• September 1, 2014
  • By Jim Dickie, research fellow, Sales Mastery

Take the Intelligent Route to Lead Generation

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Much has been written in the past couple of years about the increasing adoption of lead management systems, such as those by Eloqua, Marketo, Treehouse, and others, to help marketing departments deal with challenges in optimizing the effectiveness of demand creation efforts. These solutions are focused on helping marketers design programs, score and nurture leads, track the return on their campaign investments, and more. While it is encouraging to see these innovations, marketing isn't the only area facing challenges with lead generation.

As part of CSO Insights' 2014 Sales Performance Optimization (SPO) study, we asked more than 1,200 firms to tell us where the leads that sales organizations pursue come from.

Six percent were generated by customer service; 21.3 percent were from customer referrals or "other"; and 25.9 percent came from marketing. At the end of the day, sales teams still have to generate close to half of the leads (46.9 percent, according to our study) required to allow them to have a chance of hitting their revenue targets. That begs a question: What can companies do to optimize the ability of salespeople to create their own opportunities?

One approach we are seeing more sales organizations adopt is the leveraging of sales intelligence (SI). The 2014 SPO study found that 58.3 percent of the firms surveyed subscribed to one or more services that provide this, such as LinkedIn, InsideView, Data.com, Avention, etc. At a macro level, comparing the performance of companies that were using sales intelligence solutions with those that were not, we found that SI users are generating a solid ROI in terms of both a significant increase in conversion rates of leads to opportunities and in the percentage of salespeople making quota.

We then drilled deeper into the survey data, looking at the specific services that companies reported using. The study participants relied on 36 different SI solution providers. As we compared the levels of intelligence these various options provided, it became clear that all SI services are not created equal. So how do you decide which alternatives are right for you? You can start by looking at what—and how—you sell.

If your company is fairly transaction-focused, simply having access to clean, current contact information may be all you need.

If you are selling more complex solutions, you may find that SI services that track news events about your prospect accounts and the personnel at those companies are a requirement.

If you sell to an audience that is active on social media, such as Millennials, you will want an SI service that tracks and gives you feedback on the activity of your prospects on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other sharing sites.

If several stakeholders are involved in making the final decision to buy your products or services, you need SI services that can help you build relationship maps of the decision makers within your client accounts.

If certain conditions are buying signals for you—for example, if your company sells sales training, the fact that a prospective account has hired a new vice president of sales could create an opportunity for you—you will want an SI service that supports coding trigger events to proactively scan the Internet to look for those cases.

With customers relying on the Internet for information, instead of reaching out to salespeople, lead generation is harder today than ever. But new tools can provide salespeople with the capabilities they need to fill their pipeline. By taking a little time to explore what type of intelligence your sales teams really need on your prospects and existing customers, you will likely be able to find a cost-effective solution that provides them with the knowledge and insights they need to keep on prospecting for more business.

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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