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Sep 29, 2004
Case Study

Relentless Lead Qualification - How to Do It & How to Track Results Properly

SUMMARY: When a Sherpa-friend leaked us a copy of the results spreadsheet that Brett Schklar invented to show upper management how his lead generation campaigns were working, we were so impressed that we bugged Schklar until he gave us an interview. Here's the resulting Case Study, including:
- How to use telemarketing to qualify incoming leads
- How to create a lead rating system
- A copy of the spreadsheet Schklar uses (results whited out, but the format is useful.)

"The hardest thing in marketing is justifying what you do," says Brett Schklar, Senior Director of Product & Marketing, Vericept Corporation.

"I work in a company that's very focused and performance driven. If you're smaller and your goals are to exceed expectations, you've got to put metrics in place.

"If you don't, when you tell the CEO at the end of the year, 'We've spent X dollars,' he'll say, 'What do I get out of it?' It's the same conversation the CEO has with the Board of Directors."

When Schklar joined the company last October, there were no formal lead generation systems in place to keep a steady flow through the pipeline. And there weren't any marketing department reports he could use to figure out what campaigns had worked in the past to produce the best leads.

He had 90 days to figure it all out, set systems in place, and get the pipeline up and gushing in time for first quarter 2004 sales calls.


First, Schklar focused on making best friends with his counterpart in the sales department. "If any marketing person in b-to-b thinks they can succeed without sales, they are full of themselves. You need a mixture of marketing and sales in everything from planning to execution."

Specifically, Schklar made sure he and the VP Sales agreed to:

o Define precisely what makes a good qualified lead, such as industry, company size, job title, budget, and readiness to purchase.

o Interview and help train each other's prospective new hires.

o Share feedback on what clients and prospects think of campaign messaging and product positioning efforts. (Schklar notes that it's often easier for a marketing-titled exec to get honest feedback from a prospect on product positioning and needs because the prospect doesn't worry it will turn into a sales call.)

o Marketing promised to only send sales leads they felt were truly qualified to be acted on. Quality was a far higher priority than quantity.

o Sales promised to keep marketing fully in the loop on how things were going with each lead.

Next, Schklar began intense research into the marketplace, including informational interviews with:
- current customers
- prospects (the sales dept OKed each prior to the call)
- analysts at Gartner, IDC, and Meta Group

By early February 2004, he was ready to launch what he likes to call the "Marketing Machine." Typical for smaller b-to-b firms, Schklar wound up personally conducting and/or overseeing a wide array of campaigns that would make a consumer-marketer's head spin, such as:

1. Public relations to generate awareness, including submitting products for trade magazine awards, issuing press releases, keeping in touch with related analysts (4-5 analyst calls per month), and lining up speaking gigs for executives at a heavy schedule of trade shows and regional/niche events.

2. Search marketing including hiring a firm to optimize the Web site for organic listings (a never-ending process), and testing both Overture and Google PPC campaigns for keywords generating tens of thousands of impressions.

3. Setting up a series of Webinars (at least twice a month) on a wide variety of topics relating to the product as seen through the eyes of various prospect groups (financial institutions versus educational institutions, etc.). Inviting analysts and actual clients to speak on the topics - but keeping them as non-salesly as possible to encourage pass-along and repeat attendance.

4. Continually promoting educational offers (white papers, webinars) via ads in highly targeted third party email newsletters.

5. Creating very-high-level events for senior execs on both the customer and prospect sides to meet and mingle with each other and become educated about a critical business issue (ie. no sales pitches). Example, an information security confab at Arizona's famed Biltmore.

As you can imagine, hundreds of leads started flowing in. However, Schklar refused to hand over any to the sales department until they'd been through a formal "scrubbing process" (aka qualification).

First, each lead was assigned a quality-rating based on: o Source - was this historically a source that produced easy-to-convert leads?

o Industry & job title - was this a decision maker?

o Budget & timing - did they intend to purchase soon?

o Activity - did this individual touch Vericept multiple times (clicking on offer links, attending webinars, visiting the education site, opening the email newsletter, etc.).

An extremely qualified lead might be sent immediately to sales, but most didn't reveal that amount of information in their contact data. So, Schklar hired a telemarketing team to pre-qualify the leads.

His notes on hiring the best telemarketers:

Tip #1. Don't outsource if you have a fairly complex product. The product education required to handle calls for a high-level software offering probably means you'll need to take this effort in-house.

Tip #2. Don't hire anyone who prefers a salary/commission ratio where the salary is much higher. "It's very much a sales-oriented role. It's a commission-oriented position. You've got to find people who are hungry."

Tip #3. Don't advertise the position. "You'll get a ton of resumes. You really should talk to a lot of people in the industry, network to find out who does good work."

Tip #4. Don't hire a former field sales rep unless they've got a great track record and a darn good reason for wanting to come in from the road. Example, someone who needs to spend more time with family.

Tip #5. Definitely consider experienced telemarketers as well as field sales support reps who'd like to move a bit further up the ladder.

Tip #6. Allow reps to work remotely from home if they want to. Just require on-site training and refreshers on a regular basis.

Tip #7. Do assign a telemarketer to a particular set of field sales reps in a particular territory. They'll form personal relations with each other and be more likely to succeed, and to give each other invaluable feedback.

After hiring his team of telemarketers, Schklar trained them on-site for more than a week, including product tech training, learning how to overcome typical objections, and live phone training. "We spent two-three days buddying up on the phones with one person listening while the other person did the calling."

He also brought the Internet into the telemarketing program by making sure telemarketers received and acted on leads the instant a prospect submitted an online form.

And, he gave the telemarketers a series of polite emailed messages they could personalize to send prospects just prior to and after attempting to contact them. Although Schklar doesn't believe in hard and fast telemarketing rules, in general his team put aside any lead that didn't respond after three calls. These leads were followed up with six months later.

Finally, after telemarketing submitted scrubbed leads to sales, Schklar followed up to get data on ultimate success for an ongoing spreadsheet he created for internal presentations.

The spreadsheet (see link below to a few sample screenshots with specific data whited out) ranked every single received lead, during every step of the process.

At a glance, you could see:

- How many qualified leads came in the last month, quarter, year.

- Number of leads generated per marketing tactic, cost per lead, and projected pipeline value.

- Total growth of sales pipeline in estimated dollars by month.

- Dated list of PR hits (each ranked by estimated value) including hotlinks to articles in question.

- Number of leads passed to each salesperson.

- Calls to appointments-set ratios for telemarketing.

- Snapshots of stats from most interesting campaigns including search and trade shows.

The key was that the spreadsheet had to be easy for a non-marketing executive to skim and gain the gist of. It couldn't require much training to understand. That way Schklar could pass it around to senior execs so they felt they were in the loop on the sales pipeline, and impressed by his progress.

(Remember, as a marketer you're not just promoting to the marketplace, you're also promoting your ideas and efforts to senior management and the sales department.)


We've seen Schklar's sales pipeline chart and it rises on a steep, steady incline from a few million at the start of the year to tens of millions by the end of the second quarter.

In fact, the "marketing machine" increased qualified leads from fewer than 20 inbound leads in February 2004 to hundreds just 90 days later.

More learnings:

- Roughly 50% of webinar attendees will answer the quick survey, giving feedback on the topic, but also on their own budgets and goals. So post-webinar surveys are a great way to gather lead qualification data.

You might consider making your webinar registration form lighter on questions to encourage a higher registration rate, and then mop up with a survey on the back-end.

- If your search marketing offer targets seekers of educational information on a technical or legal problem, your paid search ad may do just as well on a lower (cheaper) ranking as a higher one. Serious business information seekers will review all options carefully before clicking on either the best, or on several.

- Overture ads can perform up to six times better than Google if you target a technical keyword. This may be because so many b-to-b software firms are focused on Google solely so you currently have an advantage by running ads elsewhere.

- If your telemarketer can reach a prospect when they are still on your Web site, the chances of turning that prospect into a happily qualified lead are greater. "They're very impressed. We can help them navigate around if they are looking for certain things."

- Very senior-level execs were easiest to reach at the outer edges of the business day -- very early in the morning or later at night when their assistants weren't around.

- "If you combine personal emails along with phone calls, you have a much higher rate of success."

- Successful email frequency for telemarketers' personal emails depends on what industry you are targeting. "If you're targeting tech companies you can send more emails; manufacturing should get less emails. There's a lot of training involved in when to send emails and when not to."

Final note: Schklar advises you to never launch a campaign that costs a significant amount without getting prior buy-in from sales and the CEO. "Either figure out how to measure it very well, or get approval from all parties. Otherwise it's not worth doing."

Useful links related to this story:

Sample of Schklar's spreadsheet and email newsletter

Vericept Corporation

See Also:

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