Because The Sales Board (TSB) offers sales training services, its own sales team is pretty darn well trained. They can take a lead marketing sends them and make it sing.
That still means that marketing has to ensure a steady flow of hot leads of corporate executives interested in spending between $5,000 to a million on TSB’s services.
Like most other B2B marketers, TSB’s team had generated leads for years by using a classic combination of postal direct mail, trade show booths, client referrals, and strong telesales follow-up. However, CEO Duane Sparks wanted to test online marketing in two ways to raise sales and save money:
1. Turn the company's brochure-ware Web site into a powerful
lead generation tool.
2. Use speedier and less expensive email marketing to replace
postal direct mail campaigns when possible.CAMPAIGN
Sparks had already developed an intensive 40-minute test back in 1995 that his trainers used as a first step with all new clients to determine trainees' skill levels.
Two years ago he had another brainwave: Why not put the test on his company Web site for visitors to take? "No one else was doing it so we thought it might be a great idea."
He knew that a 40 minute test was out of the question because most visitors would not have the patience or time for it; but, he did not want to cut the test so short that it was useless either. "A five minute test is just not valid." Sparks settled on a 15- minute 'Benchmark Skills Test' version instead.
TSB's Web designer used three tactics to maximize the number of home page visitors who would click on the link to the test:
1. The test link is the most prominent item on the site's home
page, occupying the "sweet spot" in the middle of the right
hand column which most visitors' eyes naturally flow to.
2. The developer uses a set of three official-looking graphics
of charts to make the test, an intangible thing, very
tangible and valuable looking.
3. The copy reads, "Identify your company's true sales
potential with our FREE Selling Skills Benchmark TM" which
is certainly more powerful than just "free test."
Next TSB's Web developer reduced the all-critical abandonment rate (the number of visitors who leave the site instead of continuing on) at the next page where people need to fill out a form to begin taking the test, in five ways:
a. Powerful, but brief, sales copy pointing out the benefits
of taking the test. The introductory copy is just four
sentences long, and made extra-readable by use of large
fonts and white space.
b. Keeping the registration form easy and simple. There are
only 8 fields to fill out including first name, last name,
gender, title, company, phone, email, and 'number of
salespeople in my company.'
c. Featuring those great chart-graphics again which make the
intangible test seem more real and valuable.
d. Using a classic grey click button to get visitors to move
on to the next page. (Many designers are tempted to make
the button "prettier" but the classic grey works the best.)
The button also uses sales copy, instead of just saying
"submit," it says "Take your Free Benchmark."
e. Keeping the whole page (header, copy, form, graphic and
submit button) above the fold so visitors using a standard
sized monitor set to view 800x600 pixels (normal in
corporate America) would be able to see and use the entire
form without scrolling.
Once these elements were thoroughly tested and proven successful, TSB's marketing team began a series of campaigns to drive more traffic to the site. They were far less interested in heavy traffic than in highly qualified traffic, so in each case they chose their media carefully to include as high a percent of sales training decision makers as possible.
Marketing Director Matt Monarski first tried switching the offer on all his direct mail packages to include a Web response, along with traditional phone, fax and mail-in card. He kept a stash of floppies on hand with the test on them to give out to execs who could not use the online test due to firewalls, or who simply preferred an offline version.
Next Monarski launched a series of email campaigns, each testing three elements:
This is the most critical element for any campaign. TSB learned that just as with traditional direct mail, response lists and subscription lists worked the best. They now prefer to work with trade magazine publishers who can provide tight selections on title and company size for opt-in list rentals.
You would think that being a company of sales trainers, TSB would not need to test copy points to learn which would get the highest response. Not so. Sparks says it is always worth testing copy because no matter how well you think you know your marketplace, results are not predictable.
"We kept testing ideas for headlines until we found a handful that were high priorities. Some of them have been miserable. You don't know until you test something and get measurable results. We've removed those others from our marketing to focus on the ones that resonated the most with prospects. Why clutter it with stuff that isn't a hot issue?" says Sparks.
Interestingly the campaigns that worked the best for TSB tend to have very short copy. (Link to sample below.)
3. Look and Feel
While some other marketers' tests have shown that rich media elements such as audio or Flash might raise response rates, Sparks says, "We've mostly been pretty straight forward, with modest amounts of color and graphics. People like things that have some color, but once you start sending more all sorts of alarms go off."
Instead, he reserves attachments and other bells and whistles for personal follow-up emails from sales reps to individual prospects once a relationship has been established.
One element remains steady through all the tests: Response options. Every email campaign includes both a link to the special free test page, as well as a toll-free 800 number for prospects who may not have time to take the test, or who simply prefer the phone as a response device.
As prospects enter the channel, TSB's sales team continues to use email to keep in touch, so Monarski has translated all print marketing materials into emailable versions (his budget includes almost no printing these days).
The most valuable follow-up materials are Powerpoint slides that prospects can use for their own internal company meetings when they are pitching to purchase TSB's services.
Sparks cautions, "Slides can't be mere bullet points. They won't be able to explain them properly. You have to have more information on them."
A stunning 90% of TSB's Web site visitors take the Benchmark test, and of these 95% complete the test entirely despite the fact that it's 15 minutes long. Of the completions, an average of 75% over the past two years have turned out to "solid sales leads."
TSB's email campaigns to carefully selected rented lists over the past quarter (June - September 2002) have resulted in an average 12% open rate and 18% click rate. Broadcast campaigns sent to TSB's own "house list" during the same period have resulted in 42% open rate and a 12.5% click rate.
Sparks says that email has been so successful that Monarski has cut direct mail campaigns to only target names that are not available in email. "If we can't buy an email list, we'll direct mail them." In days of yore, before the Web option was added as a response device about 80% of direct mail responses came from the mail-back card. Responses now break down to:
- 86% Web site
- 3% BRC (mail back card)
- 10% phone
- 1% fax
Although Sparks is thrilled with this success, he is careful to note that client referrals are still responsible for 35% of sales leads, and these are always the very best leads you can get.
"When they hear about the success that a company they know has had with us, we sell an incredibly high percentage of those. The best revenue generators after that are leads we get over the Internet."
Last but not least, while the sample email campaign we link to below is one of TSB's best performers, Sparks says he will never stop testing new copy and creative.
"We're always asking ourselves questions - let's test it. We really haven't said, 'We have a major bullet here.' Every campaign has multiple tests in it. So far every mailing has worked better than the last."
He adds, "We are moving towards something, or maybe it's a moving target. I don't know. I think there's always a better way and if you don't test, you won't find it."
Email campaign samples:
The Sales Board: