If you're reading this blog, there is a good chance that you have a vested interest in generating more sales leads for your business. Perhaps you're tasked with it, or measured by the leads you create, or are being constantly pressured to fill the pipe to overcome the challenges of an ineffective sales team. There are many reasons why we need sales leads, beyond keeping the lights on, but typically we're challenged by resources and budgets in our execution. Therefore, the promise of automated lead generation facilitated by marketing automation is very attractive. Could it be as simple as "set it and forget it" as I watch the leads come in? Certainly that is what is promised by many vendors. I can assure you it's more involved than that. The reality is that many businesses not only lack resources, but they also lack budget. Without budget, marketing automation can never be implemented simply because you can't afford it. With budget, you may still not be able to implement it because you lack resources to maintain and develop it. It's a classic chicken-and-egg scenario. Give me more people and more money and I'll make you more leads. Unfortunatley, management often responds by saying you'll get more money and more resources when you bring in more leads to pay for them. What's a marketer to do?
The answer is simple - take it one step at a time. Then, repeat if necessary. Let me explain.
Auto Responders and Email Marketing
For many of our clients in this situation, we simply suggest you start with tools like Campaign Monitor or Constant Contact. These tools rock for their ability to create online forms which can be embedded in your web site. Once a form is completed (because you had a kick-butt Call To Action), a series of emails can be sent to the opt-in subscriber on a periodic basis. It's the simplest form of lead nurturing. There truly is minimal, to no, intelligence such as lead scoring, or complex branching logic, or persona segmentations to dynamically adjust and nurture the new prospect. That said, it does do a great job of engaging them softly over a period of days or weeks or months such that you can ultimately follow up with a phone call and anticipate a somewhat warm reception. As a Marketer, you can control the messaging and monitor the reports to see how they're engaging with you. It's a nice start, and it's very cheap to implement.
Once you've gotten some ROI from the auto-responders, you can move onto Inbound Marketing. Vendors like HubSpot have pioneered this space. It's definitely more expensive than the auto-responders, and it's essentially on-par, cost-wise, with some of the very low-end marketing automation providers, however it gives you so much. The essence of Inbound Marketing is that it does what the auto-responders do, plus gives you some basic lead scoring, plus gives you incredible insight into the leads that complete your forms. Beyond that, the secret sauce behind Inbound Marketing is that it will help you get found by your target audience using tools such as social media, search engine optimization, landing pages, etc. It's a great tool for non-technical marketers who need to quickly and efficiently drive traffic to their site without the expense of telemarketing, or direct marketing, and in a way that is credible and develops a firm's thought leadership. We have a quick little video you can watch at this page to learn more.
Finally you've had success with the above two tactics, and you now have the budget to really invest in a deluxe implementation of marketing automation. Congratulations. Of course, now your decision is whether to go low-end, middle of the road, or high-end with your vendor selection. Tools from Act-On, to LeadLife, to Pardot, to Genius, to Marketo, to Eloqua will span the spectrum of both budget and capabilties. The only immediate advice I'd offer here is to balance your wants with your needs with your budget. Always remember - it's not a linear equation. When you double your monthly spend on a marketing automation vendor, you're not doubling your feature list or your ROI. Also recall that the more complex a tool is, the more maintenance and oversight is required on your end. Accordingly, the costs are not contained just to the service subscription but also to the associated staffing to maintain and leverage your investment.
Aim for the moon, start with a single orbit
Okay, it may be a corny analogy but the space race was not won with the first project. They built on their successes and ultimately achieved their goal, using the lessons learned from each incremental step and effort. This is a great strategy and one you should seriously consider.
Recently I attended a webinar put on by HubSpot for their value-added resellers. The intent of the event was to help resellers retain, or grow, their client engagements by using the HubSpot reporting features. In short, the lesson was to review the continually improving progress reported by HubSpot with your client. If you do this, the client will see the value the reseller provides and will continue to engage them or broaden their scope. It's excellent advice and something that most of us forget to do. Let me explain.
A customer can be someone who pays you for your services, or a customer can be an internal person or team. Whenever I was hired as CMO, or as VP of Marketing, the first thing I would do is go to the VP of Sales, and the VP of Professional Services, and the CEO, and individually say to them "You're my customer. My job is to get you what you need to be successful. What do you need?". I made sure to instruct my teams to treat the internal departments the same way. When we did that, we immediately changed the conversation from being adversarial, or competitive, to one of co-operation. That lead to establishing alignment. If the VP of Sales wanted more leads then I would ask them to define a lead. If I didn't do this, I might think my team was delivering leads but Sales might think we're delivering unqualified suspects. That's a disconnect. Hence, the customer approach lead to a defining of what the customer wants which lead to a discussion of how the deliverable is defined which ultimately leads to how it is measured. Once you have alignment on that, you're effectively left to run your own show and focus on delivering results. After all, that's all a customer wants is results. Often they only care about how you achieve them if you are not delivering them. Since I want my team to focus on executing, and not on playing customer politics, it's in my best interest to ensure alignment and successful execution of our mandate.
Why is this so critical? The 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report from MarketingSherpa asked the question "Which of the following marketing challenges are currently most pertinent to your organization?". The number one response, almost double the second highest ranked result, was "Generating high quality leads". It scored a value of 78%, which was 9% higher than the previous year. Understand, however, that this report neither defines "high quality" or "lead". Talk about a huge opportunity for a disconnect between Marketing and their customers.
So here are some questions as it relates to your lead generation activities activities:
- Do you know who your customer is?
- Do you know what they expect you to deliver?
- Do you have documented agreement and definition on that deliverable?
- Can that deliverable be measured?
- Does your customer agree with the method of measurement?
- Do you routinely report to your customer your progress against achieving that deliverable?
- Do you have regularly scheduled discussions to review, refine, and improve the progress?
- Does your customer understand your challenges and constraints? Do you understand theirs?
- Are you making an effort to over deliver, such that they see you are commited to mutual success?
Lead generation is not about the programs you run. We here at My Lead Agency do not think of ourselves as a telemarketing firm, or a website shop, or an SEO specialist, or an email house, or a strategy and branding agency; rather, we think of ourselves as specialists in delivering B2B sales - AKA lead generation - to our clients regardless of how we do it or what tactics we employ. Why does this matter? Because, in the end, your client doesn't want you to advocate a specific tactic all of the time. The cliche goes that when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's a recipe for failure. Your customer wants you to help them succeed using every tool in your tool belt. Your customer wants you to be "in the trenches" with them.
Stay focused on what your customer wants and success will follow. Get alignment. Measure the results. Collaborate with your customer on how to adjust and adapt.