Archive for the ‘Lead management’ Category

How to take advantage of a recovery

Monday, February 8th, 2010

So, 2010 is well underway, and hopefully the difficulties of 2008/9 are slipping behind us. As business begins to pick up again, and budgets and activity levels are restored, everyone looks forward to getting back to business as usual.

Or perhaps not – perhaps there’s a better way.

Many Marketing departments shed staff last year, and although I’m not advocating a jobless recovery, there may be smarter ways of undertaking the activities some of those people may have been undertaking, rather than just throwing bodies at the routine challenges encountered by marketing. Here’s a few things to think about doing differently this year.

  • Data acquisition – When obtaining targeted contacts for marketing activity take a long term approach. Renting a list for a tactical campaign that’s coming up will not be successful; ongoing activity is the key. Spend time researching the right data source (see Business data and Sales prospecting tools on our Resources page) and if bespoke contact discovery is necessary, leave enough time. This also makes investing the necessary time and effort in properly handling the data more worthwhile: load the list into your database/campaign system, flag the source, track outgoing activity and record response (see point below). This allows the effectiveness of the acquired data to be measured much more readily.
  • Proactive data quality management – Avoid “a quick check of the data” being the last thing that happens before campaign execution. Data quality is an ongoing task and leaving it to the last moment will mean it’s always a panic activity that never gets done properly. Ideally, you should implement a true data quality programme and a suitable solution to monitor and maintain data (see previous posts Data quality – a vision and 6 data quality solution requirements). At the minimum though, use one of the many (not necessarily expensive) tools to identify issues on a routine basis and fix them as you go along. (See Data quality tools and consultancies on the Resources page.)
  • Joined up response management – Campaign execution, whether direct mail or email, is often carried out by external vendors, which is understandable. They can pull landing pages and micro-sites together quickly and easily, where perhaps building such facilities into your main website is onerous and time consuming. However, campaign reporting should take place within your existing processes so that it’s a business-as-usual activity, not an exceptional process that only a couple of people understand. If you are hosting you’re own landing pages, the same principle applies of course. Hopefully capturing such responses directly to your marketing database is relatively straight-forward (many systems have web-to-lead functions), but if it has to be manual, so be it. This investment in time will pay off when it comes to reporting and tracking.
  • Skills – Consider the expertise that is really required as activity levels rise and how best to obtain it. Rather than re-employ generalists, identify two or three step change projects and employ temporary specialists or agencies to get those changes achieved using what was, previously, salary budget. Once these programmes have been completed, review the skills you need before determining the types of roles required and taking on new permanent staff. Use this as an opportunity also to do some testing before deciding where to focus new spend. Again, this isn’t to discourage creating jobs for unemployed marketers, but experimenting and testing actually creates gainful activity that will bring the recovery forward, without requiring companies to commit too soon whilst it remains tentative.
  • Sales and Marketing database integration – Strive to ensure that your marketing system and the system your Sales team are using are linked together as closely as possible. Leads, once qualified, should appear directly in your SFA (sales force automation) system, not as spreadsheets or emails sent to Reps. Even better, share contact data between the two systems so that changes in either are immediately available to everyone. This should hopefully also help with tracking leads once they have been supplied to Sales, and eventually measuring the outcome of marketing activity.

As the recovery takes hold, let’s hope that marketing departments start hiring again, and put all that talent to work on creating effective campaigns.

With thanks to Kate Mayfield of Data & Mash for contributing to this post.

Following the clues to a successful sale

Friday, January 15th, 2010

One of the common traps into which Marketing often falls is to treat a lead as a one-off event in isolation to anything that has gone before or after. This results in every response from a given individual being treated as a new lead, rather than as a package of interest in a company’s products and services.

But leads are like clues in a detective story. In a criminal investigation, Police are often said to be “following multiple lines of enquiry” – in other words, following-up on leads. These leads, or clues, whilst separate from each other, may all point to the same end result. In our case, this is a successful sale, but by themselves each clue may not be enough to solve the mystery. Whitepaper downloads and webinar attendances may not mean much by themselves, but put together they point to an interest in a specific solution or a particularly pressing need.

This is where good lead management becomes crucial, and where so many software solutions fall short. Many systems treat leads as separate, unrelated events and make no effort to tie them all together and present the evidence as a whole. It’s little wonder then that Sales are driven to distraction with a stream of seemingly trivial clues, whilst not being able to see the big picture. At the same time, vital evidence is overlooked – leads go to waste without being followed-up.

We owe it to ourselves to recognise the short-comings of the tools we have available and address these problems. Otherwise, marketing investment will continue to go to waste and fail to deliver the results expected.

Engagement Marketing And Lead Management

Thursday, May 14th, 2009

Spent a very interesting morning at the Silverpop B2B Masterclass in London yesterday. Hitting just the right balance of education and solution selling, there were some interesting presentations and good ideas. I thought it would be worth picking out a few in particular from the opening presentation by  Silverpop VP Will Schnabel. You can view the complete slideset on Slideshare, but here are some highlights.

  • Marketing extends further into the pipeline – in the past, potential customers would pick up the phone and ask for a sales rep to come round to explain your products. Now, the savvy purchaser reviews your products online, reads whitepapers and case studies, seeks references and gains an understanding of your product sector. These are all areas where Marketing is now required to deliver, so that by the time Sales are called in, the prospect is in a much more advanced stage of the purchase cycle. As such, Marketing must rise to this challenge and fulfill an education and sales preparation role, ahead of an actual buying conversation. Crucially, this also means “plugging the leaky funnel”, where prospects fall out before they get to the point of Sales engagement due to poor materials and general lead management.
  • Data capture – take web visitors through a sequence of data gathering steps rather than a one-off capture of everything you can think to ask. Responders will be turned off by very long forms with lots of questions, so ask for additional information at every interaction to build up a picture. It was suggested in the session that there probably isn’t a magic number of fields or forms to optimise this process – it may be unique to your business – so some experimentation may be required. And on the subject of data capture, don’t allow yourself to be locked into backend data processing requirements (such as field layouts), if it doesn’t suit the information you actually need. Also, consider utilising data capture techniques, the likes of which I’ve written about previously.
  • Lead scoring – this is a key element of lead qualification, using various criteria to determine the value of a lead and the appropriate next steps. These criteria can be grouped into three areas: demographic (contact role, type of organisation etc), “BANT” or the actual position of a prospect to buy, and activity (website downloads, event attendees, information requests). These techniques should be built into an overall lead scoring mechanism appropriate for your business to judge what is passed to Sales, and what remains within Marketing for ongoing nurturing.
  • Lead maturity model – a useful way to assess your own lead management sophistication, this four stage model suggests the areas that should be addressed for best practice lead management. Incorporating both demand generation activity itself, together with lead handling, it’s a valuable benchmark for your own activities. (Take a look at the slides for more details.)

In all, a worthwhile morning aimed at helping marketing secure one outcome in particular – “revenue velocity”, or increasing the rate at which an initial lead is converted to a sale, which must rank as a top priority for all marketers.

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!

Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference 2008

Thursday, April 10th, 2008

A few observations on the recent Institute of Direct Marketing Business-to-Business Marketing Conference. The theme of the day very much revolved around the merits of social media and Web 2.0 in a business marketing context. Don Peppers, of Peppers and Rogers Group, suggested three trends for business marketing, including the growth of social media, involving customers and staff; the key opportunity being to leverage advocacy, providing tools, such as presentations or white papers, to make it easier for supporters of your product or brand to spread the word. Other trends, he said, include the increasing prevalence of products as services, making them harder for competitors to copy and the growing importance of content, and its development and management, in marketing messages.

His comments on lead nurturing also struck home with me, suggesting that prospects be treated like customers and highlighting the importance of creating a relationship building engine with a long term vision. Resist the boardroom call for short term results and build for the long term, we were implored! I very much agree that ongoing, regular communications with customers and prospects alike is crucial to attaining and maintaining “share of mind”, building awareness and building a profile of your recipients through data collection.

Although the story of the JCB diesel land speed record attempt was a little heavy on corporate self-congratulation (and didn’t contain much on social media), I did take away one key message: play to your strengths. JCB wanted to highligh their core competency of engineering prowess, which they demonstrated by smashing the previous record for the fastest diesel powered vehicle. What are your organisation’s unique strengths and how can you demonstrate them to your target market?

Whilst not making explicit reference to social media, London Business School’s Brett Cunningham did in essence highlight the importance of creating an environment for the exchange of ideas and co-operation. LBS have coined the term hotspot (in the non wi-fi sense) to describe the buzz of energy and innovation that is created when the right people come together to solve a problem. How better than a Web 2.0 approach to making this possible?

The panel debate was all about social media, and its relative merits when compared with pay per click advertising. The motion that social media will become as important as PPC was carried, although I think the overall concensus of the delegates was that PPC would still be important, but simply another string in the bow of marketers. Arising from the debate were suggestions that social media may have wider scope for lead generation than PPC, but it’s difficult to target and measure; PPC is good at traffic generation, but is not very discriminating and offers little brand experience. “Consumers will continue to search,” Don Peppers had earlier told us, but don’t overlook the importance of social to the up-and-coming ranks of business buyers and marketers. It’s going to be second nature to them.

Beamed in from the West Coast USA, Laura Ramos of Forrester Research shared her thoughts on social media and experimentation in business to business marketing. Her key takeaway was that knowing your buyer’s social media behaviour profile helps set a successful social media strategy. Whilst many traditional tactics underperform against expectations and are failing to engage decision makers, the importance of one to one contact in generating demand is being recognised. Forrester have developed a Social Technographics methodology for use before setting strategy, based on understanding the buyer’s behaviour and that impact of Web 2.0 on their purchasing process. Take a look at

The day was closed out by the ever entertaining Rory Sutherland, archetypal chief creative at OgilvyOne, who controversially put forward the idea that an obsession with measurement might be holding back innovation. Even I can agree with the sentiment, but at the end of the day, Marketing has to be able to demonstrate return on investment if it’s to be taken seriously. The “medium is the message” he said and the delivery mechanism determines success. Make sure you’re talking to people in the right way, appears to be his point, otherwise it doesn’t matter what you say.

As always with events like this, a few nuggets of thinking and ideas were thrown up during the day to take back to our offices and put into practise, making it a day well spent. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention, you can catch my own contribution (and the rest of the day) during another panel discussion. Enjoy!

The missing link between campaign management and salesforce automation

Thursday, March 6th, 2008

Why is it that salesforce automation systems all seem to skip past lead management and pick-up from the point of opportunity creation and disappear over the horizon of pipeline management and forecasting? These are crucial functions for modern, enterprise sales management and the Sales function has done a great job of driving the market to develop solutions to meet these requirements.

However, despite the timeless refrains that “Marketing never deliver quality leads” or “All the leads I receive from Marketing are worthless”, the attention to the lead delivery end of the pipeline is marked by its absence. Many systems treat the individual attached to a lead as completely separate from any contacts already in the contact database, make no allowance for (horror!) multiple responses from the same individual or consider the status and nature of the responses themselves.

Despite the sophistication of many CRM/SFA systems, lead management – the crucial first step in the pipeline building process – is sorely overlooked. Work-arounds exist to address this deficiency, but marketers owe it to themselves to compel software vendors to embrace this crucial consideration as comprehensively as the subsequent stages in the process have been.

Tackling the lead tracking disconnect

Tuesday, November 13th, 2007

As we construct the requirements for our new SFA/CRM system, the issue of lead definition and tracking rears its head again (see The broken leads model). Having largely succeeded in securing the concept of ensuring that responses from the same individual are always linked to that person’s record, such that the individual lies at the heart of the lead, the next discussion revolves around tracking through to opportunity. The problem here is essentially twofold:

  • How is it possible to judge which response is the one that lead to the creation of an opportunity?
  • How is the influence of multiple contacts on an opportunity tracked?

In other words, how is marketing effectiveness measured, and ultimately return on marketing investment determined? Clearly it’s important that we can systematically link a lead to an opportunity within the database, which makes it easier to draw a line from response to a piece of business. What’s crucial though is maintaining the ability to link all responses to an opportunity, and undertake analysis around how responses influence opportunity creation. It could well be that a webinar is a good way of moving qualified leads through to opportunity conversion and into the pipeline, but what prompted the webinar attendance itself? It could be a whitepaper download or a software evaluation, or specific examples of these types of activity; is one topic more popular and likely to bring about a conversion?

This is where an analytical approach comes in to play. Rather than simply connecting the dots of response, lead generation and opportunity, modelling techniques should allow less obvious links to be made. It’s still crucial that responses are reliably linked to individuals, as this is the linking point (contacts are attached to opportunities, therefore creating the link with response). This is where data quality plays such a crucial role, especially in matching incoming response or new contact creation to existing contacts, such as an event registration or where a Sales rep enters a new individual. Failing to recognise that a new response is from an existing individual, who may already have a response history, will destroy the ability to undertake this kind on analysis and produce meaningful results. (Use the search function at the top of the side bar on the right to look for various past entries on data quality.)

I’m hopeful that this functionality will be adopted in our new system and that we’ll be able to make the investment in the related analytics to maximise the benefit. There still remain the usual, considerable, user education requirements, especially among our Sales colleagues, to ensure that human action doesn’t scupper these best laid plans. The biggest problem is Marketing created opportunities being disregarded and a brand new one created by the rep when they commence working on it. The challenge here, I think, is to ensure that it’s easier to use an existing opportunity that has been created than set-up a new one. After all, the former should be less effort, which is usually a good message with which to start!

The broken leads model

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2007

Now, I realise that criticising is tantamount to heresy in this day and age, but I’m not averse to controversy here. What is the source of this cynicism? Well, several hours locked in meeting rooms and on conference calls arguing about the definition of a lead doesn’t help. It has though, made me realise that the way treats leads is woefully simplistic, with substantial knock-on effects:

  • treats every response as a lead. This means that every whitepaper download, webinar registration or information request from the same person creates a new lead. This drives Sales insane, as they perceive the person responding to be the lead and basically ignore the subsequent responses, branding them irrelevant. The blame of course falls on Marketing, whose protestations of “It’s, don’t blame us!” go unheeded.
  • As well as the impact on sales reps’ mental wellbeing, this lead proliferation causes rampant contact duplication. Any given individual could now have multiple leads associated with them, which are in effect separate records. I know of one company who suddenly discovered tens of thousands of lead records sitting in that had been dumped there over time, representing horrendous duplication but also a complete loss of value as it was so difficult to know what was worth keeping and was not.
  • The absence of any linking together of leads for the same individual makes it very difficult for Sales to review response history and formulate an intelligent, holistic follow-up to a contact, further reducing the value of a lead.
  • Multiple leads per individual also makes analysis very difficult too, especially understanding lead conversation rates. If fifty leads from ten people convert into two opportunities, it looks like a 4% conversion rate, but really it’s 20% at the contact level. Making your lead conversation appear a fifth as good as is actually the case seems unnecessarily self-deprecating, and does nothing to support the argument for marketing investment.

In the discussions in which I’ve been involved regarding the definition of a lead, I’ve been trying to say that a lead is a person, not just a response or other action of an individual. In fact, I’d go further and say that a lead fundamentally represents a potential piece of business, to which multiple people could be related from within the decision making unit of a particular project in an organisation. Another word for this of course is opportunity, which is a completely different entity in and handled much better (including the ability to link multiple contacts).

I understand that leads are a simpler entity that may come to nothing, and therefore shouldn’t be burdened with unnecessary complexity, but over simplification results in a solution that is not fit for purpose. And keeps me trapped in meeting rooms longer than I’d like.