May 03, 2017
Case Study

B2B Marketing: How a staffing firm used content to wake up more than 90,000 “Sleeping Beauty” leads


Although the marketing team at Adecco Group began running marketing automation campaigns in 2013, it wasn’t as evolved as they wanted, and the results showed it. They decided to thoughtfully build out personas and create content to fit each stage in the funnel.

Read how the team was able to increase opportunities created from marketing generated leads by 116% year-over-year from 2015 to 2016.

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by Courtney Eckerle, Senior Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa


The Adecco Group is designed to empower people through work, according to Sam Holland, Vice President of Content Strategy and Lead Generation, Adecco Group North America.

“We support companies and job seekers alike. We have tens of thousands of people out to work every single day in a variety of roles across a number of industries,” she said.

Adecco works with everything from small to large businesses, including Fortune 500 companies. From a verticals standpoint, Holland said, it covers everything from ecommerce to manufacturing to retail and fashion.

All of our marketing automation efforts are focused on our client audience, and we have an engagement campaign that specifically targets dormant leads,” she said.

Those dormant leads were contacts who had not engaged with our website or marketing emails in at least two years, whether it was because there hadn't been a specifc need or perhaps that customer hadn't placed an order.



Adecco began running some marketing automation campaigns in 2013, but Holland and her team weren’t seeing the results that they wanted.

“It was still very much a batch-and-blast kind of approach,” Holland said.

Toward the end of 2013 leading into 2014, the team addressed that by updating and finalizing customer personas. From there, it made the most sense to segment the email engagement program by those personas.

Especially because, she added, “we have prospects and clients in so many verticals, and it was a way for us to still provide a clear message to the right person, at the right time.”

Holland and her team were looking to provide a tailored message with the right kind of content — but on a limited budget.

“The goal was to stretch that where we could and, of course, still make it relevant,” she said. “For example, we would take one piece of content and create different messaging per persona, per stage of the buy cycle with that one piece of content. So, we were really able to extend the life of it across a number of different uses.”  

That way, she said, the engagement stream within each persona program matches up to the revenue stages in Salesforce.

“The idea is that I can see at any point in time how many people have engaged with what content, in what stage of the buy cycle, which really allows us to keep things flexible and scalable,” she said.


Adecco created new content and moved all current content into strategic engagement programs based on strategic and lifecycle stages.

This meant that the team messaged by stream, based on lifecycle stage. So as leads progress through the funnel, the content they receive becomes more complex. Awareness-type content is used in the beginning stages, and it gradually becomes more sophisticated.

The team ensured that no one would be over-emailed by using segmentation so that no prospect can be in more than one nurture campaign at a time.

Step #1. Understand the persona journey

Once Holland started with this particular program, she and her team built out an email engagement program for each persona. They started out with eight personas.

This meant that each stream was mapped to a different revenue stage in Salesforce. There's also an additional stream for recycling, she said, to revisit any leads that were near closing.

There was also the “Sleeping Beauty” stream, which initially was targeted to a set group of dormant leads, which has now expanded into targeting all inactive leads. “Inactive leads” are leads and contacts in the database who are marketable and eligible to receive email communications but haven't opened anything, visited Adecco’s website, or taken any sort of action or behavior in at least six months or more.

A big part of this was understanding the full persona journey, Holland said. She gave the HR persona as an example of what they mapped out.

“If it's a new lead, depending on the channel they enter, if it's a ‘Contact Us’ form submission or maybe a whitepaper download,” she said, “it starts off with smaller, bite-sized pieces of content — what I would consider a quick hit, where you have a really compelling statistic and then maybe a short infographic to follow, or a blog post with tips.”

From there, as a prospect engages with content, his lead score changes, and as that happens, he is pushed through the buy cycle stages.

Once a prospect gets to the end of the second stage, that's when the team starts to send longer-form content like guides or whitepapers. The team discovered that content related to big revenue drivers, such as salary drives, typically does very well.

“[That content] contributes to an impact on engagement with larger programs like our Salary Guide, for instance, which leads to a revenue increase,” she said.

Cold leads that go into the “Sleeping Beauty” program receive similar content, Holland said, just not as much.

“We’ll pick some of our best performing pieces or pieces we know are really compelling like our Definitive Guide to Building a Better Workforce, and mix that in with some interesting testimonials or infographics,” she said.

If those prospects engage with that content, they are automatically moved from the "Sleeping Beauty" campaign into the appropriate persona engagement program.

Holland gave the example of a director of operations in the "Sleeping Beauty" program who clicks on a piece of content, maybe focused on reducing turnover in their workforce, after being inactive for a while.

Once the system has recognized that the prospect has “woken up,” that prospect will automatically be put into the operational leader persona.

“As soon as they engage with one of our emails, they automatically transition to a normal nurture stream based on their lead score. If they've been in "Sleeping Beauty" a long time, their lead score is going to be pretty low,” she said. “So they’ll probably end up in the new or open stage as a way to re-engage them a little bit and warm them back up.”

Step #2. Understand what content works best at different stages

To fuel this effort, Holland and her team had to create almost all new content to fuel those persona streams.

“While we had some content, we didn't really have enough content that really spoke to all of our different constituents, and we didn't have content that spoke to different needs that they might have depending on where they were in the buyer journey,” she said.

Holland and her team sat down to do an inventory of what content was available, and she recalls, “We had some whitepapers. We had some blog posts. We didn't have a lot in between, and we didn't really understand at that point in time what worked well at what stage of the buy cycle.”

Some of the pieces of content they would discover worked well for the “awareness,” or the entry-level stage of the buy cycle for their personas. 

Holland elaborated on the HR persona, where “there's a lot of engagement around infographics, blogs and those types of short-form, easy-to-digest content early in the buy cycle.” In contrast, for the finance persona,  those same pieces of content work better in the mid-to-late-stage of the cycle. 

“We developed content based on what we were seeing people engage with. Now we have a very robust content library that feeds our persona nurture programs with the right content, at the right time for our audience,” she said.

The next phase in the content development process, Holland added, is to expand content around Adecco products and services.

Step #3. Evolve program through testing

As Holland and her team were rolling the personas and different stages out, they also began testing different tactics. For example, frequency of send, subject line, HTML formatting versus text email.

“Through A/B testing subject lines, we found the best type of subject line is one that leads with the content type at the beginning and then a really short but compelling description of what's inside,” she said.

Pre-headers also became important when the team noticed an uptick in mobile device usage.

Desktop, she said, “is still the biggest area of consumption, but because mobile continues to increase, that became important for us, and we did see some improvement there.”  

Year-over-year, she added, they also changed the cadence of sends, starting the program with sends every two weeks. Now emails are sent every three weeks.

“That sort of reduction in communication actually worked well for us because we had our sales teams working pretty hard on the other end with follow-up and outreach. So, we didn't want to overdo it,” she said.

In looking at format, they ultimately found that HTMLs were working well, but it depended on the content.

“For instance, if it's a follow-up on a specific topic from a sales person, text email performs better, whereas HTML performs better for something that's a bit more evergreen in nature. So, I think the end user is a bit more conditioned to expect a certain type of communication depending on the message,” she said.

Around the same time, Holland said, the team also did a big push on the sales enablement front with “a lot of live training for our sales teams on MSI to encourage them to leverage all the marketing activity data being generated by those campaigns.”

Over time, as the team was doing this kind of testing and evolving, they made a bigger discovery about the eight personas — they didn’t need that many.

“We were able to consolidate some, and some we don't serve anymore,” she said. “Now we're down to about six.”

Where the team no longer serves personas, she explained, it’s because “our business needs changed, and the business moved in a different direction where that wasn't a priority anymore.”

Where personas were consolidated, it was because they were redundant, she said. They realized that the performance numbers across a few personas were negligible, and it’s because they were essentially getting the same content.

“It just really didn't make sense anymore the way we thought it did in the beginning. You just learn over time, I guess,” she said.  

Because the team had “over-sliced and diced things a bit,” she said, “I try to evaluate the nurture program quarterly with a more in depth check-in twice a year.” 


“Having that regular touchpoint in place has been hugely impactful,” Holland said. “Over time we've seen a lot of really great things.”

Over the last year, she said, the team has increased deliverability by about 6.5% and also increased lead velocity, reducing the time to reach the opportunity stage from a net new lead by 41.5%, decreasing from 130 average days to 76.

Year-over-year from 2015 to 2016, they saw a 116% increase in the number of opportunities created from marketing generated leads. Since dedicating themselves to improving the marketing automation program in 2014, the team has seen opportunities jump:

  • 2014 Generated more than 7,000 leads and created more than 91 opportunities
  • 2015 Generated more than 10,000 leads and created more than 140 opportunities
  • 2016 Generated more than 9,000 leads and created more than 340 opportunities

“It's also allowed us to really provide an influence for leads that didn't come from marketing, necessarily, but a way for us to push back and say, ‘Hey, this is how marketing can help engage with your constituents,’ without being too in their face,” she said.

In the "Sleeping Beauty" program, Holland estimated that this effort has “woken up” more than 90,000 leads and contacts, or 51% of those latent leads.

“Last year, that led to a 1,250% increase in opportunities from that population, which are primarily sales-driven leads and contacts not generated by marketing, but that's a great way for us to say, ‘This is how we can contribute to your business,’” she said.

By engaging in this way, it helps Sales engage in a better conversation down the road, she said, and ideally close more business.

“I think, not unlike most companies, in the beginning, Sales was sort of unsure as to what marketing automation really meant for them, and now we're really working hip to hip with them,” she said.

The team is expanding the types of campaigns they’re working on and communicating with Sales regularly, she said.

“I read somewhere that it takes three to five years for a marketing automation … program to really come to fruition and get into a successful groove,” she said. “This is our roughly fourth year, and I think we've made tremendous strides, especially in the last two years with regards to how we work with Sales.”

Something they’re looking to capitalize on this year is account-based marketing, she said, and “really shifting our strategy and scope to focus on account prospecting and qualification.”



Sam Holland (via LinkedIn)

The Pedowitz Group – Adecco’s Revenue Marketing vendor

Marketo – Adecco’s vendor

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