Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2008


Telesales.  Telemarketing.  Inside Sales.  Call center.  What could be more tactical, more of a backwater for marketing or sales career paths?  

Most people think this way.  But name another business process is staffed mainly with junior people, yet is critical enough to cause the demise of a VP in 6 months, and the CEO in a year?  Maybe looking at this function is worth a bit of your time after all.

Telesales / Telemarketing: the Linchpin

You'll notice I said "business process" in the previous paragraph.  Marketing, telesales/telemarketing, and Sales are part of the same business process:  revenue generation.  As I've written before (3 separate links there), it's completely appropriate that these groups not report to the same VP, but it's all too common that they are committing the sin of not working together.

Marketing works furiously to create what they call leads.  If the metrics are too simplistic (and they fairly often are), the incentive system will reward creation of lots of "leads" that are very low quality.  Marketing can site industry statistics that 85% of those leads will buy from someone in a year.  So the marketers say, "mission accomplished" once they hit their number of leads, no matter how junky.  

Meanwhile, over in Sales, people quickly discover that the "leads" aren't very hot.  So they cherry-pick what look to be the most interesting ones...typically leaving 90%+ of them untouched.  Some nasty side effects occur: 

  • Marketing has generated too many "leads" for Sales to actually put through the full qualification process.  So, the Sales team ignores some leads that could turn into business:  effectively, they're qualifying too hard by not really qualifying most leads at all.

  • Ironically, many of the "leads" that they do cherry pick will often be over-invested in.  This is in the hope that some business is actually there, because the company or the job title looks sexy.  Effectively, Sales is not qualifying these leads hard enough.

  • The yield -- in terms of Sales cycles that go somewhere -- is too low.  So the Sales VP complains there aren't enough leads.  And it's true, the Reps don't have enough solid stuff to work on.  While they're drowning in a sea of untouched leads.  So "more leads" is fool's gold.

The discussion quickly moves to "poor lead quality," so new measures and incentives are attempted.  But because lead quality isn't consistently defined (and in fact is the wrong measure), things don't get a whole lot better.  

The root problem is that neither Sales nor Marketing is optimizing the cost of customer acquisition.  The Marketing VP is throwing a lot of money at generating too many empty leads.  The Sales VP is using what is arguably the most expensive resource in the company (Sales Reps) to do a job that is time consuming and repetitious:  lead cultivation and enrichment.  They should be spending their time working the funnel of real opportunities, not trying to fill it. 

Lack of Enrichment

To borrow a metaphor, Sales is like a nuclear reactor:  it doesn't matter how much uranium ore you have, power plants just won't work without enriched fuel.  So it doesn't matter how many junky leads you have, you'll never get the sales output. The goal is to have the expensive sales reps work only with enriched leads.  The marketing function knows how to mass-produce the raw "ore," but it takes a Sales touch -- people on the phone -- to purify and enrich the "revenue fuel."   

This is where a well-run and tightly measured team of telesales / telemarketing / ISR people comes in.  They can  spend the time to attend to a large number of leads, increase their level of interest, consistently qualify them, and bring them to the point where they want to watch your on-line demo or take that first meeting with the sales rep.  This means high-touch cultivation over what is often months.  Neither Marketing folks nor Sales Reps are very good or economical at this task.

In addition to this group, your organization should be using a marketing automation system to do the cultivation and nurturing at the earliest stages of customer interest.  A well run system will provide "zero touch" nurturing for the thousands of leads your telesales team may not have time to get to.  A marketing automation system is not a substitute for a telesales/telemarketing team:  it's a supplement.

I hate to sound like a business process management (BPM) purist, but specific words really matter in the revenue business process.  Like, what's a "lead."  Sloppiness or inconsistency about terms can cause a lot of waste and finger-pointing.  I recommend that your firm agree on a basic set of terms that everyone (including the board, if they're into micro- managing) use when talking about the revenue-generation business process.  Here is my standard terminology:  use it as is, or modify it for your business... but standardize on something and use it!

  • Names are people who attend an event but don't talk to you, are in the audience for an analyst conference, or are unlucky enough to have their contact info on a CD-ROM or a list you bought from a broker.  These people have expressed no interest in your solution or service, but they are part of your target market space.  Or they are people who had expressed interest in the past, but you disqualified them (or even lost them to a competitor).  Send marketing materials and newsletters to these folks basically forever:  until they "unsubscribe" or their email address bounces, consider these people as email targets.   Marketing is the exclusive owner and processor of Names.

  • Leads are people who declared interest within the last 30 days.  They talked to you at an event, or registered for something on your web site.  Leads are highly perishable, and must be contacted fast.  For example, someone who talked to you at a tradeshow will barely remember your conversation a week later.  Someone who registered at your website may not even recall having visited 24 hours later.  So a service level agreement (SLA) needs to be set up about how fast marketing gets leads get into the SFA system, and how quickly the contact attempts (both email and phone) happen.  It is a good plan to have a schedule of contact attempts stretching out for a full month (with less frequent attempts over time).  If no conversation has occurred in a month, leads revert to names.  Telesales / telemarketers / ISRs should be the exclusive owner and processor of Leads, although marketing should provide the content (e.g., white papers, scripts, emails) to assist the process.

  • Contacted Leads are people in discussion with Telesales / Telemarketing / ISRs.  They are not qualified yet, but they are being cultivated with information and offers of light-weight engagement that don't involve a sales rep's time (webinars...).  Contacted Leads may stay in this state for months or even quarters -- no problem, because they're not in the "funnel" yet and are being groomed as future pipeline.  Make sure to use "tickler" tasks, as contacted leads may actually be in the hopper longer than the half-life of your telesales / telemarketing reps.  Contacted leads should be exclusively owned and processed by Telesales / Telemarketing / ISRs.

  • Qualified Leads are people who have passed the qualification criteria, but may not yet have had their first conversation with Sales.  A qualified lead is subject to re- qualification by the sales rep before it is accepted by the field.  If the rep doesn't believe that it's worth putting sales time into a qualified lead yet (e.g., she doesn't smell a deal here), the qualified lead stays with the Telesales / Telemarketing / ISR person for further cultivation.  When things are going right, people stay as in the  qualified lead state for only a few days while appointment schedules are coordinated with the rep.  Qualified leads are owned by Telesales, but shared with the Sales reps.

  • Opportunity Contacts are people whom Sales has accepted:  there's an opportunity, and a sales cycle with the contacts has begun.  Opportunity contacts are exclusively owned and handled by Sales and their SEs. 

Outsourcing?  Automation?

It seems that you can't talk about a business process without commenting on how to outsource or automate it (maybe that's what gave BPM such a bad name ).  In this particular case, the Telesales / Telemarketing / ISR function is dealing with highly perishable and sensitive assets:  your future pipeline.  Details, timing,  finesse -- even tone of voice and attitude -- really matter.  

Consequently, only some of telesaels/telemarketing activities can be routinized enough to be automated or outsourced.  I do recommend automating a lot of the initial email outreach (implement a sequential auto-responder or other marketing automation tool), but once there is any serious prospect engagement your people must take over.  It's pretty much the same story for pure telephone work:  use outsourcers to get phone numbers, update email addresses, or even figure out overall org charts.  But when it's time for phone conversations about your value proposition, market differentiation, and qualification -- these must almost always be done by your people.   

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