March 03, 2010
Case Study

Marketing Down the Sales Funnel: How Nortel’s Q4 Push Touched 30% of Pipeline and Helped Close Deals

SUMMARY: For many marketers, there’s an emerging challenge beyond lead generation -- helping sales convert opportunities already in the pipeline. Here’s an example of how to do it from a team with greater need than most.

Facing bankruptcy and an acquisition, Nortel needed to keep hard-won leads from being plucked away by competitors. They used a highly-focused message strategy, a microsite, and in-person and virtual events to answer prospects' questions about the firm’s future and keep them engaged with sales. The result: They touched more than 30% of the pipeline, and 34% of late-year revenue.

The fourth quarter is typically when marketers shift their focus from generating new leads to helping convert their existing leads into deals. But in 2009, this job was even more pressing for Chris Waldo, Americas Demand Generation Leader, Nortel.

The networking equipment company had recently filed for bankruptcy and was in the process of being acquired by a major competitor, Avaya. Although the marketing team helped generate $1.6 billion in pipeline value that year, they were concerned that news of the bankruptcy and acquisition would cause prospects to take a "wait-and-see" approach before closing deals with Nortel, or be targeted by competitors.

In response, the team needed to bring a new message to the market to help alleviate prospects' concerns, and accelerate deals currently in the pipeline.

"To finish off the year, we had to take some of the same techniques used to generate leads and point back to opportunities in the funnel to assist the sales team to close," says Waldo.


The team created a Q4 "close the pipeline" initiative that used several channels to engage with prospects, answer questions, and move them toward discussions with salespeople. Key elements included:
o A new microsite
o Paid search and social media
o In-person and online events
o Email nurturing

Here are eight steps they took to enact the campaign:

Step #1. Collaborate on campaign plan with sales team

Moving "down the funnel" was something Waldo’s team had never done before, so they needed upfront and ongoing communication with the sales team to develop a strategy.

They scheduled a meeting with team members from sales and marketing to identify:
o Target accounts
o Specific audiences within those accounts
o Hot button issues for campaign messaging

"We consciously chose the most vocal salespeople [to participate in the process] to accelerate buy-in," says Waldo

Step #2. Develop message map

One of the first tasks was to develop a "message map" for the campaign, which would address the concerns of key decision makers and influencers within targeted accounts. The marketing and sales teams knew that prospects had questions about the company, and they wanted their campaign to proactively answer as many of those questions as possible.

In some respects, the bankruptcy and pending acquisition made this job easier.

"It was very clear what the hot button was for customers," says Waldo. "Sometimes it’s not so clear."

They settled on four key approaches for campaign messaging:

- Assurance

These messages were intended to alleviate prospects’ concerns about adopting the company’s tools and technology by highlighting Nortel’s recent growth and product innovations despite the down economy.

- Rebuild Trust

These messages reminded prospects about Nortel’s brand by highlighting the company’s reputation for quality equipment, service offerings, market share and history of innovation.

- Urgency

These messages offered reasons for prospects not to "wait and see," by emphasizing the strong pricing discounts offered in Q4 and the importance of staying current with technology.

- What’s next for Nortel

These messages focused on the company’s future by addressed issues related to technology development, industry consolidation, and other trends.

After developing the message themes, the team conducted a content audit to determine which existing content assets -- such as case studies, calculators and whitepapers -- could be matched to the new message map. They identified more than 60 pieces of content to use, but also discovered gaps where new content needed to be created.

Marketing remained in close contact with the sales team during this process, offering several iterations of the message map and content selections to ensure the two teams remained in agreement on the campaign plan.

Step #3. Segment audience

Identifying the right audience for messages was another key piece of the plan. The team wanted to focus on deals most likely to close, but also to tailor the level of engagement to the size of the opportunity.

After examining the recommended accounts and audiences with those accounts, the team created three messaging tracks for the campaign.

- Prime Accounts:
o Strongest relationship with sales team
o Largest opportunities
o High-value, one-to-one messaging, such as invites to executive-level events

- Select Accounts:
o Opportunity value of more than $50,000 but not in the Prime segment
o Medium-value, one-to-few messaging, such as invites to virtual events

- Other Accounts:
o Smaller opportunities that didn’t have direct sales coverage
o Basic-value, one-to-many messaging, such as news updates and access to online resources

Step #4. Create campaign microsite

The team created a new microsite as the hub for content and communications related to the campaign:
o URL --
o Page title -- "What’s next for enterprise solutions"

- Each week, the team updated the site with news, content offers, virtual event announcements and other features related to the four message themes. For example, one week they highlighted an independent analyst report on the pending acquisition by Avaya. Another week, they highlighted ongoing innovation in the company’s products (see creative samples, below, for screenshots of different offerings).

- A left navigation bar included links to news and facts about the acquisition, current promotions, and new content offerings.

- The team integrated social media into their content and messaging strategy in several ways. First, they included links to Nortel’s existing social media outlets, such as:
o Twitter
o LinkedIn
o Facebook
o YouTube

They also monitored social media channels to gauge customer and prospect sentiment about the company. When they saw a particular issue coming to the forefront of social discussions, they knew what type of content and messages to push out through the microsite to address those concerns.

- They drove traffic to the site through paid search ads and social media outreach, posting content and messages to their various channels that linked back to the microsite.

- Calls-to-action included phone and email contact details to get in touch with the company, and a voluntary site registration. Visitors that registered on the site received regular email updates on news and content, but registration was not required to access information on the site.

Step #5. Email nurturing

Visitors that registered at were entered into an automated email nurturing campaign. The four-message program supported the key themes of the message map over a six-week cycle.

Message subjects included:
o Details about Nortel’s role in providing communications infrastructure for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic winter games
o Third-party analysis of the value of implementing VOIP networks
o An analyst report about trends in the IT industry, and how CIOs should evaluate the impact of mergers and acquisitions
o Reminders of the special deals and discounts being offered for Q4

Step #6. In-person CXO roundtables

In October, the team scheduled intimate, in-person events in 12 cities for key contacts in their Prime Account segment. These "CXO Roundtables" were invite-only events that allowed top customers and prospects to ask questions of company executives and a third-party analyst.

- The team analyzed its pipeline to find cities that represented the largest number of opportunities.

- They worked with sales managers to hand select contacts and customers from high-value accounts in those regions. Their goal was to attract five to 15 attendees at each event.

- They sent a personalized invitation to each potential guest that provided details about the meeting and link to register for the event. They offered registrants a free Kindle, on which they could receive news and content updates from

Step #7. Virtual CXO webinar

In November, the team adapted their in-person CXO roundtable meetings for a webinar that included:
o Company executives giving an update on the planned acquisition
o An analyst’s presentation on trends in industry consolidation
o Video testimonials from Nortel customers
o Attendee Q&A session

- The team worked with sales managers to build an invitation list from its segment of Select Accounts.

- They sent an email invitation and registration form to those contacts, and conducted telemarketing follow-up calls to secure registrations.

- A reminder email prior to the event invited registrants to submit questions for the company in advance.

- They made the webinar available on demand from 30 minutes following the live event.

- Sales representatives scheduled viewing days for customers to watch the on-demand webinar and ask their own questions.

Step #8. Sales team follow-up

The team monitored prospect activity throughout the campaign to find opportunities for sales follow-up. For example:

- All microsite registrations were mapped back to the current opportunity list. Then, the team compiled weekly "heads up" reports for members of the sales team, which showed activity from contacts in their accounts. Reports details included:
o Site visits
o Email activity
o Webinar or event attendance

Sales representatives used these activities to decide when to call prospects, and which topics to discuss.

- The team also monitored the questions prospects submitted during the live webinar (the event reminder email generated roughly 60 pages of questions). The sales team then used those questions to develop discussion topics for follow-up calls.

"It was our first foray into going down the funnel, and the results are great," says Waldo.

- The number of prospects and customers that registered for the microsite or participated in the events represented 30% of the company’s sales pipeline.

- 34% of revenue generated in November and December came from accounts that had interacted with the program.

The team also saw impressive metrics from the team’s microsite, webinar and email nurturing campaign:

- 14.7% of visitors to registered to receive updates.

- Nurturing emails generated open and clickthrough rates far above the team’s average. For example:
o First nurturing email -- 43.6% open rate, 11.51% CTR
o Second nurturing email -- 34.9% open rate, 17% CTR
o Third nurturing email -- 31.3% open rate, 7.1% CTR

- 65% of registrants attended the webinar, compared to the team’s average 35% attendance rate.

Useful links related to this article

Creative Samples from Nortel’s pipeline acceleration campaign

Lead-Gen Revamp with Automation and Scoring: 7 Steps to 190% Increase in Sales Conversions

How to Convert 11% More Prospects in Final 72 Hours of Buying Cycle

Bulldog Solutions: Provided campaign development and execution

Eloqua: The team’s marketing automation platform


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