Time for Marketers to Get Smart About Pipeline (Again!)

Peter Burris of Forrester Research just posted an interesting bit of research about how marketers need to do a better job of connecting how marketing activity translates into pipeline. If you have Forrester access you can read the document here.

Here are a couple of the main points from their study:

  • Marketing is the source of 27% of the pipeline on average
  • Size of company doesn’t appear to have a big impact on the average
  • Services companies are closer to 20% of the pipeline
  • 75% do some “qualification” of leads, but most are not yet systematically “nurturing”

What’s new here is the updated data from Forrester’s own research of around 140 tech marketing folks across both services and software companies of all sizes. But is it really shocking that only 27% of leads are marketing sourced? In some ways, I am more surprised that it’s that high.

This leads to a number of follow on questions for me. What is the “right” number after all?  Or, what is the expectation of the business on what marketing should deliver? Or what does the sales side think of that 27% number, and the quality of those leads?

I have considered the following variables when measuring pipeline contribution:

  • Overall Pipeline Contribution: I have personally used 25% minimum as a rough guide, 40% as a goal.
  • Return on demand gen spending: 10x is the trendy figure for software companies based on contribution margin. So for every $1 spent on demand gen programs (taking out awareness activities) I want to generate $10 in revenue.
  • Pipeline Velocity: The speed at which marketing leads moving through the pipeline, and how long a marketing lead needs to be nurtured before it becomes viable.
  • Stage Management: While revenue is the ultimate measure, how far marketing leads make it through the pipeline is an important gauge of lead quality.
  • Efficient use of Capital: If cold calling efforts generate opportunities at a cost of $300 per opportunity, my marketing activities need to either improve that $300, or be less expensive to ensure the best use of capital.

To me, percent of pipeline is interesting and certainly screams value, but it is only one of the critical success factors. For instance one of my teams was able to contribute 60% of the opportunities in pipeline at a services company. But in reality those were smaller deals that took a long time to close and created a distraction for the sales team, reducing their ability to source new, high value deals from their networks. Understanding the full picture allowed us to recalibrate our strategy.

In addition the scale of the opportunity matters. If your $500,000 marketing program generates the required 10x return of $5M in revenue for a $1B company, don’t expect the senior execs to shower you with affection. At the company party they will just sort of nod their head and be happy you aren’t wasting their money. Then they will go chase down the hot new sales person who has a $20M quota and be sure that salesperson has everything they need to be successful.

The point is, the percentages matter, of course.  But what really matters is being able to show an effective contribution to the businesses overall goals. Understanding capital efficiencies, and a deep understanding of how to connect activity to what matters to the business are the metrics that matter most in your organization.

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