December 03, 2014
Case Study

Lead Management: How a B2B SaaS nonprofit decreased its sales cycle 99%

SUMMARY: VolunteerMatch has a unique revenue model. It's a nonprofit that operates as a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company, so the lessons from its case study are very applicable to many businesses in addition to nonprofits.

To help you improve your own lead management, this case study will show you how VolunteerMatch enabled its sales team to gain real-time insight into the pipeline, find the hottest leads in the shortest amount of time and increase the amount of qualified leads passed to Sales.
by Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content

Cleanliness of data and clarity of process tend to degrade over time in most organizations. However, making small tweaks to these two aspects of a program can dramatically impact the success of lead generation and conversion to sale.

VolunteerMatch made improvements in both of these areas, influenced internal adoption of the new processes and tools and saw astonishing results in just a couple of years — all while working within the budget and time constraints of a nonprofit.


"We're really connecting to people's and companies' passions for making an impact in communities, regardless of what the specific cause area might be that they're most passionate about," said Lauren Wagner, Senior Manager of Engagement, VolunteerMatch.

As the Web's largest volunteer engagement network, VolunteerMatch has three customers:
  • People interested in volunteering — there are 7 million of them registered on VolunteerMatch

  • Nonprofits looking for volunteers — 100,000 nonprofits from around the globe use VolunteerMatch

  • Employee volunteer programs, mostly at multi-location companies with at least 10,000 employees — companies such as JetBlue, Charles Schwab, Johnson & Johnson and Gap, Inc.

To this third audience, VolunteerMatch operates similarly to a B2B SaaS company. "As a nonprofit that is also a SaaS tech company and a B2B marketing organization, we straddle a really exciting space," said Shari Tishman, Director of Engagement, VolunteerMatch.

While VolunteerMatch is a nonprofit, it does not rely on donors. Much like any other for-profit B2B corporation, it relies on revenue from sales of its SaaS product — an employee engagement platform that corporate social responsibility and human resources departments can include in their intranet to make it easier to manage volunteer initiatives.

"It frees up the managers of these programs time to really be out in the communities talking to nonprofits, developing those relationships with other organizations in the communities, which is really where they should be spending their time rather than researching all of the different places that people can volunteer all over the world," Wagner said.


As VolunteerMatch grew, its lead generation and management process did not grow with it.

There was only one lead form on the site. Not only was this the key inbound lead generation form for the SaaS product, but it was also the only way anyone from any of VolunteerMatch's three audiences could contact the nonprofit on the site.

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More than 60% of the leads for corporate solutions were confused nonprofits or individuals looking for an opportunity to volunteer.

When VolunteerMatch was smaller, the lead flow was low enough that this process was manageable, but as it grew, this process wasted a lot of time internally.

Instead of focusing on marketing, the team spent more and more time trying to determine which inquiries were true "leads" to hand over to Sales. This process resulted in an average sales cycle that was 491 days long because there was a lack of nurturing for companies not ready to buy, and many leads were lost in all the noise.


The team wanted to create a centralized, trusted source of information that could easily be leveraged by both the Sales and Marketing teams to gain better insight into where potential customers were in the funnel.

Step #1: Clean and optimize CRM data

Wagner describes herself as "strangely passionate about database management," so the team's first investment was using staff resources and budget to clean and optimize the data in its CRM (customer relationship management) platform.

VolunteerMatch had used the same CRM for 13 years. When the system was first set up, the company was operating under a different business model that focused on donations as well as foundation and corporate grants.

Not to mention, the data had become messy over time: "A CRM is a really powerful tool, [but] the database can get really huge, and if there's nobody working at updating it, making it more effective as part of their job and keeping it clean, it can turn into a real disaster," Wagner said.

To help remedy this problem, the team found a data quality toolset to perform data hygiene and remove duplicates from the database, which had grown to more than 20,000 records. This is one area where being a nonprofit paid off — the vendor they found donates their full suite of tools to nonprofits for five years at a time.

However, as a scientist studying entropy or any parent of a child with a messy bedroom will tell you, cleaning something once is not enough. Without a better process in place, there will always be a gradual decline back into disorder.

Step #2: Add tools so key stakeholders want to use the CRM

Once the database was cleaner "we needed to change the system to really work for the people that are using it, so I started interviewing all of the different teams," Wagner said.

She asked them:
  • What they need in a CRM

  • How they were currently using it

  • What was working for them

  • What wasn't working for them

  • What information they would like to be able to get to that they can't now

  • In their dream world, how would they like to be able to use the CRM

Based on the feedback, the team focused on improving the usability of the now more organized data, which is crucial to adoption. After all, a CRM is like a safe deposit box — it is only as valuable as the assets people put in it, and without trust, they will not waste time putting anything worthwhile in it.

One way the team built that trust was by investing in tools that helped make the process easier. For example, they employed a tool that integrates the CRM with sales representatives' email, calendar and contacts. This made it easy to add to and use CRM data with a single click and made the reps more willing to build the database and more effectively use it to identify and convert leads.

They also reorganized the CRM:
  • Access levels were set up for each rep, so they only saw what information was applicable to their roles, instead of being overwhelmed with data.

  • They organized the data to reflect the sales progression of customers for the new go-to-market strategy. For example, opportunities were split into new business and renewals.

"[It] really helps them to be able to easily see where they need to be spending their time, who needs to be followed up with because it was all actually being tracked and then reflected in their dashboards," Wagner said.

Step #3: Feed better data into the CRM

Once the data was clean in the CRM, the team had to keep it that way. Some of this happened by working with Sales, as described above, but the team also had to make sure better data was coming from lead forms.

To do that, they grew their website from the single lead form to 10 different forms, such as:
  • General contact form

  • Newsletter signup form

  • Webinar signup form

  • "Learn more" form

  • Request to view a demo

They varied the information required on each form from simply asking for a first name, last name and email address for a white paper download to nine required fields for the hand-raiser "learn more" form.

They also better communicated on their website which contact forms were meant for which type of customer, and what they could expect to receive by completing each form.

For example, if customers click on the self-direct link that says "I am a nonprofit looking to engage volunteers," they are taken to a learning center page to help them get registered with

Visitors who were a good lead for the SaaS product would self-select "I am looking for tools to support my company's employee volunteering program," which would then route them to a lead form with lead qualification questions about their company headquarters location and volunteer objectives (e.g., "engage consumer in volunteering/cause marketing" and "support local nonprofits").

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In addition to the forms, the team produced more content on the site to reduce the number of people filling out forms for general information.

"On the public side of things, we've built out the help center, learning center areas so that the nonprofits and volunteers can find the help they need there the way that they should be able to," Wagner said. "On the corporate side of things there are … 10 [forms]."

Step #4: Automate segmented lead nurturing content

Since the leads were increasing drastically, it was no longer practical to efficiently follow up with each inquiry manually.

"The odyssey really began at the [MarketingSherpa] Email Summit 2012. Lauren and I attended, and we, I think it opened our eyes to the way that email, strategic email marketing could really serve different business functions," Tishman said. "I think the presentation at that Summit by the guy [Jermaine Griggs] was such a great example for us because it really showed step by step what could be done with a system like that."

Previously, Wagner said, the team would "pull everyone that we've talked to at all in the past year into a campaign in [the CRM] and send a mass email. We didn't know anything about what they were interested in other than they had contacted us at some point or we had been in contact with them at some point."

"You get three or four out of an email send of 500 that would say, 'Yeah, cool. I'll talk to you about VolunteerMatch.' That isn't effective nor is it helping your cause with them in the future. That also definitely influenced our decision to move to the marketing automation side of things," Wagner explained.

The team used its new leads forms and marketing automation tool to begin some triggered email marketing. At the most basic level, they created a triggered thank you email for the new Web lead form from a geo-specific business development representative.

They also created created drip campaigns. For example, when a prospect fills out a form to receive a white paper entitled "How to Build a Sustainable Employee Volunteer Program," they are automatically signed up to be added to a drip email program that includes these emails:
  1. "Make the best choice for your employee volunteer program"

  2. "The most innovative technology for your employee engagement program"

  3. "Choose a technology that will be there for YOU and your employee volunteer program"

But triggered forms are only one way the team uses content.

"Our strategy relies heavily on content marketing to build trusted relationships with our community — whether it's a nonprofit looking to connect with volunteers, a volunteer finding ways to make a difference or a company needing ways to engage employees," Tishman said.

She added, "We provide value, enable them to explore who we are and what we do ... we are very much multi-channel, with blogs, email marketing, social media, webinars, white papers and all sorts of cool partnerships."


This effort helped bridge a gap between Marketing as well as Sales and Business Development. Before this effort, the bad data and lack of tools hindered the marketing team.

The marketing team wasn't able to "really get an understanding of how engaged people were with us because we didn't have the ability to look at different actions that they've taken," Wagner said. "That's been one of the biggest changes over the past few years — really being able to get at where people are in the process, which was something we were never able to do before."

VolunteerMatch is now able to find more hot leads and convert them faster.

The average lead age at time of conversion has decreased from 491 days before the project started to an average of six days in 2013. That's a decrease of 99%.

The team shortened the sales cycle because of cleaner data and the increased ability of the sales team to record activities. The average duration an opportunity remained in a given stage of the sales cycle decreased from 185 days to an average of 74 days — a decrease of 60%.

The team was able to increase the quality of leads handed to Sales as well. The percentage of converted leads that were lost decreased from 40% to 16% — another decrease of 60%.

What is the biggest lesson the team learned to share with other marketers? With complex sales processes, it helps to think through all the different elements affecting internal and external audiences. "Everyone really needs to be working together and thinking together about the best way to set it up to achieve the goals," stated Tishman

"You should have access to, and input from, all [the] other pieces of the organization," Tishman continued, "because otherwise you're going to miss things, they're going to miss things, and in the end it's the customers and community members that really miss out."

"Don't let the fact that something hasn't been done before stop you from making your case and pushing forward and trying to make things work," Wagner added.

Tishman and Wagner will present their case study at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015 in Las Vegas, and then ask the audience to help them take their marketing to the next level as the subject of a group activity — the Email Summit Live Test.

In the Live Test, Jon Powell of MECLABS Institute will work with the audience to create, launch and validate a split test in 24 hours to teach the audience a methodological approach to testing, using VolunteerMatch as an example. "I'm really excited from a strategy level to see what we can learn from this entire process, and then also, contribute and help other nonprofits and other tech companies," Tishman said.

Creative Samples

  1. Original Web lead form

  2. New contact page

  3. New "Learn More" Web lead form

  4. "Thank You" email

  5. New white paper lead form

  6. First drip email

  7. Second drip email

  8. Third drip email



Related Resources

Lead Gen: 17% lift in lead capture by including more details in email [Email Summit 2014 live test]

Ecommerce: Harnessing the power of email automation and behavior-based marketing to increase conversions (the Email Summit session by Jermaine Griggs that convinced Tishman and Wagner to create triggered emails)

6 Ideas to Create More Relevant Lead Nurturing Emails

MECLABS Email Messaging Online Course

VolunteerMatch Contact Page

VolunteerMatch Insights (includes lead form examples)

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