Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Crawl, Walk, Run: Everything B2C Orgs Need For Lead Scoring

Best practices for identifying and converting your best prospects

By Chris McArdle, Executive Director of Interactive Markets, TARGUSinfo

The proliferation of emerging media channels such as mobile and social networks, combined with tight marketing budgets, means that campaign dollars cannot just work harder, they must work smarter as well.

Despite these pressures, fewer than 10% of B2C organizations are using proven techniques to effectively identify and target prospects, according to a recent study from ResearchCorp.

Companies that utilize real-time lead scoring data wisely can pinpoint prospects more effectively and thus dramatically improve conversion rates and lifetime customer values.

“Most organizations try to measure their sales funnel by using spreadsheets,” says Ian Michiels, director of enterprise marketing practice at MarketSphere Consulting. “But that approach has several flaws. For starters, the data is stagnant and the spreadsheets are not intuitive. By contrast, real-time lead scoring systems provide decision-makers with heightened visibility into who their top prospects are and how to tailor marketing campaigns for them.”

It’s critical for people to understand that a lead score in a vacuum is almost meaningless. Understanding what makes up a lead score is far more important than the score itself could ever be.

That begins with gathering and analyzing demographic and psychographic data about customers and prospects, including information about their lifestyle, interests, attitudes and values. It’s only after obtaining this information that companies can develop a complete profile of their ideal customers and then craft personalized, targeted messages for them.

Start by Crawling
One of the biggest misconceptions that neophytes have about lead scoring is that it is too complex to implement in their businesses. In practice, it is not complicated at all.  Think of it as a logical lens that can be used to more closely examine a consumer’s potential.

When done properly, lead scoring is extremely efficient. It does not entail any sales agent training, it requires minimal IT involvement and there is no script writing needed.  The initial stage of lead scoring implementation — the “crawl” phase — includes the prioritization of leads within the call queue and for follow up.  During this stage, companies can also optimize lead sources and media channels.

During these initial phases of lead scoring, it is important for marketers to focus on prioritizing their leads.  Lead scoring enables organizations to identify which leads represent their best opportunities by looking at a prospect’s likelihood to purchase.

One of the key advantages of lead scoring is how it enables organizations to push their best prospects to the front of the call queue. By prioritizing leads, top inbound prospects spend less time in the call queue. That results in lower call abandonment and a better customer experience.

Learning to Walk
Once marketers have mastered the basics of lead scoring — have seen improved results from profits and revenues, and gained organizational buy-in — they are ready to utilize more advanced techniques in the “walk” stage.  This includes the ability to determine which leads should be routed to specific sales agents.  At this stage, practitioners can also customize lead nurturing communications based on a prospect’s potential value.

By having a more comprehensive understanding of a prospect’s attributes and propensities, marketers can match leads to the sales agents with the most appropriate skill level or product knowledge.

In the contact center, it is best to route top prospects to in-house or dedicated sales agents who have the highest conversion rates.  Marketers can then direct lower-ranked leads to an IVR, non-dedicated agents, or outsourced agents.

History has shown that some leads tend to convert well regardless of which sales agent they talk to.  It doesn’t make sense to route leads to top agents if they are just as likely to convert with a less-experienced agent. To help make those kinds of determinations, marketers can develop lead scoring models that match customers’ preferences, allowing less-experienced agents to handle the leads that will purchase anyway.  This helps generate higher conversion rates, especially within a company’s most profitable customer segments.

It can also result in more cost-effective marketing campaigns. For instance, Liberty University was able to save $150,000 a year on its marketing costs by using less intensive tactics for those prospects less likely to convert.

Tailoring lead nurturing to each lead segment can also increase conversion rates.  For example, marketers may choose to send top prospects a direct mailer with a DVD.  Meanwhile, lower-priority prospects could be contacted by email.

Customizing messaging for an offer based on a lead’s preferences can further boosts results. Custom communications can also help to increase customer lifetime values by having more relevant discussions with prospects as well as improve the customer experience.

Ready to Run
Organizations that have achieved repeat success with lead prioritization and message customization are ready to employ more advanced techniques.  These include customized scripts, product offers, cross-selling/up-selling and pricing all on the fly.

One approach is to use lead scores for screen pops with tailored messages that sales agents can present to prospects based on the offer that is most likely to close the deal.  Prospects who feel they’ve been catered to are also more likely to return as repeat customers; better experience equals better results.

Sophisticated lead scoring professionals have also learned how to take what they know about their best leads and use that information to find more leads just like them.   This includes scoring prospect lists to tailor acquisition strategies around your best prospects, or driving conversion associated with win-back and cross-sell campaigns within your existing customer database.  Lead scoring also allows for targeting your best prospects online.

To help boost lead quality, advanced practitioners use online cookies — accessible via ad agencies and ad networks — to locate prospects that match the profile of their best-scoring leads via display advertising.  Organizations that have reached this level are able to improve the relevancy of online ads by fine-tuning the messages aimed at top prospects based on the known attributes of similar prospects who converted.

Fine-tuned online campaigns tend to result in higher sales due to increased click-throughs and higher conversion rates, particularly in more profitable segments.

There are several levels of maturity when it comes to lead scoring with ever-greater scaling benefits. But like the timeworn proverb, you have to crawl before you can walk…and certainly run.

Chris McArdle is the executive director of Interactive Markets at TARGUSinfo. Follow Chris on Twitter at @CjMcArdle

Thursday, April 22, 2010

2010: B2B eCommerce (Finally) Realizes Its Potential

By Godard Abel, Co-Founder & CEO, Big Machines

Over the past decade, BtoC eCommerce has changed the landscape for selling products as leaders like Amazon.com have brought eCommerce to the mainstream — and the numbers are growing.
A 2009 survey of online consumer behavior conducted by Harris Interactive found that 48% of US online adults say that they are now conducting more online transactions than they did in the past. In the UK, the number is even higher as 53% of online adults say they are making more purchases online, with the ability to compare products and prices cited by 74% of these as the main reason.
  • Fact: Consumers now expect products and services to be instantly available, comparable, and configurable to meet their needs online.
  • Fact: Consumers expect fast, intuitive shopping fulfillment.
  • Fact: The web provides consumers instant search results for any products or services along with real-time pricing information across eCommerce sites. Increased product choices and purchasing options are easily available from an expanding global market.
  • Fact: The business world has lagged behind in leveraging the internet for streamlining sales with BtoB eCommerce.
Businesses still rely primarily on inefficient direct and channel sales strategies supported by legacy selling tools and cumbersome enterprise software tools rather than providing their business customers the same intuitive online experience available to consumers.  We expect that over the next decade businesses will bridge this gap and deliver increasingly intuitive eCommerce tools to their business customers.
The History
BtoB eCommerce, by definition, is not a new concept in the business world. Back in 2000, sources like Gartner Research and Forrester Research were predicting explosive growth numbers in the BtoB eCommerce world, upwards of $3.95 trillion by the end of 2003. And the sales industry has been moving more toward this kind of multi-channel selling model, which integrates the Web with more traditional methods.
But, to date, BtoB eCommerce has not seen the adoption across industries that was initially predicted back in 2000. In fact, over the last decade, while many companies have expressed interest in incorporating web technology into their existing sales platforms, very few have actually implemented it. Based on experience with over 250 companies, BigMachines has found that over 90% of companies still rely on clunky spreadsheets and rigid enterprise software systems to price, quote, and sell products. And while we’ve seen great success with the BtoC eCommerce world – everyone from Amazon.com to Dell have become masters in the retail world because of it – BtoB eCommerce requires online systems that can support the complex products, contract, and pricing logic often needed to satisfy BtoB relationships.
CRM vendors have led the pack in delivering sales force automation technology but while they excel at building customer databases and sales management and reporting tools, they have not focused on delivering multi-channel selling tools that support BtoB eCommerce. ERP vendors have continued to focus on providing back-end systems that serve finance and operations, but ERP systems are not intuitive and typically not accessible by sales people, channels, and customers.  Since neither CRM nor ERP have delivered intuitive online selling tools, it has been a struggle for businesses to deploy intuitive online BtoB selling solutions.
Why BtoB in 2010?
It’s clear that the technology industry has been talking about eCommerce for a while but the question is: Why is 2010 going to be the year that it takes off in the BtoB space? The answer is simple. The need is still there, better SaaS technology is now available, and business customers are demanding it. Consider a survey we recently conducted of our customer base where we asked executives if they plan to incorporate BtoB eCommerce into their selling process over the next year. Every single respondent answered Yes. Furthermore, BigMachines has conducted its Breakthrough Opportunity Analysis (BOA) ® with hundreds of companies and has shown that companies can save 50-80% of their quoting and ordering costs and eliminate 100% of order errors by moving to BtoB eCommerce.
New technology is now available that enables businesses to provide their sales people, channel partners, and BtoB customers intuitive online tools that make it just as easy to buy business products and services as consumers shopping online. The BtoB eCommerce platforms also support the complex product filtering, bundling, contract management, and pricing rules that businesses need to conduct online commerce.  By leveraging Web 2.0 technology, BtoB eCommerce platforms now offer a much richer, more real-time business shopping experience.
In addition there has been a generational shift in businesses. As Generation X and Y take over from Baby Boomers, they simply expect to be able to conduct business online in the same way they can in their personal lives. New Gen Y workers entering the workforce have grown up digital and want to do all their product research and purchasing online. They are not inclined to talk to sales people (or anyone for that matter).  As these new generations take over the workforce they will demand online tools from their suppliers and refuse to do business with suppliers relying on antiquated paper, phone and fax driven processes.
Building on an Opportunity
BtoB eCommerce can accelerate sales through a partner channel as well. Think about how business to business transactions are typically conducted. In many cases, businesses utilize partner channels to help sell products and/or fulfill orders. Those partner channels sell from various host companies creating the need for multiple quote and order transactions across the channels. But by utilizing BtoB eCommerce, businesses can automate the channel transactions, share real-time information to collaborate to better serve the end customers, and quickly provide one integrated quote to offer to the end customer.
For example, a niche vendor in the HVAC space is constantly in competition with the large enterprises like Honeywell and Siemens but that company only makes one piece of the product. By using BtoB eCommerce, that company can partner with other companies to provide the whole solution by putting both partner and its own products in one instance within their sales software and create one integrated solution quote for a customer. That company has now grown its business over 20% by offering a competitive bid to the turnkey solution offered by these big time players.
Making it Work
Knowing that BtoB eCommerce will start realizing its potential this year, what can you do as an organization to take advantage?
Do your research and find a platform that suits your needs. Make sure the rules engine is complex enough to handle your products and services and pricing. Understand online self-service and its importance to your customers. In essence, BtoB eCommerce helps you predict what your customers may want to purchase and when you can predict correctly, you have a better chance of winning that sale.
Since its inception in 2000, Godard has led BigMachines on its mission to deliver innovative web software solutions to its customers and to build an enduring company with a great team. Godard earned an MBA from Stanford University and both a BS and MS in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

5 Steps to Get Control of BtoB Social Media

By Scott Gillum, SVP, GryoHSR
Based on recent experience with BtoB marketers, I’ve put together a list of tips that might be helpful for gaining control over social media efforts:
  1. Learn How to Listen – Web 1.0 was about business-to-professionals in the BtoB world. In Web 2.0, it’s about professional to professional. Users of your services/products want to listen to existing users of your products/services first, before they hear what you have to say. In Web 2.0, you have to go from dictator to facilitator. Learn to listen before you begin speaking, it’s a subtle and important transition.
  2. Keep it simple – I’ve found that marketers are so focused on the tools that they have lost sight of what the tools do, and the objectives they are trying to achieve. Social media tools do basically three things, none of which is new. They just do it better, faster or broader. The three things they do include:
    1. Engagement
    2. Access to information
    3. Greater reach and frequency
  3. Gain control of your situation – Unless your full-time job is social media, you’re going to have a hard time keeping up. The best way to gain control over your situation is to define your objectives and ask yourself: “How will the tools help me achieve my objectives?” Focus on your objectives improving engagement with customers, and provide greater access and distribution of information on a broader, more frequent basis.
  4. Upside-Down Funnel – In many industries, social media is commonly used to broadcast to a wide audience, hoping to attract a few people in the end.  In BtoB, marketers typically have very finite customer targets that they know fairly well. They don’t need to broadcast to a wide, unknown audience but rather deepening or extending existing relationships with a specific audience. As a result, the potential “sweet spot” for social media could be at the bottom of the funnel. Using social media to grow existing accounts while leveraging customer advocates to help win new business.
  5. Experiment – Lastly, do some experimenting. Social media is not going away. It’s one thing to be lagging, but it’s another thing to ignore its potential altogether. Pick a few areas and experiment. If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, at least you’ll have the experience to know why.

To read the full story click here.

As the leader of our channel marketing practice, Scott focuses on using proprietary knowledge and experience with complex B-to-B and B-to-B-to-C business models to help clients improve sales and marketing performance. Scott and his team have helped clients in the multiple industries develop innovative ways to create and bring new products to market, improve market coverage and growth through the deployment of new channels of distribution, and increase the overall performance of sales and marketing investments.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sizing Up Social Reach: To Advertise or Contribute

I moderated a webinar earlier this week titled Broad Reach + Intelligent Lead Nurturing = Increased Revenue. Part of the American Marketing Association series, the webinar featured a great panel including Scott Mersy of Genius.com, Brian Carroll of InTouch and Ardath Albee of Marketing Interactions, and also generated a lot of great follow up questions from the attendees.

As part of the presentation we referenced the finding of our recent BtoB Buyer Transformation Study,” which found prospects are extending their research outside the traditional funnel by interacting with others online in a social manner. A few of specific survey findings we shared:

·       40% of buyers read/search on blogs/Twitter
·       37% post questions on social sites
·       60% shared research with others.

Considering the impact social channels are now having on reach, one attendee posted the question:  “Do you recommend advertising more on community focused sites? Or becoming a contributor?”

We have tried some small targeted ad campaigns on social sites and have frankly have not seen great results. Social sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn do allow marketers to send messages to very narrow audiences—beyond job title and industry to specific companies and geographies in many cases. However, I still don’t think social users are in the mode of engaging with sponsored messaging at this point.

Where we are seeing real success stories is when a solution provider engages and builds a relationship with new customers by being active participants in social groups and forums. We’ve seen real several examples where a BtoB buyer has selected their solution provider based on feedback and content that they accessed via sites such as LinkedIn and Twitter.

As we discussed in the webinar, in order to extend your reach you need to be part of the conversation, and a lot of the discussions are shifting to social sites and peer groups so the more active you are on blogs and groups will likely increase your engagements with prospects.

4 Best Practices for Social Media Marketers

By Steve Latham, CEO, Spur Interactive

For more than a year I’ve been advising clients on how to use Twitter as a marketing platform. Surprisingly, it seems that most brand marketers still don’t get it. With the goal of doing my part to help the industry master this channel, I’m sharing my best practices for Twitter Marketing.
While these may not be comprehensive, they will provide you with 90% of what you need to be proficient at building your brand via Twitter. In order of priority – here is my list. Enjoy!
1. Interesting and Engaging Content- While Tweeting is easy, it’s important that you do it right, starting with a solid content strategy. Content recommendations include:
  • Based on approved content guidelines, create Tweets that are engaging and relevant to target audiences. It should be easy for potential followers to see that your tweets are valuable and worth reading.
  • Write tweets that will be shared. Rather than simply posting links, introduce links with compelling copy that encourage clicks.
  • Allow time to pass between each tweet (at least 15 minutes) for several reasons: 1) no one likes to have their dashboard of tweets dominated by one account, 2) if someone is not watching they are likely to miss them, 3) spreading them out demonstrates consistency that yields brand benefits.
  • Limit Tweets to 120 characters so they can be easily re-tweeted without exceeding the 140-character limit. See “120 is the new 140″ from @BrianSolis for more tips.
  • Leverage real-time search by prominently including buzzwords that will picked up by Google, Bing and other search engines.
For more on Content Marketing check out @juntajoe and his blog.
2. Remember! Engagement = Listening + Responding- Social media is about interacting, and you can’t do that if you’re not listening. In addition to listening for your brand mentions, you need to keep an eye on what your network is tweeting about and participate in the discussion. Here are some tips:
  • Use tools to track when your profile or brand is being mentioned on Twitter. Tools include www.Search.Twitter.com as well as the SM monitoring tools mentioned previously.
  • Use the native search feature in your Twitter management tool to follow topics that are of importance to you. For example, I have a search column in Hootsuite for “Social Media Strategy“. This is how I keep up to date on the latest tweets on this subject.
  • When your brand is being mentioned in a positive way, RT the message, follow and recognize the person who tweeted about you.
  • Acknowledge mentions. Monitor when your Twitter account name is mentioned and RT to thank, and/or acknowledge those who are mentioning you.
  • Build credibility and goodwill with your followers by re-tweeting (RT) posts that will be of interest to your audiences. If you RT a follower’s post, they may acknowledge the RT to their followers, thereby promoting you in the process
  • When your brand is being mentioned in a negative way, you can either 1) respond, or 2) ignore it. If you choose to reply, consider the risks, given the nature of their tweet, their motives and their objectives. A confrontational response is rarely successful. If you want to address a customer complaint, ask them follow you so you can then send a DM and take the conversation offline. As mentioned above, ignoring the mention is often best. You can inadvertently cause much greater damage if you engage in a public scuffle with a crazy person.

3. Building a network of followers-
Without a network there is no reach, and without reach there is no ROI. Contrary to most hopes and beliefs, networks do not build themselves; if you want followers, you have to work on it. The good news is that with Twitter, the process is relatively easy. When you follow someone, they will receive an email notification. Currently, the normal etiquette is to respond by following the person who followed you. Judicious tweeters will read your latest tweets to determine if your content is worth following. If the content is good, most will follow you back — at least for a while.
  • Start with your own employees, partners, vendors and community. Announce your new Twitter account and ask employees to follow and share with others.
  • Identify the top 50 influencers in your category on Twitter as these people can provide visibility and credibility for your brand among their networks of followers. Use www.TweepSearch.com, www.MrTweet.com and www.Twollow.com to find users with shared interests. Look for those who have large numbers followers and are active in sharing their opinions with the masses (aka influencers).
  • Follow people who follow your Influencers.
  • Include a link to your twitter account in email, on your site, on all social networking sites and in all correspondence.
  • Remember to maintain a favorable ratio of Following / Followers of +/- 1:1. While building your network, take time to check out who you are following that is not following you back at www.FriendorFollow.com. For each person who is not following you, you can either: 1) stop following for good, or 2) unfollow and then re-follow. If they do not respond on your 2nd attempt to reach out, you may consider unfollowing them for good.
  • Be careful with TwitterBots (AutoFollow) tools. As you’ll quickly learn, building a network takes time. If you are interested in using an network-building service, make sure you use a credible tool or service that follows Twitter best practices. Failure to do so will result in suspension of your account. While there are a lot of cheap bots that to avoid, there are some services that work (full disclosure: we offer one that works well). Before you buy, do your homework and ask for references.

4. Managing Multiple Accounts- Many marketers maintain at least two types of Twitter accounts – one for their company and one for their personal tweets. Twitter management tools (my favorite is HootSuite) allow you to manage multiple profiles. Since many may follow your personal and work accounts, make sure you don’t tweet the same content at the same time. Another common practice is to RT your company tweets from your personal account. Remember that many will follow your brand and personal profiles, so make sure you space them out (no simultaneous tweeting!)
Common Twitter Mistakes to Avoid: Here are some common content mistakes many marketers make when Tweeting:
  • It’s all about me!!!  Too many still use social media a megaphone vs. a telephone. Success requires that you listen, engage and interact with others in the community.
  • Using social media as a press release distribution platform. While there are sites that are great for press releases, this should be the exception, not the norm. As noted, conversations require an exchange of information. If all you do it tell the world about your firm, audiences will grow tired of listening.
  • Boring content. You should always seek to include and introduce links to video, articles, audio and other media that will be interesting to audiences.
  • Vague content. Doesn’t it bug you when someone posts a link with a cryptic introduction?  Make it easy for followers to see what you are presenting to them. Introduce your links.
  • Sharing information that is confidential, sensitive or not appropriate. This is especially important if you work for a public company or in a regulated, hyper-competitive or litigious industry.
  • Drawing unnecessary attention or being overly defensive when addressing negative comments. Sometimes it’s best to ignore the haters. If you respond, you may make something big out of a small issue, which may be exactly what they want you to do.

Steve Latham started Spur Interactive to help companies better utilize the Web as a means for growing their business. Since starting the company in 2002, Steve has developed and implemented successful online strategies for FedEx Kinko's, Southwest Airlines, Amegy Bank, among others. Steve is the founder and President of the Houston Interactive Marketing Association and an active Board member of the Houston Advertising Federation and Prepared 4 Life. Steve is a co-founder and Board member of the Houston Technology Center, and a member of the Technology Executive Club of Houston, the Mayor’s Economic Task Force and the Center for Houston’s Future 2005 Leadership class. Steve blogs frequently on the Spur Interactive blog and is a featured blogger for Online Marketing Connect.

Friday, April 2, 2010

More Marketing, More Channels: 2010 Moves To More Digital Waves

By Morgan Stewart, Director of Research & Strategy, ExactTarget
If 2009 marked the year when marketers began dipping their toes to test social media and mobile waters, 2010 will be known as the year when marketers began doing cannonballs into these emerging channels.

In fact, a collaborative research study conducted by ExactTarget and Econsultancy found that 66% of companies plan to increase their investments in digital marketing channels, which includes social, mobile, search, email, online display and affiliate marketing, in 2010. But what accounts for the meteoric growth of digital marketing efforts and what challenges will marketers contend with as they engage with these new mediums? Here are four trends that help explain how companies are investing their marketing dollars and why those companies are choosing to allocate their budgets across digital channels.

Going by the numbers
28% of marketers are shifting at least some of their overall marketing bud­gets from traditional to digital channels. At least part of the reason for the shift to digital marketing is that marketers find it easier to track the impact these channels have on hard financial metrics. In other words, marketers tend to take a more “scientific” approach to their allocation of digital marketing budgets than they do when allocating traditional marketing budgets. For example, 34% of marketers said digital marketing budgets are allocated based on “more science than art” compared to only 20% who allocate traditional marketing budgets based on “more science than art.”

This brand is our brand
Marketers who focus on “brand reputa­tion” as a measure of marketing ef­fectiveness are the most likely to be shifting budgets from traditional to digital channels. Not surprisingly, marketers who focus on this metric are more likely to be increasing their investments in social media such as Facebook and Twitter. They’re also more likely to be increasing investments in online display and mobile marketing, and less likely to be increasing investments in search engine optimization (SEO), affiliate marketing, and acquisition-based email (i.e., email to rented lists). The increased investments in retention-based email marketing (i.e., email to registered customers) is on par with other marketers.

Worth the risk
Even though marketers admit to having the most difficulty measuring ROI in social media and mobile marketing, these channels are most likely to get the nod for budget increases in 2010. In fact, Two-thirds of marketers are planning to increase investments in social media even though less than one-fifth can effectively measure ROI. For today’s marketers, it’s safe to say that the only thing that is more risky than engaging in social and mobile media is not joining the conversation in these popular mediums. So what’s the easiest channel through which ROI can be measured? Paid search. But while 51% of marketers plan to increase paid search budgets in 2010, 11% will decrease spending in this area.

Tried and true
Not surprisingly, the majority of marketers are able to effectively measure more established digital marketing channels like SEO and retention-based email. 64% of marketers plan to increase SEO budgets while 54% will increase retention email marketing budgets. When it comes to digital marketing budgets, marketers feel confident increasing their investments when efforts can be linked directly to their bottom line.

While marketers are increasingly optimistic about the opportunities digital channels provide, there are still a host of challenges and uncertainties that may limit their ability to take full advantage of these opportunities. Restrictive budgets, limited understanding or training in regard to digital marketing, and lack of staff are all impediments to an organizations ability to effectively utilize digital channels. But with marketing budgets set all that’s left to do is wait and see – no doubt, some valuable lessons will be learned.  To read more highlights from the 2010 marketing budgets study, download ExactTarget’s free two-page research brief here.

Morgan Stewart is Director of Research and Strategy for ExactTarget, a leading provider of on-demand email and one-to-one marketing solutions.  Morgan is responsible for conducting primary research on email marketing trends and best practices drawing from observations across the thousands of organizations that use ExactTarget to manage permission email marketing.