In companies with long and complex sales cycles, "lead generation" is only the tip of the iceberg, says Winton Churchill, CEO of Churchill & Churchill, Inc., consultant to business technology marketers.
"You can do a campaign and get 5000 people to respond, but the next part is cultivating a relationship with somebody over a period of time. That's where most people tend to fall down," he says.
To avoid that pitfall, Churchill recommends marketers build systems that automate the "tedious information phase" to nurture and educate prospects while taking the burden of admin tasks off the shoulders of sales reps. (Who, let's face it, would rather be pitching your ready-to-close leads than handholding the rest.)
With the right nurturing program, Churchill says marketing can ultimately get prospects to pick up the phone and call the company, rather than the other way around.
"You can pretty reliably get people calling after they have educated themselves on your philosophical approach to whatever problem they're trying to solve," he explains. "And the dynamic is so much better when the client calls than when the company makes contact."
How? Here are Churchill's recommended five steps:
-> Step #1. Getting started -- the "anti-brand" approach
A typical lead generation campaign might begin with an email blast to a permission-based list -- say, people who subscribe to an industry magazine or who have attended trade shows and asked to receive updates.
The email offers a free report on specific challenges and difficulties facing people in that industry or with that specific job title.
"We're not looking for a huge number of people to respond, but are looking for people who are at a peak of pain and frustration, people who perceive they have a problem and are willing to take action on it by downloading a white paper," Churchill explains.
Churchill strongly advises you build a special landing page or microsite for clicks from this lead gen campaign -- for example, AircraftManufacturingMistakes.com. All the reports and documents geared toward responders would then come from this site.
While it would contain a link back to your company's main Web site, and the white paper lists the company's name on the copyright page, Churchill advises you to keep your branding subtle. So your logo would not appear anywhere.
"My stuff is very much the anti-brand sort of approach," he says. It's important that prospects don't have the slightest impression that they're being sold to.
To further avoid that impression, be sure your educational materials are intellectually honest. "There are pros and cons to every approach to solving a problem. If you don't honestly express that throughout every step of the way, people will automatically see it as a sales piece."
-> Step #2. Amplify the prospect's perception of the problem
People who respond to the email blast and download the report are people who recognize they have a situation that needs to be solved. "Someone has the germ of a problem," says Churchill. "My materials are meant to amplify the problem."
So, instead of a one-off, your white paper should be created as the first in a series of reports within the framework of the same topic -- which are offered in the original paper. (It's a bit like writing a very long white paper and cutting it into pieces.)
"If I have a report on '7 Fatal Mistakes Manufacturing Executives Make When Selecting Process Improvement Software,' some people may be concerned with the front end of the process, some are concerned with the backend, and some are concerned with inventory in the cycle," Churchill explains.
The original paper would include a section on each of those, along with a way to get more information on that specific topic.
"You're allowing your prospects to self-select on the type of problem they have, before you even engage them into a dialogue," Churchill explains. This lets you know what level of understanding they have about their problem.
-> Step #3. Reach out with five-to-eight touches in varying media
"It's very important to go at least five touches before you suggest that they might contact you," says Churchill.
Instead of making prospects wait for your monthly newsletter, Churchill suggests you step up the frequency for these new names, sending them offers for white papers and Webinars approximately once a week. The topics for each would converge around critical issues about a specific topic, and each touch would walk potential leads further through the topic.
However, Churchill warns that this sequence can't look too automated or calculated. Just relying on email is a no-no. Instead, he advises using a combination of direct postal mail, email, and even overnight express packages.
The communications also continue to be high on educational content and ruthlessly un-promotional. "Stay focused on the problem, not 'our product does…', so your prospect knows you have a depth of knowledge on the topic."
By the fifth to eighth touch (though some of Churchill's clients have sequences as long as 24 weeks), he suggests you begin to include low-key calls to action.
-> Step #4. Offer free custom-tuned consultation
At this point, Churchill's communications offer free consultations -- but with a sharper point than most free consults. For example, copy might read:
"There are a number of considerations when selecting manufacturing software, but they're different for each situation. If you'd like to speak to a systems engineer who could help you evaluate the parameters that might fit best in your own environment, we have a 30-minute process the systems engineer can take you through, and custom tune it to your individual situation."
By including that amount of specificity and offering a larger amount of content than simply saying, "Call us for your free consult," it's perceived as a benefit rather than a marketing offer.
The initial conversation is now set up as a problem-solving situation rather than a sales call; the sales associate is seen as a consultant who can solve a problem rather than just another sales guy.
-> Step #5. Soft-touch telemarketing
If a prospect gets all the communications but never calls in, then it's time to call them.
To keep your telemarketing in tune with the non-salesy tone of the rest of the communications, Churchill suggests finding and training someone within the company with a support background, rather than a telemarketer.
Support-oriented people have the ability to listen to the problem rather than trying to schedule an appointment or get an address, says Churchill. "Telesales people tend to be too aggressive."
The call takes the form of a follow-up to ensure the prospect received all the materials requested, and sometimes to ask what prompted them to engage in the dialogue.
What sorts of results should you get?
Churchill has found that of the prospects who download a white paper, "20-30% might be just collecting literature, or thought it was one thing and it turned out to be something else." 30-50% won't buy right away but will almost certainly buy within 6-9 months. And about 20-30% are actively looking for a solution.
Churchill and Churchill http://www.churchill2.com