Aug 052010
 
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A slight detour for today’s post.  Let’s pay a brief visit to the land of B2C retail fitness, to see if any insights apply to B2B sales and marketing.

One regular “client” of my consulting practice is the Pilates and personal training business my wife Heather and I have owned for the past 3.5 years. I have no formal training in Pilates or personal training, and to be honest, until this year, my physique more closely resembled the guy in the classic “BEFORE” photo than the slimmer “AFTER” version.  For this reason and others, I’ve typically worked more behind the scenes in that business, handling finance, operations, and marketing, supporting our staff and Heather as they support their clients.

Heather wears several hats too, including the very important Head of Sales hat. This is a challenging and rewarding job for her. She helps people make and manage investments in their health. According to HealthyPeople.gov, a service of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, only about 23 percent of adults in the United States report regular physical activity for 20 minutes or longer 3 or more days per week. Heather’s trying to engage the subset of that population who:

  • live close enough to our studio in Seattle to make regular ongoing visits with their trainer
  • are able to invest in private instruction (we don’t offer group classes)
  • are willing to pay for an elective health service not covered or subsidized by insurance
  • are physically able to exercise
  • have the time, or are able to make the time, to attend training sessions
  • aren’t already working with a trainer at another facility
  • value our services, people, facilities, and the way we do business

So yes, Heather has a challenging and rewarding job.  Her business is highly relationship-driven. I know,  I  know, everyone’s business is relationship-driven, but hers really is. She’s learned, and taught me, a ton about how these relationships get started and grow. And as good as she has become at listening to prospects, educating them, and building their trust, the old adage is as true for her as it is for any sales person: you can’t win ‘em all. For any number of reasons, some within and some beyond her control, not everyone she meets will become a client.  But every potential client, whether she meets them or not, will ultimately make some kind of decision, conscious or otherwise.  That decision may be about whether to become a client, or it may be about whether to visit the website, pick up the phone, or ask a current or past client about their experience.  And this brings us back to the theme of this post: every lead converts.

To explore what I mean by this, let’s apply the sentence in the broadest sense possible.

For simplicity, let’s define “every lead” as every person that engages Heather’s business. Not just the people who call her to ask about studio services or rates, or come in for an introductory session, or consider a membership package, but everyone.  Any person who ever:

  • walks by the studio and takes a flyer from the box outside
  • drives by and notices nothing more than the window graphics or other branding elements
  • visits the studio’s web site
  • visits a third party review site (e.g. Yelp)
  • observes or engages in a social media conversation about the business
  • meets a current or previous client at a business function, or a kids’ soccer game
  • meets a current or previous prospect at a [insert business or social event here]

Simplified Conversion Model

And now let’s define “convert” just as broadly. Not just the conversion of qualified prospects into clients, or of leads into qualified prospects, or even of traffic (foot, phone, or web) into leads. Let’s define conversion as any change in a person’s opinion of her business — no matter how strong or subtle, how temporary or permanent, or how grounded in fact or fiction — based on currently available information available.

And now, let’s go one step further and give a B2B-sounding name to this entire cycle of people gathering information and developing their opinions. Let’s call it: the considered purchase process.

Back here in the B2B world, we are trained to be efficient, mechanical, and sometimes even a bit mercenary about demand generation. And the military-industrial language we use to describe our trade – e.g., driving conversion, filling the pipeline, growing revenue (exponentially), launching multi-channel integrated campaigns, etc. – reflects the intense expectations of management that we take the beach deliver results.

But as we focus our energy on the relative few who ultimately decide to buy, it’s helpful to remember that every person’s opinion of our company changes as they interact with us. We may be leaving money or value on the table when we ignore those who don’t take our prescribed next step.  Or worse, we may be creating headwinds for future sales efforts by handling these people in a careless way. Every lead converts, in either a good way or a not-good way. And unless you’re selling to a market of infinite size where no one ever bothers to share their impressions of your business, each one of those conversions matters.

Doing the things that get more leads to favorably convert, more of the time, helps us build healthier pipelines and more predictable revenue growth.