Lead Scoring Turns Trash to Treasure

Challenge: Focusing sales on the best leads

Lesson: Score one for both the sale and marketing teams by scoring leads with information input from the prospect as well as behavior gathered from the prospect’s web activities.

Challenge: How do you optimize your sales rep time by focusing them on your most qualified leads?

How many times have you heard, ‘Marketing just gives us a bunch of lame leads for follow up’? The issue is to clearly identify what characteristics early stage leads have so that marketing can deliver stronger, more appropriate leads.

Lead scoring is a great exercise that brings together sales and marketing. Effective scoring of leads will ensure your sales team is following up on the best leads and not wasting time calling junk.

Lead scoring generally breaks down along two dimensions: qualification and interest scores. Qualification scores refer to information the prospect provides about himself or what you can learn about him from research. This information typically includes location (address), size (revenue or employees), industry, buying timeframe, budget, role/title, etc. The challenge with this information is that prospects do not always fill out forms truthfully. However, you can enhance the data with third-party validations like D&B or other sources.

The second dimension of lead scoring is interest. This measures the actions taken by your prospect, including the number of website visits, date of the last website visits, number of web pages viewed, number of offers downloaded, high value content consumed, etc. Because interest score measures actual behavior, this is often looked at as more reliable to identify a prospect.

However, using the two scores together, you can develop an even more detailed profile of your prospect in terms of their overall sales readiness. Close collaboration between sales and marketing can achieve a common approach to lead scoring and the delivery of more sales ready leads to the sales organization. More data is good – mutual agreement on how to score this data is even better. The result is that both your sales and marketing organization will now be focused on finding the same type of prospects and align their interests.

Lesson: Score one for both the sale and marketing teams by scoring leads with information input from the prospect as well as behavior gathered from the prospect’s web activities.

Develop Your Own Flag – Color Matters

Challenge: Overcoming customer apathy and creating awareness.

Lesson: Raise your flag – Pick a bright color and wave it proudly.

Challenge: Overcoming customer apathy and creating awareness.

Companies frequently underestimate the impact of their color palette in their marketing campaigns. One of the greatest challenges faced by early stage ventures is gaining awareness while competing against much more well established companies.

Color can play a key role in developing as association with this nascent brand. Stay away from bland or colors that blend in to the background. You need your company to stand out. Not everyone will like a bright color – but they will remember it. Great examples include ShoreTel (deer hunting orange) and Extreme Networks (purple turned into a rallying cry for programs).

Color has a visceral effect on people and will make the subsequent programs more memorable. More established players will be afraid that bright colors may turn off some prospects. Use this to your advantage to take the road less traveled. Select a bright color and display it prominently on your website, in your advertisements, at your tradeshows and throughout your other communications. Get this color closely associated with your brand – so the public knows when they see your solution. You will look larger and more established – a key value when competing against larger competitors.

Lesson: Raise your flag – Pick a bright color and wave it proudly.

Turn the Heads of Your Analysts

Challenge: Analysts need their independence – we need to work with them to influence them

Lesson: Working closely with your analysts on projects with customers is an effective and efficient way of putting the relationship on track.

Challenge: Analysts need their independence – we need to work with them to influence them

Analysts have a tremendous impact on technology companies in the advice they give to their clients. Their recommendations can put your company on the short list or put your company out of contention. We need these analysts for their independence – the very same thing that can make the relationship so frustrating.

Work with your analysts — not against them. What they need is information about products, markets and trends. Give them what they need! You have a list of great customers who love your products. Create a project for the analysts where they can interview your customers to deliver key learning for your executive staff. What you will receive are several benefits. The first is an independent report on an issue of importance to your executive team – this is what you defined in your project. A secondary benefit is to get the analyst speaking with your customers and hearing directly about how your solution has helped them substantially. Finally, you will also have the analyst speaking directly with your executive staff – building better relationships and establishing ongoing communication flows.

I have frequently found that there is learning on all parties. The analysts learn countless new things about your company, your products and more. Your executive staff learns not to demonize the analysts but rather to understand their perspective. This frequently results in better ratings for the company and a better communication channel with the analyst.

Lesson: Working closely with your analysts on projects with customers is an effective and efficient way of putting the relationship on track.

Marketing Collateral – Less is More

Challenge: Companies in B-To-B space will not win or lose based on product documentation

Lesson: Keep your collateral to a minimum and make your entire marketing team more efficient.

Challenge: Companies in B-To-B space will not win or lose based on product documentation

Rarely will a company succeed because its product literature is outstanding. Certainly, every company needs collateral that is clear, concise and informative, and this literature needs to answer questions from prospects that help them evaluate the solution when a sales rep is not close at hand. The collateral needs to reinforce key branding and messaging to leverage top line value propositions.

That being said, I have frequently seen companies over-invest time and resources into their marketing collateral, taking down inordinate amounts of time from product management teams. Furthermore, if the collateral structure is complex, it can require more marcom headcount at the expense of product management or product marketing personnel. The cycle gets worse with ongoing updates, maintaining print inventories, distribution, etc.

 Start with the end in mind, when it comes to most things, including your approach to collateral. What does your prospect need in the form of print and online collateral to learn more about how your product will solve his or her issues? Developing fewer pieces to meet this requirement can eliminate future drag on your entire team to keep these up to date with product releases and printed versions.

Lesson: Keep your collateral to a minimum and make your entire marketing team more efficient.

Sales Productivity versus Efficiency — Enforcing Sales Discipline

Challenge: Sales reps want to sell more and updating their SFA systems is frequently not a top priority.

Lesson: The argument ‘I don’t have time to update all this in SFA’ rings hollow.

Challenge: Sales reps want to sell more and updating their SFA systems is frequently not a top priority.

Lord Kelvin said: “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Nowhere is this truer than in enforcing SFA utilization. It is easy for reps to complain about this as useless overhead. However, I would argue that they cannot effectively do their job without religious follow up to records in their systems.

An organization needs to set minimal expectations on the frequency and depth of updates. Clearly, lead development reps must update last call attempt, number of call attempts, last call outcome, scheduling next activity, key account details, and so on, or they cannot guarantee the right follow up with these prospects. Similarly, sales reps need to update opportunity records to accurately forecast their sales this month and beyond.

Furthermore, sales and marketing management personnel need these details to actively manage the business. Identifying average sales cycles, win/loss reporting, and more all require relatively deep updates by the reps to SFA systems. In this new Sales 2.0 world, updates to SFA are a job requirement – both for the rep and for management. You cannot run a business without accurate and up to date in information in SFA systems.

Lesson: The argument ‘I don’t have time to update all this in SFA’ rings hollow.

Without a Map, Any Road will Take You There

Challenge: Defining operations where marketing meets sales.

Lesson: A tight definition combined with a solid acceptance process is a recipe for marketing and sales harmony.

Challenge: Defining operations where marketing meets sales.

Even with a tight definition of a qualified lead, the process can still easily break down. Leads delivered but not follow up on are the very definition of a leaky funnel. In other cases, leads can be passed without truly meeting the lead criteria. The process needs real checks and balances.

A lead development rep needs a specific set of procedure steps to follow in order to successfully pass a lead to the sales rep. This includes placing a time stamp on the lead showing the exact time it was passed to the sales rep. The sales rep then has a limited time to engage with the lead and then approve or reject the lead. After all, leads don’t get better with age.

There must be discipline in this process so that a lead accepted by sales is required to be converted into an opportunity the sales team will manage starting at an agreed-upon sales stage. This will enforce sales discipline on the subsequent follow up of these accepted leads. This also puts ‘skin in the game’ for the sales rep that they cannot accept any lead – as they will be queried by sales management about the status of this new opportunity.

On the other side, specifying the criteria does not let marketing off the hook if a prospect fills out a form and identifies themselves as meeting the criteria – e.g., they have budget or plans to purchase in six months. Prospects regularly inflate the numbers when they fill out these forms and these prospects need further qualification to ensure they meet the criteria. This may often involve a phone call – but could also require further inquiry via email, IM or subsequent offers. The lead development rep must ensure that the criteria are met BEFORE the lead is passed to the sales rep. The intent of having lead qualification reps is to increase the overall productivity of the sales reps. If the lead development rep passes on junk leads, sales efficiency is reduced.

Lesson: A tight definition combined with a solid acceptance process is a recipe for marketing and sales harmony.

Where Marketing and Sales Meet – A Qualified Lead

Challenge: Breaking down the barriers between sales and marketing.

Lesson: The first step in breaking down the walls between sales and marketing is to develop lead qualification criteria.

Challenge: Breaking down the barriers between sales and marketing.

All too often marketing and sales do not work hand in hand. The relationships fall apart as sales accuses marketing of delivering garbage leads and marketing accusing sales of not engaging seriously with their leads. This problem is unproductive and easily solved. The first step is to define a qualified lead.

First, marketing and sales need to agree on the criteria for a qualified lead. One time-tested method is BANT – Budget, Authority, Need and Timeframe. Other criteria may include willingness to meet with a sales rep, viewing a product demonstration, and having a product installed or confirmation of demographic information. The actual definition needs to meet the realities of business and must be customized.

Also, the description of the criteria for a qualified lead should be as objective as possible. For instance, ‘willingness to meet’ is very objective – if the prospect does not meet with the rep, the lead cannot be qualified. Other criteria can be massaged a bit, such as  budget. This could mean that the company needs to have the project already budgeted before it is categorized as a qualified lead – or it could mean that the prospect knows the budgetary figures and has agreed to push for budget approval. Again, this needs to fit the specifics of the product and market.

Even after marketing and sales agree to the specific standards for a qualified lead, there will be exceptions. The first step is for the sales rep to work with their lead qualification rep and explain the issue. If this does not work out, they need to escalate to a common person so that these issues can be resolved quickly and, if necessary, further criteria added to a qualified lead.

Lesson: The first step in breaking down the walls between sales and marketing is to develop lead qualification criteria.

My Sales Reps Sell but Don’t Prospect

Challenge: Building a Team to Build Your Sales Funnel

Lesson: There’s more than one way to build a lead qualification team – it just takes a consistent and thoughtful approach.

Challenge: Building a Team to Build Your Sales Funnel

Companies hire sales reps frequently based on their ability to manage the sales process and close business. In fact, it’s rare to find sales reps equally adept at prospecting as they are at closing. Even those who can do both well find it difficult to manage their time between these two activities because the pressure is focused on selling. The result is spikes in sales productivity as sales reps move their focus between prospecting and selling.

In many cases, the solution is to hire lead development reps who work focus exclusively on marketing program leads in an attempt to qualify new sales opportunities for their sales reps. I have seen two different successful models of hiring lead development reps. The first is to hire the more rare individuals who have made a career out of lead qualification. These people typically enjoy the hunt, the task of sorting thru large numbers of leads to find those that will qualify and turn into real sales opportunities. They have familiarity with marketing and sales automation systems, know how to build lists, understand how to manage their time, have an appreciation for the larger sales process, can navigate organizations, etc. However, they are more difficult to find AND they are much more expensive. The benefit is that they can quickly deploy and ramp up without much supervision. These individuals are ideal in very early stage ventures because they can learn/adjust and then teach others in the organization, and they can be co-located with their sales reps or even deployed in remote locations. They are easy to identify by their resume background – but there are fewer of these reps overall.

The alternative is to hire more junior talent and provide the necessary training and support. In most cases, you are hiring the personality because the individual has less work experience. Typically, I like to see someone who is somewhat competitive, has held a sales role (e.g., mortgage brokerage, internet service provider sales, commercial real estate) and is a great communicator. This type of rep will need much more daily guidance in the form of joint calling sessions, feedback from sales reps on lead quality, technology solution training, sales channel education, and more. However, in the right environment, a company can build a pipeline of these reps to serve as a feeder for their sales reps so there is a consistent flow of talent into the company and up the sales ranks.

Lesson: There’s more than one way to build a lead qualification team – it just takes a consistent and thoughtful approach.

Accelerating Channel Sales with Effective Marketing Programs

Challenge: Motivating and training channel partners

Lesson: Simplify the marketing process to empower channel partners to create their own success and add to yours.

Challenge: Motivating and training channel partners

Channel partners can be essential to a company’s sales growth. However, the company must have realistic expectations from their channel partners and a consistent commitment to their success. Vendors must invest in programs that scale to meet the needs of their partners and understands both their strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately, and all too often, companies under-invest in their channel partners, set unrealistic expectations and take steps that frequently undermine the relationship.

Channel partners survive in relatively thin margins (typically under 30%) and therefore usually do not have a deep bench of marketing talent nor the time to focus on specific products since they carry a broad array of solutions. What resellers need are products that have a relatively simple sales process and sales programs that can be implemented quickly without substantial time or money. The most effective programs require simple steps – such as uploading an email list and modifying existing email content to send a traceable email blast to their existing customer base. Another great example is co-funding local events hosted by the channel partner with onsite support by the vendor. I like to describe these programs as ‘Just Add Water’ – they only need resources that the reseller readily has on hand. The vendor will typically have much more sophisticated web and automation systems – so extending these programs to their partners often creates a win-win situation.

In the end, the company must be completely committed to the success of its partners and therefore assign marketing personnel and funds to create these programs. Dedicated headcount is necessary to develop and deliver these programs, train resellers on how to use them and then continue to optimize them over time. Even great programs that are simple to implement will require an evangelist to get partners to utilize these tools. The vendor is well advised to invest in creating a limited set of effective programs where the partners know they will succeed with their limited funds and staff.

Lesson: Simplify the marketing process to empower channel partners to create their own success and add to yours.

Setting PR Metrics

Challenge: Setting and managing expectations for coverage from your PR agency.

Lesson: Without a detailed PR objectives and metrics, the road will inevitably lead to dissatisfactions.

Challenge: Setting and managing expectations for coverage from your PR agency.

Many companies find that when they first hire a new agency, the performance is great. Most executives slap themselves on the back acknowledging their smart agency choice. However after one or two years, the agency’s performance seemingly drops, dissatisfaction increases and there is the call to replace the agency. How many times have you heard this story?

The underlying challenge is setting realistic coverage expectations in the form of specific metrics, to which all parties agree, on a quarterly basis. The agency should inform you what to expect given your budget, industry, level of news items, etc. Working with your agency, you should set targets for the type of coverage in specific publications, relative tone and depth of coverage. I prefer to set groups of publications or media outlets (e.g., top trade publications, secondary trade publications and business media). Then I like to assign point values for various types of coverage. The result of the conversation with the PR agency is a target quota for coverage – measured in points.

Since most agencies work on a retainer basis, you know exactly what you will be paying them every quarter. What is uncertain is the actual coverage. My preference is to treat the PR agency much more like a sales team – with a target quota. This enforces a discipline where the agency needs to press the company for news worthy items, access to executives for profiles, brainstorming sessions on new approaches, access to customer stories, etc. The agency should have a plan before the start of each quarter as to how they will achieve their target coverage quota. This will likely involve many activities that will include press releases, pitching exclusive stories, leadership lunches/dinners mixing executives, press and analysts, product releases, contributed articles, and others ideas they bring to the table.

At the end of each quarter, the agency should report on their achievements and set out the plan for the next quarter. This requires a set of metrics to be tracked and presented – along with commentary on why these results occurred and the plan going forward. Sharing a summary of this reporting to the rest of the executive staff can also help them understand the results achieved and the resources required in the coming quarter from their organizations. There should be no surprises when resources are called in for a product review or an executive needs to schedule a series of briefings. This tight planning process also gives the agency a chance to set realistic expectations from the marketing team and executive staff. All too frequently expectations are not realistic and this sows the seeds for a parting of the ways.

Lesson: Without a detailed PR objectives and metrics, the road will inevitably lead to dissatisfactions.