Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2006

 

"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.  Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.  Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.  Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
       - Calvin Coolidge

Let's say you have problems selling your product.  Maybe the leads are bad.  Maybe the pricing is too high.  Maybe the messaging is wrong.  Maybe the product isn't good enough.  Maybe the target market is wrong.  Maybe the reps are lazy.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Everybody comes up with their pet theory.  And you can't prove any of it.  Let's get away from the baloney and fix obvious stuff so we can eliminate at least some of the guesses.

Increasing Sales Productivity 

Let's start with what we do know.  Sales reps are overloaded with things to do, and earnestly try to do the right thing for the company.  (At least they will if you designed the right comp plan.)  They're trying to follow up on all the leads, and yet the lead mortality rate is 95% or higher before the sales cycle even begins.  In an Enterprise Software sale, it may take 1000 leads or more to finally close a deal.  Even if you get leads for $30 a piece, the marketing cost of acquiring a new customer can be $30K...and that's before you've invested anything in Sales.

Now you'll argue, "if you're in a hot segment, the customers will be asking for your product."  Sure, they'll overlook your small execution problems because they want to get a great deal.  But in far more market segments -- where most companies live -- just don't have customers jumping on the hook.  The tiniest bump in the track derails their interest.

Consequently, the payoff from increasing the yield on leads is really big, way bigger than the payoff of getting more leads.  So where can we tighten things up?

The mail must get through

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night will stay these couriers from the completion of their appointed rounds.  -- US Postal Service

When somebody hits your website or swipes their badge in your tradeshow booth, the first thing the sales guy or marketing department does (or better do!) is send them an email.  Unfortunately, if there's no response to that initial mail, that may be the end of the road.  And that borders on the ridiculous, because it's fairly likely that that email was never seen, let alone read.

According to industry analysts, middle management  people (director level and above) have an average of four email accounts.  These are deliberately set up to shield the user from sales inquiries (they're used to provide a working email account to get some piece of information you want from a vendor).  Most of those accounts are scanned infrequently, and the delete button is hit before most of the messages are even opened.  In addition, most corporations have corporate spam filters that will ensure that the recipient never gets your mail (and some of these will even reply with a "recipient does not exist" notice, to discourage further attempts).  And many email users turn on their Outlook filters to further protect themselves from unsolicited emails.

Even if your mail makes it to their screen, clutter and information overload mean that your mail may just live in the Inbox forever.  The world's record holder for email clutter is Bill Gates (last reported at over 3 million messages a day), but even the most ordinary Fortune 500 VP will get hundreds of emails a day in each mailbox.  "When I get behind by more than 1000 mails, I just delete the whole mailbox.  If it's important, somebody will call me or send me another email."

Persistence is critical to getting through, but don't badger.  Things you can do:

  • Respond to lead inquiries immediately.  One quick email, followed up by a quick voicemail (explicitly request vmail, not direct conversation...be subtle) within four business hours communicates professionalism and a sense of customer service.  Industry studies show that most users will not remember having visited your website within 3 days of their visit.

  • Read up on the latest trends in spam filters.  There are dozens of things you can do to lower your spam score so your email will make it through.

  • Use a lead enrichment service (there are dozens of them in India, or you can use a robot like IDexec) to get the person's phone and physical address.  Communicate with leads by voice, email, and snail-mail (use the USPS Priority Mail envelopes to get through for less than $4, FedEX if you've got the $$ to impress).

  • Set up an email autoresponder to send a mail sequence (not the same mail, but a series all related to the lead's original topic of interest) for the next day, two days after that, 3 days after that...going all the way out to a month.  Turn off the autoresponder sequence as soon as they reply in any way.

  • Vary the script / message text so that even if they've scanned one vmail or email, the recipient thinks they're getting something new that is related to their topic of interest.

Telephone Tag

Email and snail mail are OK, but nothing beats the telephone in the early stages of the sales cycle.  Problem is, it's tough to get through.  Indeed, since I first made it to Vice President I have never answered my desk phone unless it's an inside line or a number I recognize.  That's ten years of me ignoring most sales calls.  How many VIPs do you think look forward to receiving a phone call from a rep?

Whether you have the sales rep do the vmailing, or use telesales/telemarketing, the art of leaving a voicemail is pretty important.  It's a matter of good voice, good script, and great sequencing.  Leaving the same message 10 times is just not going to cut it.

  • Have a sequence of call scripts that start from the generic "We noticed you expressed interest..." and rapidly evolve to a telephone-tag conversation about things relevant to the prospect (e.g., "we noticed you're in the publishing business, and you might not know that TimeWarner uses our service to...").  After the third message, the "script" is totally customized to what you think the prospect's needs might be.

  • Use time and light deadline pressure to elicit a response ("Our CTO is doing a conference call on the XYZ topic this Thursday at 1 PM.  Of course, it's complementary but we think it could be interesting to you...").

  • If you can find out the target's admin, ask them the most convenient way to follow up on the inquiry their boss made.

  • Use the highest quality phone and phone line you can:  this means plain old analog, from the local phone monopoly.  Seriously.  And don't use a wireless handset or speakerphone.

  • Test the phone skills of your callers, and get voice training if they score low.  I cannot tell you how bad most people sound on the phone -- no energy, unclear wording, too pushy, or just plain annoying.

Integrated Measurement

Use every trick in the book to monitor things in an integrated, fair way.  You can't fix what you don't measure.  If you're using Salesforce.com, you're in the best shape -- they have the most (and the least expensive) integration with outside systems.  There are some very high-end systems that can do even better, but these are typically full call-center systems that are optimized for support, not the pre-sales process.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you really want to measure the pre-sales process economically, there is probably no better system available than Salesforce...and no, I do not own their stock.

  • All outbound emails should be logged into the SFA.  However, they should be made from the individual rep's emailer, not from the email system in the SFA.  SFA emails are more likely to be spam-filtered.  If you use Salesforce.com, start using their Outlook plug-in, Office plug-in, and (for road warriors) their Offline edition.

  • All phone calls should be logged into the SFA.  On any SFA system, this can be done by simply having the "call" or "activity" screen up at the time you make the call.  Natural for telesales/telemarketing...but a hassle for the reps or SEs.  More advanced SFA systems have plug-ins to automatically talk to your in-house phone system, so the call logging becomes effortless.  Salesforce.com even has a free plug-in for Skype, so you don't even have to use a phone -- just put on your computer's headset.

Results

The issue here is starting a sales cycle with prospects who are worth investing in.  Too many companies invest time in people who aren't that interested, and are missing people who might be interested but are too busy to respond.  Investing in the lead enrichment and cultivation part of the cycle -- before the rep spends any real time on the prospect -- can lead to dramatic improvements in the cost of customer acquisition.  You may discover that you don't need as many reps, but those reps will be busier doing productive work instead of time chasing weak leads. 

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