Top of Funnel; Oh How You Elude Many

Top of Funnel; Oh How You Elude Many

Here I go again, with another top of funnel story.  I can’t help it – I’m always hearing from marketers who struggle with this.  The challenges come in many forms; most often, “I can’t get enough leads.” Or, “My top of funnel conversion needs to improve.”  My favorite, of course, is the old chestnut, “There aren’t enough people interested in our product.”

In marketing finishing school (yes, that’s an attempt at humor,) fledgling marketers are taught all about a product and how to position its features and benefits.  Well folks, when talking about the top of funnel, all of that is garbage.  Useless.  There, I said it.

I’ll admit it.  As I write this, I’m having trouble figuring out how to keep this to a respectable length since I have so much to say on the topic.  But, here goes my story….

When I was at Iron Mountain, we built a program to deal with top of funnel in a very effective way.  Our method did not mention a product; not one.  Now, if you don’t know Iron Mountain, they are an information management company that provides services for both paper and digital information that lives within a company.  At this time, several regulations had hit the books that were confusing to records managers and others tasked with managing their company’s records.  We recognized this was a challenge that Iron Mountain had a solution for and as a result we created the Compliant Records Management Program; a veritable plethora of education for the struggling records manager.

You see, the reason I’m sharing this story is because I think there are pieces of this that can be used in just about every B2B marketing instance.  But first, let’s review the philosophy:

  • We marketers don’t have the luxury of just sitting around while prospects Google our company name or keywords until we hit our goals.
  • Prospects that become buyers can start as a person that was not in the market for your product.
  • There is a lot, and I mean A LOT, of noise in the marketplace with everyone jumping on the content marketing bandwagon.

You agree with the above?  Good. Now back to my story.  At Iron Mountain, we got to know our buyer and learned that they were really struggling with the new legislation.  In fact, it was priority number one for them to figure out, thus, we had a hunch that if we could become experts and thought leaders around compliance we may be able to tap into this priority to get them paying attention to Iron Mountain.  That is exactly what happened, and below is the magic formula we used:

  • The heart of the program was a microsite.  It contained a step-by-step methodology for reducing compliance risk and tons of content with detailed information about legislation and best practices around information management.  Key takeaway: You need to know how your customer gets from point A (where they are today) to Point B (where they aspire to be.  Oh, and you want to be sure you have linkage to your product in this process.
  • The content engine was an assessment tool that helped buyers determine their current state against best practices in records management.  Three thousand people a year took this assessment during the sales process, giving Iron Mountain oodles of data to qualify these prospects and also aggregate into Iron Mountain’s Compliance Benchmark Report, an annual publication.  The benchmark report was unveiled in a webinar annually with our CEO, often with over 1,000 attendees.  It got media attention in the form of interviews and bylines.  Sections of the benchmark report were broken into smaller pieces of content and linked back to the process we’d developed for the Complaint Records Management Program. Key takeaway: Find a way to get repeatable data that can be turned into content.
  • For top of funnel, we created an online mini compliance assessment to give people a pulse on where they stacked up against the best practices and draw them into a nurture stream, based on their pains as reported in the assessment.  The nurture tracks contained content offers with actionable information specifically on how to move the needle on the areas where they performed low on the scale. Low scoring answers were and indicator of need and we used them for scoring a lead. Key takeaway: Create repeatable nurture tracks to reduce workload.  It’s not quite set it and forget it, but it sure beats coming up with a new program every week.
  • For sales enablement, we turned the story of the Benchmark report into a whiteboard selling script and trained hundreds of salespeople in how to sell using the story of compliance.  One of two things would happen at the end of the discussion; the prospect would say, “You’re right, it’s broken, how can Iron Mountain help me,” or they would say, “I’m not sure how we’re doing, can we take that assessment?”  Either option kept them in the loop and had them relying on Iron Mountain as the thought leaders.  Key takeaway:  If you hang your hat on a message, make sure your salespeople can carry that forward so the customer experience is consistent.

I know that’s a lot.  It was hard work and took time to build and refine.  And, it was worth it, driving millions in marketing-generated revenue.  The morale of the story and the thing I most hope you’ll take away is that good top of funnel is about expanding your message to envelop a more broad message, something that your customer cares about that has adjacency to your value proposition. For example,  Iron Mountain does not sell compliance, but their buyers cared about it and compliance was adjacent to information management. By becoming experts in the topic, Iron Mountain’s brand was elevated to a trusted advisor and go-to resource.  Every person who cared about this topic had records they needed to store, backups that needed to happen, a recycling/shredding program, etc. – all opportunities for Iron Mountain to sell against.

I’ve always had a vision that there would be a way to make this program easier for marketers to execute against…. And, inside scoop: we’re working on way at Aberdeen Group and I can’t wait to tell you more!  Stay tuned to for more info.

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About the author

SVP of Marketing at Monetate, and veteran B2B marketer. On Twitter @MaribethRoss. Read more at

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