September 14, 2011
Case Study

Lead Generation: How ignoring 16,896 companies helped improve Sales-Marketing alignment

SUMMARY: When Sales and Marketing aren't in alignment, the entire sales cycle suffers. The pipeline doesn't get enough leads, the leads it does get are most likely not qualified, and turning those leads into closed deals becomes more difficult.

Read on to find out how a technology support company completely revamped its lead generation efforts, and not only put more qualified leads into the pipeline, but also helped to get Marketing and Sales on the same page. See what they learned from a multi-touch effort that included outbound calls, and discover why they decided to ignore 16,896 companies.
by David Kirkpatrick, Reporter


When different business functions work in silos, productivity suffers. And when Marketing and Sales don't work in alignment, it affects the entire sales cycle from lead generation all the way to a signed deal.

CenterBeam, a company that delivers technology infrastructure support for mid-sized businesses, attempted a non-traditional approach to lead generation, upturning the traditional roles performed by Marketing and Sales.

During 2010, the VP of Sales at CenterBeam decided to save money spent on outbound marketing programs by having direct sales reps conduct all of the lead gen activity.

This meant Sales, instead of Marketing, was

o Sending outbound email

o Conducting all telephone follow-ups

o Securing all of their own appointments

o Conducting lead nurturing

o Engaging in database acquisition

The end result of this role reversal was not successful.

Karen Hayward, EVP and CMO, CenterBeam, explained, "The result of all that over time was that we had a pipeline that was shrinking, and shrinking quickly, and we really needed to fix it and surround the sales force with some help and lead generation."

This case study takes a look at the new, multichannel program the marketing team put into place at CenterBeam to jump start lead generation and quickly rebuild the pipeline, and how this process helped Marketing and Sales back into more comfortable roles and alignment.

Hayward will also present an in-depth look at this case study at the upcoming MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2011 in Boston, Sept. 26-27, and San Francisco, Oct. 24-25.


Hayward said the new lead generation effort started with an obvious, but necessary, question -- "What do we really need to do?"

The answer was to build the effort around the optimal target market.

"I believe strongly in school of thought that says you really have to understand your universe," stated Hayward. "You have to segment it, and you really have to understand where the low-hanging fruit inside your universe is and focus all of your activities on those high-performing [areas]."

In developing the effort, the marketing team outlined four objectives:

o Focus on the optimal target market

o Focus on lead quality over lead quantity

o Leverage multiple channels

o Make the company very accessible to its customers

Step #1. Segment your market

Because going after the "optimal target market" was such an important overall goal of this lead gen effort, careful market segmentation needed to happen before engaging in any actual lead generation tactics.

Several years ago, CenterBeam conducted market research that identified 43,000 mid-market businesses to target. Because of a variety of business reasons, the company dropped segments such as government and education. For the last five years, the company launched campaigns across many vertical business segments within the identified businesses.

When the new effort kicked off last November, CenterBeam decided to further segment those vertical markets based on where the most orders were coming from.

Hayward said, "We looked at our lead array in the vertical market, and what our ability to close was in that vertical market."

From there, the company developed a list of high-performing SIC (Standard Industrial Classification) codes on which industries generated leads more likely to turn into signed deals.

This further segmentation reduced CenterBeam's lead "universe" from 43,000 to 26,104 mid-market businesses, essentially ignoring 16,896 companies.

An example of a vertical dropped was legal firms. Hayward said that business area was creating very strong lead generation numbers, but those leads just didn't turn into orders.

This outcome was disappointing for both Marketing and Sales. Marketing was unhappy because it was providing Sales with a large number of legal firm leads that didn't produce revenue, and Sales was frustrated because it was getting a huge amount of legal firm leads it couldn't translate into paying customers.

"I think that is really where it is important that Sales and Marketing's value chain is really aligned so that you are giving the sales force leads in places where they have the highest possible opportunity for success," explained Hayward.

Step #2. Focus on quality leads

Once again looking toward that "optimal target market," with the actual segments targeted, and issues such as the one uncovered with the legal firm vertical segment solved, CenterBeam wanted to develop a precise lead qualification process to ensure Sales was getting high-quality leads, instead of just getting a high quantity of leads.

A sales-qualified lead had to meet all these criteria:

o The company has 200-5,000 employees

o A minimum of $20 million in revenue

o The technology environment is Microsoft or Apple

o The decision-maker is engaged in the process

o Have a budget process and a time frame

o Answer either "yes" or "no" to -- Is there a competitor (to CenterBeam) in place? If yes, who?

o Sense of urgency or compelling event (business issue to achieve or problem) identified

Hayward said consistent application of qualifying criteria was the key for success.

She added at CenterBeam, the sales team is provided with an audio recording (learn more about the lead qualification process in Step #3 below) of each lead that Marketing used for quality assurance before making the hand-off. If the sales rep has an issue or problem with the lead, that recording provides a way for both teams to analyze what the issue was, and whether it's a coaching opportunity for Marketing or for Sales.

Step #3. Implement multi-touch outbound lead generation effort

When Marketing took over outbound lead gen, it put an eight-touch process over two weeks into place to generate sales-qualified leads. The outbound effort utilized a database handled by an external partner that performed data hygiene and strategically added key high-performing vertical markets to the list.

The eight touches included four calls, three follow-up emails mixed in with the calls, and a final overnight direct mail package. The calls and email were designed to provide a progression of information and value by building on each previous touch.

The calls also served as the centerpiece of this outbound effort and were handled by four associates who each made 80 calls per day. CenterBeam incorporated a live chat function on its website for these associates to monitor.

The key to each telephone touch was a clearly defined call flow. The calls were not scripted, and the goal was to connect with a senior IT person at the targeted business. CenterBeam's call flow involved

o An opening to introduce the caller, establish common ground, create interest in CenterBeam's product, and ask permission for the call recipient's time

o A clear transition to the conversation

o A dialog that asks questions, uncovers pain points, determines buyer priorities, and more

o A close to establish the next step and ask for referrals

The idea behind this outbound effort was to discover the issues and problems faced by CenterBeam's potential customers; so when the lead was passed on to Sales, there was an identified issue at hand for the sales rep to begin engagement.

The direct mail final touch served to inform the recipient of what CenterBeam does, and to tell them the company understands the time isn't right for engagement and that the calls and email will end. The direct mail also included a call-to-action letting the recipient know to not hesitate to call CenterBeam or check out the website for more information.

At that point the database record is rested for 90 days and then recycled.

- The hand off to Sales

If the lead passes all of the quality assurance criteria for lead qualification, Sales gets a write-up on the initial outbound effort, a recording of the conversations from the calls, a lead alert via email, and the lead is placed in the CRM.

If Sales has an issue with the lead, the rep can send the lead back to the outbound associates and the lead will be audited for continuous improvement of the lead gen effort. That lead will also go into a lead nurturing program directing them to specific landing pages on CenterBeam's website.

- Reporting to management

Marketing delivers a report to management on every conversation.

"That is good for market research, and for Sales," stated Hayward.

She added this reporting helped bring Marketing and Sales into alignment.

"We agreed on the metrics, and then we agreed on the leads," she said. "And we were held accountable for a weekly delivery."

Hayward said this accountability put Marketing on more even footing with Sales, because sometimes Sales felt like it was the only business area that was measured regarding leads.

The overall concept behind this outbound effort with the multiple touches over a relatively short period of time was to break through the clutter, and also provide a message about the company that builds over time.

"It is sort of intense over that time period," explained Hayward. "And the voicemails are all a little bit different, and they all build on one another. They kind of tell a story over the course of all these touches."

In a way, all of the touches create a relationship with that database prospect. Ideally, even if they don't turn into a qualified lead for Sales, the touches will create a connection and provide CenterBeam better name recall when that prospect is ready for some sort of engagement.

Hayward stated, "Each message tries to deliver a little bit of value and a little more insight. A lot of time and effort is thought through in terms of how you articulate the value proposition over multiple touches."

Step #4. Leverage employees and customers for lead referrals

This effort is simple, and maybe even a little obvious, but can be an overlooked area for lead generation.

As Hayward put it, "without a lot of fanfare or expense," CenterBeam created a "friends and family" lead gen website. The company asked all its employees to visit LinkedIn, send email to everyone they thought would be relevant, post the message everywhere, and to expose the program as broadly as possible.

"[The friends and family program] didn't really cost a lot," said Hayward. "It was an opportunity to have people come in and refer us sales that we probably wouldn't have received. I think that human touch and that human referral goes a long way in having a very high close rate."

She added the program went out to employees and associates, and even included every employee who ever worked at CenterBeam because those ex-employees understood the company and what it was capable of in order to provide relevant referrals.

Step #5. Implement a closed-loop process to keep Marketing and Sales in alignment

Hayward said an important aspect of getting Sales and Marketing on the same page is making sure a closed-loop process is in place.

"We are starting to put more of our effort into making sure that we are getting as much feedback from the sales force as we possibly can. And where we might improve either our lead quality or our focus on how we articulate the value proposition," Hayward stated.

The benefit of the tracking and feedback process is when a lead would "fall through the cracks" at some point in the pipeline -- typically during the hand off from Marketing to Sales -- the information provided by the closed-loop system allowed CenterBeam to identify those "missing in action" leads.

When Sales alerted Marketing of a lead that had been passed on to the sales team that still needed more information to reach "qualified" status, that lead was recycled into a lead nurturing program for what Hayward described as, "reheating."

She said, "These closed-loop activities made sure the full value of mid- and long-term leads was realized."


Because the basis of this campaign was a disconnect between Marketing and Sales, the most important result was a much more transparent relationship between the business functions where both were held accountable, both positively and negatively, for the end result of the lead generation effort.

Metrics from the effort:

- Outbound lead gen

o Overall lead delivery rate was 3.5%

o 21,794 dials were completed

o 2,803 conversions from those dials

o 97 leads were delivered to Sales based on qualifying criteria

o 138 leads were kept in the pipeline

o 308 leads were placed in a high-value lead nurturing

o 77 opportunities are still in the sales pipeline less than one year into a sales cycle that ranges from 90 days to 12 months

- Employee and customer referral outreach

o Year-to-date, this effort accounts for 8% of CenterBeam's closed deals

Hayward also provided three main takeaways that she learned from this entire effort:

o Form a partnership with your Sales colleague

o Managing your database requires time, effort and energy

o Make sure that everything you do has a closed-loop process

Karen Hayward will present a detailed look at this case study at the upcoming MarketingSherpa B2B Summit in Boston September 26-27, San Francisco, October 24-25.

Useful links related to this article

1. Second of three follow-up emails
2. Outbound call-flow chart
3. Sample of report to management


PointClear -- vendor for outbound lead gen program

Fostering Sales-Marketing Alignment: A 5-Step Lead Management Process

Bridging the Gap: 5 Objectives for Improving Relations between Sales and Marketing (Part 1)

Bridging the Gap: 5 Objectives for Improving Relations between Sales and Marketing (Part 2)

Getting Sales and Marketing into the Same Room: Marketing automation implementation spurs successful integration process

B2B How-To: 5 lead nurturing tactics to get from lead gen to sales-qualified

B2B Tactics: Maximizing marketing efforts in a tough economy

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