Let's change up today's blog post and stand back a bit. Often, in these posts, we talk about the issues and tactics involved in demand generation. Closely involved in that process is the technology. However, today, I'd like to stand back much further and ask the question "When does the sales process really begin?"
I'm going to set it up, initially, and declare it begins two-fold: once involves getting found, and the other involves getting respect.
Let's start with getting found, as this is somewhat of an obvious insight based on the hot topics and trends around inbound marketing and marketing automation. If an individual has a pain, they will inevitably turn to Google to find ways of dealing with that pain. They may also turn to forums, communities, or web sites dedicated to specific issues or industries, but that is always secondary. Google is the go-to place for most people to start their journey. So what does that mean? That means you need to be found by the search engines. How does one get found? One develops and publishes an ongoing collection of marketing content (videos, podcasts, whitepapers, case studies, blogs, etc.) about the subject, or topics, related to the issue the prospect is researching. You pick out your keywords, and your key phrases, and you ensure they are continually and liberally part of each piece of content you develop. The search engines will reward your ongoing new content, they'll recognize your continued reference to these keywords, they'll discern that you're being published and referenced across the various online mediums, and they'll rank you higher in the search results. This means you're more likely to come up higher on the search results when the individual is beginning to research how to fix their issue. Ideally, that will result on them clicking on the referenced link provided by the search engine which should directly, or indirectly, send them to you and your website. That's Part 1 of the process. You'll rarely get to Part 2 if you don't do Part 1. No excuses. You gotta do it.
Okay, so let's discuss Part 2 of the process, because I think this is the most forgotten aspect. I also consider this equal to, and sometimes more important than, Part 1. What is it? It's the first impression you make! That's when the sales cycle truly begins. If you don't make a good first impression then you're never going to hit your sales revenue targets. Let me share an analogy I use with customers.
Have you ever shopped online for something? Of course the answer is almost always yes. Great. Now lets assume you find 3 websites that provide the exact same product at the exact same price at the exact same shipping fees. Which site to you buy from? The answer is simple as you think about it. You buy from the site that appears most aesthetically pleasing, that appears to offer great supporting content such as product reviews, or video demonstrations, or user forums, etc. Do you agree? You should, because studies have proven it over and over again to be true. So why do we do that?
We are conditioned from a very early age to eliminate risk. Therefore, the site that looks the most slick, the most complete, the most travelled by other shoppers, the most insightful, and offers the most service MUST BE the best vendor. Right?! Of course, we both know that's not always the case however that's what we think. It's psychological.
It's about eliminating risk by establishing credibility and trust with the prospect.
So let me ask you this question. What level of risk would I perceive if I went to your website right now? One more thing - if you're suddenly feeling exposed, check out this recent webinar on how to make great content for your website. It's a great way to fix the credibliity problem you may not have even known you have.
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.
I hosted a webinar yesterday for our partner OnPath. The guest panelists were Tim Washer (@timwasher) and Deborah Strickland (@deborahs) of Cisco. It was a fun 29 minute discussion (not counting Q&A) about social media and the lessons that Cisco - the 2010 B2B Twitterer of the Year - has learned. These people were really honest and transparent, and I might add, very funny. I hope we can work together again and I suggest you follow them on Twitter. With that said, the webinar attempted to tackle the following six questions in our relatively tight timeline:
- How does Cisco use social media and why?
- Does a higher volume of views, fans, followers, subscribers, translate into more sales?
- How many people does it take to manage a successful social media strategy?
- What can a small-medium size company do to get started? Do they need a plan or just jump into it?
- How do you coordinate the technology of scheduling posts, building lists, and measuring clicks with team collaboration?
- Should a company consider outsourcing these activities?
Sidebar: If GoToWebinar is listening, you folks really need to work on your conference call technology. The webinar started 7 minutes late because of major issues and tech support never get to us until after we had resolved the matter. That said, a big shout-out to all of those who patiently waited for the webinar to start. We didn't lose a single audience member! Thanks!
What Tim and Deborah shared can best be summarized as follows:
- Use humor to engage: whether it's in your posts, or in your content you create (videos, blogs, etc.), people react better, and engage more, with a touch of humor.
- Be transparent, be relational: don't just push your posts out there non-stop, rather you should be conversational and honest with your audience. It should be a two-way dialog but not necessarily an ongoing diatribe of your daily existence.
- Sit back and watch while you're getting started. You'll soon figure out who is worthy of watching and engaging with compared to who is simply shouting/spamming with no interest in being "social".
- Use services like Technorati to find cool blogs to follow, and then get active contributing.
- Look at your competitors and see what they're doing. There is a good chance that you should be following some of the same people they do.
- Create a schedule and stick to it. Consistency is critical.
- Social Media takes a lot of effort. Don't let others in your organization make the false assumption otherwise. Assume at least an hour or two per day. If you don't have the time, or the additional resources or budget, to make that commitment then consider eliminating something else from your existing marketing mix or daily obligations.
- Social Media does not necessarily result in a dramatic increase in lead generation activity. It does, however, positively impact your search engine optimization (SEO), your thought leadership, and your exposure. It's great to get a handle on what customers are saying about you or your services and products, and it absolutely allows you to respond to any concern they may have.
- There is lots of technology out there, so use it. The usual suspects like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite are good, but so are more analytical tools like Radian6 or PostRank.
- Outsourcing of social media is a challenging thing, as the vendor will never know your business like you do. That said, it can be safely done in controlled circumstances with sufficient checks and balances.
- Foremost, what I took away, was a comment that for social media to be successful, you have to have a goal. Once you start the program, always be measuring against your goals. What was very interesting was the observation that your goal may not be the same as what others in your organization believe the goals should be. That means you need to get consensus early in the process.
Of course, I'm just hitting the high notes. The actual webinar is worthy of a quick listen. The questions submitted by the audience were powerful and the answers were honest.
Thanks to @onpath for the opportunity to host.
If you want to hear it yourself, you can find the recorded version here.
As I mentioned previously in my Monday and Tuesday posts, the phone is still a very viable tool for B2B marketing. Last post we discussed using the phone to promote your marketing initiatives, including lead generation. As a result of that effort, more (and more targeted) people are visiting your trade show booths, attending your webinars, and signing up for your regular email correspondences. You’re getting more leads! Yes!
But...what do you do with them?
Traditionally, when leads are collected, nurtured and ultimately achieve a high enough score (See video about Lead Scoring for more context), they are sent to sales reps to follow-up. Common sense used to be that more is better; you need to keep your sales people busy, right? But do sales people want to be busy chasing down leads?
Nope and nope.
Sales people don't want to be busy; at least not busy making cold calls (because that's what following up with an unqualified lead really amounts to). What they want is to be successful. Too many unqualified leads limits their ability to be successful. This is where telemarketing can really help. You see, telemarketing resources are much less costly than a sales executive, and, as I mentioned earlier, they are much more efficient at making calls. Using a telemarketing agency, or even staffing up with one or two in-house telemarketers, in order to pre-qualify every seminar attendee can really help separate the wheat from the proverbial chaff, ultimately boosting your lead quality and acceptance while managing your overall corporate budgets.
As a result, the Sales team are really happy. They are still getting leads, but only the good leads. They don't spend as much time chasing people down on the phone, so they are actually closing more deals because they are using their time more wisely. Even better, your telemarketing resources continue to nurture the warm leads, supported by other lead nurturing programs, until they are ready to become hot and handed off to Sales. Successful marketing is ultimately about implementing tactics and campaigns to work your prospects through the funnel. Each stage of the funnel requires different tactics and different styles of engagement. Once you understand that, your sales conversion rates will increase dramatically while you’ll suffer much less from the peaks and valleys of the typical sales pipeline. Understanding all of this doesn’t exactly mean you’re saving lives, or anything remarkable like that, however you have just saved your company money! And that’s worth writing about.
Tune in tomorrow to learn about the right, and the wrong, way to telemarket.
Last post I discussed the fact that the telephone, or telemarketing, can still be useful to modern B2B marketers. At the end of the post I suggested 3 different uses for the phone that marketers should consider making use of... so let’s see what’s behind door number one. Ah, yes...using the phone as a vehicle to support and promote marketing initiatives.
This is a pure marketing function and involves integration with the rest of your marketing department’s activities. For example - if you are planning a series of webinars or seminars, ostensibly for lead generation purposes, you might consider using the phone to promote these events and drive attendance. Alternatively, a post-event telephone survey, seeking feedback on the recent event, would not only provide valuable direction for future events but would also provide you an opportunity to qualify the prospect and determine if they may be a candidate for your products or services. Or, perhaps, you are attending a trade show and you want to drive traffic to your booth. It might be a good idea to contact people you know will be attending the show, or who you think will be attending, and invite them to stop by your booth. Since most marketing tactics require budget to implement and execute, you want to ensure these programs have the highest possibility of generating a return on your investment.
This seems like a no-brainer, no? You have a list of people that you think might be interested in your event, you call them up and invite them to attend, come see your presentation or visit your booth. Surprisingly, I find that most people rely on word of mouth (WOM), Twitter, Facebook and email communication to promote their online events. Often it’s just the company website. While I would never suggest dismissing these tactics to promote your marketing events, I know they don’t go far enough.
There are 4 main benefits of using the phone to promote your marketing initiative:
- This is a proactive approach. You are not waiting for people to RSVP, find your site, read or re-tweet your tweets. You are directly approaching people, letting them know why they should be interested in your event and, in many cases you can help prospects to register for events by having your telemarketing agent actually fill out the registration form for them.
- You are deciding the audience that you want to market to. This is true for email as well, but this gives you the opportunity to specifically select the list of people who you want to invite to your event.
- The phone gives to the greatest degree of flexibility in terms of how you approach and customize your message. This is not true with an email or word of mouth. If you send a corporate VP an email invite to your event, they might not open it...might not even notice it if they are particularly busy and you have no control over who sees a re-tweet of your tweet. However; if you call someone and they are busy, you always have the opportunity to engage their gate keeper in conversation, 0-out to the operator, etc...giving you the opportunity to find out if this is something the gatekeeper thinks they might be interested in, when/how to approach them best, whether they have a direct report who might be easier to reach, etc...
- You are cleaning your lists at the same time. Each time you make contact you have the opportunity to update your contact information so that future campaigns have a lower email bounce-rate and a higher sales rep productivity rate.
The phone (or more specifically one-to-one human interaction which is best facilitated by the phone) is a very powerful tool for promoting marketing initiatives. Too many people rely on the sending of digital communications to convey an idea, or an invite, or an opportunity without ever reinforcing that communication with verbal, live dialog, thereby making it easy for the recipient to ignore or forget you. If you’re going to spend the time and money to send an email, or post a tweet, the assumption is that you need to earn a return on that investment. Not phoning the contact seems like a recipe for failure; even more remarkable is that we’ve seen so many marketing campaigns go from good to great simply by adding this one additional element. And I haven’t even dealt with the idea of proactively soliciting opt-ins!
Tomorrow we talk about how pre-qualification might just save a life. Check back for it.
We've all been there; the end of the quarter/year push to close business. It's done at all costs. We have to hit our numbers. The shareholders / investors / owners / management team committed that we would. And, often, we succeed at hitting those targets. It's exciting and exhausting and reason to celebrate. We go home and sleep the sleep of the contented. Until the next day. When we go back to work. And we look at the quota for the next month / quarter / year, and we realize that our sales pipeline is thin. We don't have enough new business sales leads to make our numbers. And then we panic.
Alright, already. It doesn't need to be this way. We can fix this dilemma. And it won't even be that hard, if you don't mind putting in a little bit of work, and you approach the problem strategically. Why strategically? Because usually, in our panic, we react to the problem in a method that's not optimal. Can you relate to the sales directive to start making as many calls as possible? We call everyone that's in our CRM system. We don't necessarily have anything new to say but we're dialing for dollars. At the same time, Marketing starts pumping out press releases about nothing in particular. I think you know how this story goes; the sales calls have low connection rates, and the voice mails we leave are rarely returned, and the CRM data quality is poor resulting in 1 out of 2 calls being answered by "Jim doesn't work here anymore", and the press release doesn't generate a single expression of interest (except for other vendors calling to congratulate you and ask if you need their services). Can you relate? Clearly this approach is not very strategic.
Let's break the cycle and do this right. After all, it's a new year. It's time for new approaches.
Follow these simple steps and you'll soon be sunning yourself at the President's Club rewards trip because of your sales accomplishments.
- Clean your data: make a concerted effort to have everyone involved physically call all of your contacts in your CRM system and simply review the contact information for accuracy. While you're there, ask them if anyone else should also be included. Ask them if email is their preferred method of communication or would they also like to be engaged via Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn. Send them something to thank them for their time, such as a white paper or a Starbucks card. They'll remember you because of it. If you don't have the time or resources then outsource this job. This is the most critical thing you can do to increase your success in lead generation. By cleaning your data, you not only start talking to the right people, you also ensure your email bounce rate is relatively low. Nothing raises flags with the spam reporting services like high bounce rates. If they decide you're spamming, none of your corporate communications will get through. That's bad. Generally speaking, if you don't do this step, don't bother doing the rest of the steps. It's that critical.
- Grow your opt-in lists: Stop buying, or renting, lists. Instead, grow your own. Every person in the organization should ask a prospect or customer to opt-in to corporate communications whenever they talk with them; whether it be someone in Sales, or Marketing, or Support, or Management. No exceptions. Run events, such as webinars, with marquee partners and leverage their opt-in lists to grow your own. Partners are a great source of new contacts which you may not normally have access, or exposure, to. The conversion rate for opted-in recipients is significantly higher. Similarly, the likelihood of these recipients pressing the "spam" button on emails you send is substantially smaller then purchased, or rented, lists.
- Identify your target audience and key messages: Stop being generic with your message. Stop spewing every possible buzz word, or pain point, in the hope that something you say will stick with the recipient and they'll want to talk further. That's simply called "spray and pray". It doesn't work. Instead, understand your audience, or audiences, and then create messaging specific to them. Essentially, you're segmenting your efforts. If you're not sure what the message is for each audience, do something crazy like asking them. It's amazing what they'll tell you. Once you know the key bullets you're going to speak to, ensure that everyone on the team only speaks to those points. No varying from the message. I love it when a sales rep, or an executive, says "I know what to say. I'm good with the clients. Just let me do my thing." The truth is that inconsistency throughout the organization kills deals.
- Create supporting and compelling content for your audience: Once you start talking to your audience, whether it's phone, email, social media, trade shows, or even just your website, you'll need something to engage them to talk further. That something is called content. It could be collateral, or white papers, or videos, or blog posts, or case studies, or even podcasts. The fact is, if you don't have content then you don't have any reason to continue the conversation. The trick to content is reusability. Take for example a webinar. If you host a webinar, you can archive it for future use. You can then turn it into a podcast. You could also record the transcript and make a paper out of it. You can highlight key quotes for promotional purposes. You can create a press release highlighting the key points. All of this content is now available to Sales and Marketing for consumption by your target audience. Work smart, not hard, when it comes to content creation. What's great about content is that you can also post it via social media, or in blogs. All of this content gets cross-referenced by the search engines. Suddenly, you're generating inbound traffic to your site from people seeking answers to their problems, and Google is the source of the introduction. God bless Google.
- Engage them in a discussion using integrated marketing campaigns: Stop making phone calls. Well, actually, don't stop. Instead, make phone calls as part of an overall, integrated, outbound campaign. Try a series of emails, with content, followed by an invite to a webinar, preceded by a phone call to encourage attendance to the webinar. Then, after the webinar, call each registrant back to thank them for their time, ask them what they liked or disliked about the webinar, and attempt to understand how this feedback applies to their situation. I can guarantee you that if the feedback was "I didn't get what I was hoping to get out of the webinar", that means they have a problem and they need help. That's the start of a Sales Opportunity. Phone calls on their own are easy to ignore but an ongoing, consistent, dialog, using multiple outbound channels, will result in trust and thought leadership. When the prospect finally has a need for your services, they'll call you first.
Alright, so while I indicated that this would be 5 easy steps, I never suggested that this blog post would be short. Thanks for reading this far. If you want, we can help you out. Give us a shout. As usual, any advice we give is free, as is our time. We love talking about this stuff. Care to connect via Twitter? Perhaps you should opt-in to our community discussion? And did I mention the great content we have on this site? Have a great day restocking those new business leads cupboards.