Drip Email Nurturing – Who Wants to be a Drip?

Challenge:  Drip email campaigns often are not customer responsive

It is common for marketers today to identify customers with common characteristics and drop them into a drip email program because it’s easy and can automate outreach to thousands of customers.  The drip campaign creative can be tightly tied to a product or specific value proposition.  However, all too often the process is something like this:  ‘Prospects with this criteria/engagement are ideal for this product so let’s drop them into the ABC drip series.’  On the surface, it sounds like good marketing: targeted list, customized messaging and marketing automation. 

However, this process neglects the fact that these prospects are not uniform in any way.  No matter how tightly we segment our lists, each prospect is truly unique.  In common practice, drip email campaigns are static, having a fixed number of messages at somewhat fixed intervals with fixed messaging.  Those that operate at a higher level have some activity-driven content to alter the messaging throughout the drip to more tightly align to the prospect, but this is as far as most drip programs have progressed.  However, with effort, we can aspire to much more targeted marketing.  Take Amazon, for example, where recommendations are made based on recent purchases and web visits.  I love Amazon because it is timely, relevant and easy to use.

What we need to strive for is something much more responsive.  We need to integrate a broader set of inputs to drive a more relevant set of messages for each prospect.  These other areas of input may include: last website visit date, website pages visited, other contacts at the same company visiting the website, organic/paid search terms, previous products purchased, industry, and more.  Unfortunately this creates more complexity for the marketer, but it creates a more relevant and timely set of messages for the prospect, which is far more important. Additionally, marketers should consider alternate outreach vehicles like a call or mailing. 

While the typical drip program is better than ‘spray and pray’ email marketing, the goal should reach higher.  Think of prospects who look forward to receiving email messages.  Imagine doubling open and click-through rates.  This can only happen with significant changes that make your messages much more relevant to your audience.  What this takes is monitoring key data elements available in your marketing automation system and leveraging these to send the right message with the right offer at the right time.  This is certainly a tough task – and one that will increase complexity over a static drip program.  However the result will be dramatically higher engagement levels.  

So drip nurturing can make the sending company look like a real ‘drip’! 

Lesson: Let’s strive to optimize our outbound programs by including a variety of inputs driven by the actions of the prospect to ensure timely and relevant contacts that move the relationship forward.

Lead Qualification Call Architecture

Challenge: In B2B lead prospecting, how should you design your follow-up calls to quickly assess the prospect and maximize progress on the call?

Lesson: While the wording does not have to be exact, the call architecture above will quickly get to the key data points you need to put the prospect down the right lead qualification or sales path.

Challenge: In B2B lead prospecting, how should you design your follow-up calls to quickly assess the prospect and maximize progress on the call?

Every B2B sales process is unique. However, there are many common elements that provide a common approach to designing your lead follow-up strategy by your lead development representatives. You cannot assume that, left to their own methods, they will find the optimal structure. You need to get feedback from your reps, design a call flow, enforce usage, and then assess the feedback to optimize the structure. Following are a few common elements that will help script an initial follow-up call. Let’s assume that the rep is calling a new prospect that has entered your system from a marketing program – a tradeshow, a whitepaper download, a channel partner registration, a website visit, etc.

Step One: Opening

Make sure your prospect is shown all necessary respect by telling them who you are, and why you are calling and most importantly, keep it shortA pretty standard opening would be: “Hi, my name is Larry Stein with ABC Corp., and I’m following up on your recent download of the XYZ whitepaper from our website.” Don’t add words that diminish your value (e.g. ‘I am just calling you…’) – there’s never a need to apologize for your call. You are calling to help them. You may choose to add a few more words if your company/brand is not well known, in order to help them remember their interaction with your company: “Hi, my name is Larry Stein with ABC Corp. We make the ABC product called the Widget, and I’m following up on your recent download of the XYZ whitepaper from our website.” 

Step Two: Initial Question

You want to stop talking quickly and get them talking. So get to the first open-ended question. My favorite is: “Can you tell me more about your interest in ABC Product/Area?” We don’t care if they read the whitepaper or liked your tradeshow demo. We don’t care how they’re feeling today (let’s face it). This person acted on their own to interact with your company and we want to learn why. There is some business reason that drove them to show up as a lead in your system (remember, we’re not addressing cold calls here). It could be that their boss directed them to look at your product. It could be that they are researching options to solve a problem. You may also find that the person wants to learn more so they can make a job transition or other personal reasons. That’s fine – but let’s get around to understanding this quickly so we can disqualify this lead.

Step Three: Probing Questions to Identify Pain

You may get useful information from your first question – but they may side step the answer initially. That’s OK, in just 2-3 sentences and in less than 30 seconds you have now introduced yourself, your company and why you are calling. Game on! Now you can ask them some initial questions to help guide your qualification. Without identifying a pain point, you cannot sell them anything. Your questions need to get at this area quickly. These will vary – but common questions are:

  • What products or services are you using today to address PRODUCT AREA?
    • If they don’t know the answer, you are likely speaking to the wrong person.
  • What are the primary challenges you face in PRODUCT AREA?
    • If you can’t identify pain points, then the prospect likely needs more time/development.
  • Do you have an IMPENDING EVENT coming up in the near future?
    • Is there something coming up that’s a good target point for you to start a sales engagement? E.g., Office move, acquisition, planned upgrade, etc.

You get the idea. You need to have a few (3-4) well-crafted questions to really probe for pain points or impending events that will enable you to deliver a solution for the prospect.

At some point in this process you can insert your value proposition. When they describe their current solutions or issues they face, you can then respond with a quick, 3-sentence solution overview. This builds on the short introduction you gave to your company and starts to embed the nature of your solution and why you are calling. Keep it short – you have not yet earned the right for a monologue.

Step Four: Seeing is Believing

If the call is going well and worthy of deeper investment of time, now is the time you should get your product in front of your prospect. A picture is truly worth a thousand words. This could be a 5-minute web demonstration via phone, a canned video or some other tool that will make your solution come alive for the customer. Given that this will frequently extend the call by 3-10 minutes, this step should only be taken with qualified prospects. The objective of this demonstration is to solidify their interest. Ideally you want to get them to experience a ‘goose-bump moment.’ This is the moment when a prospect clearly understands how your product would make their life easier/better. Make it personal and visceral.

Step Five: Next Steps:

So now you’ve learned about their needs and gauged their interest in your solution. Next, set the hook for their next call to action. You need to get your prospect to commit to a next step in the sales process. They need to actively take steps to evaluate and learn about your solution. By taking an action, your prospect will become more positively disposed to your solution (see the blog post “Power of Persuasion”). This could be to attend a one-hour web demonstration, to have an onsite visit/demo, to gather data and send back to you, or other important steps. You must close the prospect for this step and schedule the timeframe. Set a date and time for this action and set a follow-up discussion date/time. You are now off to the races!

Lesson: While the wording does not have to be exact, the call architecture above will quickly get to the key data points you need to put the prospect down the right lead qualification or sales path.

Lead Qualification Compensation Strategies

Challenge: How do you provide incentives for your lead qualification reps?

Lesson: Simplicity, leverage and breadth can reinforce what is most important in the lead development role.

Challenge: How do you provide incentives for your lead qualification reps?

I strongly believe that the most important forms of ‘compensation’ are feedback on the job and work environment. Employees generally do not leave for 10% more pay. However, they will leave when they do not feel appreciated or when they can’t see how their efforts support the organization as a whole. That said, designing a compensation plan is an important factor in providing incentives and demonstrating what is truly important in the position. The compensation plan should reinforce what management demands from its employees and supports the work environment.

My top recommendations for compensation plan design are simplicity, leverage and breadth. The most important aspect is simplicity. The plan should be easy to understand so reps can easily see how they should organize their activities to maximize the plan. Simplicity creates clarity of purpose for the organization and makes it easy for the reps to make trade-offs with their time. After all, time is the only resource any of us will never get back. So much time can be wasted discussing complex plans and identifying ways to maximize results. Complex plans also create back-end processes which are difficult to manage, are open to interpretations/questions, and require more time to support.

Overall, my preference is to make the base compensation less than 50% of total target compensation (TTC). This creates a strong incentive to achieve the variable compensation component of the plan – or leverage. Assuming lead qualification is the primary focus for a lead development rep, I recommend tying 50% or more to the number of qualified and accepted leads – possibly up to 80% of the variable plan. This emphasizes the simplicity of the plan in that reps clearly understand how to make their TTC. Breadth is achieved by adding in two additional components – albeit significantly smaller. The first is a component tied to revenue – which reinforces the help that lead development reps play in ensuring follow up to their leads and assistance to their sales reps in other ways. The second component is a quarterly goal objective which the manager assigns to each rep. The reps have learned much about the optimal way to qualify leads – and therefore they are in a great position to create tools to make the team more effective. Objectives can include creating vertical intro pitches, reference sheets, pulling stats/reports for the team, running online demonstrations, creating call lists, testing call scripts, etc.. These all help the team to be more effective over time.

Lesson: Simplicity, leverage and breadth can reinforce what is most important in the lead development role.

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.

To Accept or Not to Accept – Lead Acceptance Policies

Challenge: How to ensure leads passed to your sales team are truly qualified.

Lesson: The tighter the lead qualification and acceptance rules, the less leaky your sales funnel.

Challenge: How to ensure leads passed to your sales team are truly qualified.

“We want the Glengarry leads!” Have you heard your sales team complaining about the quality or quantity of leads? Are the leads you’re delivering turning into actual opportunities in your pipeline? These are common issues and they’re resolved by defining clear expectations and points of handoff.

The solution is relatively simple but requires tight integration between sales and marketing. It starts with a clear definition of a qualified lead. While never truly a science, you can set qualification requirements like buying timeframe, budget allocation, identified pain point, willingness to meet with a sales rep, etc. These need to be clearly communicated to both your lead qualification reps and your sales reps so everyone is on the same page and has the same expectations. Once in place, lead development reps can deliver a qualified lead to a sales rep in the salesforce automation system that’s notifying the sales rep.

The real trick here is to have an enforcement mechanism where the sales rep has a defined time interval to accept or reject the lead. If the time passes, either the reporting or the lead development rep needs to raise focus on this qualified lead that has no sales feedback. If the sales rep rejects the lead, they need to identify which qualified lead criteria were not met. Once accepted, your sales reps must create opportunities in the salesforce automation system. This prevents sales reps from accepting any lead because they will be held accountable for these opportunities in their sales forecast reviews. However, you need your sales operations manager to ensure that all accepted leads are indeed converted into opportunities.

Lesson: The tighter the lead qualification and acceptance rules, the less leaky your sales funnel.