By Abby Sorensen, Editor
B2B sales and marketing teams have slowly lost insight into purchasing decisions. Vendor evaluation has moved to independent, hidden, and digitally-enabled buying journeys. This was especially true when a global pandemic prevented almost all in-person trade shows, conferences, events, and face-to-face sales meetings.
Despite these challenging circumstances surrounding B2B marketing, a sound content marketing strategy can increase brand awareness and grow revenue. One supplier involved in pharmaceutical manufacturing – who asked to remain anonymous because of the scientific IP of their clients and services – is a shining example of this.
This case study is relevant beyond the pharmaceutical sector, especially for marketing teams working with long, complex sales cycles. This director of marketing explains, “I believe these results can be achieved within any technically sophisticated yet narrow and focused industry.”
This company had grown to approximately $50M in annual revenue but had been mostly stagnant for the past 20 years. Comfort with a status quo approach to marketing and sales became problematic as their prospects and customers transformed their buyer's journey. Their commercial strategy depended on trade shows, sales team members' contacts, and one-off promotional content.
New leadership set a short-term goal to triple in size, but collaboration between the sales and marketing teams was limited. A marketing strategy centered on content would change this dynamic. The director of marketing sums up the essence of their transformation by saying, “It’s easy to be attracted to shiny objects. A virtual conference, a webinar, a new piece of marketing technology. You can’t be pivoting all of the time, you have to stay the course. You have to stay on the content path.”
Challenges & Opportunities
Heading into a new fiscal year, this marketing team wanted to address two key challenges.
Expand name recognition/brand awareness. According to ISR Reports, this company ranked below the industry average in familiarity (51% of respondents had never heard of the company). According to the same research study, companies with stronger familiarity among respondents receive a higher percentage of proposal requests than their lesser-known competitors, which restates the significance of brand awareness.
- Establish a process to continually generate high-quality leads. The new head of marketing described previous lead generation efforts as "random acts of marketing." They had previously relied on trade shows as their primary source of lead generation. An existing database of about 17,000 names was not generating new business opportunities for the sales team. Their existing content library was highly promotional and geared toward the late stages of the buyer's journey. Even when new leads were generated, there was not a nurturing process to further qualify opportunities.
A customized content creation, syndication, lead generation, branding, and data analytics program would help transform marketing in a measurable way – a way that could be evaluated on the number of meetings, pipeline opportunities, and closed deals.
Step One: Quality Over Quantity, Helping Over Selling
The first task in their initiative was to evaluate and audit the existing database of contacts. A third-party email verification and an engagement analysis narrowed the list, and an in-depth review of the rest was enough to get the list to 6,000 viable contacts within the pharma market. What was left was an engaged audience that received a series of nurture emails containing unique and high-quality thought leadership content. This stack approach to content delves deeper into areas of interest with sequels to original articles.
The switch to engaging prospects with thought leadership was an essential element in their success. "We kept drilling into the team that content cannot be a sales pitch," says the director of marketing. "It can't be about selling a highly technical and scientific partnership. Instead, it has to be about what we want to tell these prospects to help them with that partnership."
After the data cleanliness hurdle was overcome and better content was developed, a new process was implemented to walk engaged prospects through the buyer’s journey. This begins with the introduction of a responsive prospect to an SME with deep subject knowledge to focus on how they could help solve the prospect's problems. Only after an SME validated the lead was it passed along to the sales team.
Step Two: Drive Traffic Beyond Your Own Website
Their new process focused on helping – and not on selling – has only been successful because it has the right quality and quantity of leads. While many B2B marketers focus primarily on driving traffic to their own website, this supplier invested heavily in a platform where its target audience was already highly engaged. That third-party source became the primary source of lead generation feeding the entire marketing strategy.
In this case, the marketing team wanted to target biopharma companies with a therapeutic focus in oncology, mental health, or controlled substances, as well as biopharma consultants. It’s important to note this company was not trying to reach the entire universe of pharmaceutical companies. “The more specific an industry is, the easier it is to get quick traction,” says the director of marketing. “Being able to narrow in on your target prospects is the friend of sound lead generation through content."
This company’s investment sought to optimize the delivery of newly developed early-stage content to a qualified audience of biopharma readers. Content targeting and delivery solutions included things like syndication in industry newsletters, custom-branded newsletters to that publication’s audience, banner retargeting, and a listing in a sourcing center.
The average investment in the first six months of this program ranged from $10,000 to $15,000 per month. This was in line with the leadership team's commitment to approve marketing's request for a total digital marketing budget of 1.5% of revenue (excluding salaries and events).
In addition to their investment with this platform, the marketing team also invested in content creation services, website design, and social media optimization. Although their marketing department is a team of one, their partnership a leading industry publication and these other consultants allows them to compete with much larger companies in their industry.
This value is mainly derived from engagement data that goes beyond basic lead generation. The program allows them to capture and analyze reader-level and organizational-level content behavior. The combination of contact information, demographic data, and behavioral data gives a clearer vision of the buyer’s journey. Custom reporting fields were added as a custom program element, which allows them to see information like therapeutic focus area and company size without the tedious task of verifying that data after lead reports are received.
"Yes, I do have to feed more new names into our funnel," says their director of marketing. "But what I really want to do is get to the bottom of our prospect ecosystem. To follow these people, engage with them, and really understand what kind of content we should be serving them. That's where we really get value from the data and intelligence our marketing partners deliver."
Since a typical sales cycle for this company can take several months to several years, content engagements rarely reveal ready-to-buy leads. This shouldn’t deter B2B marketers. “The more complicated your product or service, the easier digital marketing will be,” this director of marketing explains. Despite marketing a complex service, this marketing team investment drastically exceeded expectations in a relatively short amount of time:
Within six months, 130 one-to-one virtual meetings were secured for the sales team.
These virtual meetings resulted in 84 CDAs.
The CDAs generated $28 million+ in quotes.
The CDMO won $6.2 million+ in new business by securing 10 partnerships, a number that continues to grow.
The revenue generation is far from the only part of this success story. This supplier also saw a boost in brand awareness metrics. Website traffic, social media impressions, and email campaign performance rates all increased. As a result, they are now averaging 11.5 qualified inquiries per week and an average of four or more one-on-one meetings per week for their sales team.
"Nobody believes in thought leadership until you show them the numbers," says the director of marketing. "That's why you have to be metric-driven and data-driven. It helps to have data that simplifies it for your team by showing them, 'The people you want to reach are engaging with these articles.’"
In the coming year, they are increasing their marketing activities by adding more custom newsletters, an analytics program that includes custom reporting fields, and a package of Enhanced Lead Intelligence reports to help zero in on target accounts.
Content generation continues to ramp up with a commitment to producing primarily non-promotional thought leadership articles. “You can’t just say, ‘OK, I published a thought leadership article, I’m done.’ It has to be constant,” the director of marketing says. “This is not a quarterly blitz, it’s not a flavor of the month. This is life now as a B2B sales and marketing organization.”
This continued commitment to content means the total marketing budget is increasing towards 2% of total company revenue. "This is a much more cost-effective and targeted way to 'do' sales and marketing. You'll start to gain some traction quickly because your efforts will attract the right customer. You can do that with the right content on the right digital platform."
The first six months of this program were largely overseen by a few members of the company’s team. Thanks to its success, the marketing team was able to expand, and the new hire will help qualify leads, build direct outreach campaigns, work closely with SMEs, and transition qualified opportunities to the sales team. They now have more inquiries than the current sales team can handle, so they are working on building an inside sales team to help build relationships early in the buyer's journey.
"I think the desire to go back to trade shows is from the supplier side," says the director of marketing. "What I'm seeing from clients and prospects is they really appreciate these digital content and meeting opportunities because they are busy. Finding the right manufacturing partner is a small part of their day-to-day work. Digitizing the buyer's journey makes it quick and easy."
Success Factor Summary
Consistent lead generation via content promotion
Emphasis on non-promotional thought leadership content
Focus on the early buyer's journey.
Outsourcing content creation, web design, and social media
Simplified marketing automation process