Why Digital Marketing is Failing in Enterprise Accounts

John Bedwany

Digital Marketing

Companies with marketing departments that have invested huge amounts in digital marketing, marketing automation, content marketing, the digital buyer's journey and lead scoring are slowly realising - to their horror - the inconvenient truth.

Digital marketing isn't working in enterprise accounts.

Yes, they're getting hits, reads, leads, feeds, brand awareness and so on.

But it isn't driving nearly enough pipeline and the pipeline it is driving isn't converting into sales.

This leads to three key questions;

  • Is this true (and how do I know it)?
  • If it's true, what's the reason?
  • What can we do about it?

1.  Is this true (and how do I know it)?

There are three reasons I know it's true. The first reason is simple - I talk to a lot of senior executives - CEOs, CMOs, CSOs, Sales Managers - in some of the world's largest ICT and other B2B companies - ones that sell to large and medium enterprises - and that's what they are telling me.

They say they simply aren't getting enough high quality leads from their digital marketing initiatives to fill their pipeline and to make their numbers.

Yes, they are getting leads - but they are with the wrong people, or with companies that are too small, or for deals that are too low in value, or with people who simply aren't in the market. Or they are getting into deals too late, where someone else already has the inside running because they have a trusted relationship with the prospect. They're just there to make up the numbers.

But they aren't getting nearly enough leads for high value deals in medium to large enterprises at the right level.

The second reason is actually a summary of 70,000 reasons. That's the number of calls we made in 2015 on behalf of our Global IT clients.

We look after three types of sales coverage models for our clients - inside sales (where people call in response to advertisements, campaigns, etc.); digital marketing follow up calls where we respond to leads generated digitally via lead scoring; and proactive relationship calls building pipeline at executive and senior manager level.

When we follow up digital marketing leads on our clients' behalf the quality of these leads is generally poor and/or the sales value is low. They are usually with companies that are too small or with influencers or researchers within Enterprise accounts who have no authority to make big decisions.

The third reason is through the simple application of logic. When you look closely at what actually happensin real life in enterprise accounts it becomes self evident. So let's do that.

2.  What's the reason?

Let's look at the typical Total Addressable Market for a company selling high value B2B products and services. Their market is normally segmented something like this.

Why digitalThe larger the enterprise the bigger the potential deal - and the greater the number of employees. In the model above we've split the Total Addressable Market into SMEs, which we've defined as under 250 employees, mid-market, enterprise and large enterprise.

These definitions will vary, as will the coverage model, but the principles remain the same.

The large enterprises are usually named accounts with one (or more) assigned direct sales people who interact and build relationships with many people in those accounts.

Enterprise accounts fall into an Account Director's territory. Most Account Directors cover multiple enterprise accounts - perhaps geographically or industry based - and digital marketing is used to generate leads in the accounts that the Account Director doesn't have the bandwidth to cover themselves.

Mid-market accounts can be serviced by direct reps or partners and again digital marketing is used to generate leads. In the SME segment a combination of digital, partners and/or inside sales usually cover these companies and the contacts in them.

Digital marketing actually works reasonably well when selling to SMEs (and to a lesser extent the mid-market) because decision makers in SMEs are more likely to do their own research on the internet.

But it doesn't work at enterprise level. Here's why.

What happens in real life in enterprise accounts

The buyer's journey (for high value B2B products and services) always begins with a senior decision maker identifying a problem or opportunity that's of high enough priority to do something about.

By a senior decision maker, I mean someone in the top segment of the diagram below;

Why Digital 1

Once a company has decided they have a problem that needs fixing they first agree on an approach. For example, if their sales are down, should they hire more salespeople, reduce prices, buy a BI tool to analyse their customers better, buy a CRM, run some sales training, etc.

There are always multiple options - and only one leads to buying your product or service. If they go in another direction they never even appear on your radar (unless you're already there to guide them).

Once they have agreed on an approach and decided to buy something they begin to look at the market.

But let me ask you a question. Who are "they"?

In other words, which specific individuals do the research on the internet? Who visits your web site, downloads your white paper, reads your case study, gives you their email address and gets lead scored?

Who becomes your "lead"?

Is it the CEO? Is it anyone in the "decision maker" segment above?

No, it isn't. If you're lucky it will be a recommender - a middle manager. More likely it will be an influencer - a technician or specialist.

Here's what usually happens.

The CEO, CMO, CSO (and possibly the CIO) agree, after many discussions, that they need to buy (for example) a Big Data Predictive Analytics system.

The CEO says to the CIO "can you get someone to check out the market and see what the options are and how much it will cost?" The CIO says to one of his managers "I'm putting you in charge of getting information on potential Big Data solutions."

The manager says to one or more of his team "go and find out which are the best Big Data solutions."

These team members get on the internet, do their searches, download your information - and they're the ones who pop up as a lead for you (or us) to call them back.

What's wrong with this picture?

Your "lead" is someone at least two levels removed from the decision maker. They probably know nothing about the business reasons why they're looking for a solution. Their focus is likely to be technical and their evaluation criteria are almost certainly very different from that of the decision maker.

Not to mention that in this scenario you have absolutely no relationship with the decision makers (or most of the recommenders) so you don't know one of the most important things any salesperson can know - WHY they're looking for a solution - from a business perspective.

So you have to "qualify" the "lead" to see if they have the authority to make a decision.

Of course they haven't (but they'll probably tell you they have.) How could they? Does your CEO spend his or her time trawling the web to look for white papers and downloading case studies? I don't think so.

At best you'll get placed on a list of vendors to consider and occasionally, very occasionally, you'll win a deal.

But it's much more likely you'll get passed over or, worse still, you'll be invited to tender, you'll spend an arm and a leg putting together a proposal, you'll cut your throat to give them a great offer - and they'll go to the person they do have a relationship with and say "can you match this?"

 THAT'S why it isn't working.

3.  What can we do about it?

I'm a great believer in real life, so I don't expect companies that have invested massive amounts of time, effort, money and emotion into digital marketing to stop doing it.

Nor do they need to. There's a simple solution.

The key problem is the lack of relationship at senior level. You need to continue with the digital marketing - because you want to market to and persuade those influencers and researchers. You need them to support you and to help you to win the deal. You need them on your side.

You just don't want to enter the account through them. You need to build relationships at the top.

So when a "lead" pops up thanks to digital lead scoring, it isn't a signal to call that person and try to work your way up through the corporate ladder to a decision maker you don't have an existing relationship with.

It's a trigger to call the decision maker - one you've already built a relationship with.

Here's the ideal scenario.

Your lead scoring system identifies that someone (an influencer or recommender) has been showing a lot of interest in you and your offerings.

But you don't call them - you call one of the decision makers that you've been nurturing and educating about how you can help them solve their business issue. You already know about them and they already know about you.

The decision makers says "you've called at a good time - we're just in the process of looking for a solution." You smile knowingly and say "really, that's lucky. Tell me, what's the most important business objective you want to achieve with this solution?"

And you're off.

The Enterprise Digital Marketing Triangulation Six Step Process

We call this concept triangulation - using relationship marketing to build trusted relationships with decision makers and using digital marketing as a trigger to make sure we call at the right time.

So if you normally speak to a decision maker once every three months and you discover that someone from that company shows up with a high lead score three weeks after you've spoken to them it triggers an additional call to the decision maker - sort of "just in time" selling.

We recommend a simple - but incredibly effective - six step triangulated process to maximise your results from a combined digital and direct approach strategy

1.  Profile the accounts in your total addressable market

You need to profile your enterprise accounts based on each Account Director's account plans and various data points.

These include items such as who owns them, what other companies do they own, their strategy, their product portfolio, their supply chain, how they go to market, latest news about them, their performance, their culture, corporate governance requirements, areas to improve, etc.

All this data goes into your account plan database.

2. Next identify a three tier account map - i.e. who are the decision makers, influencers and recommenders we want to target?

In fact the people you want to approach directly, the decision makers, are usually the easiest to find.

3. Use digital marketing strategies to get opt ins and reach all of your target contacts.

This strategy works well for the influencers and researchers, less so for the decision makers - because they don't tend to be looking for products on the internet.

4. Use relationship managent to contact, educate, nurture and profile decision makers.

The objective is to understand their business needs from their perspective and slowly build a trusted relationship with them - so that when they are ready to buy, they will know you and you'll know them.

5. Use your current digital marketing to build your brand, influence those people who are engaging digitally, build credibility and identify triggers.

6. When a trigger event occurs - through lead scoring, event attendance, downloads, etc - use it as a prompt to call the senior executives you've been building a relationship with.


Sooner or later when you are trying to sell something to an enterprise customer, someone in your company has to speak to someone in theirs.

Do you want that first contact to be between your subject matter expert/Account Director and a senior decision maker. Or would you rather it be with a lower level contact?

There are two things that you definitely don't want to happen;

  • You call the CEO, build a relationship, he's keen to deal with you - and everyone below him says "who are these people, never heard of them, they aren't for us because...?"
  • You call an influencer who has popped up as a lead and he or she takes hours of your time when the decision makers have absolutely no relationship with you or incentive to deal with you.

You need to cover all three levels - decision makers, influencers and researchers.

By using an intelligent combination of digital marketing and relationship selling and by triangulation you can sell higher, sell wider - and sell more.


This article originally appeared on LinkedIn here

It is also featured on the Database Dept.'s web site under "News"

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