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USA Financial (USAF) spends tens of thousands of dollars each month bringing independent financial advisers to its headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., for two-day training sessions that the company calls its Coaching Academy. The independent marketing organization wholesales products and provides marketing and financial advisory tools to independent advisers. Aside from confirming that each attendee qualified for the Coaching Academy course by earning at least $100,000 a year, however, there wasn’t much to assure USAF that it was getting solid candidates.
“We were letting just any Tom, Dick, and Harry come up,” says Raeanne Thompson, USAF’s marketing services vice president. Worse, attendees’ revenue totals weren’t the strict criterion they were supposed to be: “We liked to have a full room,” Thompson says. “You don’t want to have three people show up to a room that holds 50.”
Founded in 1988, USAF began its Coaching Academy earlier this decade; for six years the program was executed in an open-arms, albeit costly, manner. The problem, however, was overall marketing inefficiency.
Until about three years ago, USAF had little to no insight into how its marketing campaigns were performing. That’s when the company landed a new chief marketing officer, who pushed USAF to implement Silverpop Engage B2B (formerly Vtrenz). Before implementing Silverpop, USAF had focused primarily on advertising in print and online industry publications—email marketing wasn’t even in the picture. Since then, the company has undergone a complete reversal: Email is now USAF’s primary marketing strategy, because of not only its cost-effectiveness, but its trackability.
The insight Thompson receives has enabled her to better target and tailor her emails, even revealing the optimal sending times for each. (Fridays around 10 a.m., for example, are best for sending videos.) As a result, unsubscribe rates have dropped dramatically, from 25 percent to just 5 percent.
“We have had to cut back [on advertising] because of the economy,” Thompson says, “and knowing that [email] is more effective makes it easier to cut now.” When the economy turns around, Thompson says she has every intention to reinvest in direct mail and publications—provided, she says, that it all goes well.
Regardless of the marketing strategy, USAF was still getting leads coming in from every direction, be it print advertising, trade shows, or email. Any information that marketing was able to collect, however, was handed off to sales on mere sheets of paper. “If we got the papers back,” Thompson says, “they would just end up back on our desk.” She admits that there was little marketing could do with the information that came back in terms of campaign improvement—assuming that sales was even calling the leads marketing provided in the first place.
Certainly feeling the pressure of a tighter budget, USAF could no longer afford to dole out free trips to just any interested individual. In the past, USAF could only assess the quality of potential clients after attendees arrived at the Coaching Academy events.
In October 2008, USAF worked with Silverpop’s strategic partner The Annuitas Group to embark on a lead management program, including database segmentation and lead qualification, scoring, and nurturing. Finally, the company would be able to close the loop between marketing and sales.
As a result, Web visitors looking to submit an inquiry or access USAF’s complimentary resources—such as white papers and videos—now have to complete an online form that gauges their suitability, with each visitor’s responses generating a corresponding score.
Eventually, the company plans to include other scoring criteria, such as frequency of visit and types of resources accessed, but as the formula exists now, visitors who score at least 190 points are deemed a qualified lead. Only then is an invitation extended to attend the company’s recently rebranded monthly one-day intensive event Discovery Day. (Prospects are required to attend the in-person event before USAF begins working with them.) Depending on their score, individuals are directed into one of several lead-nurturing programs until they finally are deemed sales-ready.
The result was a sharp decline in attendance—events that had landed between 30 and 50 people were now reduced to between 10 and 20, or even as few as five—but the objective was no longer just filling up a room. Although the actual number of conversions from Discovery Day were roughly the same as they’d been with Coaching Academy, the rate of conversions for those who attended the in-person event increased from 23 percent to 43 percent.
Thompson says USAF is now saving anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 each month by not having to invite people ruled out by the Web form alone. Without the additional clutter, the sales team is free to focus more time on building up customer relationships and keeping in touch with prospects through tools such as personalized messages.
The relationship between marketing and sales, Thompson says, has never been better. Before, she says, “we never heard any positive feedback on leads.” Now, excited salespeople stop her in the hallway to talk about great conversations with potential customers. “It’s a good feeling,” she says, “knowing what you do is appreciated—that it actually means something to the firm.”
Thanks to Silverpop’s solution, USA Financial was able to:
- increase the conversion rate of qualified leads to sales from 23 percent to 43 percent;
- eliminate costly advertising campaigns to focus on more-effective strategies, namely email and search engine optimization;
- reduce email-unsubscribe rates from 25 percent to 5 percent; and
- save approximately $6,000 to $10,000 per month with more-selective event invitations.
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