Aug 102011
 
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b2b marketing leads

I think leads are important.

[I know. Shocking.]

In fact I think the topic of leads is important enough to warrant at least 10-15 uninterrupted minutes of a CEO’s time each week.

As the owner of two small businesses, I know that’s expensive time. Leads are worth it.

In each of my next three posts, I offer a new reason why.

Why Leads Matter, Reason #1: Leads mark the key moment in time when previously invisible and anonymous people trust your brand enough to voluntarily “de-cloak.”

Why do they de-cloak? Do they do it because they’re ready to buy?

Sometimes they are. But at this point, probably not. They may buy later, if they still trust your brand and value your products. Right now, they just want information you have that (they believe) will be useful to them. So they volunteer information they have that (you believe) will be useful to you. And they would like this exchange to be frictionless.

What does “frictionless” mean to your leads in this context? It means that when they “buy” your product information with their contact information, they get what they pay for. Nothing less, and nothing more. If you promise people who fill out your registration form a free buyer’s comparison guide, give them a good one, and promptly. But don’t follow that up with an encore of three promotional emails per week until death-or-the-unsubscribe-link-do-you-part. And don’t tell your sales team to call blitz that group of people. Doing that may yield a few sales (that you might’ve won anyway), but it will leave a poor impression on the 90%-plus of your leads who don’t return your sales reps’ calls.

let's put an end to keyboard rage...

This kind of silent damage to your brand usually goes unreported. Your leads are too busy and polite to complain about it. But it only takes one disgruntled ex-lead to, in a fit of keyboard rage, flame your brand to 5000 Twitter followers, and their 5000 followers, and so on…. The choices only get worse from there, e.g., cease-and-desist letters, public mea culpas that distract your staff, etc…

Let’s not use the lead management process to mass produce disgruntled ex-leads. A poorly designed process won’t mass-produce revenue. In fact it might mass-reduce revenue. Instead, let’s help buyers get information with minimal friction, and then optimize the process to book more new customers.

When we remove friction we make room for trust. Trust, as you may have noticed, is a bit of a scarce resource these days. But real trust, which can only be earned and never bought, is a powerful thing. Trust attracts new visitors to your web site. Trust converts visitors to leads and leads to customers. And over time, trust makes customers into loyal fans who refer their peers and help you attract more visitors to your web site, and so on….

Image credit: Graur Razvan Ionut

Dec 042010
 
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As I wrote in a previous post, not every company is ready or willing to do the heavy lifting that may be required to sustainably improve their inbound sales process. For some companies, it’s genuinely a case of “not ready.” For others, it’s really a case of “not willing” masquerading as “not ready.”

I completely understand “not ready.” As a business owner myself, I hate starting things that don’t get finished, or don’t get finished well. So as long as there’s a plan afoot to “get ready,” I never challenge “not ready” clients on their non-readiness.

The “not willing” prospect is a bit trickier. There are often deep-seated reasons why they resist making even simple changes. And rather than try to burrow under the surface to understand those reasons, I’ve learned to just keep these prospects in my “nurture” queue until they become willing and ready, or at least willing to get ready.

You may be trying to get your company (or client) ready/willing to build a better inbound sales process. Here is a list I put together of positive outcomes they can expect, that may help them move them over, or through, the wall:

1) Zero waste – A healthy inbound sales process provides on-demand visibility into, and management of, rotting leads – i.e., inbound requests for contact from prospects that do not receive a response within a prescribed period of time. Lead rot is bad for everyone. It’s a crappy experience for the prospect, it erodes favorable brand perceptions (Hell hath no fury like the prospect ignored – especially if that prospect uses social media), and it’s a waste of the company’s money and time.

Amazingly, many companies have lead rot, know they have it, and simply choose to allow it to continue. Sales management may not want to admit that leads ever reach a rotten state. Or they may even believe that excess demand is evidence that they need more headcount. The marketing manager may choose not to shine a light on rotting leads for fear of being perceived as a scold. S/he may even view rotting leads as a convenient back-pocket example (to be used only under duress / management scrutiny) of how “I’ve done my job” supplying leads to sales. And to the chief executive or business owner, any spirited discussion of rotting leads may appear like petty sparring between marketing and sales, or a distraction from the more pressing matter of this period’s revenue. So discussion is tabled, or it never happens in the first place, and the waste goes on.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A good process can eliminate rotting leads, reduce friction between all the participants, and help drive this period’s revenue.

2) A simple signaling system – Companies that “get inbound” have dead-simple metrics, dashboards, and management tools that everyone can understand with minimal training. And they use these resources to optimize the process. For example, if the dashboard reveals a surplus of leads, they pursue one of several solutions: increase sales headcount, reduce marketing, or simply re-route the excess leads to under-utilized sales reps or channel partners. Conversely, if leads are temporarily in short supply, they can increase marketing spend, or optimize web creative or lead capture forms.

3) Transparency – Yes, it’s a buzzword that has unfortunately been tarnished by many of its non-practitioners. But it’s also the goose that lays the golden eggs in a great inbound sales process. When companies encourage sharing of vital information, the resulting flow of facts, data, analysis – and, heck, even some well-reasoned conjecture — helps make the system work better over time.

4) Better budgeting and forecasting – Companies that have a good handle on inbound marketing and sales are better able to invent their future than those that don’t. When we see the entire revenue factory from loading dock to shipping dock, we can be smarter about budgeting and planning.

For example, we can estimate the expected yield from marketing investments, in terms of leads and opportunities generated. We can then factor this data into the sales headcount budget. And now that we know where the leads are coming from, how many people will be working them, and how those people and leads should reasonably perform, we can estimate the revenues that will result, using past experience to forecast within a range of potential outcomes.

5) Tighter management of marketing spend – With a well-defined lead management system, marketing can compare lead generation investments against well-defined cost of acquisition benchmarks. This data can be used to periodically re-balance – similar to the way money managers rebalance IRAs and 529 College Funds — the marketing portfolio for optimal returns. Or it can be used to manage vendors and programs to lower cost and/or better performance.

6) Tighter management of sales resources – With better visibility into leading indicators, proactivity replaces reactivity. Sales management no longer has to wait for the end-of-period results to inform their decisions on staffing, territories, lead distribution, and other process changes.

7) Minimal friction for everyone – Prospects can evaluate vendors without feeling ignored or harassed by sales reps. Sales reps have their best leads and opportunities (in whatever way their company defines “best”) in front of them at all times, stack-ranked by lead score or other predictive indicator. Sales managers know how many leads and deals each rep is managing without having to conduct a Spanish Inquisition (no, not the comfy chair!!) with each sales rep. Executives can quickly assess risk / upside to the current next period’s sales forecast. Marketing and Finance can nimbly collaborate on near- and long-term priorities, from promotions and sales closing tools, to annual budgets and cost of acquisition models. And finally, the added visibility into the sales process helps Operations make better staffing and other decisions that affect bottom line results.