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Apr 03, 2002
Case Study

How Microsoft Nurtured Sales Leads to Sell More $100,000 Software Accounts

SUMMARY: Dale Sleppy, Manager Marketing Programs for Microsoft's Great Plains Business Solutions unit, had a big problem: "Sales reps complained about the quality of leads." Even though Sleppy's direct marketing efforts generated thousands of leads, sales reps said the leads were below the 'qualified' threshold.  He explains, "We just had not done a good job of finding out things like what their time frame for buying was, if they had decided on a budget for this year, or who was the correct decision maker." Check out this Case Study to hear how Sleppy invented a clever seven-part "nurturing" campaign using email,...

Last year Dale Sleppy, Manager Marketing Programs for Microsoft's Great Plains Business Solutions unit (formerly Solomon software), faced a problem that sales support marketers have had with since the beginning of time:

"Sales reps complained about the quality of leads."

Sleppy explains further, "The direct marketing team generated thousands [of leads] through direct mail, cold calling, email. But [sales reps said] they were still below the 'qualified' threshold. We just had not done a good job of finding out things like what their time frame for buying was, if they had decided on a budget for this year, or who was the correct decision maker."

By July 2001, Sleppy already had about 5,000 semi-qualified leads in the hopper, and over the next seven months would gain an additional 11,000 leads. How could he warm these leads up into hot ones the sale reps would love -- without busting his budget?


Together with consultant "Mac" McIntosh of, Sleppy developed a low-cost, high-impact 'Nurturing' program to do the job.

Back when Sleppy's team initially started collecting leads for the program through direct mail, telemarketing and email marketing campaigns (typically offering a free CD ROM demo), they had been careful to ask how prospects would like to receive any further related information -- via email, fax or mail.

Now Microsoft used that data to send these leads a series of seven monthly offers via the media of the prospects' choice. A new offer was sent out the second Tuesday of every month, except August. (In the case of direct mail, offers were mailed a few days earlier, hopefully to coincide with fax and email delivery dates.)

Sleppy explains the timing, "We felt that Monday is a pretty busy email time. We decided to send it out during the day -- mostly late-morning -- so people on both coasts would receive them some time in their morning."

Most months' free educational offers were slightly different:

1. July: a guide entitled "How to Select the Right Financial
and Accounting Software Package for Your Business."

2. September: a fact sheet on the Company's latest product
release -- Solomon IV version 4.5.

3. October: three guides on how to choose enterprise software
for reporting, customization, and e-business.

4. November: a guide entitled: “Is it Time to Upgrade Your
Accounting and Financial Software?”

5. December: seven different case studies on how particular
named clients used the Company's products.

6. January: a white paper describing self-service solutions
for remote access to business reporting.

7. February: a repeat of the July offer.

The creative execution was as identical as possible across all mediums. (See link below for email creative samples.) In all cases, copy followed best practices guidelines that other B2B marketers would do well to emulate. For example:

- All letters began with a personalized salutation.

- The first paragraph of letters was never longer than an easy-to-skim line and a half, and always contained the word "you" as early on as possible.

- Subsequent paragraphs of copy were never longer than five and a quarter lines long (and many were a good deal shorter), so readers' eyes were not turned off by copy block density.

- Copy included reader-benefit-oriented bullet points, rather than a lot of self-centered information about "us", "we" or "Microsoft." Words such as "you" and "your" featured heavily.

- Letters were signed by a real human being (sometimes Sleppy, and sometimes VP Robert Deshaies).

- Most letters included a P.S. reiterating the free offer after the signature.

Copywriter Dianne Huff of DH Communications, who contributed to this copy explains her tactics, "It had to be information that was valuable to reader. We wanted people to know it was an informative guide rather than just a corporate promotion. I always tried to set up a pain point scenario. It could not be typical sales copy because we want to get people to click through to offer. Mac would say to me, 'We are only dating these people so don’t make the copy so aggressive.'

Huff also says that she was careful not to use corporate jargon like “integrated” or “enterprise.” She instead chose terms such as “share copy” or “your business”.

Subject lines for the email versions were just as carefully crafted to maximize open rates. For example, one subject line read: '[firstname], don't miss these new case studies.' Another read: '[firstname], select the right financial software package with this guide' (Yes, the lack of capitals was entirely intentional to make the subject lines feel more like a personal communication.)

Otherwise the only real difference between email and fax or direct mail was the fact that recipients could click directly on hotlinks in email, while they had to type URLs in by hand with other versions.

In fact all email versions contained at least three hotlinks (one near the top, one in the middle and one in the P.S.); and the Free Case Studies email offer cleverly included no fewer than 10 hotlinks (one for each company name featured in a Case Study, plus the three 'regulars'). Nevertheless, all links led to the same place -- a landing page that users had to register on before proceeding to get the promised free information.

The email version's hotlinks led clicks directly to a page that was pre-populated with their basic contact data. (See sample at link below.) Mail and fax recipients had to type in a fairly simple URL, plus an additional personal PIN number to get to their personal landing pages.

Aside from this pre-populated contact information the landing pages also required seven additional answers, each with a list of radial button answers, including specific numbers/date options as well as "not sure." Here are samples:

1. What motivated you to contact us?

2. Has a team been assembled to explore business management software?

3. How far along are you in the process of selecting business management software?

4. When do you plan to begin implementation of this software?

5. Has a budget for this software been finalized?

6. What would be your role in this decision?

7. How many users would benefit from this system?

In a final smart marketing touch, instead of having the submission button at the end of the form simply read "submit," Sleppy had it reiterate the offer. For example, "Click here to receive your free case studies."

Every promotion also offered prospects their choice of calling a toll-free phone number for the free offer. In this case, an inbound teleservice rep read the required questions to prospects over the phone, and got their answers, before sending off the requested free materials either by email, fax, or snail mail (depending on the prospect's preference).

In these cases, the teleservice department again tried to get permission to add the prospect's email address to the Company's opt-in list so prospects could be emailed in future, because it is so much cheaper than postal mailing or faxing.

As campaign responses came in each month, Sleppy's team passed off the hottest leads to the sales team to act on.


In just seven months, Microsoft's nurturing program directly identified 300 red-hot leads for sales reps to act on immediately from the final pool of more than 16,000 leads. This vastly increased sales rep satisfaction, and reduced wasted time reps spent contacting leads not yet ready to buy.

Plus, the program helped educate leads, so sales reps could close sales worth $10,000-$100,000 more quickly.

More results:

- Emailed "From" lines featuring real people's names got almost triple the click through rate that "From" lines featuring a department name such as "Marketing" got.

- At 4.04% average, the September HTML-version email letters got a slightly higher click through rate than that month's text-only letters at 3.7% click through.

- Although, predictably, emailed offers got higher click through rates, the fax and postal mail recipients who did bother to hand- type in the URL for their landing page into their Internet browser were much more likely to follow all the way through, answer every required question, and completely download the promised information.

Sleppy says, "A person who responded via email may click on the link, see the form page and not go further."

- There was a low percentage of repeat responders. “Apparently if they came once, there was not a high probability they would submit their form again,” Sleppy says.

Since the seven-month campaign ended, Sleppy merged his leads list with other related Microsoft lists to use as the basis for a subscription file for an email newsletter. This monthly newsletter still features similar free offers, only in the context of additional newsy and educational articles.


Samples of five email "e-nurturing" campaigns sent:

Landing page sample with form to qualify lead:
Click on any of the links in the five samples above.

Microsoft Great Plains Business Solutions

Mac McIntosh Business-to-Business Sales Leads Experts
See Also:

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