06 September 2021
Build a well-oiled, mean, lean, lead-generating and order-taking machine.
A pragmatic real-world approach to digital lead generation.
The bewildering choice and complexity of online marketing systems can leave you feeling like everyone has brilliant digital lead generation systems - except you.
Don't despair, very few companies have perfected digital lead generation. Here's how to get something workable up and running fast, suitable for business to business products and services.
Digital lead generation - the problem defined
Most businesses have poor lead capturing and tracking systems; despite the huge amount of information available, and the number of vendors pushing CRM and marketing automation solutions.
Many SME's can't accurately produce basic data that answers these important questions...
1. Where do your sales leads come from?
2. What is your sales conversion rate?
3. What return on investment are you achieving on your promotional spend?
Typically, executives will provide answers to these questions but when you dig further, you find their answers are 'gut feel' or based on anecdotal feedback from the sales team. The simple truth is - they don't know.
The broken sales funnel
We discover this when we are employed as a digital marketing agency to "make the phone ring" and find the leads are going somewhere but the organisation can't provide a list, can't say for sure they were generated by the digital marketing campaign, and finally can't answer the question...
"...are we getting more enquiry than normal?"
In short, they aren't ready for the catch.
Many leads aren't followed-up
Another common finding is that many leads don't get followed up.
We make the phone ring, someone takes their details down but there is no system to ensure sales leads are managed through to a result.
Many readers will find this unbelievable, but it's logical. Most executives or business owners assume their people are diligently following up every lead.
However, Unless they have...
- A well managed CRM
- Dedicated customer service/inside salespeople
- A person monitoring and supervising the process
- Can produce lead tracking statistics
...then they have no evidence to support this belief and it's almost guaranteed leads are slipping through the cracks.
Why do we say "this is logical?"; because, it's human nature.
High wage rates guarantee businesses do not have spare capacity. When faced with the choice between performing a task that will be noticed if it isn't completed and one that won't - the employee's choice is simple.
It's just too easy for that post-it note to disappear (after being found months later, stuck to the back of desk trash).
Even with the help of technology, unless you have a defined and monitored procedure for how leads are to be handled, invariably new business leads will be fumbled and often in subtle ways. There is no telling the difference between an obvious sales lead who is "hot to trot" and the cooler enquiry that seems less interesting. Both have made contact for a reason, and until the sales process has run its course, you won't find out which will end up becoming a sale or your next big client.
Every day you leave a sales lead unqualified (nobody has spoken to them or followed them-up), the more likely they will be captured by a more attentive competitor.
Building an effective digital lead generation machine requires having a disciplined lead capturing and follow-up process.
Integrating digital sales funnels with in-house sales processes
The following diagram depicts the key components of the digital lead generation system and how it meshes with the in-house (traditional) sales funnel.
Key features about the above schematic...
- It's divided toward the bottom by a horizontal dotted line. Above the line are the components mainly relating to the online lead generation and 'run-rate' sales.
- Below the dotted line is devoted to 'high-touch' sales; sales that aren't closed in one or two calls but require dedicated attention by a salesperson (or a sales team). This is commonly where solution selling takes place.
- There is a connection between the top (run-rate) and bottom (high-touch) indicating the leads that are generated (mostly through digital marketing) that are passed through to the sales team by customer service (sometimes called 'inside sales') after being qualified as requiring more than just taking an order or providing a routine quote.
The schematic is also divided into three vertical sections...
- New customer acquisition and lead generation: as indicated by the orange boxes. These are the commonly used methods for generating leads using digital platforms. There are the usual digital methods (Search Engine Marketing, Paid Search, Electronic Direct Mail, Social Media) but the sales team are also included as traditionally salespeople are responsible for finding new customers through various prospecting methods. Digital marketing promises so much that sometimes salespeople forget their traditional role (or don't have time for it). Consider the possibility the customer you find maybe a different type of customer than the one that finds you. See what is a selling model?.
- Off-line contact acquisition: On the right-hand side of the schematic (feeding into the green CRM box) is an arrow labelled 'Offline contact acquisition'. It's an acknowledgment that leads don't just come from digital lead generation. As I am writing this, I am thinking "that line really should feed into the website from the left," never mind, fix that later (pragmatic excellence).
A lot of leads come from sources other than digital marketing. If your sales team are half-good, they'll be networking and handing out business cards. A business card is a road map pointing to your website (you do have your website on your business card, don't you?), and referrals come from personal contacts, clients, suppliers, and other businesses in your network. And let's not forget the full list of off-line marketing and lead generation activity (trade shows etc.)
- Convert leads to sales enquiries: the purpose of the website and customer service team (indicated in blue) are to convert the generated leads to enquiries.
- Convert enquiry to sales and build the database: on the right is where the orders pop out. Obviously, not everyone orders on first enquiry, however having gone to the trouble of generating the lead, it makes sense to keep the lead on file and keep in contact to encourage them to buy (lead nurturing and sales follow-up). Lead nurturing begins before they make contact. Digital marketing systems can keep feeding advertisements and social posts to them even before they make contact (re-marketing).
- The CRM: the critical component in the whole schematic and the glue that holds the whole scheme together is the CRM (indicated in green). The CRM can be thought of as a 'tank' that stores sales prospects and customer details. The more in the tank, the more powerful the system becomes. The CRM is the goldmine.
The main error many sales organisations make is failing to stir the tank. If you only focus attention on the most recent enquiries and forget about the older enquiries, the leads go stale.
Going 'stale' means; the lead loses interest, the lead buys somewhere else (your competitor is more diligent), or the contact details change. CRM maintenance is a critical part of managing the CRM. Remember, like all computer systems they are only as good as the humans who fed the data into it.
Run rate sales and high touch sales
As stated earlier, the schematic is divided into two sections ('run rate' sales and 'high touch' sales).
Selling widgets off the shelf is different to long sales cycle project bidding
Not every B2B business has both. Large engineering firms work on million/billion-dollar projects (several overlapping) and therefore have no need for the parts depicted in the above schematic that address high-volume-low-value transaction sales (often called 'run-rate' sales). And of course, some businesses are purely run-rate based and have no need for solution selling salespeople.
The sales model for the large project focused business is very different to the transaction sales business (and less reliant on a continuous flow of sales leads), project tracking becomes a critical pre-sales tool for these types of businesses.
The point I am making is the above schematic is generic (albeit suited to business-to-business selling) but needs adjusting for specific businesses.
The website deserves special attention.
Over the last 35 years (the span of my working career), I have seen websites go from something only propeller-heads knew anything about to mainstream.
The first web page went live on August 6, 1991, and was accessible to only a small audience of academics. In 1991, I was the National Sales and Marketing Manager of an industrial mining services company. I was 30 years of age, my office desk didn't have a PC sitting on it. There was no email. I have witnessed the entire introduction of the digital marketing world and seen the launch of each new digital tool.
Only over the last 10 years have industrial organisations started to really worry about the quality of their website design and started to think about websites as a critical part of their marketing.
We used to split websites into two categories "brochure-ware" and "e-commerce enabled." Websites now perform more functions than simply being online corporate profiles and are often the first step in sales automation being able to collect and disseminate data as well as transacting sales.
In the context of this article (and as depicted in the above schematic), the website is the second stage of the lead generating process and can perform much of the pre-sales activity salespeople used to perform...
- Providing specifications and data sheets: a common feature on technical product websites are extensive catalogues of product brochures and technical datasheets. The modern sales organisation needs to cater for two types of buyers; those who prefer to do their own research (tend to be younger) and those who would rather telephone and consult a real human (tend to be older). The website operates 24 X 7, meaning your potential client can be working late at night and still get the information they need, resulting in your product being specified in their design. Make no mistake, getting product data and technical specifications onto the website and keeping them updated is a massive task.
- Pricing: Many sites are able to provide pricing. This is a vexed question many businesses spend a lot of time considering - "should we list our prices?" there are advantages and disadvantages and the decision is driven by your business model and selling model.
- Custom ordering portal: This is a good example of where the sales team mesh with the digital sales model. Many customers are seeking a more efficient process to manage vendor relationships particularly focusing on 'rats-and-mice' purchases (office supplies, safety equipment and consumables (PPE) ) and negotiate a volume buy for all their branches (and construction sites) with one vendor. Often to play in this market, vendors need to offer an online ordering portal where the customer's authorised personnel can view their contract priced items and place an order. The entry point to reach this portal is via the website. A sales team sells this concept and negotiates pricing, which is a huge magnification of their selling time.
Websites have become the replacement for the glib sales pitch.
Most of us (in Australia particularly) are turned off by a business person rabbiting on about their company. The trick is to say just enough to pique interest and then let the website do the rest. This introduces a whole new topic about "elevator pitches" and the "sprat-pitch" - but, the key point is, the website needs to be a sharp instrument subject to continuous honing and refining.
Building the company website is a journey, not a destination.
Pruning the CRM
People leave organisations, change email addresses and phone numbers. If your processes are well developed you will detect these changes early and can take action. These changes are a sales opportunity...
- Rather than simply deleting them from the CRM, find out where they went! In their new role, they may still be in the market for your products and services.
- Find out who replaced them. Don't lose a lead simply because the contact person left.
- If they have changed contact details, call the organisation and find the new details. This provides a valid reason to re-engage with them and determine if other circumstances have changed that may lead to a new sales opportunity.
Lack of CRM maintenance is a common failing in sales organisations. Eventually, the CRM is so far out of date it becomes a dead weight absorbing resources and salespeople lose faith in it.
Constant attention to the CRM to keep the data fresh should be a key sales task. Often, the quickest way to check the details are still current is to simply ring the person up. This isn't a bad thing, is it? Most CRM's will have a date-of-last-contact field to enable you to prioritise who should be re-contacted first.
Following-up sales leads
In the middle of the schematic is a red dot - "Leads to follow-up, the BIGGEST challenge."
So, we talked about this above; most organisations do not follow up on every lead that comes their way.
But, in this context it's different. The schematic depicts the mature sales organisation with all of the key components in place...
inter-meshing nicely into a well-oiled mean, lean, lead-generating and order-taking machine.
So, we have all the tools to monitor, measure, and track leads - none should slip through the cracks.
But they do. Here's why.
- Salespeople are pressed for time: No organisation has enough salespeople to keep pace with a good set-up lead generation system.
- No one is checking: Without a person monitoring follow-up performance, leads will be forgotten.
- Lack of sales automation: Sales automation simply means identifying routine low-value tasks in the sales process and finding software to either perform the task or assist with the task.
- Tending to existing customers: Salespeople should be allocating time to ensuring high-value accounts are being looked after. That leaves less time to attend to leads.
The single most time-consuming sales process is bidding, quoting and writing tenders.
It's simply staggering the number of organisations that have no standardised process for writing quotes.
Failure to deliver quotes in a timely manner is a big factor in poor sales conversion rates. A simple test to identify lack of standardisation and process is to collect together the last 20 bids and quotes produced and compare them for consistency; invariably, you will discover each salesperson has their own template or worse reinvents the wheel each time.
Often, terms and conditions are either non-existent, many versions are being used, or at some point in the past, the organisation went through the pain of writing a standard T&C's document (after a customer went rogue and the legal action went nowhere due to not having standard T&C's) and it was used for a while but in the haste to get quotes out the door, it has been forgotten about.
Lastly, solution selling requires a customised solution. If the salesperson is reliant on a design and estimating team to develop a solution - this is invariably a bottleneck.
The standard procedure that defines how the sales team produces a requirements specification, briefs design and estimating, and packages the solution into a proposal will go a long way to streamlining the process.
Also, do you actually need to produce a fully costed proposal for every enquiry? With tenders knowing when to hold and when to fold is key to efficiency.
The 90-day rule
Not every lead converts immediately, however, it should still be added to 'the tank' (CRM) for future re-marketing and sales follow-up. A failed lead today could become a customer tomorrow. Old sales jungle saying "the squeaky door gets the most oil."
The time-honoured rule in sales is that you need to contact a lead, past customer or sales prospect within 90 days of the last contact. The reasoning is, a person's ability to spontaneously recall your name (or your organisation's name) decays 50% every 90 days. So, after 180 days they will be 25% likely and after a year this will have diminished to less than 7% (these numbers aren't scientific; more conceptual).
A spontaneous recall is akin to 'top-of-mind' awareness. Works like this; after first meeting you or seeing some element of your marketing activity, if they have no immediate need for your products or services, they will not think about you again until a need arises.
When they are ready to buy, the chance of them joining the dots and recalling that you have a potential solution to their problem - diminishes over time.
This is a strong case for the dreaded e-newsletter because even if they simply delete it from their inbox, they will at least have noted who sent it.
Of course, 'staying in contact' can take many forms; newsletter or other forms of Electronic Direct Mail (EDM), physical mail (envelopes with stamps. So neglected, it's likely to come back into fashion), online adverts, a poke on LinkedIn, a face-to-face visit or a phone call. The disadvantage of EDM is the possibility a disengaged prospect may click unsubscribe' removing them from your mailing list for all time (or more accurately, obliging you not to send any more EDM's).
Staying in contact is best done personally, however it is one of those tasks that can be handed over to automation.
When is a customer, no longer a customer?
A customer is someone who buys from you (or, as a credit manager once corrected me someone who pays you). The CRM should distinguish between...
- Potential customers: Never bought from you before, but are still coming through the sales pipeline.
- Current customers: Have purchased from you recently enough for you to still consider them a customer.
- Lapsed customers: Used to buy from you, but haven't for a while.
How long since the last customer ordered is the distinguishing criteria between current and past customer. How long is really a function of the average sales cycle for your industry and your customers? For big-ticket sales, several years wouldn't be unusual. However, your stationery supplier might get concerned if an order wasn't placed every month.
Having established the time period, the next step is to set up a process for identifying the lapsed customer peak moment of transition (today we classify them as a customer, tomorrow they are now defined as lapsed) and assign an action (call them, find out why). The period immediately after they are reclassified as a lapsed customer is the best time to contact them. Your aim (obviously) is to get them back.
Your first steps toward building a digital lead generation system on steroids
Building a full stack fully integrated digital lead generation system takes time and money, and requires resources to keep the machine running and on the tracks.
Done well, it will definitely boost sales (assuming the market size isn't declining).
The best advice, however, is to start slowly and build up. At the bare minimum, however...
- Install a CRM
- Capture and measure every lead
- Set-up a system that consistently and 80% accurately records where your leads are coming from
- Avoid obsessing over measuring ROI on lead generation activity, start-first with a basic easy to implement system
- Standardise sales processes
- Carefully supervise sales staff and ensure they are following up every lead
- Invest in a high-quality website and keep it current, relevant, and informative
- Invest in both online and offline marketing
- Apply pragmatic excellence
- Practice continuous improvement
You could go all-in and invest in a full-stack lead-gen sales automation system. But, if you aren't even doing the basics, consider taking the above first steps, before diving in.
What's making your phone ring?
(link: https://jwpm.com.au/industrial-marketing-blog/the-importance-of-the-crm text: The importance of the CRM.
What is a CRM?
What is a sales model?
Getting ready for the catch: how not to fumble sales leads
What is a sales pipeline?
Tenders; knowing went to hold and when to fold.