Last week at the B2B Marketing Forum in Utrecht, I shared the Marketing Activity Grid as part of my presentation. I got a number of requests to elaborate, so I am writing a couple of posts on the topic.
In this first piece, I will go in to the Grid’s background. Before I do though, let’s agree on a clear starting point: the goal of marketing.
The goal of marketing is to find, retain and grow customers. Many theorists and thought leaders have shared their personal versions of this definition – this is the one I will use within the scope of this series of posts. Marketing Activity Grid is a planning tool used to map marketing activities against the various sequential phases of the buyer’s journey (education – consideration – selection – conversion – customer advocacy; left to right on image below).
Going back to the earlier definition of marketing, it is important to note that customers turn into prospects within their customer lifecycle, as they consider additional purchases to extend the value they get out of the transactional relationship with the vendor. In this sense, “finding customers” also entails finding customers within your existing customer base. Acquisition tactics targeting existing customers (or: “upsell tactics”) would of course differ materially from acquisition tactics targeting net-new accounts.
What is Marketing Activity Grid?
Marketing Activity Grid is a model designed to enable integrated planning between Marketing and Sales by clearly defining the activities planned to find prospective customers, turn them into customers, expand their investment into vendor’s offerings, and retain them within the customer base.
The objective of Marketing Activity Grid is threefold:
1. Make it easy for prospective customers to discover, consider and buy in to (purchase) your value propositions and products.
All marketing should start with the customer perspective. Once a decision making unit has decided the company has a problem that needs to be solved, someone will get the assignment of researching, longlisting and shortlisting potential solutions to help them hone in on the investment. It is our job as marketers to enable for this research to produce the best solution for that given problem. Help the buyer find, buy and capitalize value for his/her organisation is a more customer-centric way of defining the goal of marketing.
2. Keep a line of sight between Marketing investments and impact to revenue at all times
Looking from the vendor’s perspective, Marketing Activity Grid is all about targeting, planning and executing marketing strategy. Commonly, marketing Strategy breaks down into Tactics, which break down into Activities, for which we need Resources (people, infrastructure, money, assets). Many marketing teams are champions in turning strategic objectives (what we want to accomplish) into extensive laundry lists of point activities (what we want to do to achieve our objectives). They – and whoever they present to (read: sales) – loose sight of the actual tactical objectives it all should support, and therefore its planned impact to sales’ pipeline. Marketing Activity Grid helps marketers to keep things organized and aligned to the marketing and sales strategic objectives.
3. Allow Marketing to run less, more business relevant activities
If you are in B2B marketing, you promote complex technology, products, solution and (professional or Cloud-based) services. Typically, a lot of effort would go into supporting the consideration phase of prospective buyers, aimed at helping them compare the solution to competitive offers. Far less focus is on the first and last stages of the buyer’s journey, mainly because we are low on PR & advertising budget and therefore trust prospects to find our website and social handles first, the website to handle consideration, and – afterwards – sales to reel them in as customers once they are convinced of our superior proposition.
The result of this is that marketing oftentimes doesn’t have visibility of its impact to sales pipeline – simply because we take our hands off after consideration stage. At best, we’d say: “We delivered x Marketing Qualified Leads to sales”, or “We contributed x% to sales pipeline” (which is just slightly better than the first statement). But what happens from there, we do not know. How many marketing leads got accepted and qualified by sales. Which turned into deals, at what size?
Consequently, we keep adding and refining consideration tactics – pretty much the only part of the engagement cycle we control.
Once you add structure to your tactical planning, you will see that you will balance the investment across all phases of the buyer’s journey and that there is less and less for you to do in order to be relevant to the business. Instead, you can start focusing on the quality of tactics and activities within each of the tactical buckets.
Credit where credit’s due: the first instantiation of the Marketing Activity Grid was inspired by Michael Gale of Forrester Research (currently: PulsePoint Group), back in 2010/11 (I wrote about it here). Forrester’d researched how buyers engage vendors and content in deciding how to solve their problems and consequently where to spend their budgets. They also looked into the key stakeholders within each of the stages of the buyer’s journey (i.e. marketing, finance, higher management roles) to understand how decisions come about.
At the heart of Gale’s presentation where 4 universal buyer insights that I took to heart:
- 7 is the average number of assets buyer’s will review as part of their research into prospective vendors, across 4 asset types.
- Asset: campaign landing page, brochure, whitepaper, webinar etc (the tactics we commonly plan as part of demand generation programs).
- Asset type: event, pr, social, collaterals, telemarketing etc (the buckets we usually use to categorize activities as part of budgeting). (Laura Patterson, if you are reading this, you should be triggered by now, if you weren’t already).
- Within any of the phases of the buyer’s journey, no individual within the DMU (Decision Making Unit) has enough power to get the decision into the next phase.
- 1:1:3 is the ration between “What we send them”, “What sales can give them” and “What they find themselves” (online or in conversations with their peers), meaning that with your targeted marketing, you can only influence 20% of the decision (which jumps to 40% if you cooperate with sales). Lately, I read more and more about the buying decision being 60% done already before buyer’s engage vendors – which should be viewed in this light as well. (not so sure whether I believe that number though; would depend on how you define “buyer engagement”).
The other consequence of this ratio is that you need to make sure your content is compelling, up-to-date, available, findable and shareable at all times – by sales and prospects. 80% of the time, you will not control when/how it is being consumed.
- 3 x 3 x 3 is the number of connected and sequenced tactics needed across the front, the middle and the back-end of the buyer’s journey, if you want to help prospective buyer’s Discover, Consider and Decide for your offering.
“Connected” and “Sequenced” are the essential terms here. The central concept of the Forrester approach is to run less activities, but to tightly integrate whatever you do with at least 3 other touches. That way, you make it easy for your prospects to move from phase to phase as they engage with your programs. It is quite a literal way of taking them by the hands and leading them into your offering, company, content and teams. First read this, then participate here, attend there, have a conversation with this guy, compare us here, take a test drive with our product there, transact here, et cetera – all the way down to a 1:1 sales meeting, the RFP, the deal signed, the customer reference story approved. Once you start reporting along these lines, you will be able to create a clear line of sight between each of your activities planned, the tactical buckets they fall into, and the contribution of your tactics to the overall revenue objectives (look out for a separate post on measuring and reporting).
Some adjustments to the model
Note that in Marketing Activity Grid, you’ll find 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 (so twelve tactical buckets), because I added customer tactics (in this example: community – user groups – reference) to the acquisition tactics.
Furthermore, in the Forrester approach, 3 tactics could be for instance “email”, “webinar”, “whitepaper”, and then the email invites people to the register the webinar and download the whitepaper – so really down to asset level.
I have up-leveled this slightly, because I believe we need more in Enterprise demand generation to get the message across and the masses moving. So for instance in my “Webinar” bucket would be a couple of emails, some collateral, some social activation content, and a content strategy to market the recording. (In post II, I will describe how to build an audience-based Grid in practice) – but still all of that would be connected to 3 other tactics.
Lastly, I can’t elaborate on Marketing Activity Grid without mentioning Jan-Willem Schalkwijk. We have been working on this together from the very start (he actually coined the term “Marketing Activity Grid”), so he has a big stake in this work.