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Native Advertising: An Introduction for PPC Marketers

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Consumer priorities are shifting rapidly as the world faces an unprecedented healthcare crisis.

Sensitivity to consumers’ needs is more critical than ever.

Brands must think carefully about how to engage with consumers in meaningful ways that not only increase conversions but help build brand trust.

Throughout the day, we consume content from blogs, news channels, television shows, social media channels, etc.

All of that content has the potential for native ad placements, which is why the native industry can be complex.

Advertisers know that in order to reach their target customers, they need to have a presence on channels where consumers spend their time.

This is where native comes into play.

Native advertising has been around for about a decade, but through the use of AI and machine learning to power its audience-first targeting, it’s more powerful and effective than ever.

According to an IPG Media Lab study, 71% of consumers say they personally identify with a brand after viewing its native ads.

Is Content Network Targeting the Same as Native?

In short, no.

The content networks or yore through Microsoft Advertising and Google Ads was contextual targeting at its simplest – it predominately was keyword-based targeting on a syndicated network of content that allowed text ads to appear near various types of content such as text, videos, images.

The impression volumes were high and the click-through rates were low and the conversion rates were dismal.

But for most the goal of the content network was never last-click attribution – it was to drive reach and awareness (at first.)

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But native today isn’t the contextual targeting of yore.

Microsoft deprecated the content network in 2017.

However, Google Ads still allows content targeting in the Google Display network.

Unlike the content network, native ad placements are not based on the keyword or the keywords within the article on page, they are based on audience targeting.

It is worth noting that Google Ads still allows content targeting in the Google Display Network based on:

  • Topics: Pages about specific topics. Google Ads uses factors such as text, language, links and page structure to determine the topics of a page.
  • Placement: Specific websites, or subsets of a website.
  • Keywords: Just that, keywords.
  • Display expansion for search: A combination of automated bidding and smart targeting.

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What Is Native Advertising?

According to the Native Advertising Institute, native advertising is paid advertising that matches the form, feel, and function of the content media and platform upon which it appears.

The publisher controls and is responsible for rendering the ad.

Unlike display ads or banner ads, native ads don’t really look like ads; rather, they look like part of the editorial flow of the webpage.

For example, a native ad might show up within an article you’re reading on your favorite online news source, or as a post on your Facebook feed.

Native ads are intentionally non-disruptive and more contextual than display or banner ads.

According to the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), there are six types of native advertising:

  • Paid search ads appear at the top of — and look like part of — your Google search results.
  • In-feed placements appear directly in the article or blog post.
  • Recommendation widgets appear on a publisher’s website and presents recommended content or products that are related to the content you’re already consuming.
  • In-Ad with native elements look like typical ads but they are contextually relevant to the site on which they appear or the content you’re consuming.
  • Custom ads can appear within your app interface, such as a new filter in Snapchat.
  • Promoted listings, also referred sometimes as sponsored content, are designed to fit seamlessly into the browsing experience.

Sharethrough reports that native ads receive 53% more views than traditional display ads and increase purchase intent by 18%.

It’s no wonder two-thirds of all display spend ($44 billion) was spent on native advertising in the U.S. in 2019 and accounted for 61% of total digital display ad spending.

Is Native Advertising Programmatic?

It depends. (A marketer’s favorite answer.)

Programmatic is an automated way to buy the advertising placements.

Programmatic marketing uses real-time systems, rules, and algorithms to automate either targeted placements and/or creative experiences (ads themselves.)

Programmatic native ads add more power by leveraging machine learning and contextual signals to customize the ads by placing them at the appropriate place to reach the right audience and the audience preference.

Not all native advertising is programmatic.

Is Google Display Native Advertising?

Yes, Google Display & Video 360 has native creative formats that can be integrated into a display campaign.

The native creative can target:

  • App install (Google Play or Apple App Store).
  • Site creative (square or rectangular display format).
  • Video (similar to site creative, but uses video instead of an image.)

The native creative is based on a bundle of assets and can include the following components: an image or video, headline, body text, call to action, logo or advertiser name.

” alt=”Examples of Google Display & Video 360 native ads ” width=”600″ height=”255″ data-src=”https://cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/googledisplay-video360-example-5e8383aec78c5.png” data-=”” />

Is Microsoft Advertising Native Advertising?

Yes, Microsoft Advertising has native ads through the Microsoft Audience network.

It is a programmatic native ads platform that pulls in audience data and intent signals from the Microsoft Advertising Graph to determine optimal placements at scale.

” alt=”Visual examples of Microsoft Audience network placements for image ads, text ads, and product ads across the audience network.” width=”936″ height=”661″ data-src=”https://cdn.searchenginejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/microsoftaudienceads-examples-5e838860b338a.png” data-=”” />

Currently, Microsoft Audience Ads are available in three formats:

  • Image ads.
  • Text Ads.
  • Product Ads.

They can be set up as part of an existing search campaign that is extended to native or as a separate audience campaign.

Even if you choose to opt into the Microsoft Audience network from within your search campaigns, the ad placement is based on audience targeting using the Microsoft Graph.

The Microsoft Advertising Graph captures billions of signals across our consumer products, such as browsing data, search history and behavior, and deep profile data from LinkedIn.

Microsoft’s audience network spans:

  • A wide range of brand-safe environments, including MSN, Outlook.com, and Microsoft Edge.
  • Select premium partner properties such as CBS Sports, Everyday Health, Fox Business, the Atlantic, Apartment Therapy, and Reuters.

According to ComScore, the Microsoft Audience Network reaches 92% of the online audience throughout the U.S.

AI-Powered Placements Focused on Quality & Giving Complete Control to the Advertiser

The audience network was created with two priorities in mind: quality and control.

  • Quality results from high-quality placements of highly relevant ads.
  • Control encompasses its ability to provide brand-safe environments and data privacy.

Microsoft enforces strict publisher standards and reviews and publisher partners are closely managed and thoroughly vetted.

There is an ongoing ad placement quality monitoring and controls to help you manage where your ads appear, as well.

Global blocklists and the ability to exclude certain sites gives you even more control – and peace of mind.

The Success of Native Advertising Depends on Trust

Native advertising has grown in popularity because of success with engaging audiences and their ability to connect brands to consumers effectively.

However, when consumers don’t trust a brand, native ads lose their effectiveness.

Likewise, marketers also believe that they need to trust the distribution channels and environments their ads appear.

eMarketer’s 2018 study, The Brand Saftey Dilemma, found that 57.5% of more than 100 CMOs surveyed stated that they will focus their future advertising spendings on whether a distribution channel can provide secure environments.

How do organizations establish and maintain consumer trust?

By putting long-term strategies in place for actively engaging with consumers, listening and acting on customer feedback, adhering to data privacy and protection, and being transparent and authentic.

iProspect proposes that there are three key components to consumer trust: credibility, relevance, and reliability.

  • Is your brand competent and legitimate?
  • Do you listen to and act on customer feedback and provide relevant content, products, and services?
  • Do you deliver a consistent experience that meets customer expectations across every customer interaction?

Brands that can answer yes to these questions are earning consumer trust, and native advertising done well can reinforce this effort by helping them deliver credible, relevant and consistent messaging.

With many available offerings, it’s critical to choose the right advertising partner – one that will enable you to get the best return on your investment.

Native Case Studies: Reaching Untapped Audiences

By applying advanced AI algorithms to this set of user attributes, Microsoft can determine when and on what platforms to reach users with highly relevant content, without damaging the trust those users have in your brand.

Ads are credible, relevant and consistent – but not invasive or intrusive.

As a result, click-through rates on the Microsoft Audience Network are consistently higher than on other native platforms delivering ads on those same properties.

For example, based on partner and internal data, click-through rates are consistently higher than other native platforms that are delivering ads across the same properties:

  • 2X higher on MSN Infopane.
  • 1.2X higher on Outlook.com.
  • 3X higher on publisher partner sites.

Driving Awareness & Leads Across Volvo’s Funnel

Volvo and marketing agency Mindshare decided to test the Microsoft Audience network as a strategy to support awareness and help maintain sales for their best-seller the XC90 luxury SUV.

Mindshare used audience campaigns to scale their marketing efforts, keeping the ads visually consistent with their social media efforts and using streamlined ad copy to reach their target audiences.

They combined LinkedIn, gender, remarketing and In-Market audience data to find new audiences to target and to uncover previously untapped audiences.

The campaign drove significant traffic and exceeded their expectations with conversions:

  • 65,000 incremental site visits.
  • 83% increase in clicks from remarketing.
  • CPA on-par with their non-brand search campaigns.

Buyzone Driving Leads & Reaching Untapped B2B Audiences

Running native campaigns in conjunction with search campaigns helped Buyerzone reach business-to-business audience.

Buyerzone connects buyers with sellers in real-time. Like many lead generation companies, they were looking for conversions they can monetize into leads that can then be sold to a seller.

They needed native to be a cost effective buy that would not only drive leads, but leads that convereted for their sellers.

Buyerzone was a beta-tester of native ads through the Microsoft Audience network and saw:

  • 1,700% increase in impressions.
  • 20% profit increase on top of their traditional search campaigns.
  • 75% decrease in CPC.

Alan Barish, senior online marketing analyst from BuyerZone said, “almost every single conversion we’ve gotten from the Microsoft Audience Network has converted into a lead, which is amazing.”

Native combined with search can help advertisers reach new audiences across the funnel to help drive growth that is incremental to their existing search campaigns.

Maintaining Trust & Engagement in Uncertain Times

Never in modern history has it been so critical to create meaningful connections between your brand and consumers, and earn and maintain their trust.

With data privacy rising to the forefront of consumers’ consciousness and as recent global events add complexity to the consumer-brand dynamic, delivering targeted, trusted and relevant content is a critical strategy for continued business growth.

Be thoughtful with your images and your copy during these challenging times so that your native ads don’t come across as tone-deaf.

Start with a foundation of trust, success is inevitable.

Test using native as a way for your brand to make meaningful connections with consumers that build trust and drive conversions, setting the stage for ongoing credibility, relevance, and consistency, even in uncertain times.

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Image Credits

All screenshots taken by author, March 2020

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Why We Are Always ‘Clicking to Buy’, According to Psychologists

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Why We Are Always 'Clicking to Buy', According to Psychologists

Amazon pillows.

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

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A deeper dive into data, personalization and Copilots

Salesforce launched a collection of new, generative AI-related products at Connections in Chicago this week. They included new Einstein Copilots for marketers and merchants and Einstein Personalization.

To better understand, not only the potential impact of the new products, but the evolving Salesforce architecture, we sat down with Bobby Jania, CMO, Marketing Cloud.

Dig deeper: Salesforce piles on the Einstein Copilots

Salesforce’s evolving architecture

It’s hard to deny that Salesforce likes coming up with new names for platforms and products (what happened to Customer 360?) and this can sometimes make the observer wonder if something is brand new, or old but with a brand new name. In particular, what exactly is Einstein 1 and how is it related to Salesforce Data Cloud?

“Data Cloud is built on the Einstein 1 platform,” Jania explained. “The Einstein 1 platform is our entire Salesforce platform and that includes products like Sales Cloud, Service Cloud — that it includes the original idea of Salesforce not just being in the cloud, but being multi-tenancy.”

Data Cloud — not an acquisition, of course — was built natively on that platform. It was the first product built on Hyperforce, Salesforce’s new cloud infrastructure architecture. “Since Data Cloud was on what we now call the Einstein 1 platform from Day One, it has always natively connected to, and been able to read anything in Sales Cloud, Service Cloud [and so on]. On top of that, we can now bring in, not only structured but unstructured data.”

That’s a significant progression from the position, several years ago, when Salesforce had stitched together a platform around various acquisitions (ExactTarget, for example) that didn’t necessarily talk to each other.

“At times, what we would do is have a kind of behind-the-scenes flow where data from one product could be moved into another product,” said Jania, “but in many of those cases the data would then be in both, whereas now the data is in Data Cloud. Tableau will run natively off Data Cloud; Commerce Cloud, Service Cloud, Marketing Cloud — they’re all going to the same operational customer profile.” They’re not copying the data from Data Cloud, Jania confirmed.

Another thing to know is tit’s possible for Salesforce customers to import their own datasets into Data Cloud. “We wanted to create a federated data model,” said Jania. “If you’re using Snowflake, for example, we more or less virtually sit on your data lake. The value we add is that we will look at all your data and help you form these operational customer profiles.”

Let’s learn more about Einstein Copilot

“Copilot means that I have an assistant with me in the tool where I need to be working that contextually knows what I am trying to do and helps me at every step of the process,” Jania said.

For marketers, this might begin with a campaign brief developed with Copilot’s assistance, the identification of an audience based on the brief, and then the development of email or other content. “What’s really cool is the idea of Einstein Studio where our customers will create actions [for Copilot] that we hadn’t even thought about.”

Here’s a key insight (back to nomenclature). We reported on Copilot for markets, Copilot for merchants, Copilot for shoppers. It turns out, however, that there is just one Copilot, Einstein Copilot, and these are use cases. “There’s just one Copilot, we just add these for a little clarity; we’re going to talk about marketing use cases, about shoppers’ use cases. These are actions for the marketing use cases we built out of the box; you can build your own.”

It’s surely going to take a little time for marketers to learn to work easily with Copilot. “There’s always time for adoption,” Jania agreed. “What is directly connected with this is, this is my ninth Connections and this one has the most hands-on training that I’ve seen since 2014 — and a lot of that is getting people using Data Cloud, using these tools rather than just being given a demo.”

What’s new about Einstein Personalization

Salesforce Einstein has been around since 2016 and many of the use cases seem to have involved personalization in various forms. What’s new?

“Einstein Personalization is a real-time decision engine and it’s going to choose next-best-action, next-best-offer. What is new is that it’s a service now that runs natively on top of Data Cloud.” A lot of real-time decision engines need their own set of data that might actually be a subset of data. “Einstein Personalization is going to look holistically at a customer and recommend a next-best-action that could be natively surfaced in Service Cloud, Sales Cloud or Marketing Cloud.”

Finally, trust

One feature of the presentations at Connections was the reassurance that, although public LLMs like ChatGPT could be selected for application to customer data, none of that data would be retained by the LLMs. Is this just a matter of written agreements? No, not just that, said Jania.

“In the Einstein Trust Layer, all of the data, when it connects to an LLM, runs through our gateway. If there was a prompt that had personally identifiable information — a credit card number, an email address — at a mimum, all that is stripped out. The LLMs do not store the output; we store the output for auditing back in Salesforce. Any output that comes back through our gateway is logged in our system; it runs through a toxicity model; and only at the end do we put PII data back into the answer. There are real pieces beyond a handshake that this data is safe.”

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

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Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads (And How To Fix It)

Why The Sales Team Hates Your Leads And How To

You ask the head of marketing how the team is doing and get a giant thumbs up. 👍

“Our MQLs are up!”

“Website conversion rates are at an all-time high!”

“Email click rates have never been this good!”

But when you ask the head of sales the same question, you get the response that echoes across sales desks worldwide — the leads from marketing suck. 

If you’re in this boat, you’re not alone. The issue of “leads from marketing suck” is a common situation in most organizations. In a HubSpot survey, only 9.1% of salespeople said leads they received from marketing were of very high quality.

Why do sales teams hate marketing-generated leads? And how can marketers help their sales peers fall in love with their leads? 

Let’s dive into the answers to these questions. Then, I’ll give you my secret lead gen kung-fu to ensure your sales team loves their marketing leads. 

Marketers Must Take Ownership

“I’ve hit the lead goal. If sales can’t close them, it’s their problem.”

How many times have you heard one of your marketers say something like this? When your teams are heavily siloed, it’s not hard to see how they get to this mindset — after all, if your marketing metrics look strong, they’ve done their part, right?

Not necessarily. 

The job of a marketer is not to drive traffic or even leads. The job of the marketer is to create messaging and offers that lead to revenue. Marketing is not a 100-meter sprint — it’s a relay race. The marketing team runs the first leg and hands the baton to sales to sprint to the finish.

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via GIPHY

To make leads valuable beyond the vanity metric of watching your MQLs tick up, you need to segment and nurture them. Screen the leads to see if they meet the parameters of your ideal customer profile. If yes, nurture them to find out how close their intent is to a sale. Only then should you pass the leads to sales. 

Lead Quality Control is a Bitter Pill that Works

Tighter quality control might reduce your overall MQLs. Still, it will ensure only the relevant leads go to sales, which is a win for your team and your organization.

This shift will require a mindset shift for your marketing team: instead of living and dying by the sheer number of MQLs, you need to create a collaborative culture between sales and marketing. Reinforce that “strong” marketing metrics that result in poor leads going to sales aren’t really strong at all.  

When you foster this culture of collaboration and accountability, it will be easier for the marketing team to receive feedback from sales about lead quality without getting defensive. 

Remember, the sales team is only holding marketing accountable so the entire organization can achieve the right results. It’s not sales vs marketing — it’s sales and marketing working together to get a great result. Nothing more, nothing less. 

We’ve identified the problem and where we need to go. So, how you do you get there?

Fix #1: Focus On High ROI Marketing Activities First

What is more valuable to you:

  • One more blog post for a few more views? 
  • One great review that prospective buyers strongly relate to?

Hopefully, you’ll choose the latter. After all, talking to customers and getting a solid testimonial can help your sales team close leads today.  Current customers talking about their previous issues, the other solutions they tried, why they chose you, and the results you helped them achieve is marketing gold.

On the other hand, even the best blog content will take months to gain enough traction to impact your revenue.

Still, many marketers who say they want to prioritize customer reviews focus all their efforts on blog content and other “top of the funnel” (Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation) efforts. 

The bottom half of the growth marketing funnel (Retention, Reputation, and Revenue) often gets ignored, even though it’s where you’ll find some of the highest ROI activities.

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Most marketers know retaining a customer is easier than acquiring a new one. But knowing this and working with sales on retention and account expansion are two different things. 

When you start focusing on retention, upselling, and expansion, your entire organization will feel it, from sales to customer success. These happier customers will increase your average account value and drive awareness through strong word of mouth, giving you one heck of a win/win.

Winning the Retention, Reputation, and Referral game also helps feed your Awareness, Acquisition, and Activation activities:

  • Increasing customer retention means more dollars stay within your organization to help achieve revenue goals and fund lead gen initiatives.
  • A fully functioning referral system lowers your customer acquisition cost (CAC) because these leads are already warm coming in the door.
  • Case studies and reviews are powerful marketing assets for lead gen and nurture activities as they demonstrate how you’ve solved identical issues for other companies.

Remember that the bottom half of your marketing and sales funnel is just as important as the top half. After all, there’s no point pouring leads into a leaky funnel. Instead, you want to build a frictionless, powerful growth engine that brings in the right leads, nurtures them into customers, and then delights those customers to the point that they can’t help but rave about you.

So, build a strong foundation and start from the bottom up. You’ll find a better return on your investment. 

Fix #2: Join Sales Calls to Better Understand Your Target Audience

You can’t market well what you don’t know how to sell.

Your sales team speaks directly to customers, understands their pain points, and knows the language they use to talk about those pains. Your marketing team needs this information to craft the perfect marketing messaging your target audience will identify with.

When marketers join sales calls or speak to existing customers, they get firsthand introductions to these pain points. Often, marketers realize that customers’ pain points and reservations are very different from those they address in their messaging. 

Once you understand your ideal customers’ objections, anxieties, and pressing questions, you can create content and messaging to remove some of these reservations before the sales call. This effort removes a barrier for your sales team, resulting in more SQLs.

Fix #3: Create Collateral That Closes Deals

One-pagers, landing pages, PDFs, decks — sales collateral could be anything that helps increase the chance of closing a deal. Let me share an example from Lean Labs. 

Our webinar page has a CTA form that allows visitors to talk to our team. Instead of a simple “get in touch” form, we created a drop-down segmentation based on the user’s challenge and need. This step helps the reader feel seen, gives them hope that they’ll receive real value from the interaction, and provides unique content to users based on their selection.

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So, if they select I need help with crushing it on HubSpot, they’ll get a landing page with HubSpot-specific content (including a video) and a meeting scheduler. 

Speaking directly to your audience’s needs and pain points through these steps dramatically increases the chances of them booking a call. Why? Because instead of trusting that a generic “expert” will be able to help them with their highly specific problem, they can see through our content and our form design that Lean Labs can solve their most pressing pain point. 

Fix #4: Focus On Reviews and Create an Impact Loop

A lot of people think good marketing is expensive. You know what’s even more expensive? Bad marketing

To get the best ROI on your marketing efforts, you need to create a marketing machine that pays for itself. When you create this machine, you need to think about two loops: the growth loop and the impact loop.

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  • Growth loop — Awareness ➡ Acquisition ➡ Activation ➡ Revenue ➡ Awareness: This is where most marketers start. 
  • Impact loop — Results ➡ Reviews ➡ Retention ➡ Referrals ➡ Results: This is where great marketers start. 

Most marketers start with their growth loop and then hope that traction feeds into their impact loop. However, the reality is that starting with your impact loop is going to be far more likely to set your marketing engine up for success

Let me share a client story to show you what this looks like in real life.

Client Story: 4X Website Leads In A Single Quarter

We partnered with a health tech startup looking to grow their website leads. One way to grow website leads is to boost organic traffic, of course, but any organic play is going to take time. If you’re playing the SEO game alone, quadrupling conversions can take up to a year or longer.

But we did it in a single quarter. Here’s how.

We realized that the startup’s demos were converting lower than industry standards. A little more digging showed us why: our client was new enough to the market that the average person didn’t trust them enough yet to want to invest in checking out a demo. So, what did we do?

We prioritized the last part of the funnel: reputation.

We ran a 5-star reputation campaign to collect reviews. Once we had the reviews we needed, we showcased them at critical parts of the website and then made sure those same reviews were posted and shown on other third-party review platforms. 

Remember that reputation plays are vital, and they’re one of the plays startups often neglect at best and ignore at worst. What others say about your business is ten times more important than what you say about yourself

By providing customer validation at critical points in the buyer journey, we were able to 4X the website leads in a single quarter!

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So, when you talk to customers, always look for opportunities to drive review/referral conversations and use them in marketing collateral throughout the buyer journey. 

Fix #5: Launch Phantom Offers for Higher Quality Leads 

You may be reading this post thinking, okay, my lead magnets and offers might be way off the mark, but how will I get the budget to create a new one that might not even work?

It’s an age-old issue: marketing teams invest way too much time and resources into creating lead magnets that fail to generate quality leads

One way to improve your chances of success, remain nimble, and stay aligned with your audience without breaking the bank is to create phantom offers, i.e., gauge the audience interest in your lead magnet before you create them.

For example, if you want to create a “World Security Report” for Chief Security Officers, don’t do all the research and complete the report as Step One. Instead, tease the offer to your audience before you spend time making it. Put an offer on your site asking visitors to join the waitlist for this report. Then wait and see how that phantom offer converts. 

This is precisely what we did for a report by Allied Universal that ended up generating 80 conversions before its release.

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The best thing about a phantom offer is that it’s a win/win scenario: 

  • Best case: You get conversions even before you create your lead magnet.
  • Worst case: You save resources by not creating a lead magnet no one wants.  

Remember, You’re On The Same Team 

We’ve talked a lot about the reasons your marketing leads might suck. However, remember that it’s not all on marketers, either. At the end of the day, marketing and sales professionals are on the same team. They are not in competition with each other. They are allies working together toward a common goal. 

Smaller companies — or anyone under $10M in net new revenue — shouldn’t even separate sales and marketing into different departments. These teams need to be so in sync with one another that your best bet is to align them into a single growth team, one cohesive front with a single goal: profitable customer acquisition.

Interested in learning more about the growth marketing mindset? Check out the Lean Labs Growth Playbook that’s helped 25+ B2B SaaS marketing teams plan, budget, and accelerate growth.


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