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Lead Nurturing Best Practices

Lead Nurturing Best PracticesLead nurturing is the process of building relationships with prospects over time while shaping their interest in your solution to a certain threshold, or lead score, until the lead is ready for sales. It’s similar to progressing from dating to marriage. First, there’s initial contact where one person expresses interest in another. If the person being courted is too aggressive in their response it could be a turn off to the interested party. Fortunately, there are dating and lead nurturing best practices to adhere to. Whether dating or trying to sell, it’s vital to deepen the relationship over time and know when to commit more.

According to Brian Carroll, author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale, 95% of website visitors are not ready to speak to sales. They may be just researching your industry and your company. However, studies show sales-readiness of website visitors will increase over time. In fact, 70% of those visitors will eventually buy from someone – including your competition. Unfortunately, most companies don’t realize this outcome.

What problems does lead nurturing solve?

If your lead generation process is similar to most companies, once a contact fills out a web form two things occur. First, the contact is loaded into a CRM system, such as Salesforce.com. Second, a sales person qualifies the contact with a phone call or email. If the contact does not seem like a short term sale for the sales person the lead is ignored and deemed “unqualified”. No further interaction occurs between the company and the contact. Consequentially, lead generation processes become inefficient and “rusty” over time while sales people develop a stigma about the quality of marketing’s leads. Research supports this trend as 80% of all marketing leads are unused, which is a waste of 80% of marketing’s budget.

How will lead nurturing help you?

To maximize ROI on your marketing dollars, it is imperative that interested prospects remain in close communication with you and your company well beyond the initial point of contact. Instead of dropping unqualified leads into a black hole, companies should build a relationship with the lead through a series of scheduled communications. By doing so, companies shape the preference of their potential buyers and stand a better chance of winning a prospects business.

Forrester, CSO Insights and Brian Carroll summarized the benefits of lead nurturing:

  1. Decrease the percent of leads generated by marketing that are ignored by sales from 80% to approximately 25%.
  2. Raise win rates of leads generated by marketing 7% points higher and reduce “no decisions” by 6%.
  3. Have 9% more sales representatives make quota and decrease ramp up time for new reps by 10%.
  4. Increase efficiency as nurtured-prospects buy more, require less discounting and have shorter sales cycles than prospects that bought but were not nurtured.
  5. Generate 50% more sales-ready leads at 33% lower cost-per-lead.

Number 5 is very important. Lead nurturing allows marketers to maximize return on their most valued asset, a marketing database. Marketers spend lots of money collecting new leads to build up their database. Rely less on adding uninterested contacts with incomplete information to your database and focus on building a high quality database you can nurture. By eliminating dependencies on new contacts and leveraging existing leads, marketers lower cost per lead.

For the expert marketer, this is solid data. However, for beginners trying to understand why they should spend any time on lead nurturing here’s a simple summary. Lead nurturing will:

  • automate follow-up communication with leads too numerous to be handled through direct sales; and
  • cultivate and nurture contacts over time so those contacts remember your brand when the need arises.

Lead nurturing tips

Creating a lead nurturing plan is not difficult. Here are four tips for creating your plan:

1. Create content that tells a story, from start to finish.

2. Don’t focus nurturing content on your product; rather, focus content on what your product does for your prospect. Communicate your message using 3rd party content, case studies, white papers, eBooks, Podcasts, webinars and tradeshows invitations.

3. Select a time line and frequency for your nurturing program. Most programs last 12 months on average but vary based on sales cycles. Identify how long your typical sales cycle is and use that as the duration of your nurturing program. Most programs nurture their leads one time per month on average.

4. Keep lead nurturing simple. Experts suggest 80% of the benefit of lead nurturing is achieved by the first 20% of effort. Refrain from creating too many lead nurturing programs / tracks. To start, create only one program per industry relevant to your business. For example, if most of your customers are in the finance and telecom industry create two programs; one with content relevant to finance and the other with content relevant to telecom.

Sample lead nurturing program

Below is an example of a lead nurturing program with 12 nurturing events over 12 months.

Initial Contact –> Introductory phone call and follow-up “thank you” email
Month 1 –> 3rd party article on pertinent technology via email
Month 2 –> Industry relevant case study via email with follow-up call
Month 3 –> Newsletter with scheduled follow up task
Month 4 –> 3rd party article on pertinent technology via email
Month 5 –> Relevant white paper via email
Month 6 –> Targeted campaign via direct mail
Month 7 –> Relevant eBook via email with scheduled follow-up call
Month 8 –> Link to relevant Podcast via email with follow-up call
Month 9 –> Free report via email with follow-up call
Month 10 –> Invitation to webinar via email with follow-up call
Month 11 –> Call to invite to industry trade show and follow-up with registration link
Month 12 –> Prospect calls you and becomes a sales-ready lead

Executing lead nurturing best practices

Once your lead nurturing program is up and running, you’ll need to start prioritizing and capturing your leads. First, you have to define what a sales-ready lead is. A sales-ready lead is a contact that meets your ideal profile and/or demonstrates interest in your solution commensurate with buying signals. By using lead scoring, companies have the opportunity to measure the relative levels of sales-readiness of one lead versus another. Combining lead scoring with real-time lead tracking technology allows companies to notify their sales team of a hot lead at the exact moment a nurtured-contact interacts with marketing collateral. For example, if a contact is sent an email message with links to an article on your company’s website, you’ll be notified in real-time via email or desktop software when the contact clicks the link. This process creates a closed-loop email marketing system, which most email marketing programs do not have.

We suggest defining a sales-ready lead and your lead nurturing programs in a Service Level Agreement (SLA). SLAs are used to broker collaboration and agreement between sales and marketing. Remember, make sure you execute your lead nurturing plan and stick to it. To quote Thomas Edison, “Success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration”.

A lead nurturing program similar to the one above can be fully automated and executed using revenue generation software from Lead Liaison.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. What lead nurturing best practices do you suggest?

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Service Level Agreement

Service Level AgreementFacts support a widening gap between sales and marketing teams. Read our article on sales and marketing alignment to see what we mean. Businesses must focus sales and marketing teams on common criteria; in particular, revenue generation. The first step in brokering alignment of sales and marketing teams is to establish an agreement, a set of rules, defining how sales and marketing will interact with each other. Many businesses are creating a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between sales and marketing to serve this purpose.

“Sales and Marketing must collaborate on defining leads and marketing objectives. You can make a huge impact by focusing first, on creating an Ideal Customer Profile (company-wide, for each product, service or solution). Then, create the Universal Lead Definition of a ‘sales-ready lead.’ Finally, connect the marketing/sales process to customer’s buying process.” Read more here. – Brian Carroll” company, http://blog.startwithalead.com

What should a Service Level Agreement contain?

As Brian Carroll highlights, companies should agree to definitions of leads, ideal customers, and adapt to customer’s new buying habits. These are just a few examples of items that should be included in a Service Level Agreement. In addition, businesses should include:

  • Purpose of the Agreement
  • General definitions
  • Lead scoring model
  • Lead response process and timeline
  • Lead nurturing program
  • Metrics / goals
  • Sales and marketing responsibilities
  • Review period
  • Term
  • Acceptance

Complementary Service Level Agreement for sales and marketing

Lead Liaison’s revenue generation software provides the technology to deliver many of the components of a Service Level Agreement; however, it’s a best practice to first develop a guideline for your lead management in the form of an Agreement. We understand every business is different. Small business, large businesses, different products, different markets, etc; but, we can agree most businesses are similar in a few regards. They lack efficient lead management processes and have misaligned sales and marketing teams. As a result, the “framework” of any Service Level Agreement is similar.

We took an opportunity to create a Service Level Agreement template to get you started. We will be posting the template shortly. The template will be accessible via this post. Please check back shortly.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. What else should be included in a Service Level Agreement between sales and marketing?

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Sales and Marketing Alignment

Sales and Marketing AlignmentThe CMO Council sited 38% of Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) say sales and marketing alignment and integration is a top priority. However, only 30% have a clear process or program to do something about it. With only 38% of CMOs making alignment a top priority, we can assume approximately 1 out of every 3 organizations recognize the issue but few take action. How about the other 2 out of 3? Are they not aware of the problems between sales and marketing? This article highlights common problems prohibiting sales and marketing collaboration, summarizes reasons one group thinks the other is the antagonist, and suggests solutions to narrow the divide between sales and marketing.

Unfortunately, inadequate solutions and uninformed executives have only perpetuated the problem. Sales and marketers have developed a terrible misconception of one another culminating in an environment filled with friction and dissonance. Brian Carroll, CEO of InTouch, attests that “communication breakdown affects nine out of ten companies”. Here’s another one of our favorite quotes from Brian:

“The unrealized potential [of sales and marketing alignment] can be likened to the batteries in a flashlight. If the batteries aren’t inserted in the right direction, or are otherwise out of proper contact, their power is unusable”. – Brian Carroll, http://blog.startwithalead.com

Do any of these examples typify your sales and marketing groups?

  • marketing complains sales never follows up on their leads
  • sales complains marketing never provides any leads, just contacts
  • marketing thinks they are the only people who are strategic thinkers
  • sales thinks they’re the only people worried about the quarter
  • sales wonders why they always have to generate all their own leads
  • marketing complains sales criticizes or ignores everything they generate
  • marketing thinks salespeople will say anything to get a deal
  • marketing wonders why sales isn’t cranking out deals from all their leads

Problems with sales and marketing alignment

C-level executives must recognize problems standing in the way of sales and marketing alignment. We took an opportunity to pull together five major problems impeding sales and marketing collaboration. Each problem is backed by data from industry experts.

80% of leads are typically lost, ignored or discarded (*1)

73% of companies have no process for revisiting leads (*2)

80% of marketers send unqualified leads on to sales (*3)

90% of marketing deliverables are not used by sales (*4)

90% of website visitors don’t identify themselves (*5)

30% of sales reps turnover each year, 7 months to ramp up (*6)

Solutions to sales and marketing alignment

There’s no single recipe for aligning sales and marketing; however, the first step is recognizing they’re not aligned (you already have a 38% chance). Here are some suggestions to align sales and marketing teams which will address the five major problems identified above.

1. Transform your sales cycle into an integrated revenue cycle. Create a new model (definition) for your sales pipeline to include sales, marketing, services and support. We discussed how businesses can split their sales pipeline into a marketing and sales pipeline respectively in this article. Once the sale is made, even more collaboration should occur between sales and marketing while pulling in support and services. We discuss extending your pipeline past the point of “customer” in this article. Working on a revenue cycle vs. a sales cycle allows sales and marketing teams to work together on a common goal; creating revenue, faster.

2. Define a Service Level Agreement (SLA) between marketing and sales. Include things like definitions/terminology, what makes a qualified lead, priority of lead sources, how leads are “recycled” into nurturing programs, where marketing collateral is stored and details of nurturing programs in your SLA.

3. Establish a closed loop reporting process for leads. Once marketing provides a lead to sales it’s crucial follow up is measured and tracked. Marketing automation uses lead distribution technology to disseminate leads based on pre-defined criteria. Automatic lead distribution reduces turnaround time and make sales happier when marketing responds quickly. Additionally, marketing automation technology can automatically schedule follow up actions. For example, scheduling tasks such as a phone call or email in a CRM system such as Salesforce.com. Advanced marketing automation schemes include the ability to ensure tasks are changed or closed; if not, the system will send an email to the marketer or management notifying them of the delay.

4. Foster a culture of respect and trust. To overcome common misconceptions, as highlighted above, foster an environment of collaboration, open communication, and mutual interest to develop respect and trust between marketing and sales.

5. Implement lead scoring. Lead scoring measures a lead’s interaction with marketing activities. It’s an automatic way for marketing to qualify leads for sales. When a lead is qualified by hitting or exceeding a certain scoring threshold, marketing can hand the lead off to sales. The hand-off occurs automatically and unobtrusively. Check out our lead scoring solutions guide for more information.

6. Implement lead tracking. For the 90%+ website visitors who don’t fill out a form, lead tracking captures the visitor’s information as well as their click pattern (digital behavior) as they traverse your site. This is invaluable information for sales. It helps sales better understand what their prospect is interested in. When sales communicates with the prospect they’ll know what they’re looking for resulting in a more efficient discussion. If lead tracking is not implemented sales loses out on more leads and marketing doesn’t get the proper return on their marketing investments.

7. Implement closed-loop email marketing. Typically, marketing will collect a bunch of leads from a trade show, send out an email blast, then hope for someone to call back. With closed-loop email marketing, any response to an email message is automatically signaled to sales or scored appropriately. The marketing system will “raise its hand” when prospects are interested. Closed-loop email marketing is built into most marketing automation solutions.

8. Implement lead nurturing. Don’t let 90% of your marketing collateral (major marketing investments) go to waste. Lead nurturing leverages closed-loop email marketing and enables marketers to setup customized nurturing schedules of 1, 3, 6, 9, 12, or any number of months to automate and personalize the process of staying in touch with your leads. With marketing collateral in hand, a nurturing program, and closed-loop email marketing you can automate periodic follow up. The nurturing system will automatically send email messages with attached collateral matching your prospects interest. Nurturing matures the prospects interest until they’re ready to buy. Lead nurturing also makes sure that the 80% of ignored leads are not ignored since marketers can drop them into a lead nurturing cycle right away. For the 73% of marketers that don’t plan to revisit/re-qualify leads, work with sales to establish a process wherein leads are “recycled” or added back into the nurturing program if the purchase period is farther out than the sales person is ready for.

9. Overlap payment metrics between sales and marketing. Sales people make most of their money off of bookings or revenue. Measure part of marketing’s success on similar sales metrics.

10. Bring in revenue generation software. Get your organization on a common tool set that provides lead generation, marketing automation and sales prospecting capabilities tied into your CRM system. Using a platform solution, not a single product, provides cost savings across the org while uniting your teams.

What happens when sales and marketing are aligned?

As evidenced by the data below, once sales and marketing are aligned the business will recognize considerable monetary as well as cultural gains. Your organization will begin to think as a team, as a single unit, instead of operating in individual silos with disparate agendas. Industry experts report the following benefits of aligning sales and marketing:

Businesses grow 5.4% faster (*7)

Reps close 38% more deals (*7)

Reps lose 36% less deals to the competition (*7)

Businesses have a better chance of retaining customers

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. What do you feel the problems are between sales and marketing? What solutions do you have to achieve sales and marketing alignment?

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Sources:

(*1, *2) “Gauging the Cost of What’s Lost” by the Business Performance Management Forum and CMO Council.

(*3) Marketing Sherpa’s 2011 B2B Marketing Benchmark Report.

(*4, *6) “The New Rules of Sales Enablement” by Jeff Ernst.

(*5) Marketing Sherpa.

(*7) Hugh Macfarlane, founder and CEO of MathMarketing, conducted an alignment benchmarking study by surveying 1,400 professionals in 84 countries around the world.

Extracting Value Post Sales

How can your company begin extracting value post sales? Britton Manasco published a post on Mastering the Customer Success Cycle. In the post, Britton stretches out the mind to encourage businesses to consider a different perspective on traditional buying cycles. Effectively, Britton splits up buying cycles into two larger phases, pre sales and post sales.

“Our attention must shift from product sales and delivery to customer performance and success.” – Britton Manasco

In our article on pre-sales phases of the sales pipeline we cover stages prior to the sale (customer phase). Most organizations would agree that sales, marketers and services operate in different camps, feel they have their set of goals, and move on to the next pre-sales opportunity in the pipeline. The fact is, the job is just beginning and businesses that fail to align sales, marketing and services with customer performance and success lose a gold mine of value.

Britton states there are three post-sale phases; implementation, performance, and advocacy. Implementation provides the proper guidance and support to help the customer get a solution up and running. Performance motivates companies to prove the benefits articulated in the pre-sales phase. Advocacy occurs once clients are delivering and achieving positive ROI. Only then, can your client become a proponent of your solution.

Pre-sales and Post-sales Phases

We concur with Britton’s way of thinking and would like to expand his thoughts, specifically around the involvement and benefit of sales, marketing and services groups in the post-sales phase. In the section below we highlight ideas each group can execute to gain organizational alignment and achieve customer success.

It’s imperative to note a few things. First, there’s no particular order for the execution of these ideas; however, it’s fair to assume services involvement is primarily in the implementation and performance phase whereas sales and marketing’s contributions are timelier in the advocacy phase. Second, collaboration across each of the business units is necessary to benefit from lessons learned and improve the likelihood of customer success.

Ideas for service/support involvement in post sales phases:

  • Training to help jump start adoption.
  • Consultation on best practices and lessons learned from other clients.
  • Further develop an understanding of client’s hurdles to adoption.
  • Iterative performance reviews.

Ideas for sales involvement in post sales phases:

  • Navigating client’s organization to identify PR contacts.
  • Asking for referrals to other companies that could benefit from your solution.
  • Asking client to act as a reference for future opportunities.
  • As Britton puts it, become a “business coach”.
  • Build the customer relationship further.
  • Identify additional opportunities.
  • Obtain feedback after the sale to help improve future pre-sales activities.

Ideas for marketing involvement in post sales phases:

  • Working with your client’s PR or marketing contact on joint press releases.
  • Obtaining quotes from senior level managers for inclusion in marketing collateral.
  • Recording video testimonials for inclusions in marketing collateral or websites.
  • Aligning joint speaking opportunities at industry panels, conferences and seminars.
  • Build a case study highlighting the client’s usage of your solution and extracted benefit.
  • Measure ROI and compare clients return to the ROI initially conveyed pre-sales.
  • Improve marketing collateral highlighting client’s favorite features and/or benefits.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. How do you feel sales, marketing and services/support can be involved in the post-sales phase?

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Sales Tips – Part 1

Sales TipsWhether we admit it or not, everyone can learn something new especially when it comes to sales. We sat down with our team to draw from the 100+ people years of sales experience. Through the years we’ve all collected some useful tips, tricks and best practices from sales experts. We culminated these ideas into a list of sales tips for business to business (B2B) sales. This is the first installment of our Sales Tips series.

Sales Tip #1 – Always get a business card

When you’re in a face-to-face meeting with a prospect it’s good to know who was in your meeting when it’s time to follow up. We’d estimate about 60% of the time the people in the meeting don’t have a business card with them. This is especially true in technical meetings. You’d be lucky if the Engineer handed you their last business card crinkled up in their wallet.  As a handy tip, give the person your business card, flip it over to the blank side, then ask them to throw their contact information on the back so you know who’re you’re talking to. They’ll always do it, it would be rude not to. Now you’ve got their phone and/or email for follow up and you’ve taught them to bring their cards next time.

Sales Tip #2 – Use the phone

In today’s internet-age we’re inundated with real-time communication devices such as tablets and mobile phones. The availability of communication devices makes it’s easier to use electronic communication such as text, chatting, or emailing over talking. Don’t lose sight of how business people used to communicate “back in the day”, over the good old telephone. Resist temptation to send an email to a client or prospect. Digital communication lacks feeling, tonality and full-duplex communication – its 1s and 0s and nothing in between. Pick up the phone and make a call. You might learn something else you couldn’t learn from sending an email.

Sales Tip #3 – Nurture prospects

Sales wins usually don’t happen overnight, unless the occasional blue bird comes in. The information-age drives businesses to publish content on the web, which enables your clients and prospects access to more data and research. More research stretches out sales cycles. Develop a process to nurture your leads. Enlist help from marketing to tag team efforts and leverage technology such as lead nurturing to automatically stay in touch with your prospects to keep your funnel active.

Sales Tip #4 – Choose seating wisely

We’re all human, unless you’re working with a “sales machine” – we know a few. Our human nature is to work in groups/packs with people we’re familiar with. The next time you’re in a meeting with a client or prospect watch where their employees site. They’ll usually sit together on the same side of the table. Break up the party, before everyone sits down grab a seat next to the first person that sits down, not your colleague. If you’re traveling with colleagues ask them to sit across from you or next to another employee of your client/prospect. Breaking up groups will drive more interaction during your meetings.

Sales Tip #5 – Let the prospect talk first

As sales people, we tend to speak more than we listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason. Listen more than you speak, especially in the first meeting. Prior to the meeting remind yourself you’ll let your prospect talk first. You’ll come off as easy going and demonstrate strong listening skills. Most people love to talk about themselves or their situation. Seize the opportunity and give your clients the floor first.

Grabbing a business card (even if it’s your own), using the phone, nurturing prospects, choosing seats wisely, and letting prospects speak first are five sales tips to consider. Our goal is to continue to publish sales tips in groups of five as part of this series. Each tip may not apply to you, but we hope you can take away at least one thing.

We welcome your feedback, comments and suggestions. What are your sales tips?

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Marketing Segmentation

What is marketing segmentation?

Marketing Segmentation

Interestingly, marketing segmentation is not listed in Wikipedia – the mother of all definitions. However, Wikipedia does define “market segment” as “a sub-set of a market made up of people or organizations with one or more characteristics that cause them to demand similar product and/or services based on qualities of those products such as price or function.” Marketing segmentation and market segmentation are different. Marketing segmentation is, well, a way to segment your marketing, not a market. It’s time we gave marketing segmentation a definition.

Here’s our definition, marketing segmentation is the process of individualizing marketing efforts to a subset of targeted contacts or companies meeting related criteria. In plain English, it means marketing to sections of your database to address specific, and like needs. Using email marketing as an example, without marketing segmentation businesses would send out spray and prey email campaigns to every contact in their database. Recipients would become annoyed as they’d receive irrelevant content too frequently that doesn’t meet their needs.

To achieve marketing segmentation, businesses should do two things. First, turn to their most valuable asset, their database, and compartmentalize it. Second, split up their sales pipeline into two separate pipelines, one for marketing and one for sales.

Step 1, analyze your database for segmentation

Let’s first look at compartmentalizing your database. If you have a clean and accurate database you can probably skip this paragraph. However, if you’re like most companies and have an immature or messy database, take the time to get it in order. Your database is the foundation for your marketing segmentation strategy. To clarify, database segmentation is different from marketing segmentation. Database segmentation is a part of the overall marketing segmentation solution and helps you send more personal emails while avoiding unnecessary ones. Once your database is segmented, create unique and relevant content to send to each segment.

Before segmenting your database, it helps to make a list of how you’ll market to your database. When you understand how you’ll market to your database you’ll know what database information or fields you’ll need for segmentation. Reference our article 101 ideas for B2B lead generation to spark your thoughts.

For this article, let’s assume we’ll use email marketing as our marketing strategy. Next, identify your segmentation criteria. Here are 16 examples of how to segment your database.

  • Email address vs. no email address
  • Interest-based preferences – does the prospect/customer like product A or product B? does your prospect/customer like information on products, use cases, documentation? These are just a few examples. Use interest-based questions in your web forms to collect data.
  • Title – is the prospect/customer a Vice President or in Engineering?
  • Referred by – was it a partner who referred the contact to you?
  • Source – did the lead come from a tradeshow, purchased list, internet search?
  • Clicked links – has the prospect/customer clicked any links in your email campaigns sending them to your company website? This indicates interest.
  • Geography / territory / time zone – where is the prospect/contact located?
  • Recency – was the contact added to your database within the last 3, 6, 9 or 12 months?
  • Networking – where did you meet the prospect/customer, at a restaurant, trade show, on-site?
  • Frequency – who is buying more frequently than others? Separate these folks from the rest of the pack to hone your selling efforts.
  • Monetary – which customers are spending the most? Push them to the top of your stack.
  • Pareto’s Principle of 80/20 – Pareto state’s that for many events, approximately 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. Identify which customers bought something in the past year and what they paid. Figure 80% of the total sales for the year and determine which customers contributed that amount; these are your “A” customers. Next, identify the next 10%; these are your “B” customers. Identify the next 10%; these are your “C” customers. Mark everyone else a “D”. Ignore the Cs and Ds and focus your sales and marketing efforts on the As and Bs.
  • Buyers by Product – who’s buying and who’s not? which products are they buying?
  • Sales stage – where is lead/customer at in your sales and marketing efforts? Feel free to use our article on the sales pipeline to get some ideas of the pipeline stages to use in your database.
  • Lost business – which opportunities have been lost? Don’t forget about them, they may have other projects or interests. You’ve invested a lot of time and energy trying to sell to them. Don’t let that go to waste.
  • Active vs. inactive – for example, who has not opened or clicked an email in the last 180 days

Most marketing automation solutions have built-in technology to help you partition your database into individual contact lists by running a query on your database. The query can be a one-time query only or an ongoing query that adds new contacts to your list as they appear in your database and match your requirements.

Step 2, allocate a marketing pipeline and a sales pipeline

The second step to marketing segmentation is to split the sales pipeline into two separate pipelines. We’ve gone into depth on this topic already so we won’t repeat ourselves. Read this article on dividing your sales pipeline for more information. In summary, sales will manage a pipeline of leads, contacts, and opportunities ready to talk whereas marketing will manage everyone before they’re ready to talk.  Marketing’s pipeline is most likely interested in getting an education vs. a sales pitch.

Once your contact lists and pipeline process is separated, create unique and relevant marketing assets (whitepapers, kits, email messages, etc.). Finally, leverage closed loop email marketing to send personalized email messages and nurture your lists using lead nurturing technology.

Good luck with your marketing segmentation efforts. Special thanks to Lori Feldman, the Database Diva, for providing her list of ideas for database segmentation.

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Fill your Sales Pipeline using Technology

Fill Sales PipelineAre you like most companies and need to fill your sales pipeline? Recently, we came across this article about keeping your pipeline full with qualified leads. The article discusses three keys to lead generation success:

1. Consistency

2. Implementation

3. Patience, persistence, and follow-up

However, there’s only one thing missing – how do you do it? The three keys are great principles to live by but without help, these principles will go by the wayside. Turn to technology for assistance. Revenue generation software contains a number of technology components such as lead scoring, marketing automation, lead nurturing and follow-up to build a systematic structure around these three principles.

1. Consistency with lead scoring and lead generation

Technology doesn’t discriminate. Use lead scoring technology to automatically qualify inbound leads or leads that exist in your database based on a pre-established set of rules, created by your organization. Lead scoring creates an objective measure on how hot, or not, a lead is. Sometimes the definition of a lead is arbitrary and disputed between sales and marketing. Use technology can keep your lead generation process consistent.

The article does provide a great quote:

“…you can’t afford not to make lead generation a top priority. New leads are the life blood of your business. If you aren’t constantly filling the pipeline, you will not be able to sustain the business over the long term.” – Erica Stritch, RainToday.com

This is very true. Luckily, revenue generation software can help again. Most revenue generation software solutions include lead capture. Lead capture adds prospects to your pipeline based on the interest levels you care about. For example, if a contact in your database is sent an email every three months and they finally open an email nine months later, they might be interested. Technology can flag their interest and notify the appropriate sales person in real-time. The use of technology removes the need for sales people to “pull” leads. They should be able to have leads “pushed” to them.

2. Technology to support implementation

Revenue generation software includes email marketing, lead generation, lead capture, web form creation, landing page creation, sales prospecting and more to help sales and marketers implement their strategies. Look for solutions that provide a “platform”, not just a single product. When marketers standardize on revenue generation technology they create marketing factories that are open 24-7, produce consistent output, and provide a framework for operation.

3. Leveraging technology for patience, persistence, and follow-up

Revenue generation software includes lead nurturing technology to establish periodic, scheduled follow up with prospects. Together with sales, marketers can develop 6, 12, 24 or any number of months of a nurturing program that spaces out follow up and touch point activities with your prospects. It’s easy for a sales person to discount a lead after the first few phone calls. The lead shouldn’t be dismissed; rather, nurtured and added back to the periodic follow up cycle. Lead nurturing automatically schedules touch points, handles the “recycling” of your leads, and schedules actions (call/email for example) for sales in a consistent manner ensuring patience, persistence, and follow-up.

In summary, revenue generation software technology includes components such as lead scoring, marketing automation, lead nurturing, lead capture and follow-up to build a systematic structure that ensures lead generation success.

Sales Pipeline

Sales PipelineSales pipeline, sales cycle, pipeline and revenue cycle are just a few terms thrown around in sales and marketing organizations across the globe to define the life cycle of a sale. There’s no single name for opportunities moving from initial contact to customer. In fact, the health care industry adds to the confusion by defining a revenue cycle as “all administrative and clinical functions that contribute to the capture, management and collection of patient service revenue” according to fairview.org , terminology far different from what’s used in B2C and B2B sales. Putting health care aside, let’s keep it simple and use the traditional name of a “sales pipeline”. Although the name is inconsistent, what is consistent is the mismanagement of the sales pipeline. Organizations should focus on three best practices to better manage their sales pipeline; define the sales pipeline, split the sales pipeline, and keep the sales pipeline/database clean.

First, let’s get on common ground. The sales pipeline typically consists of four stages; inquiry, lead, opportunity and customer. Inquiry and “contact” can be used interchangeably. The idea is the name is a new or existing contact in your database. At some point the contact becomes a lead and ready for sales. Then, the lead progresses to an opportunity and eventually a customer.

Basic Sales Pipeline

The diagram above is a rudimentary version of a sales pipeline and is entirely too basic for most organizations. This segues into our first suggestion:

1. Define your sales pipeline

Sit down with leaders of your organization from sales, marketing and operations. Take input from the sales force and come up with a definition for your sales pipeline. The definition should be a collection of stages in conjunction with probability. Probability is your confidence level the lead will close. Use a CRM system such as Salesforce.com to help track the life cycle of your lead as they advance through each stage. Below is an example of the stages and probability of a sales pipeline.

  • Prospect New (10% probability – marketing lead or trade show follow-up)
  • Prospect Engaged (20% probability – web meeting, phone contact)
  • Evaluation (30% probability – demo/presentation completed)
  • Budget Qualification (40% probability – requirements discovery phase)
  • Proposal Submitted (50% probability – confirmed budget, testing commitment)
  • Technically Selected (60% probability – building ROI, business justification)
  • Contract Negotiation (70% probability – reviewing proposals, technically selected)
  • Final Signature (80% probability – selected, waiting for signed agreement and/or final approval)
  • In Purchasing (90% probability – waiting for purchase order)
  • Closed (100% – purchase order received)

The above stages breaks down the sales pipeline beginning with the lead stage into a more granular view, which is recommended. Taking a more granular view on the pipeline stages prior to the lead stage we discover “hidden” stages that must be addressed, added in green in the diagram below.

Enhanced Sales Pipeline

Most organizations fail to recognize the green stages and neglect making them part of their process. What happened before the contact was a lead? Some form of prospecting must have occurred. For example, the contact may have been collected from cold calls, trade shows, website lead tracking or list buying. After the appropriate folks are made aware of the contact the contact must be qualified. If the contact is unqualified, they should be nurtured until they qualify as a “lead” ready for sales. This segues into our second suggestion:

2. Split your sales pipeline into two

Many sales and marketing organizations disagree on the definition of a lead. Sales tend to have criteria for a lead and marketing tends to call any contact a lead. The definition of a “lead” is not as important as the definition of a “qualified lead”. Sales people are one of the most expensive assets in any organization. Businesses should use their time efficiently by having them focus on the most qualified leads. Marketing provides leads and sales closes them.

In effect, there are two pipelines; a marketing pipeline and a sales pipeline. The Marketing pipeline is manages the customer touches from initial contact through to a real sales lead. Marketing must offer education and not appear as high pressure or “salesy”, which is a turn-off in the beginning stages. Marketing should make sure that by the time sales contacts the prospect; the prospect is open to having a conversation.

Since sales requires an intimate, high-touch, personal approach they can use their charm and business skills to manage sales ready leads while aligning their efforts with sales pipeline stages per suggestion #1. Marketing automation technology helps marketers automate their portion of the sales pipeline, or the marketing pipeline. One advantage of marketing automation is the ability to use lead scoring to automatically “score” a lead based on certain behavioral or demographic criteria. Once the score reaches a certain level, marketing is ready to hand the lead to sales. Let’s apply this concept to the second diagram above:

Divided Sales Pipeline

Assuming 60 points is the hand off threshold; marketing will handle all stages of the pipeline until the lead reaches 60 points. At that point sales picks up the qualified lead to progress them through the stages, again as defined in suggestion #1 above. Sales may deem the lead as unqualified but should not dismiss the lead and remove them from the pipeline. The lead should be passed back to marketing, or “recycled”, for more nurturing. The result is a tightly sealed sales and marketing pipeline that optimizes revenue generation.

3. Keep your sales pipeline and database clean

To properly manage your sales pipeline you must keep your database efficient and clean. Reduce resistance of data entry by simplifying the number of fields in your database. Think about what fields are a must have vs. a nice to have. Use technology to automate the process of data completion. For example, if you know the name of the business there are tools to pre-fill revenue, number of employees, competitors and more. Finally, make sure to have some sort of “Do Not Call” or “Opt-Out” category for each of the contacts in your database. This is a simple way to demarcate leads that should be sent to the graveyard.