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May 07, 2008
Case Study

How to Incentivize Top Prospects: 6 Steps to Lift Conversions 20%

SUMMARY: Marketing campaigns that feature educational content can build relationships with prospects. But how can you nudge your top prospects into the deal-making stage?

An HR outsourcing firm used a splashy incentive for top prospects to meet face-to-face with a company representative. The campaign has lifted conversions 20% and paid for itself 10 times over so far.
Greg Howard, Director Marketing Communications, TriNet, an HR outsourcing company, usually uses educational campaigns to reach highly targeted, C-level decision makers in the technology, financial and professional services industries.

But as last year drew to a close, Howard and his team eyed a new type of campaign that would be sweet music to the ears of their top prospects – decision makers evaluating their budgets and vendor mix for 2008.

“We had prospects who were engaged and might be considering making a buying decision,” he says. “We wanted to do something a little more fun, a little more sexy, that might get noticed.”

Howard and his team shifted from their thought-leadership approach to develop a campaign with a splashy incentive to encourage top prospects to schedule a face-to-face meeting with a sales rep. The offer: a free MP3 player.

They timed the direct mail and email campaign for the fourth quarter -- when prospects were planning their 2008 purchases. Here are the six steps they took to identify their best prospects and run the campaign:

->Step #1. Segment house list based on demographics

To identify top prospects, the team segmented the firm’s house marketing list based on three factors:

- Company size
TriNet primarily serves small and medium-sized companies. For this campaign, they targeted companies at the upper end of that scale to go after larger accounts -- companies with 50-200 employees.

- Geographic area
TriNet serves clients nationwide. But the team looked for prospects closest to their eight field offices to make it easy for a sales rep to plan an office visit.

- Previous marketing activity
The team used records in their marketing automation and CRM software to find prospects who had responded to previous marketing campaigns, such as downloading a white paper. They decided that these prospects had moved past the educational phase in a purchasing decision and would be willing to discuss potential projects with a sales rep.

Their segmentation strategy also minimized the risk that prospects with no real interest or need would agree to a meeting just to get a free MP3 player. It was close to the holiday season, after all.

Besides segmenting the house database, the team asked sales reps to provide names of their top prospects -- executives they thought were closest to a potential purchase decision or most willing to meet face to face.

The prospect list ended up being a relatively small, elite segment of their marketing database, which Howard estimated at less than 30% of their total list.

-> Step #2. Use direct mail and email to solicit meetings

The team used direct mail and email to offer the incentive:

- Direct mail piece
The team created a small box that contained a set of earphones and a postcard with an earphone image and this headline: “Competitive benefits for your company. Now that’s sweet music.”

They wanted something larger than a postcard or letter, which could have been thrown in the trash or intercepted by a gatekeeper for their C-level contacts.

The card also featured a personalized URL -- http:/ / -- that prospects could use to register for a sales meeting.

- Email message
Howard and his team used the same pitch and call-to-action for the email, but they included a link directly to each prospect’s personalized URL.

The email was sent at the same time as the direct mail package. It gave prospects the option to respond through the email link or to use the URL provided on the postcard in the direct mail piece.

-> Step #3. Pre-fill information on personalized landing pages

Howard and his team used their standard registration form to create personalized landing pages for meeting signups. But to get more signups, they pre-filled the required fields with any information stored in their marketing automation system.

Of course, prospects who visited their landing pages saw text and creative that reiterated the offer of a free MP3 player in exchange for a meeting.

-> Step #4. Route meeting requests to sales rep

Next, the marketing team routed registrations directly to the appropriate sales reps based on geography. This tactic bypassed the typical lead generation step of sending prospects to an inside sales team for further qualification.

A prospect submitting a meeting request triggered a notification in their automation software so reps could respond directly. Sales reps were free to schedule meetings over the phone or by email.

After a meeting was arranged, the marketing team overnighted an MP3 player to the sales rep. The rep then presented the audio player to a prospect during their face-to-face meeting.

-> Step #5. Send reminder to non-registrants

The marketing team sent a reminder email to prospects who hadn’t registered for a meeting about 2 1/2weeks after sending the direct mail and email offer.

Prospects who did not respond to the reminder email were pulled back into the marketing database for future campaigns.

-> Step #6. Track progress

Because TriNet’s typical sales cycle can take six months or more, the marketing team tracked the progress of the campaign by following activity recorded in the CRM system. Following initial meetings, sales reps updated the progress of each prospect in their CRM records.

The marketing team could then see which meetings had moved on to stages, such as:
o Sponsor (having an advocate within the prospect’s organization)
o Project proposal
o Closed deals


The MP3 offer did more than get noticed -- it generated a conversion rate 20% higher than the typical conversion rate the team sees for house list campaigns.

Even better, those meeting requests resulted in two closed deals that have paid for the campaign more than 10 times over so far. The team also was tracking several more deals in the sales pipeline that they expect to close.

“The cost of a music player is less than $100. When all is said and done, this is a very cost-effective way of achieving a first meeting, and it’s very easy to see ROI on it,” says Howard.

Howard would not disclose response metrics for the email and direct mail campaign. But he saw an uptick in key actions -- open rates, clickthroughs and the rate of progress through the sales pipeline.

Carefully segmenting the list helped boost the response rate and avoided the problem of non-qualified prospects agreeing to a meeting just to get a free MP3 player. Only one meeting involved a prospect with no real need or interest.

“We worried that this might happen, but it really didn’t,” says Howard. “Our sales representatives came to their meetings with a prize in tow and engaged in really good business discussions.”

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from TriNet’s incentive campaign:

Eloqua - manages TriNet’s marketing database and created the personalized landing pages:


See Also:

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