by David Kirkpatrick
, Senior Reporter
A fluid Marketing and Sales process, from lead generation through paying customer, improves the complex sale. When the existing model can be described as "disjointed" and lacks well-defined roles for Marketing and Sales, the best course of action might involve starting from scratch and building a process that works.
AvidXchange, an automated bill payment solutions company, faced that challenge.
Rachel Hoppe, Marketing Manager, AvidXchange, said the company brought in a consultant in 2011 to help create a predictable sales and marketing model.
At that time, AvidXchange’s sales team was making a large number of cold calls, and a mere 5% of leads were attributed to Marketing.
Hoppe said one issue with the consultant was AvidXchange received advice on what it should be doing, but received no actionable roadmap to implement that advice.
"What I needed to figure out was how to do this. How can I build a high-performing, predictable sales and marketing team?" she asked.
The goal was to build a model where 60- 70% of leads were consistently coming in through Marketing.
This case study covers the process Hoppe used to reach that ambitious goal.
Hoppe will be presenting this case study at the upcoming MarketingSherpa Email Summit in Las Vegas, February 19-22.
Hoppe said many ideas for improving marketing efforts and building a high-performing marketing and sales process were kick-started by attending an industry event and returning to her team with actionable tactics.
Step #1. Perform a gap analysis of current marketing program
The first stage of creating a high-performing marketing and sales team was performing a gap analysis to both take stock of the existing program and identify areas for immediate improvement.
One of those areas was a lack of automation in marketing activities, and a lack of reporting.
To address that issue, AvidXchange changed CRM software vendors and simultaneously implemented a marketing automation software solution.
The gap analysis found a number of issues for the marketing team to address:
- The database needed a focus on mid-market companies, the key target audience for Marketing.
- Looking at the lead generation aspect of the marketing funnel uncovered what Hoppe described as "a very outdated website."
- The team needed to add personnel resources to fully implement the new, automated technology pieces.
One of the first areas to address was content. Hoppe said the automated email programs were effective, but it became very clear the team needed a content writer.
The solution was to hire a contract writer and to conduct a customer survey to find out what sort of content AvidXchange customers found interesting and useful.
Step #2. Set the plan of action in the first week
To generate ideas on how to revamp AvidXchange’s marketing process, Hoppe attended an industry event and returned to the team with multiple areas for improvement.
Once she returned, the team conducted a four-hour brainstorming session covering topics such as:
- Landing page optimization
- Testing email subject lines
- Utilizing data from marketing automation software
- Data hygiene on the database
Having previously purchased a large email list, cleaning the database became particularly important to AvidXchange. Hoppe realized although that was not an email marketing best practice, the list needed cleaning.
Another initial action was creating a calendar
for the rest of the year. The calendar included a webinar every two weeks, and from there Marketing began working to line up speakers for each webinar and creating the email campaigns to promote the online events.
Hoppe said creating the calendar included tactical elements, such as targeting buyers in the finance business sector and determining content that would appeal to a CFO or controller of a company.
Step #3. Map the process and create a dashboard
Hoppe stated the team went into this totally revamped marketing process with three main goals in 2012:
- Double the volume of sales-qualified leads (SQLs)
- Create 180 first-meetings per quarter with a first meeting described as getting a generated lead to Sales for an in-depth conversation about AvidXchange’s products and services
- Increase the conversion rate to 70% by the end of the year, up from 20% in the first quarter of 2012
To track these goals, dashboards were created to provide data on KPIs around those goals — such as number of SQLs in the pipeline, conversion rate to a first meeting with Sales, and number of first meetings that had taken place — along with reports on the effectiveness of specific marketing channels
The weekly dashboard report also showed Marketing how each prospect entered the sales pipeline. After several months, the team learned from the reports that prospects who entered the pipeline through inbound channels were more likely to convert to an SQL, complete the first meeting with Sales, and then close a deal to become an AvidXchange customer.
However, this wasn’t the only insight gained from the weekly reports. Previously, the conventional wisdom at AvidXchange said the complex sales cycle was around six months. Tracking the progress of each prospect proved the sales cycle was three months.
"If you come in at the beginning of the quarter, most likely we are going to be able to close you at the beginning of the next quarter," explained Hoppe. "That really changed the model of our focus on working on marketing opportunities."
The team also created a dashboard to track where prospects dropped out of the funnel and used that information to create nurturing drip email campaigns.
One final addition to the entire marketing process was adopting a lead scoring process.
Before the team decided to revamp the marketing and sales process, AvidXchange did not utilize marketing automation software and it had no lead scoring mechanism in place. Hoppe said lead scoring has been on ongoing process for the marketing team.
She added, "We started a process thinking that we knew a lot about our prospects, but then realized that we didn’t really know that much about them."
Hoppe continued, "For example, a prospect would visit the website and go through four or five pages, download a bunch of stuff, and then we would realize that they weren’t interested in software. They were more interested in learning about AvidXchange."
Step #4. Learn from successes and stumbles
A project of this magnitude is almost guaranteed to hit a few snags along the way as well as uncover areas for improvement.
One example was AvidXchange’s webinar program, with between 40 and 50 online events scheduled yearly.
Early in 2012, the marketing team realized that webinars were producing some of the highest-quality leads for AvidXchange.
"They would go furthest in the funnel," stated Hoppe. "So we spent a lot of energy on [webinars.] But, over time, we started to realize that our webinar programs were good, but they were not really driving the attendance like we wanted."
The team looked to two areas to try to boost webinar attendance: content and the database.
The database was a known issue, having not been updated in more than half a year and affecting the results of the outbound email campaigns. The solution for this issue was to refocus on cleansing the database.
To address webinar content, the team reviewed the top-performing webinars out of a group of 50 already completed online events. The top performers each had 60 to 70 attendees, and close to 70% of the people registered for the webinars actually attended.
After review, the team found the top-performing webinars had a nurturing theme with current customers attending to learn more about AvidXchange products and services. This led to a change in webinar strategy.
Hoppe explained, "We decided to take a different approach. [Webinars] are not going to drive and attract SQLs. They are going to nurture the ones that we already have in our pipeline."
To keep constant tabs on how marketing efforts are performing, the team had weekly "marketing effectiveness meetings" each Thursday to look at every currently running campaign and their performance.
Step #5. Measure, test and optimize
During 2011, before the complete revamping of the marketing-sales process, Hoppe said the team engaged in testing, but that "it was sporadic at best."
She described a system where A/B split testing was conducted on an occasional subject line or time of day in email campaigns. But, this process was not optimizing the marketing efforts.
"We really wouldn’t take the time to learn from those testing efforts and see what exactly we were testing, and why we were testing that way," said Hoppe.
Armed with new ideas on testing and optimization from the industry event Hoppe attended, the first step in creating a more formal testing and optimization program was clearly defining AvidXchange’s value proposition.
Hoppe said up to that point, if someone asked AvidXchange’s CEO, an inside sales rep, a core sales rep and someone in product management all to define the company’s value proposition, they would receive four different responses.
With a defined value proposition, the team began a more formal testing process in 2012.By the middle of the year, the program became more rigorous with a spreadsheet to plan, record and track tests conducted by the marketing team.
The testing included some quick-hit elements such as button placement within email design.However, the team also tackled larger campaign elements, including:
- HTML versus rich-text email – The Finance vertical was important to AvidXchange, and the team found rich text had a higher deliverability rate to this highly regulated sector, which utilizes sophisticated spam filters.
Rich-text email was then successfully tested on other vertical markets, which the team attributed to rich text providing a more "personal" rather than "marketing" feel to the email.
HTML email outperformed rich text for promotional email across all verticals in a test on a campaign promoting an annual user’s forum.
- Website elements – This test randomly sent clickthroughs from an email campaign to different versions of AvidXchange’s website, including the homepage and landing pages.
Each test was limited to a single element. For example, one test would offer different content, another different registration forms, and a third test different calls-to-action.
Step #6. Define success through revenue performance and Marketing-Sales alignment
Hoppe mentioned the lofty goals — such as dramatically increasing Marketing’s contribution to revenue and conversion to SQL — that launched the entire effort and said Marketing began optimizing for revenue performance. She added those goals included doubling revenue and at least doubling lead volume.
To optimize for revenue performance, Hoppe crunched numbers from previous years.
"I built a plan, one I had never done before, where all marketing plans were optimized for numbers that tied back into revenue," she explained. "I said, ‘OK, if we need to get to X number of dollars of revenue, then that means we need X number of closed deals, which means we need X number of first meetings, which means we need X number of SQLs.’"
Hoppe added, "I did that from a sequence using our past year’s numbers."
Another part of creating a "high performing" marketing and sales process, the actual desired result of the entire effort, is developing Marketing and Sales alignment.
Hoppe admitted that, before the effort, Sales and Marketing were not always working in tandem. That changed as Marketing began to test and optimize its campaigns, take advantage of the data produced with the new combined marketing automation and CRM solution, and utilize an ever-evolving lead scoring system to identify sales-qualified leads to pass on to Sales.
Marketing also began asking for feedback from Sales on the SQLs and on what the sales team was learning about prospect’s business pain points during sales meetings. The marketing team learned targeting ideas, such as focusing on job titles in finance or operations when segmenting the database for specific campaigns.
Hoppe stated that Sales-Marketing alignment really began taking shape when the sales team started closing deals on leads generated by Marketing.
She said, "It really did create alignment, actually so much to the point we would have sales reps walk over to the Marketing area, and we would high-five when they closed a deal because it was generated by Marketing."
Hoppe added the system allowed the sales team to see that one lead was generated from a trade show, another from the inbound marketing program, and another from the website.
Another change was tracking how Sales was following up on leads Marketing was qualifying and passing to the sales team.
Although there wasn’t a formal service-level agreement, Sales was expected to follow up with a fresh lead within 24 hours, and to actually speak with the prospect within 48 hours.
In cases where Marketing qualified a lead while that prospect was still visiting the website, the sales rep was encouraged to contact that lead immediately. And, although the sales rep was instructed to "not be creepy" and discuss the prospect’s website activity, the rep did have knowledge in hand on what the lead had already viewed and downloaded going into that initial conversation.
The marketing team at AvidXchange went into the campaign to create a high-performing marketing and sales process with fairly lofty goals, and ended 2012 with two major achievements:
- Conversion to SQL from 20% to 70%
- Optimizing revenue performance from 5% marketing contribution to revenue to 70%
Other metrics include 30% of SQLs came into the funnel through inbound campaign landing pages on the website, and 80% of deals sourced to Marketing came from inbound channels.
Beyond the metrics, Marketing also determined the complex sale cycle at AvidXchange was three months, rather the six-month cycle previously believed throughout the organization.
Hoppe said seeing the effectiveness of the inbound marketing efforts
changed the overall marketing strategy at AvidXchange.
She stated, "Our focus is changing our outbound programs like webinars, trade shows and email to run as supportive tools for the website and driving everybody back to the website. If we can get them there, we can convert them and we can close them."Rachel Hoppe will be presenting this material at the upcoming MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 in Las Vegas, February 19-22.
- Database baseline report
- Campaign calendar
- Inbound channel dashboard report
- Inbound versus all channels
SourcesAvidXchangeMarketingSherpa Email Summit 2012
– Industry event attended by Hoppe
Related ResourcesEmail Optimization: Improve response with 5 insights from 10,000 testsSales-Marketing Alignment: 8 tactics from a marketer who has worn both hatsEmail Makeover: 7 Email Optimization Tactics to Boost RevenueInternet Marketing for Beginners: Email marketing optimization 101Marketing Efficiency: Conversion optimization is the science of doing marketing betterValue Proposition: A free worksheet to help you win arguments in any meeting