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Speed Up Sales in a Slow Economy
Focus on lead quality and refined marketing spend to get the job done.
Posted Mar 31, 2009
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Did you know that despite the current U.S. economy, over 90 percent of generated leads are still not being followed up on by salespeople? It's true, sadly, and the reason for this is that so many of these leads are considered to be of poor quality.

Unfortunately, this perception of poor lead quality is often accurate, and its cause is rooted in the way most marketing departments are evaluated. Marketing is deemed successful based on the quantity of leads produced or cost per lead, with little regard given to actual lead quality. In fact, this problem exemplifies the misalignment that exists between the majority of marketing and sales organizations today.

During their careers, sales reps have wasted huge amounts of time following up on unqualified leads from marketing. As a result they've become resistant to them, assuming the vast majority of leads to be of low quality. This creates a vicious cycle of marketing dollars being spent to generate leads that no one uses.

In our current economy, companies can't afford to squander their marketing investments. Think about your last big marketing campaign. If it generated a lot of leads but a disappointing number of them turned into sales, then it is likely these high-volume leads were also considered low value and not well-qualified.

Less leads, not more

I often compare high-volume, low-level lead generation to creating a haystack in which the sales team is tasked with finding the proverbial needle. Even today, bona fide prospects do exist, but they are hidden in the stacks of unqualified leads generated by marketing. In contrast, generating a smaller number of higher quality sales opportunities can actually help to improve sales performance.

In other words, when sales reps are given fewer leads, but of better quality, they can focus their time more effectively on the most likely buyers. Such an approach makes sense in any economic climate, but in a market downturn it can be a way to improve efficiency and do more with less resources.

Be aware, however, that in most companies, switching focus from lead quantity to quality represents a major paradigm shift. But by taking a less is more approach and concentrating efforts on lead refinement, it is possible to funnel only the best prospects to your sales force, renewing the value of lead generation programs.

M2O provides a strong foundation for sales

It's no secret that it is now more important than ever to optimize your marketing spend. By practicing what I call M20-Market, Media and Offer-you can efficiently pinpoint the best prospects, build familiarity with them and communicate messages that resonate. These are all simple yet sound practices, but they often get lost in the grand scheme of large-scale marketing campaigns.

Let's start with getting to know your market. Most companies today continue to market too broadly yet still miss a large percentage of their most likely buyers. A typical example is a company that perceives its target market to be the Fortune 500, when it could actually be a much larger (non-revenue reporting subsidiaries) or a much smaller (vertical specific subsegments) group. It's a fact that some market segments respond higher than others, so it makes sense to identify those segments and market to them specifically. If you think this goes back to lead quality, you're absolutely right.

Once you know who your best prospects are, the next step is to determine the best way to reach them. In my experience, mixed-media campaigns that use a combination of quality outbound calls, voicemail messages, email, and direct mail to touch prospects repeatedly over time are the most effective. These days, senior decision-makers may be even harder to engage due to increased financial distractions. This again points to the value of multimedia and multi-touch, since they help build familiarity and increase the chance of reaching targets when their need for a business solution is high.

The last step in M2O is to deliver compelling messages-something that can be challenging in a stressed economy. Also, what constitutes "value" may be redefined in light of current times. The product packaging, extended financing and guarantees can help to motivate buyers.

But what is true in any market is the need for clear, concise statements that speak to the buyer's pain points. Ask yourself: Are your communications appealing to the needs (and fears) business leaders have today? Testing offers and messages within a market subsection is a good way to fine tune performance. Based on programs I've directed for clients, it can increase campaign results by as much as 50 percent.

There is business out there

The reality is that our business climate has changed, and sales numbers are often harder to hit these days than just the same time last year. But by focusing on strategic practices that identify and reach the best prospects, it is possible to rise above the sluggish economy. Working leaner and smarter is the key to success.

About the Author

Dan McDade is founder and president of PointClear, the prospect development company. Before McDade founded PointClear, he served as vice president of marketing for the direct mail firm Jackson & Perkins, and as president of UST: The Business Marketing Group. To learn more about PointClear, go to www.pointclear.com.

Please note that the Viewpoints listed in CRM magazine and appearing on destinationCRM.com represent the perspective of the authors, and not necessarily those of the magazine or its editors. If you would like to submit a Viewpoint for consideration on a topic related to customer relationship management, please email viewpoints@destinationCRM.com.

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