It's all about lead gen now...or is it?

Rich Vancil, head of IDC's CMO Advisory Service, provided a great state of the tech marketing union this week at the IDC DIrections conference in Boston. It's not great, of course, with IDC projecting 10% marketing budget cuts for 2009 -- which pretty much validates what I've been hearing anecdotally from clients and other friends across the industry.

More important, as Rich pointed out, is the reshaping of marketing budgets in response to the downturn. Cuts are not coming across the board in most companies; they're focused especially on the top of the funnel. The deepest cuts, according to IDC, are coming in branding, advertising, sponsorships, and "big tent" events (conferences and trade shows).

The other area of real cuts (although not as deep), is what Rich called "the brains of the operation" -- marketing strategy and operations, PR and AR, marketing and customer intelligence, and product, industry, and solutions marketing.

Further down the funnel, spending is either flat or even increasing. The closer you get to sales, not surprisingly, the better the budget picture looks. IDC sees modest increases this year in lead management, sales enablement, and, of course, actual selling.

Writ large, it's a shift from marketing operations and building awareness to generating demand and directly supporting sales. In better times, Rich noted, the balance is typically 50-50; it's now skewed heavily toward generating demand and enabling sales. Again, nothing shocking here; pretty much every marketer I talk to says it's all about lead gen right now. If you can't point to a direct, near-term impact on revenue, don't bother bringing it up.

Personally, I think a lot of marketing groups are going overboard in shifting priorities. I understand the pressure to move the needle on sales. I just don't agree that cutting into the brains of the organization is the best way forward.

As such, I was heartened to hear Eric Andrews, head of worldwide demand generation for IBM, take a different tack. During a marketing executive panel the same day, Andrews stated that IBM's biggest marketing initiative right now is "driving brand and differentiation across all audiences." Building on its new Smarter Planet theme, IBM is investing heavily in advertising, content development, and, perhaps most important, customer conversation about the broad business issues under the Smarter Planet umbrella: energy, water, transportation, health care, and so on.

The effort is certainly aligned with sales, and, in fact, the company is pushing additional marketing resources into the field to get closer to sales. But the important point is that IBM is leading with brainpower, with ideas, with thought leadership, and with brand. In an environment where buyers are tuning out every type of sales pitch, and looking for every reason NOT to buy, it is only by engaging them with new thinking and new ideas that you really have a chance to get into the conversation in the first place. And without that conversation, forget about the sale.

In the end, it's too easy to just say "we need more leads." Of course we all need more business. But what really matters, and what will make or break our results, is how we go about it. What do you think?

Photo credit: dierk schaefer

Cross-posted with Reputation to Revenue

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