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May 04, 2006

EXCLUSIVE: Why Lower-Level Managers Are Better Leads than VPs and C-Level Execs -- 11,295 Technology Buyers Interviewed

SUMMARY: Which leads are more likely to close quickly -- C-level execs and business people who say they "authorized purchases," or the often lower-level managers who "recommend purchases"? According a new phone study of 11,295 business execs who filled out online registration forms to get info on technology products, the lower-level folks may be your best leads. If you're focusing your marketing and follow-up on reaching VPs and C-level execs, you may be targeting the wrong demographic entirely. Here's more from this new study.
On average, business-to-business marketers tell us 10-20% of the leads they generate via online offers -- such as white papers and webinars -- are truly "hot."

These are the leads you push over to your sales force for immediate follow-up. (The rest, you add to your house list for further nurturing until they hopefully graduate to sales-worthiness.)

The problem is, how can you figure out which names are the right ones to hand to sales?   And before that, what sorts of prospects should you target via media and list buys when you run your lead gen campaign to begin with?

Who's hot and who's not?

From June to December 2005, technology search resource KnowledgeStorm telephoned 11,295 North American business execs right after the execs filled out online registration forms to access white papers, webinars, buying guides, and/or product specs. 

The primary purpose of the call was lead qualification.  Every lead was to be rated from one to five with five being ready-to-close and one being tire-kicker.

These leads were in a wide range of industries and job functions.  They were responding to any one of thousands of information offers for any one of 150 different technology brands, from IBM to "boutique brands."  However, they all had two things in common:

--They all picked up the phone.  (That's a 73.1% success rate after ten attempts, with 90% of the leads later categorized as "5" picking up in five calls or less.) 

--They willingly explained how hot a lead they were.  Were they seeking education?  Tire kicking?  On a search committee?  Close to making a final purchase?

KnowledgeStorm's research team analyzed the data around these leads and revealed their lessons learned exclusively with MarketingSherpa.

Lesson #1. "Recommenders" beat "Purchase Authority"

Overall, 17-20% of prospects reached on the phone turned out to be extremely hot leads -- in the 4-5 categories.  However, when KnowledgeStorm sliced the data, people who had described themselves as having "recommendation authority" were much more likely to be in that hot lead bucket than people who described themselves as having "purchase authority."

In fact, on average the lowly-sounding "recommenders" were three points higher on that buying cycle measurement stick.

To any marketer who's ever bought a mailing list, evaluated media buys, or even sorted incoming leads by purchase authority, this must seem counter-intuitive.  However, according to KnowledgeStorm's Director Market Research Matt Lohman, the data makes perfect sense.

"Our fundamental belief is the larger a company gets, the more you'll have people doing research and bringing it to the final decision maker for approval.  For example, when we were looking to buy a CRM system, no one from our VP-level on up was involved in the initial decisions or sourcing.  The people who would use the system day-to-day set the parameters and picked the systems.  They did the homework, and only then the decision maker got involved."

In other words, the people with power are the ones doing the research as opposed to the leaders who may do what amounts to rubber-stamping the results, or perhaps making a final choice between a very small number of presented front-runners.

Lohman notes, "If when you buy lists or leads you say 'I only want decision makers with purchasing authority,' you're leaving a ton of the best leads on the table."

Lesson #2. Leads further along the buying cycle have lower-level titles

This lesson is a natural continuation of the first.  The VP and/or C-level exec may be in the buying cycle at the very start (that very initial educational phase when general need and overall budget is determined), but many leave the room during the decision-making process until the very end when it's probably too late to engage them or influence their decision.

On the other hand, mid-level managers and line-of-operation staff are the ones actively involved in consideration and purchasing activities.  This means they are far more "qualified" as leads and further down the sales pipeline than the CEO who's downloading a few think pieces to read over the weekend.

Lesson: When rating incoming leads by job title and job function, give higher marks to managers and operational people (especially outside of the IT department if you're selling a system that solves business operations problems unrelated to IT management).

This may take some selling on your part to the sales team.  Field sales would almost always rather call on a VP than a manager.  You may want to study your own closed leads from the past two years to prove to them lower-level titles work well. 

Lesson #3. Vendors with content "mixes" get the best leads

We've been preaching this for a few years now, and it's great to get more actual field data to prove it out.

In general, vendor-content tends to break into two camps topically: product specific content such as tech specs and buying guides versus educational "thought leader" content.

On one hand the tech specs tend to generate extremely qualified leads because these are often the only folks who are interested in this content.  The problem is, unless the brand and solution is already extremely well known, without the educational content pre-warming the field, you won’t get the quantity of high quality leads you deserve.

"Vendors in the study with the most Web leads further along in the buying cycle had ratios of product-specific content to educational content that were 1:1 or higher," notes Lohman.

So, for quality you want to promote product-related content.  For quantity you need the educational stuff.  

Lesson #4. The most eager prospects use more complex search terms

Makes sense.  When prospects are eagerly looking online for product or services information to solve their problem (or to fill out a vendor research report they've been assigned to write for their leader), they tend to use longer, more complex search terms in search engines and on technology-related sites.  

Example: Instead of typing in "CRM Systems" or "Business Intelligence Software" to look for vendors, these prospects are more likely to type in "CRM systems for XYZ industry" or "XYZ-compatible business intelligence software."  If you're syndicating your white papers and product info on systems such as KnowledgeStorm, how can you make sure it's found on these more pointed searches?

While you should load your document title with a few keywords so it's found in search, you can't possibly fit every word that might be used.  (Often titles have 200-ish charactor limits.)  However, Lohman suggests you tweak your summary or any descriptive copy of the piece that you can also put in the syndication system.  First make a list of the industries and other niche topics/terms that best prospects might use in search, and then re-write your summary to include them.   

Worth noting: Many of the tech news sites we've talked to say they'll happily let white paper syndication clients (as well as advertisers) review their audiences' most-used search terms.  However, few marketers pro-actively ask to see this list, even though it could be worth its weight in gold (or leads) to them.  Best practice, ask to see a list of top related search terms monthly.

Lesson #5. Phone newly registered leads in under four days

"88% of the time if you reach a new lead within 24 hours of their registration, they are actually going to be happy to talk with a vendor," says Lohman.  "Not just willing to talk -- happy to talk!"  Why?  Remember these leads may be researching multiple vendors at the same time for a formally-determined need.  

--They may make implied judgments about how good your customer service will be based on your follow-up time now. 

--They may forget who is who after filling out multiple forms or reviewing loads of white papers and would welcome your input on how you are different from the competition.

--They may forget your brand or solution name quickly, together with the fact that they filled out a form at all. 

In fact, Lohman's research team has discovered that if you cannot contact Web-generated leads via phone within 24 hours, you'd better darn well get it done within four days of the lead fill-out.  After four days, prospects' likelihood to (a) pick up the phone, (b) remember filling out the form and (c) be happy you called, plummets. 

Hot leads get awfully cold in 96 hours. 

Useful links related to this article:

PDF downloads of two studies conducted by KnowledgeStorm on this topic:

The Artemis Group - the research firm that assisted KnowledgeStorm with this study:


See Also:

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