Archive for October, 2008

How to do lead hand-over (and avoid vitamin D deficiency)

Friday, October 31st, 2008

It seems I can’t avoid spending time in windowless meeting rooms discussing lead handling – I’m sure my vitamin D levels must be suffering from all this lack of sunlight! (See The broken leads model). This time, the issue is less about the definition of a lead than how they are handed over to Sales. Sales methodology in general involves “converting” leads to opportunities, the fabled point at which an initial enquiry can be classed as a potential piece of business. In my experience, Sales reps can be quite superstitious about this, not wanting to call a lead an opportunity until they’re confidant that it’s real, which can be after several calls or meetings. (They also don’t want their bosses poring over their pipeline and asking awkward questions they’re not ready to answer of course.) Marketing want to be able to hand a lead over and chalk up a successful conversion as soon as possible.

In, which we use, lead conversion is a specific function, at which point an opportunity is created within the system and forms part of a Rep’s pipeline (although it doesn’t necessarily show up in all reporting). This conversion is also very easy to measure and track, which makes reporting of lead conversion quite simple. This is crucial to Marketing, who want to show they’re being effective, as well as putting potential business in front of Sales as soon as possible, whilst the opportunity is still warm. However, there is some resistance to this approach within Sales, who say they don’t want an opportunity appearing in the system until they’re ready or have had the chance to verify it themselves.

We’ve discussed transferring ownership of leads within to the Rep and allowing them to perform the final conversion themselves, but in addition to “occasional” lapses in observance of this process (meaning Marketing are not credited with the opportunity creation regardless of whether Sales take it forwards), itself makes it difficult to track this re-assignment. It would be easy to criticise the system for this, but in fairness it has a specific set of functionality and that’s how it’s designed to work. (As an aside though, it would be useful if it were possible to properly query and report on Lead History. There are work-arounds, but they’re not ideal.)

The solution has been to invest heavily in the lead qualification process and build Sales’ confidence in the opportunities that are being passed to them. We have in place now a very high calibre lead qualification team who develop leads to the point where a Sales Rep is happy to take them forwards, with a clear understanding of business need, priority, budget and authority of the associated individual. A close working relationship between this team and reps is also proving crucial, allowing conversations to take place at the point of lead hand-over and ensuring nothing is lost in the gap. As a result, we’re able to utilise standard functionality, perform effective reporting and ensure quality opportunities are placed in front of Sales.

Hopefully I’ll be seeing the back of those meeting rooms for a while and needing to get the sun block out instead!

The third rail – sales order processing databases

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

I’ve written a lot about integrating sales and marketing databases (posts too numerous to provide links – search on “integration” in the sidebar), but so far I haven’t mentioned the third source in the marketing data ecosystem – order processing systems. Order processing systems are where the sales orders that leads and opportunities (hopefully!) eventually turn into are captured, invoices created and ultimately customer status converted. It may also be known as an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and also handle financials, human resources and other functions (possibly even CRM).

The reason these systems are important within a marketing operations context is because they are generally the system of record regarding whether an organisation is a customer or not, and what their purchase history is if so. Although the sales and marketing systems should have a view of completed opportunities and closed deals, there is inevitably a disconnect from what was supposed to have been sold and what was actually booked. Put starkly, once the deal is clinched, Sales’ enthusiasm for making sure it is accurately reflected in the SFA system wanes considerably; commissions are likely to be calculated based on what the order processing system says.

Care needs to be given to designing order processing links though. Here are some considerations:

  • Is the feed uni or bi-directional? In other words does the marketing database just receive updates of customer status and possibly purchase history. Such feeds are often one-way, as the owner of the order system will jealously guard their data integrity – not unreasonably, as it represents the “real” customer database for the company. However, if there is no feedback mechanism, then it may not be possible to correct issues with the data, such as missing address elements, inconsistent country values or duplicates.
  • How does the order system handle accounts and organisations. As a result of the different imperatives of ordering systems (delivery, invoicing, credit accounts), data is frequently held in a way that is inconsistent with that of the marketing database. If different departments of the same organisation, for instance, have made separate purchases, the order system may create separate records which will be perceived by the marketing database as duplicates. Take care in removing these duplicates from the marketing database however; not only might they simply turn up again with the next order system update, but you will loose the account number reference in the marketing database which might be a crucial external reference.
  • What purchase history data is available? If the feed is at “account” level (which may not be the same as unique organisations) it may include most recent order, invoice or contract date. That might be enough to derive a “customer” status, such as having ordered within a specified time frame or are within a maintenance contract, but may not include any information on what was ordered. On the other hand, you might be faced with a feed of every order or invoice, which is considerably more challenging to integrate.

Unlike the third rail of an electric railway, which you shouldn’t ever touch in order to avoid electric shock, the order processing systems is generally avoided even though they’re a crucial source of marketing data. Which isn’t to say you won’t get a shock if you try and integrate it!