Maybe we should stop talking about “lead generation”

Pretty interesting post on Forrester about “The Sales Enablement Forum,” which was apparently an event a few weeks back in Scottsdale, Arizona. Quick word of caution: if you’re very wary of business buzzwords, I’d probably avoid reading that post linked above because, well, it has enough business concept buzzwords to choke an entire farm of horses (“Lori and Sheryl were joined by Forrester consultants, who introduced tools to help incorporate buyer research into content messaging and sales conversations…”) But there is some interesting content in there, to be sure. Notably, this sentence resonates with me:

Stephanie Meyer of GE Healthcare told us that she has banned “demand generation” from her department’s vocabulary. For her, the “lead” starts when the customer orders. It is all about creating sustainable engagement.

I could be wrong here, but I think “demand generation” is the same general concept as “lead generation,” and I agree with Ms. Meyer above. (She appears to be the CMO of GE Healthcare, FYI.)

I’ve worked on a couple of lead generation initiatives in different jobs I’ve had — I kinda sorta work on one in my present job, although I have no real ownership of it or anything — and most of the time, the process around “lead generation” seems flawed, confusing, or downright questionable. I think you start with a pretty basic problem — human beings, especially human beings in a workplace, adore big numbers. That’s why companies talk about “media impressions,” even though that term very rarely correlates to business success (unless you’re a Kardashian).

So “lead generation” efforts often focus on getting the highest numbers as possible in front of the bosses, even though those “100K leads” might represent 40-50 actual people that buy something from you or do business with you. That’s not necessarily a huge rate of return.

I think a lot of this discussion goes back to a couple of key points:

  • Social media and the ascent of mobile + ability to self-research products and concepts basically completely changed the idea of a “sales funnel.”
  • (Ironically, b-schools still teach the old-school funnel by and large, so we’re not necessarily preparing the next generation of well-compensated business managers that well.)
  • The whole idea of “buyer journey” starts a lot later in the process than we’re conventionally used to thinking about, and most organizations haven’t caught up to that fully.
  • At the same time, you have a whole host of issues around sales, not the least of which is that most sales professionals aren’t even that well-trusted.
  • Not to mention — and I’ve never understood this — most websites trying to sell you something aren’t even that transparent about what they’re doing.
  • If you add all that up, the whole notion of “lead generation” often seems like chasing a big number — and chasing a big number of people who don’t even know what they’re being “led” towards.

I feel like we should ban the goddamn term; tell people that “a lead” is a sale. Yes, you need strategies to move people towards a sale (such as, uh, marketing and telling stories) — but when you go whole hog on the idea of “lead generation,” the problem is that your focus has automatically shifted to the wrong things. It’s kind of like how we always use the term “closing” in sales, even though the goal is to build (open) relationships.

It seems more logical that “lead” would start at “point of sale,” because then you can figure out how that relationship evolved to sale and you can focus on sustaining that relationship. The idea of “lead” being “generated” before sale is weird to me; it’s too driven by things like “buyer persona,” which can be relevant but … everyone is different, much like every buyer journey is different. Why do we try to shove people into boxes so that we can make money?

Everything about the process seems misguided.

Check this out too, from the Scottsdale forum. Because of better e-commerce portals, look at what happens to those in B2B sales in the next half-decade:

B2B Salespeople Will Decline

That’s basically 1 million jobs struck down; on the flip side, that’s not awful, because B2B sales and marketing is pretty much stalking anyway.

Interestingly, there’s another post on Forrester about the Mobile World Congress, an event in Barcelona with 90,000 attendees (whoa), including 4,500 C-Suiters (whoa). In that post, the author basically seems to indicate that some CIOs and other C-Suiters still come to the table thinking mobile might be “a fad.” WTF? I get that things change quickly, and Apple is coming out with a watch you may have heard about in a month or so, but … there’s more mobile devices than people in the world right now, and mobile is pretty much the main way brands connect back to consumers right now. I feel like people should be embracing that.

When I read posts like these, sometimes I worry that the whole idea of “work” and “business” is just an elaborate game where people are trying to prove their own worth and not really thinking about what the company does/should do/needs/etc.



Ted Bauer

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