Perspective: the SiriusDecisions Demand Waterfall revisited in 2017

Looking at the agenda for this year’s SiriusDecisions Summit, there is mention that during the Wednesday Keynote sessions, the Demand Waterfall will be updated for the first time in 5 years.

“It is time once again to evolve this iconic model to provide B2B organizations deeper insight and enhanced visibility into demand creation performance.”

Back in 2012 I wrote a two-part perspective on the re-architected Demand Waterfall after the summit that year and to this day those articles still get high traffic on our website – so clearly it remains a popular topic. Indeed, most B2B marketing leaders would agree that the waterfall is one of the most important frameworks from the past decade.

I took a look at the bullets on the Summit agenda and thought it might be interesting to speculate how the Waterfall might be updated. I also looked back on my posts from 5 years ago to see how much of my thinking has changed and how MarketOne’s proprietary frameworks have evolved.

“Discover how the Demand Waterfall® is changing to accommodate a more account-centric approach to demand creation and demand management”

Taking a contact-centric view of the waterfall has its complexities, but determining a buying stage for a target account is even more of a challenge. For starters, consider how much the buying process differs between SMB and large enterprise accounts. The situation is further complicated if a vendor sells multiple solutions to different lines of business: Sales, HR, Finance, IT, etc. Then there are other variables to consider: has this account ever bought from us; are they using our competitors’ solutions; and to what degree are external factors driving decision making?

Because influencers, users and decision makers within a given account are all likely to be involved in multiple buying decisions at any point in time, an account could be at multiple buying stages within the funnel simultaneously. For most solutions they will be at the top of the funnel, for several others, they will also be in the middle of the funnel, and for some solutions they will have reached the bottom of the funnel.

“Understand how advanced analytics is providing a high-resolution view of which prospects are in-market, and how this changes the measurement of an organization’s demand creation process”

This one interest me the most, as it reflects what we are doing to enable our clients to identify and create segments of “in-market” buyers.

We’ve come to recognize some of the inherent flaws in the Demand Waterfall model. For example…

  • Not all inquiries are necessarily at the top of funnel (hence the creation of ‘bypass’ rules to accelerate contacts directly to sales)
  • Active marketing engagement + a good contact profile does not necessarily mean a “Marketing Qualified Lead” is in-market and ready to speak with sales

This is where applying analytics to an account-based view can help. By integrating data from multiple sources, we’ve found it’s possible to group accounts in new and interesting ways to test what combination of data points and behaviors truly indicates “in-market” status. HINT: it is not always those accounts that are engaging with marketing today – it can be accounts that were active 6-12 months ago and were disqualified when traditional waterfall ‘gates’ were applied. You can read more about the thinking behind MarketOne’s segmentation framework in this recent article.

Analytics thrives on data – the more data, the better the analytics. So I am very interested to see what guidance SiriusDecisions provides regarding the qualification process. With some of our more far-sighted clients, we’re beginning to focus less on trying to force MQL conversions and more on structured data gathering. Understanding individual buyer roles, motivations and objections, linking buying teams together and gauging how aware they are as a group of your ability to address their needs can be much more valuable outcomes from an interaction than making a binary determination regarding sales-readiness.

“Learn how to measure the progress of demand creation in multi-solution, multiple buying center environments”

I have always viewed the Demand Waterfall as a tool to create and then measure a process. Let’s give the waterfall model due credit for helping bring sales and marketing teams together to manage lead progression from INQ-to-MQL-to-SQL. Before the Demand Waterfall, there was no widely understood measurement framework and no common language.

However, it is much less useful when trying to understand buyer progress. Progress can be slow, fast, or may even stall entirely – for many of our clients ‘no decision’ is the most fearsome competitor. Understanding this progression requires structured intelligence gathering across multiple buyers linked together at the account level. Observing digital behavior alone is rarely enough to provide this level of insight.

As buyers move from recognizing an issue, to formulating a solution, to designing a proof of concept, to planning the deployment of a solution, their information and support requirements change dramatically. The Demand Waterfall in its current iteration is too blunt a tool to guide marketing on what is happening within an account and how to influence and accelerate decision making. The segments it creates are far too diverse in nature.

By measuring buyer progress rather than the sales process, our B2B segmentation framework enables us to understand what variables drive buyer progression – and then identify which of them we can positively influence through content and conversations.

“See how to account for customer marketing and selling within the Demand Waterfall®”

This is another refresh that mirrors the development of the MarketOne B2B segmentation framework. The current Demand Waterfall neglects the buying stages beyond closing the first deal. When you think about a waterfall what is at the bottom of it? Another large pool of water of course. This pool tends to be targeted with top of funnel messaging – treating valued customers like strangers. There is rarely enough focus on the customer lifecycle as an account moves from first deal to loyal, renewing customer. This is certainly a segment where vendors fail to get their fair share of wallet and the opportunity to drive high margin services revenue frequently goes untapped.

What happens in Vegas…

As we all gather in Las Vegas later this month, plenty of attention will be given to how SiriusDecisions is redefining the waterfall. The thing I look most forward to, however, are my discussions with marketers who have, by necessity, adapted and hacked the framework to find their own path to a better lead management process, more buyer insight, better nurturing programs, and more accurate measurement. Frameworks should only ever be a starting point to finding the right solution for your business, not a rigid rulebook.

Looking forward to seeing you all in Vegas and bending some rules!