Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two Essential Steps To Qualify Leads In An Unqualified World

By Lisa Cramer, President, LeadLife Solutions

The statistics are overwhelming. The volume of leads or inquiries that come to your company’s Web site or trade show booth that don’t buy—usually because they’re just not yet ready to— is staggering. However, even if they’re not yet “ready buyers,” it doesn’t mean that your sales team shouldn’t be nurturing them. In fact, 80% of the un-worked leads (those not picked up by your sales force for a variety of reasons) will buy from someone over the next 24 months. So how does marketing make sure it’s your company that they buy from once they’re ready?

Furthermore, according to Jim Lenskold, president of the Lenskold Group and a noted author and expert on marketing ROI, if only 2% to 10% of leads generated actually end up as closed sales, then a full 90% to 98% percent of leads are leaking out of the sales funnel. How do we affect this large percentage of leads that are currently getting away? One way to improve your odds is to start incorporating lead nurturing into your marketing and sales mix.

In this article, we’ll review two main components that are essential when discussing successful lead nurturing programs. First, how do you distinguish when a lead is qualified enough to be handed off to sales? Second, what are some of the items to consider when nurturing leads to increase the number of qualified leads that you have? There are many strategies and thoughts around effective nurturing. The specifics are really up to your company’s marketing and sales processes, defined by items such as what you sell and how long your sales cycle is. However, there are some elements of the nurturing process that are universally important, no matter the process you embark on.

What’s a “sales ready” lead?
Some companies call it a “marketing qualified” lead, some a “sales ready” lead, and still others refer to it as simply a “lead” versus an inquiry or suspect. But whatever you call it, the important element of “it” is the definition. What constitutes a “sales ready” lead in your company? Are there certain behaviors the lead must have exhibited? Are there certain demographic criteria they must have met? Are there certain BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timing) factors they must have expressed in order to qualify?

Within each category listed above, your company needs to decide what information can be captured and tracked by marketing, as well as whether this can be captured by marketing programs alone or through additional programs, like telemarketing. Based on what can be captured and tracked, you (your sales and marketing departments together) must then decide on what constitutes a “sales ready” lead. In other words, what mix of the components above would signal that a lead has indeed entered the buy cycle? That they are indeed ready for a call from a sales person? That the lead has moved beyond research and education to identifying potential solutions and performing vendor comparisons?

Not only is a definition of a “sales ready” lead essential for nurturing success, but the identification of such leads is also critical. It is extremely important to know when a lead has become “sales ready”. Such lead identification should not be onerous or manual, but instead should be something that is automated and therefore easily visible. This is where the concept of lead scoring complements lead nurturing. Lead scoring will highlight those leads that have become sales ready. And through automation, this identification can initiate a series of workflows that will move the lead as quickly as possible into the sales team’s hands.

Components of Successful Lead Nurturing
Successful lead nurturing programs will enable you to grow leads that have not entered the buying cycle into ones that are ready to buy or at least are open to taking a call from a sales person to start the process. Furthermore, because lead nurturing involves a series of touches over time, it enables you to keep your company’s name top of mind among prospects. The specific process you use for lead nurturing will be very dependent on what you sell, who your target audience is and other variables. However, there are some basic elements of any lead nurturing process to consider:

Timing of touches: How often you send out emails or direct mail, or how often you make calls, is very dependent on where your target leads are in the process and the complexity of your sales cycle. For example, we have some customers whose sales cycle is fairly short (two to three months) and in that case, it’s not unusual for them to send out drip emails to their prospects every seven to ten days. Others with more complex cycles will have a much slower drip, not touching the prospect more than one a month.
Content relevance: Nurturing success really comes down to how relevant the material you send to the prospect is. In other words, does the prospect care about the message you are delivering to them at that point in the buy cycle? If the prospect is at the research/education stage and you provide relevant (based on what they’re interested in) materials to help educate them further, then they’ll be interested. However, if at that same stage of the cycle, you start selling the prospect on the features of your solution – it’s too early and they are likely to be turned off.
Relevance to any demographic information you’ve captured: This can be as simple as inserting your office location that is closest to the lead’s location in the email, or including relevant images based on their industry. Another item to think through is using the behavioral information you have tracked about the lead in order to follow up with related information. For instance, with marketing automation, it is now possible to track the lead’s behavior so that you can better understand what they are interested in and where they spend time on your Web site or at a trade show booth. Take advantage of such knowledge by delivering follow-on materials that appeal to their interests and suggesting something that would be of further value to them.

Whatever lead nurturing you implement, keep it simple at first, evaluate how well it’s working and grow it accordingly. You need to assess and understand what’s working and what’s not. Also, make sure you have visibility into what people are clicking on, as well as what they are not clicking on, and make sure the metrics go all the way through the pipeline from initial interest to deals closed.

Lisa Cramer is president and co-founder of LeadLife Solutions, a provider of on-demand lead management software that generates, scores, and nurtures leads for B2B marketers. For more information on lead management call 1-800-680-6292.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Q&A With Eloqua’s Steve Woods, Author of “Digital Body Language”

Fresh off a book tour promoting “Digital Body Language,” Eloqua CTO Steve Woods has been immersed in conversations around the latest trends in BtoB marketing, from social media to sales and marketing alignment, and the role of each in the demand generation space. Woods says many marketers have realized marketing should be seen as facilitating a buying process, not outbound selling, and future conversations will be centered on how to understand the buying process and use that intelligence to optimize marketing messaging. DemandGen Report recently had the chance to catch up with Woods to hear his insight on the future of social media, the best way to stay in front of prospects with an increasing buying cycle, and industry feedback about the book.

DemandGen Report: During the recent book tour for “Digital Body Language” you spoke at many marketing events and workshops. What are some of the new pain points and questions you are hearing out in the marketing now?

Steve Woods: A lot of the conversations lately are around how social media fits into the demand generation world. People are starting to come around to the concept that marketing needs to understand digital body language and then market to facilitate the buyer’s buying process, but how does social media fit into that? There’s a lot of conversation around not only how you engage in the conversation with social media, but what happens at that periphery. The conversation is happening on the blogs or links are passed around on Twitter, or social media discussions are happening; at various points in that process, if you set your information free, that conversation can then jump over to Web properties that you do control—like through your SEO efforts prospects find information on your site, that periphery where people come in from a social media conversation into your world, where your demand generation efforts can engage with them. It’s a really interesting hot topic of discussion with a lot of the marketers I’ve been interacting with lately.

DGR: Part of the premise in the book is about the transformation, and how BtoB buyers are behaving and how marketers need to adapt to it. How early in the cycle are you seeing most BtoB marketers that you are encountering?

Woods: They’re still fairly early, but if you look at the entire industry to see how many organizations have engaged with marketing automation and demand generation, it’s in the low number of thousands of marketing organizations. You compare that to the number of organizations that have the complex considered buying cycle where the information is available online, that’s a huge number of organizations. So I think we’ve looked for a higher number early in the cycle, which corresponds fairly well to the maturity level. In the last six to twelve months, I have noticed a very definite uptick in the engagement of marketers—lots of discussion around lead scoring, how to think about it, how to apply it and map it to their business. How do you handle a lead nurturing routine if you’ve got multiple products, a different go to market strategy? How do you really think about the sales and marketing handoff? How do you get sales and marketing in a room and have that discussion around what a qualified lead looks like and how it’s going to be defined as a lead and handed over to sales? Those discussions are really starting to happen and have gotten bigger in the last six to twelve months. We’re seeing a similar interest with purchases of the product itself. We’re early stages but really starting to upswing now in the market.

DGR: One of the items discussed at the SiriusDecisions Summit, is lead nurturing. There seems to be a common pain point, probably driven by the economy, of things stalling in the later stages of the funnel. Your blog mentions handling likely buyers, or those who are not immediately ready. What are the needs for nurturing and any best practices you’ve seen?

Woods: Both the marketing and sales approach achieve the same end goal just from different perspectives. The marketing approach with lead nurturing is very important. As you’re engaging with buyers, keeping high value content out there so you maintain permission to stay in front of them is absolutely critical, because buying processes are extending in this economy. They are taking longer and people are thinking more. You don’t want time to kill the deal. Very reasonably, we’re seeing a lot of marketers really focus on that lead nurturing. At the same time, from the sales perspective, you’re looking at longer timeframes. Getting that radar into the account to understand what’s going on with it, and being able to analyze each individual’s digital body language to see what it is telling you about his or her interests. We’re seeing a strong uptick in interest at the individual sales level to get a view into that digital body language on each individual, being able to present that to them in a graphical way that makes sense and shows them the hot buttons and what conversations to have. Getting that level of radar so you can pick up on conversations that you’re not in helps you guide that buying process now that the economy is forcing the buying process to take a little longer.

DGR: What kind of questions and broad feedback have you gotten that have surprised you as you’ve been out on the road promoting the book?

Woods: None of it has been too surprising, but the feedback has been about how the book has done a good job of crystallizing the overall meaning to a number of the trends that they were seeing. People have had a lot of conversations about lead scoring, they’ve talked a lot about lead nurturing and realized the effectiveness of their outbound campaign seems to be dropping off. They know the buyer has access to more information. They know their sales team is starting to get more interested in what online behavior can tell them, but the feedback is more about how concepts crystallize together, here’s what’s going on in the market and why those are all part of the same overarching scheme. The book pulls a lot of the discussions that have been happening disparately together to help it all make sense.

DGR: Forecasting ahead to what your next book might include, what are some of the next trends or hot areas you might be looking at?

Woods: The obvious topic very early staged in the market is social media. I call it early stage deliberately; there’s been a lot of exploration about social media but there’s no cohesive sense among marketers of how it fits in and how marketers can rethink engagement there. So there’s definitely some opportunity to bring the trends together into a cohesive hull. Marketing analytics is also a hot topic. As we as marketers engage with longer sales cycles, there are more touch points. How do we wrap an analytics picture around that? With a BtoC role you have much faster commodity-based sales cycles which has done a good job on marketing analytics. The BtoB world is still wrestling with that, but there are some interesting opportunities popping up as we become a little bit more trackable with our efforts.

Steven Woods has been a leader in the current transformation of marketing since 1999 when he co-founded Eloqua. In his book, Digital Body Language, Steven distills his insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by today’s marketers into a framework of thinking about their audience, and their role, in a new way.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Maximizing Lead Generation Marketing ROI Part 2: Insight, Alignment, & Action

Tuesday, 16 June 2009 08:42

By Jim Lenskold, President, Lenskold Group

This is the second article in the four-part series on Maximizing Lead Generation Marketing ROI. The other articles in this series include:

Part 1: Lead Quality Counts
Part 3: Measuring Effectiveness
Part 4: Dashboard Metrics

You run your marketing, generate those high quality leads we discussed in Part 1 of this article series, hand these leads off to the sales team, and wait. Hey guys, anything happening over there with our leads? Dead silence. The execs are asking about the ROI on your marketing efforts but you seem to have lost sight of the financial returns which may or may not be present in the black hole where you pass your leads into. The financial success of lead generation marketing is very much dependent on how those leads are managed after the marketing handoff to sales.

The need to better align the sales and marketing organizations is generally well-known. These two organizations are connected through their shared roles in motivating customer purchase activities and divided by different cultures concentrating on different portions of the customer purchase funnel. No one can argue with the fact that alignment is good, but what must you ultimately accomplish to drive performance and profitability?

The big opportunities are tied to driving better informed actions, which is a combination of what you know, what you do, and knowing how well you did. Marketing (and the sales team) can prioritize their efforts, allocate budgets, and design high-impact strategies by managing insights, alignment and actions in the following key areas:

• Lead Transition
• Funnel Tracking
• Sales Effectiveness Support

Lead Transition

You’ve invested marketing dollars into generating those leads with the expectation that as many as possible will proceed on their journey to become closed sales. Just like passing the baton in a relay race, the handoff of leads from marketing to sales must be as seamless as possible during this transition stage. The key metric to manage here is the ratio of Marketing Qualified Leads to Sales Qualified Leads (MQL/SQL) which represents the percentage of leads sales qualifies and accepts.

There are two primary gaps in this transition that work against generating positive ROI from your lead generation. The first is lead quality, which we covered in Part 1: Lead Quality Counts. We showed the economics behind prioritizing lead quality over quantity and also stressed that feedback from the sales team is essential to align marketing’s view of lead quality to sales’ definition of quality.

The second gap that is all too common and is a pitiful example of poor management processes is the lack of follow-up contact from sales. The opportunity to generate good returns on lead generation marketing investments quickly fades without timely sales contacts as those good leads in the mix turn cold.

Why would the sales team not follow up on marketing leads? The three primary reasons are:

Poor lead quality – We’ve already established that marketing must own lead quality as long as sales is providing feedback to define lead quality. However, if you have just recently improved quality, your challenge is to overcome old perceptions of quality problems.

Sales capacity – This is another critical area where marketing needs a feedback loop from sales as well as a process to effectively manage the peaks and valleys of capacity. When volumes are exceeding capacity, marketing must work with sales to manage lead handoff by either holding and nurturing leads or tapping into external sales support resources.

Compensation Structure – There are some situations where the sales team earns more compensation on sales-generated leads than on marketing-generated leads. If they are putting more effort on their own leads instead of contacting marketing leads, you have to determine if it is best to change the compensation structure, add more sales staff (internal or external), or cut back on lead generation marketing.

The ROI analysis used to assess lead generation marketing helps to prioritize the process changes necessary to improve the communication flow and alignment with sales. Leads that get lost in the transition are a wasted use of marketing resources and a missed profit opportunity.

Funnel Tracking

As your leads successfully make it through the transition to the sales organization, you are now interested in their travels through the purchase funnel. This is an area that is all about building insight on customer behaviors and marketing/sales effectiveness. This insight is ideal for enriching strategy and targeting. But of course, you are still dependent on the sales team for feedback on the lead outcomes as they progress through the funnel.

The insight you are after includes:

Leakage points – You need to know where leads fail to progress to the next stage of the buying cycle, either because the competition won them away or they stalled or cancelled their purchase decision.

Leakage drivers – In addition to where leads leak in the funnel progression, you want to know why. This insight should identify strategies that can be used to modify branding and lead generation marketing, improve sales management, create new marketing initiatives, and enhance product and pricing decisions.

Quantify Lost Value – Through sales management systems or rough estimates, the opportunity value can be used to quantify the lost revenue and profits associated with specific leakage points and leakage drivers. When you establish a financial value to problem areas such as leads not contacted, opportunities lost because of no budget or opportunities lost because of no management approval, you can then create the business case for new marketing strategies that address those drivers.

More detailed purchase funnels, preferably described from the buyer’s perspective, allow for better assessment of your weak points. But even with sales automation that captures funnel performance and leakage drivers, too much detail will become a burden on the sales team. Instead, use survey research to periodically conduct a more comprehensive analysis.

Sales Effectiveness Support

As you break down these barriers between marketing and sales, you will find additional ROI potential for marketing within the sales cycles. This is more than just basic sales support where marketing provides collateral or presentation decks for the sales team to use as needed. You want to leverage the insight you gain with funnel tracking to strategically develop marketing initiatives that improve your profitability through:

Better funnel conversion rates – As we mentioned in Part 1 of the article series, if 90% or more of leads are not converting into sales, you have a lot to work with. Converting more marketing leads to sales helps the ROI of both the additional marketing support in the sales cycle and your initial lead generation marketing.

Incremental customer value – Marketing running concurrent with sales management of leads can help shift purchase decisions to higher value and higher profit margin products and services. The sales team is going to put their emphasis on closing the sale while marketing can concentrate on making the better mix of products and services more appealing.

Increase lifetime value – In addition to improving the value of the current purchase, marketing can work on motivating repeat purchases and retention to extend the value of the customer. Analyzing purchase behaviors and profiles of long-term customers provides insight on how to better influence the customer relationship in earlier stages.

Shorten the sales cycle – With a detailed ROI calculation that includes the cost of sales resources, your marketing efforts to shorten the sales cycle can be quantified in the reduced cost of sales time. Shorter sales cycles also tend to increase conversion rates.
It is generally more profitable to increase conversion of existing leads than to generate more leads. Think of this as a continuation of your lead generation effectiveness instead of a separate effort.

Alignment between marketing and sales involves sharing insights on lead outcomes and managing lead success jointly through the entire process. Improvements come from understanding and strategically addressing leakage points and leakage drivers. Your ROI analysis will help prioritize and allocate budgets where you can have the greatest influence on the primary profit drivers of increasing conversion rates, improving customer value, and reducing costs for both marketing and sales.

Now that we have established the insights you need to know, Part 3 of this article series will conclude with measurements and metrics for lead generation.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Sales Apps Extend Lead Management Further Into Revenue Creation Cycle

The intersection of sales and marketing keeps drawing closer as lead management solution providers continue to roll out new applications which provide sales executives with insights and new paths to interact with prospects. Both Marketo and Eloqua bowed new tools last week which stretch beyond the marketing automation space into CRM-based, sales intelligence offerings.

Marketo’s new release of Sales Insight, a 100% native Force.com social sales application designed to help sales understand, prioritize,and interact with the hottest leads and opportunities. Borrowing a page from popular social networking sites such as Facebook, the Sales Insight tool presents sales reps with “status updates” from the leads and contacts they choose to follow, highlighting the key actions that indicate buying interest.

As a 100% Native Force.com app, Sales Insights requires no integration or training with Salesforce CRM applications. The Sales Insight application is designed to help sales focus on the right prospects at the right team, with new capabilities including:

  • Best Bets and Watch List
  • Interesting Moments and Activity Tracking
  • Lead Feed and Instant Notifications
  • Identify Anonymous Lead Traffic

Phil Fernandez, Marketo’s CEO, explained that the Sales Insight launch is another step towards a longer-term vision “changing the way sales and marketing work together” to drive revenue. “Lead management is not about just tools for marketing, but also for enabling sales with a sixth sense advantage at every stage of the revenue cycle,” Fernandez said. “Our vision is centered around helping marketing and sales people really get on the same page as part of a single continuous revenue process.”

Eloqua also took what it called “the first step in a march toward the next generation of marketing automation technology and a greater alignment of sales and marketing through content, collaboration and actionable analysis,” with the launch of Eloqua Prospect Profiler, a new CRM-based sales intelligence tool. Eloqua Prospect Profiler provides an intuitive graphical summary of prospect online activities and behaviors – their ‘digital body language’ – that sales professionals can use to focus conversations on topics that will resonate with buyers.

“Prospect Profiler provides a glimpse into what we see as the next generation of marketing automation,” said Joe Payne, CEO, Eloqua. “It combines an intuitive, user-centric design with intelligent behavioral data that provides greater insight into buyer intent.”

Embedded in the contact record of the sales force automation system, Eloqua Prospect Profiler simplifies and summarizes the large amounts of data collected by marketing automation systems. Rather than asking salespeople to read through prospect activity data to prepare for their next call, Prospect Profiler provides an at-a-glance unified, graphical view of any given prospect’s Web site visits, form data, email response and search activity.

Some of the other key features and benefits of Prospect Profiler include:

  • Customized Detail for drill-down capabilities to show specific activity;
  • Customizable Time Views to provide user defined views of specified activity periods;
  • Real Time Alerts - email alerts set up by sales when important triggers occur.

Prospect Profiler is part of the Eloqua Sales Toolkit, a suite of productivity tools that identify opportunities and communicate with sales prospects. The software architecture is designed to easily integrate with Oracle, Microsoft and Salesforce.com CRM platforms.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Social Content Networks Emerging As Next Gen Document Management

By Eric Hoffert, CEO, ShareMethods

As any salesperson knows, having the most up to date and accurate marketing materials is a must. Surprisingly, email, while ineffective, is still one of the most common methods for document sharing, yet even when companies want to move away from it, the options are IT intensive and lack flexibility. But, times have changed and as business ecosystems have become more and more distributed, and salespeople are traveling less, having a way to securely work together and collaborate around important documents has gone from being a nice-to-have to a necessity.

But how exactly is document management moving from the old and inefficient applications to the new and more dynamic ones that are taking over today? The answer is in the basic social networking applications most of us use everyday – Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn and host of other applications.

At a high level, document management is no longer just about the content and technology, it’s about the people. The first step in this shift was document management moving from on-premise to a cloud-based service. What good is a location specific on-premise solution when most salespeople and prospects are distributed globally? If a salesperson in Ohio and a customer in China need to access documents from your company that’s based in California, no problem. Cloud-based document management is always on, everywhere for everyone.

While global accessibility is essential, the next step to making document management more people-centric is connecting the right people and enabling true collaboration. These are what I call Social Content Networks. A Social Content Network is powered by the invitation-based capabilities of social networking applications we are familiar with like LinkedIn and Facebook. It connects the right people around the right content with the ability to work together.

Extending this concept further is functionality familiar to most people from sites like Digg and Yelp: socially interacting with the existing content. Documents should be living entities even when they are not being updated. Salespeople can now rate content so other salespeople can easily gauge what works and what doesn’t. If a prospect needs a document and you want to send it securely to their email, new document management systems can do that too. That’s just another example of the many ways to new interact with existing content.

Finally, a feature on most social networks called ‘groups’ is also changing how people interact around content. Instead of one central location with a massive amount of content, people can now create individual invitation-based workspaces that, again, ensure that the right people have access to (or only see) the content that’s relevant to them. Especially when working with new business prospects, this concept is a boon for salespeople.

Overall, no matter where a salesperson is, they have access to this information at all times. Even in a sales meeting, they can easily pull up the latest and greatest content very easily. If a prospect in India asks for a spec sheet, not only can the salesperson share it with them, but they can also create a Social Content Network that they populate with documents that the prospect can access whenever they want.

The end game is about closing deals faster and keeping customers happy. While information sharing is a simple concept, the efficient execution of it has long eluded companies. Building Social Content Networks in which interaction and collaboration around documents is easy, has allowed companies to take a massive step in changing the way they can leverage the content they have at their disposal.

Eric Hoffert is CEO of ShareMethods, a provider of on-demand document collaboration software based in New Jersey. He can be reached via email at ehoffert@sharemethods.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it