"We were growing 25-30% quarter after quarter, but only converting about 4% of our leads to genuine sales opportunities," says Gil Rapaport, VP Marketing for disaster recovery software firm XOsoft.
"We knew how to generate hundreds of leads from search engines and lots of other tools," he adds.
One of his most successful tactics was adding a laundry list of offers as standard top-bar and right-hand-side navigation to nearly every page in the XOsoft site. A whopping 25% of unique visitors converted to leads.
Unfortunately Rapaport was generating such a steady river of leads that the sales team began to call only the ones they perceived as truly "hot" while disregarding the remainder. Why bother with middling leads when the river constantly brought new hot ones to their doorstep?
It's a problem that almost every B-to-B marketer on this planet today faces. How do you get sales to take all your leads seriously?
And, what should you do with the leads that genuinely aren't hot right now... but might be someday if they are nurtured properly? Last year, with help from the sales department, Rapaport decided to stage what he likes to call a "revolution." Here's how:CAMPAIGN
First Rapaport sat down for three solid months with the sales team to define the science behind lead and sales cycle management. "We had a lot of meetings brainstorming the best sales process. Even big companies find it very difficult to set up a process, but it's the number one priority for sales and efficiency."
Together, the team mapped out exactly what should happen to every single lead from the minute it came in the door until the sale closed or it was more than a year old and showed no signs of ever converting.
Step #1. Define lead quality
The team decided to use a combination of questions on lead generation forms together with support from the inside sales team to pre-qualify every single new lead. To pass muster and become classed as an "opportunity," the lead had to qualify on four levels:
a. Is there a real project in the works at the organization?
b. Has the organization allocated a budget yet?
c. Does the organization meet tech requirements? (XOsoft doesn't currently support LINUX users.)
d. What named competitors is the lead also examining? "If my competitors are not also on the table, in most cases this isn't a real opportunity."
Leads now classed as "opportunities" were passed along into further pre-determined steps, including a series of follow-up calls, emails, demo offers and trial offers.
Step #2. Specify follow-up steps based on offer and lead
The team created an activity tree for these opportunity-classed leads. Depending on the prospect's job title, region, and the offer(s) he or she accepted, they received a different series of emails and follow-up phone calls.
The timing and scripting of each touch was largely pre-determined by the process's rules set.
-> Software trial offers
Anyone who downloads the software for a 14-day trial is probably a red hot lead. They'll receive from a named inside sales rep:
o An automated email triggered at the time of download with links to
appropriate documentation and customer service info
o Phone calls 24 and 72 hours later
o A personal (templated) email five days after
download (or on a Monday if the 5th day is a weekend)
o An email note two days prior to the trial expiring on day 14
-> White paper offers
These leads probably aren't ready for a full trial offer yet, so the carefully timed series of phone calls and emails are targeted to trying to get the prospect to accept a demo of the products.
-> Demo offers
The team decided to vary their demo offers based on the job title of the lead. A C-level executive usually would be given a canned PowerPoint overview presentation, while an IT staffer would get a full-throttle demo with one-to-one attention from a tech staffer at XOsoft. Why the difference?
"Sysadmins are already in the software evaluation stage, not far away from the decision to buy. C-level may just be showing interest in whether they need such a solution. It's not even him who'll do the evaluation further in the sales cycle -- he'll have one of his team evaluate it."
After a demo's been done, there's yet another series of emails and phone calls to follow on.
Step #3. Keep lower-quality leads in the loop until they warm
If a lead doesn't qualify as an opportunity, that doesn't mean it's forgotten. Rapaport doesn't like to ever waste a lead, especially in his hyper-competitive market where a competitor can swoop in and grab the sale when the lead warms up at last.
He used to do the standard monthly email newsletter nearly every b-to-b marketer seems to put out these days. But last summer Rapaport tested two new tactics (see below for samples):
-> Replacing a slick, content-heavy HTML newsletter with a briefer, slightly casual letter. "I don't have time to read long newsletters, why would my leads?"
-> Adding a quarterly follow-up note to the mix. This note, personally addressed to the prospect from their inside sales rep simply and politely asks "Are you ready to move forward with your disaster recovery project yet?"
Step #4. Gather client testimonials to help sales
When you're not the most famous namebrand in a competitive marketplace, testimonials and named clients agreeing to serve as reference checks can make the difference between winning and losing the sale.
So, the team decided to make requesting a reference a formal part of the price negotiation process. "We have to provide discounts in a market that's so competitive, so why not try to get something in return for them?"
Step #5. Ensure sales department compliance
Mapping out steps is all very fine and dandy, but how do you get sales to actually follow them??
Rapaport bought the enterprise edition of the sales team's favorite lead management software, and hired an in-house programmer to customize it together with XOsoft's Web site on an ongoing basis.
Each step of the sales process was carefully mapped out, integrated and measured in this CRM system. Whenever action was required, the sales rep got a pop-up box he or she had to fill out indicating they'd done the activity. If an email was required, that templated email was created and ready to send with the click of a button. If a phone call was needed, the number and scripting suggestions were included.
The sales supervisor also got a copy of every pop-up to help with enforcement. (This is one of the joys of having sales buy-in from the very start of your lead process system creation.)
Every two weeks the sales team attend mandatory training sessions so they can keep up to date with the latest CRM system tweaks and requirements.
The vast majority of leads were handled by inside sales whose compensation depended both on doing the required tasks and on closing deals. Only a few larger deals moved up to outside sales, despite the fact that most sales were in the upper five-figures.
Plus, success measurements were visible to all members of the team so they could see which lead sources actually turned into real sales, and which rep won that month's $250 jackpot award for garnering the most client testimonials.
Now that the team is required to contact every single incoming lead to determine if it's a true opportunity, 17% of XOsoft's incoming leads turned out to be qualified. (That's compared to 4% they knew of before.)
But, best of all, once a lead enters the opportunity pool, the team has a 60% closing rate. That's astonishing in such a competitive marketplace. Plus, remember, these are mainly inside sales reps closing sales without any travel or in-person meetings. "These are not expensive sales people." 20% of the deals are six-figure. "In 95% of the deals we didn't even meet the customer."
Switching to a shorter, more casual email newsletter style also seemed to work. The HTML newsletter got a 42% open rate and a 8% click rate, while the briefer note got a 48% open rate and a 16% click rate.
Overall, Rapaport is delighted with his new sales process's results. "Since we've done this, we have three times more revenues with the same lead generation marketing effort. We had planned to be profitable by the end of 2005, but we're already very profitable now. We have seven figures in revenue on a monthly basis. It's an amazing change." Useful links related to this article:
Samples of XOsoft's email and site marketing creative:
SalesForce - the CRM system XOsoft jerry-rigged to serve the new process