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STRATEGIC MARKETING TIPS From Business Marketing Impact

Qualified Sales Lead Acquisition & Management

Why you should do it, how to do it, and what it can mean for you and your firm

BY TERRY L. PENNINGTON, CBC

Experienced b2b sales people don’t like wasting their time working unqualified leads. They are judged by the revenue results they generate and their time is valuable. By and large, senior sales people consider corporate marketing programs to be a waste of time and money because people without sales experience develop them.

Talk about opportunity knocking

Gain the sales departments support of your marketing efforts by building a program that provides them with quality pre-qualified leads to maximize their effectiveness.

Developing a qualified sales lead acquisition program is not easy; it requires a lot of plain old down-home work. It also takes a little common sense, some best practices application, a commitment from management and a buy-in from the sales force/distribution channel. But the result will be worth the effort once you finish the task.

Selling the concept will not be as tough as you might think

Once management is exposed to the fact that your program will increase the ROI of your firm’s sales and marketing investment and how the process works you should quickly gain their support. What C-Suite Executive doesn’t want to generate more profit by maximizing the results of existing resources?

The nicest part of this effort is that your firm’s size doesn’t really matter. There are lots of ways to structure a qualified sales lead acquisition system depending upon your circumstances, market demographics, distribution methods and resources.

The requisites must be addressed

Thorough insight into the socioeconomic and psychographic makeup of the target market(s) is paramount. Develop a clear understanding of who you need to address and what their needs are. Identify the hot buttons that need pushing to communicate your brand’s distinctive value and which communication methods or combination thereof will provide you with the most effective delivery system to reach your prospects. Once you have a comprehensive understanding of all of this, you will be ready to formulate an effective plan along with specific measurement methods to ensure the program’s success and buy-in by all concerned.

Ask, listen and learn

Start by sitting down with sales management to conduct some comprehensive but informal primary research but don’t stop there. This due diligence approach needs to be carried out on a multilevel basis, i.e., from both sales manage-ment’s and the sales force’s perspectives specifically addressing customer profiles and the qualifying information the sales force looks for to determine a prospect’s position in the sales cycle.

Three things should result from this exercise:
  1. The Project Manager should learn a lot about what kind of information sales looks for to identify prospects and the requisite data they need to complete the sales process.
  2. Marketing and sales should develop a better understanding and insight of each other’s problems and needs resulting in an improved working relationship.
  3. The knowledge acquired should greatly improve the qualified sales lead development process within your company.
Marshal the necessary resources

Determine the logistics needed to qualify, fulfill, manage, maintain and enhance the prospect and customer information that will be developed.

If yours is a large firm with passive telemarketing and extensive computer processing capabilities, the project should be reviewed with the appropriate department(s) to enlist their back-end support and assistance. If your firm is smaller—it will be necessary to establish best practices vendor review criteria and identify these kinds of vendor partners for the project. Whatever the size of your organization, you will need fulfillment services with good data processing and reporting capabilities. You will also need passive telemarketing to further the qualification process.

Timeliness is the key to success

The important thing when establishing back-end relationship(s) is that the department or vendor used, understands that the process being developed must be followed to the “T.” No Deviations, No Delays, No Excuses. At this point, the process becomes the focus.

Clients and prospects have their own agendas and timelines, not yours or your firm’s. You need to be efficient and strike when the opportunity presents itself. Timing and the simplicity of the inquiry handling process are of paramount importance. Your firm needs to respond to inquiries quickly—the faster, the better!

A sale=their agenda

The biggest advocates of a Qualified Sales Lead Development and Management Program is always the sales force. I am aware of an instance, where a seasoned regional sales rep located on the East Coast, found a pre-qualified sales lead waiting upon logging onto the computer one morning. The sales person immediately called the prospect, obtained a midmorning appointment and was back in the office by noon having executed a $48,000.00 sale. That same prospect had been thoroughly qualified earlier that same morning via telephone by a West Coast Sales Qualification Operator.

Responding quickly isn’t as difficult as it used to be. Look at the Communications tools now available to us -- in-flight phones, cell phones, smart phones, text messaging, PDAs, notebook computers, wireless technology, the internet, broadband and Email. The marketplace is calling the shots today. Nobody wants to be sold anymore. Prospects want information and choices. They want compelling reasons to buy from your firm and it’s your job to make it easy for them— never forget it’s all about sales, sales, sales.

Media networking can make a big difference

Good media relations are a resource overlooked by many of today’s marketers. This resource can be worth its weight in gold.

Many media sales representatives have a knowledge of the market that far surpasses most marketing practitioners with less than many years of experience. Identifying good media partners will help you utilize publishing and broadcasting opportunities to your advantage.

Don’t try to be your own coach in this instance. It takes a lot of experience to acquire the knowledge required to do this task. If you don’t have an established network let a seasoned professional assist you. Pros can position you in the media community far better than you can on your own.

Practice the basics

One of the most basic tenets of promotion like advertising is Reach and Frequency. Product publicity has the ability to credibly deliver awareness to reinforce and augment a sales lead development program. Once everything is in order, establish a presence for your firm’s product(s) in the marketplace. Make sure that your product and corporate identity are visible everywhere your firm’s prospects look.

Take advantage of every product publicity opportunity you can from releases to simple listings in Buyers Guides, feature stories and industry overview articles and don’t forget industry analysts, newsletters, blogs and publication website links.

Support your publicity efforts with carefully placed advertisements that “Sell the Sizzle not the Steak.” Provide your target with strong graphics and a brief copy platform that demonstrate dynamic creative concepts. Remember that your target audience doesn’t have time to read; they’re busy people. Don’t try to use advertising to educate that is an editorial job.

Be innovative

Backup these efforts with tradeshow presence. You can actually take advantage of tradeshow visibility without incurring heavy tradeshow participation expense, and I’m not talking about hospitality suites. Depending upon how vertical your market(s) are, I recommend tabletop expositions if they exist in your marketplace. User or interest groups as well as business, advocacy and affinity organizations also provide great first hand exposure. Participate as a sponsor and you might be able to negotiate attendee contact information.

Pre-empt your competitors...
Different works

When it comes to promotion utilize concepts that have worked in diverse industries but aren’t being used in the market your firm is selling in.

The fact that no one else is using the concept in your industry means that it will create even more impact in your marketplace. Smart marketers know that when it comes to tactics, All’s Fair in Love and War, provided your activities are legal, ethical and non-fattening.

Forget about scoring leads

You should consider inquiries of any kind as suspect until qualified. Many marketing experts endorse prioritizing inquiries by scoring or applying percentages.

I believe a simple straight-forward system will serve you better. And, it won’t waste your firm’s money on tire kickers and literature collectors. Regardless of where they originate from separate sales inquiries into three simple categories:

  • Buy Nows = an inquiry from someone who has purchasing authority and wants to buy now!
  • Needs Time = an inquiry from someone identified as qualified who wants information but doesn’t want (for whatever reason) to be contacted further right away.
  • All Others = if they do not indicate a buying intention within 12 months (for whatever reason) refer them to your website for information. Follow up if you will but don’t expect to much.
The secret sauce—Police your program

Build a couple of safeguards into your program. Safeguards like contacting Buy Nows & Needs Time prospects after they have been forwarded whatever they asked for and once the prospect’s contact info has been passed on to the sales force.

No prospect is going to object, if they are re-contacted by telephone within a reasonable time period (Say, 10 days to two weeks), and asked, (Have they have received everything they requested? Did the salesperson answer all their questions or do they need anything else?)

Follow this procedure and you will accomplish three things:

  1. Verify that the process is working.
  2. Impress your customer or prospect with your firm’s dedication to their best interests.
  3. Provide sales administration with a heads-up if anything went amiss.

If a sales person has not contacted them – Wait two weeks after notifying the sales department and contact t the prospect again. The big key here is to establish a dialog with the prospect to keep the process going.

So, never leave anything to chance when it comes to sales lead qualification and management and that includes the process itself. Verify, verify, verify...Continually review your program with appropriate dashboard metrics to facilitate effective monitoring to ensure its efficacy.

Think about it. When was the last time, a firm let you know they really valued your business or interest in their products?

This isn’t just about good sales techniques. It’s about focusing on the C-Suites most critical issues - Product, Price and Placement by increasing profitable revenue enhancement and building your firm’s brand.

It’s a program where everybody wins: You • The Company • The Sales Force • and The Customers.

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