Can Lead Generation Become More than “Frosting and Cherries?”

by MarthaBush on November 3, 2010

I recently called on a client and he described his vision of lead generation as “frosting and cherries.”  Let me explain.  His view is that the current state of lead generation is dead.  Salespeople in the “Internet world” have relied on leads from marketing which are neither good nor productive.  In his opinion, salespeople need to do a 180 and get back to the basics of generating their own leads.  Any leads from marketing would just be a bonus (and hence the frosting and cherries analogy).

In order to implement this change to salesperson self-reliance, an entire cultural change needs to occur.  Instead of creating a whole new world where the salesperson says, “Hand me the leads and let me do the rest” (David Raab at the Customer Experience Matrix Blog), we need to implement a phased-approach to make marketing leads more effective.  I’ll explain my five steps for doing this, but I first need to describe how the lead generation process got to this state where wholesale changes are needed.

The Demise of Lead Generation

A sizable number of marketing and sales experts believe that lead generation is dead.  The process of acquiring traffic, converting it to leads and closing sales is, at best, tarnished.  Marketers are responsible because we’ve created the inefficiencies, increased costs and the misalignment between sales and marketing.  Many of us have been guilty of pushing leads into the sales channel as quickly as possible with not nearly enough attention to data hygiene lead qualification, or coherent communications.

Marketing and sales are frequently working at cross-purposes.  Any vague response is counted by marketing as a qualified lead, while sales wants them ready to buy at this very minute.  The lack of lead quality is at the very root of the alignment issue.  There are a few other issues as well;

  • Customers are increasingly driving the sales process and don’t want to be thought of as leads.  Amazon has trained us to do our research in private until we’re ready to purchase.  The lead generation process contradicts the time and place priorities of our customers.
  • The lead generation process is too expensive.  The State of Inbound Marketing 2010 survey Hubspot found that outbound leads cost an average of $332, compared with $134 per inbound lead from social media and web sites.  These costs are forcing marketers to shift away from their dependency on lead generation and look for sales enablement programs that are focused on results.
  • Quarterly sales goals force lower quality leads. When the heat is on to make the numbers, marketers are often forced to dig deeper in the barrel for leads.  Important steps such as data hygiene, lead readiness and lead classification are often skipped.
  • Lead qualification is not qualitative enough. Most firms will make sure that generated leads are viable before sending them to sales, but additional qualitative information such as BANT (budget, authority, need and timeframe) is often not obtained.
  • Organizational complexity hinders the sales process. It’s hard enough to make lead generation work, but when you add on the additional complexity of having multiple business units competing for the same leads, the process breaks down in a hurry.

5 Steps to Improved Lead Generation

As I mentioned above, the problems are large but not insurmountable.  I recommend a phased-approach to lead generation.  Here are five tips that warrant your consideration as you try to revamp the process:

  1. Focus on data hygiene over marketing tools.  If you listen to technology vendors today, their products can solve every problem.  It’s becoming increasingly difficult for marketers to know what vendors can and cannot do.  But one thing holds true: bad data going in means bad leads coming out.  Approximately 50% of B2B customer information degrades within 6-12 months.  If the data is bad, the best CRM systems in the world won’t make any difference.
  2. Mine web visitors to reduce costs.  A web visit is a clear sign of a prospect’s interest.  Many B2B firms respond to site registration with an ongoing nurturing program.  However, what most companies fail to do is develop a lead system for more casual visitors.  This can be accomplished by matching IP addresses against a commercial database such as Dun & Bradstreet and extracting firms that have visited your site.  Note:  You won’t have the name of the visitor, only the company.  However, by prioritizing web visitors’ companies in targeting for outbound lead generation efforts and by increasing their priority over other leads which haven’t expressed interest, costs can be reduced.
  3. Develop a lead nurturing program. Typically, sales will cherry-pick prospects that are likely to close in the shortest time possible.  Leads that have longer purchase cycles or who need more information may leak out of the funnel.  A dialog can be developed with these prospects by using rules-based triggers and campaign management tools such as Aprimo, Conversen, or Eloqua.
  4. Fix your lead process while flying. The demand for sales never ceases, which makes it hard to implement wholesale changes to your lead generation process.  My advice is to make your changes in phases so you don’t get bogged down in complex issues  (e.g., changing your sales culture).  Make sure that you have distinct planning, building and running phases so you can build upon your success in iterations.
  5. Use sophisticated analytics for lead scoring. Analytics can be used to further define the prospects by modeling past activity.  Lead scores allow marketers to put more effort into the leads which hold the most promise.  The best scoring methodologies will rank the lead in terms of interest and potential.

There are some clear problems with lead generation today, but by implementing some of these ideas in a phased approach, your lead generation programs can become more than just “frosting and cherries.”

Resources:

Image:  Translation Guy Blog

David Raab:  Customer Experience Matrix Blog

Hubspot:  State of Inbound Marketing Survey

About the Author:

Martha Bush is SVP of Strategy & Solutions at SIGMA Marketing Group.  Follow Martha on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.


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