapt your marketing spend according to performance
Budget allocation is a critical part of pipeline planning. Any marketing team would love to determine the optimum marketing budget to meet all their campaign needs. While a fixed budget might make it easier to calculate returns, the ability to adapt your marketing spend can make your marketing programs more effective.
Imagine a scenario where you’ve identified 10 accounts in three different segments that are key to closing your pipeline gap. You also have the insight that LinkedIn Ads have worked for these segments. If the only thing that’s on your way is a shortage of budget, you can increase your LinkedIn Ads spend.
This can work in multiple ways. You can reduce your budget when specific channels aren’t performing and can be discontinued. Yes, even mid quarter. Or more channels need to be deployed to achieve the desired outcome. The only way to support this budget adjustment is by being absolutely sure about the effectiveness of your channels.
d. Prepare for contingencies and quick turnarounds
A few weeks into the quarter, you start seeing the segments that are performing better. More importantly, which ones are lagging behind and need more attention. Accordingly, you can improvise your marketing tactics and programs to keep up with your target.
Additionally, you start understanding how your marketing programs perform for every segment. This helps you develop insights for all your future planning.
e. Understand the right channel mix for your audience
Use historical data to understand the right mix of marketing channels and activities that have performed the best for your target segments and accounts in the past. Then, you can plan the channel mix for your upcoming marketing programs and tactics accordingly.
Not only during the planning process but you can also use this intelligence when you’re trying to close any pipeline gaps. Choose the right mix of channels and activities for key accounts. This is critical to meet your pipeline target.
Imagine a system that recommends the best combination of channels based on past performance data.
f. Stay ahead of your competition with Q+1 planning
A good pipeline planning process helps you plan ahead of the existing quarter. When you’re targeting accounts that will probably convert only in the next quarter, you can count them for your next quarter. This means you’re better prepared to plan your next quarter pipeline.
Plan for predictability, not the grind
What’s the use of planning your pipeline if all you’re gonna do is grind through the quarter? Pipeline planning is supposed to facilitate your process. Make it so.
As a marketer, you can get better at planning your pipeline when you begin to monitor results and analyze the data related to the pipeline metrics. You can go a step further and use machine learning to get smarter at generating predictable pipeline.
Product @ BambooBox