Talking About Lead Generation
When it comes to making sales, technology is doing double duty.
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As part of CSO Insights' seventh annual Lead Generation Optimization study, we asked the 400-plus participating companies to share what demand-generation initiatives are resulting in the best ROI for them in terms of lead quantity and quality.

The study findings were not all that surprising. They validated something we are all well aware of: Technology is playing a pivotal role in how companies market to their prospects and customers.

Email marketing, ranked highest by nearly 60 percent of companies, tops the list, and has replaced direct mail, which has only one-third as many respondents calling it number one. Every firm I can think of has a Web site. Webinars, labeled among the top lead-generating programs by 25 percent of respondents, keep gaining fans as a cost-effective tool to deliver virtual events.

As more and more buyers start their "buy cycle" on the Internet, SEO and paid search (cited by nearly 24 percent of respondents) are seen as solid investments as well. And new approaches continue to emerge via social and mobile CRM.

But our study also revealed another role that technology is playing—managing the leads after they are generated. Lead-generation management systems (LGMs), such as Marketo, Eloqua, Silverpop, Hubspot, Pardot, etc., have been implemented by 36 percent of the firms we surveyed. Three key capabilities are driving these CRM investments:

Lead Scoring. A big complaint I hear from marketing is "sales doesn't follow up on leads." On the flip side, when I walk across the hall to sales, I hear, "Many of the leads we get are bad." Enter lead scoring. LGMs allow you to set up rules based on criteria such as a prospect's title, location, actions he or she has taken, etc., to rate leads. High-scoring leads are passed on to sales, low-scoring ones are not. Three-quarters of the firms with a formal lead-scoring program in place reported lead follow-up rates of 75 percent by sales, versus 48 percent in firms with no lead-scoring process.

Lead Nurturing. The most precious asset anyone has today is time. There is just not enough of it. So when your lead-generation offering reaches a prospect who may very well have interest, but today has no time to seriously evaluate what you have to sell, how are you staying top-of-mind with her until she does have time? That is the second role LGMs are taking on for marketing and sales teams. Rules can be set up to automatically reconnect with non–sales ready prospects in a variety of ways to ensure that when they are ready to consider products like yours, your name is on the shortlist.

Analytics. There is an old marketing lament that goes, "Half of all the money we spend on lead generation is wasted. The problem is I don't know which half!" LGMs are changing that equation. By virtue of the ease with which LGMs can now be integrated with CRM systems, marketing professionals are now able to access success metrics. Analytics can tell them exactly how many responses were generated by each marketing program, how many of those leads were turned over to sales, how many of those leads turned into real opportunities, how many of those opportunities ultimately closed, etc. With these insights in hand, companies can make much better decisions on which types of lead-generation programs to double down on, keep funding at current levels, or cut back on.

Going forward, technology will continue to play an increasingly important role in lead generation. But it is also clear that CRM can play a key role in optimizing the management of those leads as well. To the roughly two-thirds of sales organizations without an LGM in place, 2013 should be the year to implement one. And for those of you who do have an LGM in place, make sure you are using it to its full potential.

Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking CRM and sales effectiveness initiatives. He can be reached at jim.dickie@csoinsights.com.

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