Marketing Expert's Corner

This article written in 2009

The Irony of Time

I've never found a sales department that complained about having too many leads.  They do complain that all the leads that are garbage, or dupes, or unresponsive.  Here's the irony:  most sales and marketing departments respond too slowly, yet stop responding too soon.  Time is at the root of both lead quality and lead quantity problems.  What makes the solution so tough is that it requires melding automation with people processes in both the marketing and telesales group.  When done right, it's a work of art.  When botched, it's ugly through and through.

Respond Fast!

The defining characteristic of Leads these days is a very short life.  According to recent studies by Professor James Oldroyd of MIT, lead response rates drop dramatically within minutes of a web registration.  Within two days, few leads will remember even visiting your web site, let alone believe your marketing message.  On web sites, it is almost impossible to be too quick in responding to a lead.  Getting to a lead in near real time -- even while you're still on the site -- really sets a company apart in the customer's mind.  The only situation where it pays to delay lead response is tradeshows:  you want to wait until they're back in the office so that your lead responses don't get buried in the pile that grew while the prospect was on the road.

Make sure that leads get into SFDC very fast, and set up metrics, escalations, and incentives to optimize “first touch” response times.  Get them in the system using a deduping tool, and use Campaigns instead of Lead Sources so you can see their activity history.  In order to get those quick responses, however, you won't have time to do lead scoring or enrichment.  That has to come later.

Before you do scoring or enrichment, you need to make sure you really are dealing with Leads and not Names.  The classic problem comes when somebody important tells you to enter a boat-load of Names purchased from industry associations, memberships, or attendee lists.  Since these Names have not expressed any interest in your company or its offerings, the unsubscribe (or worse, complaint) rate for any marketing will be quite high the first few times you hit them.  And of course, their conversion rate will be miniscule.  It's best that this category of Names not be imported into SFDC at all, as they’ll muck up the system and produce misleading metrics. Instead, we recommend that Names be entered into the hopper of your email blasting system (see below), where they can become higher quality and eventually graduate to Lead status.

All Leads (and Names) should be put into a periodic email blast.  This monthly pulse should be focused on educating the audience about the best practices and relevant industry perspectives.  It will also remind them that you're an industry player.  If you keep the information content high and relevant to your audience, you'll have low unsubscribe rates and will be building credibility on a monthly basis.  However, if you send a bunch of feature-function-benefit-advantage pieces, it will be viewed as propaganda and you'll be viewed as a spammer.

With the real Leads, you need to do even more.  Once a Lead has declared interest, Marketing needs to initiate a specific "drip marketing" (aka vertical) campaign via email.  Drip marketing is not an email blast, but a series of autoresponse mails driven by the user's  behavior.  Think of it as an automated conversation, à la "Cluetrain Manifesto."  The lead first comes into SFDC system with a context (a web page, a product offer, a tradeshow, a webinar, etc.), and they get a series of emails tailored to that area of interest.  The mails typically become less frequent over time, and last for a month or more.  If the user responds to one of the emails, or takes an action on your website, the email thread is adjusted to account for the areas of interest.  In this way, you're cultivating the leads so they become increasingly engaged.  If you are using a system like Eloqua, Marketo, or Predictive Response, the lead's score will be bumped up (or fall down) to reflect their level of engagement.  This score will be used to focus sales on the most promising leads.

Get Human When the Time is Right

Even with the best email robots, people tend to know whether they're in touch with a human or not.  There's no question that personal contact over the phone, when properly timed and executed, is the way to get people started in the sales cycle.

The question is, when and why are you calling.  What's not in question is who:  it should be inside sales.

From the inside perspective, you're doing Lead Nurturing:  warming them up so they move from awareness to interest to desire.  But from the customer's perspective, your call (vmail, mostly) is only an irritant if it's not relevant to them at the time.  So you've got to have the human equivalent of drip marketing:  a series of orchestrated mini-conversations focused on relevance.  Even though they should be scripted, the calls should use every bit of creativity and cleverness your team has.  The best calls happen because your callers have done a bit of web research to find out what the prospect's company situation is, what their problems might be, what their competitive imperatives or top 10 goals are for the year.  The inside sales team should be using LinkedIn, ZoomInfo, and even Facebook to find out about the prospect before they pick up the phone.  The SFDC Lead and Contact pages should be configured to smart links that make it easier to use these services.  The human touch pays because of imagination and empathy.  But it typically works slowly, so the inside sales teams need to work on the right leads -- hence the importance of annotating every call as an SFDC Activity, and automatic re-scoring of leads.

To borrow a metaphor, direct sales reps are like a nuclear reactor:  they need enriched fuel.  It doesn't matter how much yellow-cake uranium ore you have, you won't get any results without the right fuel.  The goal is to have your 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 -- inside sales people on the phone -- to purify and enrich the "revenue fuel."    

Persist Indefinitely!

Although leads are quite perishable, paradoxically they don’t have a real “expiration date.”  Sure, they shouldn't be given a lot of attention if they've not responded for 30 days or more.  But you never know when they're going to come back to life with a new project, a funded budget, or a job change that makes a sale immanent.  Industry statistics indicate that over 40% of leads that have been declared "dead" by sales will make a purchase from someone in the next 6 quarters.  The question is, will you be on the list of vendors they consider?

So when Leads don't respond for a while, take them off inside sales' call-down list while keeping them in the blast list for newsletters and periodic invitations to informational events.  Don't take them off that list until they unsubscribe or all their contact information is invalidated by "bounces."

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

  • Communicate with leads by voice, email, and snail-mail (use the USPS Priority Mail envelopes to get through for less than $5, FedEX if you've got the $$ to impress).
  • Vary the text, layout, and graphics of the emails you send, to increase the chances of making it through the spam filters while simultaneously decreasing the chance of being labeled as spam.  Always provide something of benefit to the reader, and avoid the appearance of a naked pitch.
  • Vary the script, pacing, and tone of vmails to increase the likelihood of an immediate delete.  Keep the message under 30 seconds at all costs!
  • Use 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.
  • 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, or pushy, or just plain unclear.

Relevance and Share of Mind

The way to make this persistence pay off is to focus on the needs of the prospect, not the needs of your sales organization.  Nurturing is feeding a learning-curve process that the prospect is following to achieve their goals.  And it occurs according to their calendar.

The match of your marketing message to the target audience's needs is much more important than the inherent uniqueness or eloquence of your message. Of course you want to have a distinct, powerful, and compelling message, but if the topic really isn’t all that relevant to the target audience, who cares?  This underscores the importance of properly segmenting your target audience, which is almost exclusively a marketing responsibility. SFDC’s data, along with industry sources, will be the foundation for your segmentation.

Aligning the leverage of automation with the persuasiveness of personal contact is how you get leads that are really ready for a sales conversation.  With tight orchestration, writing, calling, and measurement, you can increase the yield of both your sales and marketing efforts.

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