Aug 172011
 
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Part one of this series described the importance of minimizing friction and maximizing trust as you attract and manage leads.

Part two describes how these low-friction, high-trust* leads help you feed your beast.

* These adjectives are TLOTL equivalents of free-range, grass-fed, gluten-free, and no high fructose corn syrup.

Why Leads Matter, Reason #2: Leads have unique and valuable insights into how you can get more new business.

If you have an established business, you have customers, employees, vendors, shareholders, and tax authorities who need your attention. Every member of those groups has a commercial relationship with you. Those relationships come with obligations and expectations. Your reward for maintaining those relationships is… …you get to keep running your business. And truth be told, if you’re doing an AMAZING JOB of managing those relationships, you probably don’t need to worry too much about leads. They will seek you out and buy from you. And if they have to crawl through five miles of gravel just to join your exclusive club of happy customers, they will thank you for the privilege.

If you’ve reached this state of business bliss, leads are, understandably, an afterthought. If you’re a generous CEO, you might consider a kind gesture towards them. Perhaps free first aid kits.

But 99.9% percent of businesses don’t have these high-class problems. For those companies, existing commercial relationships consume nearly all their resources. Some growth occurs organically. But customers churn, prices flatten out, fixed costs stay fixed, while shareholders demand predictable, profitable growth.

This reality is why I’ve titled this series of posts, “Why Leads Matter.” If I ask a CEO how to define a lead, many will give a straight-forward answer like, “it’s the people who talk to Sales about buying our product.” That’s a good start, but it’s incomplete.

Like any living beast, your business must eat. You may have great hunters on your sales team. But they hunt leads. Leads feed your beast.

By definition, leads haven’t bought your product, yet. But they’re considering a purchase right now. And that makes them unique.

Your customers and past customers have already drunk your Kool-Aid. Focus group attendees will accept your $250 in exchange for two hours away from home and their opinion of your Kool-Aid in a simulated “I’m thirsty” scenario.

But your leads, right now, are accumulating a ton of information that is valuable to you.

How so? Well, they’re:

  • researching the overall market (analyst reports, research briefs, etc)
  • listening to consultants, resellers, and others knowledgeable in your category
  • talking to salespeople **
  • looking at web sites, advertisements, and promotional offers **
  • receiving email and direct mail, attending webinars, viewing infographics **
  • participating in social media conversations**

** yours and your competitors’

The wisdom of this crowd can’t be overestimated. You could easily pay someone $100K per year to know your market as well as your leads. Maybe you already do. If so, ask them to show you how your leads are being heard in your product, marketing, sales, and operations plans. Remember, these are people who have given you (some of) their attention. They deserve (some of) yours.

Yes, this is my dog (The Mighty Quinn) when he was a puppy. No, I didn’t stage this pic. Please don’t report me to PETA.

One more nice thing about leads: you’ve already paid for them. Whether you’ve spent $100 or $100 million to bring leads to your door, they’re here now.

Short-term revenue is an ideal way to exchange value with your leads. But it’s far from the only way.

Listen to your leads.

Then feed them to your beast.

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

Jul 152010
 
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Regular readers of this blog, and people who have worked with me, know that I’m a proponent of a process-oriented, metrics-based, and technology-enabled approach to demand generation. And I typically encourage B2B vendors to take the long view in developing their demand generation funnel, treating it like a high-value business operating inside their business. I believe that a well-designed demand generation system shamelessly imitates the features of other “mission critical” processes at work in our daily lives, such as air travel, energy production, or the food supply chain. All of these processes generally work as advertised, and generally without interruption. And these processes deliver incredible value to all their stakeholders. It’s hard to imagine modern life without flight, fuel, and food.

It took time to build these modern marvels and it takes time — though thankfully not nearly as much — to build a predictable revenue engine. But time is not a luxury that every company has, or believes it has.

Some companies just want leads.

And they want the leads now and they want them to be qualified to speak to a salesperson. And they would only like to pay for those leads that are qualified.

Having worked on both the client- and agency-sides of the demand gen industry, I can appreciate both why this request is made, and why it’s rarely, if ever, fulfilled exactly according to the client’s wishes.  Someday I may bang out a post explaining this disconnect in greater detail, and what might be done to address it.  But for now, I offer you instead:

TLOTL’s Quick-n-Dirty Resource Guide for B2B Firms That Just Want Leads (version 1.0)

The following is a starter list of resources that B2B firms can engage if they want to partially or fully outsource lead generation.

1)      Appointment Setting Firms  – These companies typically have their own databases, telemarketing staff, automation tools, and methodologies for delivering clients the specific outcome of an appointment for their sales person. Usually they will guarantee the result of “a person who matches your target buyer profile, who works at a firm that is in your target list / segment, and who is willing to take a call and/or have a visit from your sales person (usually it’s a phone call).”

  • Pros: Huge convenience factor for the vendor in avoiding all of the complexity and risk involved in delivering that critical outcome of the initial sales appointment. And the ramp-up time for a vendor like this should be lower due to the quality of the talent setting the appointments (typically seasoned, successful sales reps).
  • Cons: This can be fairly expensive on a per-appointment basis (though at a certain close rate, who cares?), and the expectations of the sales team still need to be managed somewhat.  And it may simply not be possible to “qualify” the lead further than the prospect’s willingness to take the initial call/meeting with your sales rep.
  • Cost per lead range: the “high hundreds” of dollars per guaranteed appointment. I could be more precise but I have friends in several of these firms and I prefer to let them quote their prices.

2)      Traditional Telemarketing Firms – most of us have gone this route at least once in our careers. Many telemarketing firms will also offer appointments as an outcome, but there is usually a greater investment on the part of the vendor to train the telemarketing firm’s reps on how to effectively position the offering.

  • Pros: The vendor is able to manage the prospecting message fairly tightly because they train the reps making the calls. Most vendors can also provide interesting metrics on their calling programs, which are useful to a marketer even if the program itself isn’t successful.
  • Cons: Higher risk in terms of the time and effort involved in ramping up the telemarketing agency. Heavy reliance on the firm’s ability to attract and retain talent for a job that is often a stepping stone or a dead end. If you give them your list to call against, and they struggle to achieve results, they will often blame the outcome on your list.
  • Cost per lead range: Very few of these firms will sell to you on a per-lead basis. But however the pricing is packaged, you’re ultimately paying for the number of people making calls for you, plus whatever markup the telemarketing firm can negotiate to cover the overhead and generate a profit. There is a lot of competition in this space, so those firms that can keep their costs low can compete more aggressively on price. You’ll generally find that the most competitively priced telemarketing firms have call centers based in secondary or tertiary markets (lower cost of living and commercial square footage) versus major metro areas.

3)      Business Media Firms – these companies typically own targeted web properties that contain content (e.g., whitepapers, webinars, analyst briefs, user-generated articles, etc) related to specific business topic areas such as CRM, Financial Services, Telecom or other markets. The content attracts potential buyers/influencers and entices them to register (e.g., complete a web form) for access to that content. The media firm then sells these leads to several B2B vendors, typically on a per-lead basis.

  • Pros: Some of these companies have the ability to phone-verify and lightly qualify the registrations they collect on their web sites, resulting in a higher quality lead than a stand-alone web form registration. A few of these vendors offer ongoing lead nurturing and scoring as a value-added service, helping the purchasers of those leads segment and prioritize the leads for sales or marketing follow-up.
  • Cons: Some of these companies lack sufficient quality controls on the leads they pass to clients. Others provide decent leads, but they sell them to too many vendors (10 or more in some cases). The resulting feeding frenzy of sales calls turns off the buyers/influencers who originally registered for the content, making it hard for any vendor – even those with the most aggressive salespeople – to convert the leads.
  • Cost per lead range: From $10-$15 per lead, for horizontal, transactional business products like certain office equipment, to several hundreds of dollars per lead, for highly considered B2B purchases in hyper-targeted markets, e.g. ERP system buyers in Fortune 1000 companies.

4)      Targeted List Providers – When compared to buying a compiled list from a name-brand business data firm or a direct marketing list broker, working with targeted list providers is generally better value for money. These firms use sophisticated software and database tools to build rich lists of business buyers and influencers, going several layers deeper than the C-suite and line-of-business heads.  Then they layer on additional services that confirm if a particular person on a particular list is (a) still employed by the company in the list record, or (b) is responsible for a certain business process or purchasing function.

  • Pros: Some lists these companies provide can be very accurate and work well if you are planning an aggressive campaign to contact them.
  • Cons: While the contacts on these lists may be the “right person in the right role,” there’s no guarantee that they will give the person who calls them the time of day, or that their firm even has an active purchase process underway.
  • Cost per lead range: there is a wide range of prices for these lists and a lot depends on where in the supply chain your order is placed.

5)      Boutique Demand Gen Agencies – These are often “virtual” agencies where seasoned marketers with client-side experience manage the delivery of demand gen firms such as those described above. This happens to be one of the ways I work with my clients; essentially serving in dual roles as purchaser of lists and/or leads, and pre-sales process manager, ensuring that lead conversion and pipeline growth targets are achieved. An example would be where I work with a business media firm or a targeted list provider to generate a high-quality list of “hand-raisers” or verified contacts and feed them into a telemarketing or appointment-setting firm. I add value by managing the quality of the list generated on the front end, and by holding the lead qualification firms accountable for a given quantity of qualified leads, as per my client’s specifications. Note: Some of these agencies also serve in a marketing/sales operations role generating incremental leads through tighter integration of the the vendor’s web marketing (SEO, SEM, social media) and CRM functions.

  • Pros: Me, and a few others I would trust to do this work the right way. And yes, that is a self-promoting commercial plug. I never said I don’t sell anything on this blog. :)
  • Cons: Everyone else. Ok, not EVERYONE else. But a surprising percentage of people. Truthfully, it’s not easy to deliver high-quality results in B2B lead generation. If it were, you might not be reading this article right now. There are a lot of people with good intentions but still struggle to deliver solid results. And then, to be honest, there are also some snake-oil salesmen and wooden nickel-peddlers. And in that respect, the demand generation business is no different than any other industry or institution that has ever let us down (e.g., all of them at one point or another).
  • Cost guidance (I’m not aware of anyone offering this service on a per lead basis): Most of the people who run boutique demand gen agencies have operated integrated, multi-channel B2B programs at the Director, VP, or CMO level. But unless the scope of your project prevents them from working with other clients — in which case you should probably consider hiring a W-2 employee — you probably can obtain this expertise at some fraction of the full market value.

 

Two notable omissions from the list of resources above:

1)      Traditional advertising agencies – In the context of considered purchases in B2B markets, I’m not aware of a traditional ad agency that wouldn’t ultimately leverage one or more of the above resources to generate qualified leads. To be sure, these firms add a lot of value in the areas of marketing strategy, branding, and positioning. I’m not against the Mad Men set – they are brilliant masters of their craft. But if you’re trying to get sales-ready leads to your sales team, and you buy through an ad agency, you’ll likely be paying a significant markup without commensurate added value.

2)      Internal lead qualification team – For some companies, it makes sense to have internal pre-sales resources putting the final “qualified” stamp on a lead, even with all of the value that these external firms can add to the process. Soon I will be publishing a write up on when internal lead qualification team does and doesn’t makes sense. Stay tuned!

Jul 122010
 
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SMD sales process visual - Scearce Market Development - The Lord of the LeadsIf you’re responsible for generating lead quantities in the thousands (or tens of thousands), in support of a sales team with revenue targets in the millions (or tens of millions), you probably already have a fairly well-developed analytical side. And work in the lead generation field provides an endless buffet of left brain delights like data mining, segmentation, A/B testing, campaign optimization, etc…. But in all of that analysis – as critical as it is to marketing success – it’s sometimes easy to forget that all those database records are real live people.

And if your plans involve generating  leads at any significant scale, you will at some point (if you haven’t already) implement a marketing automation solution or service. Once you do that, you will have a very powerful weapon in your hand. But even a highly-skilled user of these platforms can do unintended harm if not guided by principles of an ideal customer experience, informed by a solid understanding of your nurture leads.

The leads in your nurturing process are unique in at least two ways:

a) In most cases, they’ve already “voted once” to engage your brand, either by completing a web form or otherwise making themselves known to you (e.g., trade show, chat, direct mail response, social media interaction, etc)

b) By definition, they are not yet ready to (seriously) talk to a salesperson.

These two attributes make these people different from any other buying constituency your marketing programs touch. Accordingly, your nurturing campaigns should reflect this difference. Considerable thought should be given to how you communicate to this group. Some of the factors to decide include:

  • Frequency of touches/contacts
  • Type of touches/contacts (email only? Email + call? Email + call + twitter direct message? Etc)
  • Tone (e.g., familiar or professional)
  • Voice (e.g., authoritative or collaborative)
  • Offers (e.g.,

transactional value: “First month free for a limited time! Call me!”

educational value: “I found this blog post that I thought you might like. Here’s the link.”

entertainment value: “While you consider my request for a meeting, I had my marketing team create this funny comic strip. Here’s a link. Enjoy!”

For many marketers, it helps to write out a brief defining how customers should be treated as they go through the nurturing process. Sales should contribute to the creation of this brief and it should be shared with anyone who creates content used in campaigns. Finely tuning these and other aspects of your nurturing program can not only make a big difference in conversion rates, it can strongly influence brand perception among those people who do NOT convert. And, at least in the short run, the non-converters will far outnumber the converters.

While marketing is ultimately tasked with delivering qualified leads to sales, it is also expected to represent the company effectively to the market writ large. These two objectives are complimentary. A well-designed nurturing program is mindful of the impression it leaves with all of the people it touches, which ultimately improves brand preference, and naturally attracts more buyers.

May 192010
 
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Early in my career, I worked in sales at Concur Technologies (now called simply “Concur“) and had the opportunity to learn from some great sales leaders. I specifically remember a 1/2 day training session led by Tim Fitzgerald, who was then VP of North American Sales at Concur.

With all due respect to Miller Heiman, Dale Carnegie, and others of their ilk, I have to say I received more practical, directly applicable knowledge out of those 4 hours with Tim than I learned in any seminar course I ever attended.

Over the span of my career, as I’ve participated in numerous sales presentations from both the buy and sell sides, I’ve often been reminded about how there’s no substitute for the fundamentals. And in sales, like in sports, fundamentals are unfortunately most noticeable when they are not being followed.

I was reminded of this topic today when I answered this question on Focus.com: “What are your tips for the optimal sales presentation?”  Here is the answer I gave, which is perhaps 5% drawn from the original Fitzgerald course content, and 100% confirmed by my experiences over the ensuing 13 years.

1. Arrive 20-30 minutes early. Use the time to overcome the inevitable conference room / projector / IT issues. And if none of those issue exist, get a pre-brief from your vendor-side contact on how to best run the meeting. And if you don’t get time with your contact, use the time to mentally prepare / relax / meditate before you enter the ring. In sales, most of your money is made by executing well at key moments, like presentations. Give yourself the opportunity to execute well.

2. Manage the clock. Re-confirm when the meeting starts that you still have the time allotted with all the key people that you thought you did. 5 out of 10 times, a key decision maker / influencer has a “hard stop” 15-30 minutes earlier than you expected. If you can accomplish your objectives in this compressed window of time, you can be more productive in your next meeting (assuming you get another one).

3. Manage your crew. Make sure anyone who may be supporting you in the meeting knows exactly what they are there to do/say and what they should NOT do/say. If anyone on your team is dialing into the meeting, they should:

(a) be in a quiet place

(b) be using a good phone

(c) not be distracted by anything else, and

(d) not have any chat windows or other screen pops come up during the meeting (Web conference scenario only).

I had a hands-down market-leading software vendor selling to my company a couple of years ago. The sales person was unfortunately not adept at managing his resources, and what should have been an easy win for him became a drawn out affair because his demo failed and his team was not prepared for the meeting. When our CEO came into the meeting, the disorganization was obvious, and there was no opportunity for the sales rep to show why his company was the clear market leader. Instead, a lot of doubt was created that I, as the vendor advocate, had to manage through over the next several weeks.

These are just a few of the little things that, if left unmanaged, can completely derail a sales presentation, and detract from the actual business of selling.

Mar 252010
 
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Craig Rosenberg (aka @funnelholic) and Chris Jablonski (aka @cjablonski) and yours truly have cranked up the Guttenberg printing press once again and collaborated on “26 Reasons Your Leads Aren’t Converting into Opportunities.”

For anyone who is just starting to spend their company’s money buying demand, this list is a very handy set of lessons learned from people who’ve seen — and yes, sometimes have been the cause of — 90% of the misfires you can expect to encounter.

Below are my contributions to the list, but do yourself a favor and read the full list on Craig’s blog.

  1. Your sales team already has so many good leads on its plate, and sales reps would rather close those leads than sift through your mixed bag of suspects and prospects.
  2. Your leads are going to inbound contact-center sales reps, and answering the ringing phone is always more important than calling out on your Web-captured “handraiser” leads.
  3. Your leads were captured at a trade show two months ago and haven’t been nurtured or called since.
  4. The first 100 leads tagged with campaign code “XYZ” were unreachable, unqualified or not ready to talk to a sales rep, and now any lead tagged with that campaign code is effectively blacklisted in the sales team.
  5. You haven’t educated your leads with vendor-agnostic, third-party-sourced content that validates your solution in the marketplace.
  6. You’ve purchased a targeted list of contacts or names, didn’t market to them and delivered them to sales — under the (false) pretense that they are actually leads.
  7. Your leads are great leads, but they’re best suited for a product that your sales team is not properly trained, compensated or experienced enough to qualify. For example, your sales team is world class at selling a point solution, but you’ve delivered them (expensive) leads for a bundled offering.