Lead Generation is hot…you don’t need this blog post to tell you that – but if you still need evidence:
- A recent article from the Wall Street Journal in October stated “…marketers continue to put their ad dollars towards performance-based advertising, which includes search and lead generation inititives”
- The Center for Exhibition Industry Research has identified the #1 objective of trade show exhibitors today to be lead generation
- An August trend report from GlobalSpec on Industrial Marketing identified customer acquisition and lead generation as the top two priorities of industrial marketers
There are countless additional examples and 3rd party articles to support this as well but something tells me you likely already knew lead generation is a hot topic…
However did you know likewise that lead follow-up is the #1 concern of marketers?
Whoa…something is out of whack.
How can my #1 objective also be my #1 concern?
Why isn’t “Fixing Lead Follow-Up” the #1 priority over generating more leads that are going to continue to have follow-up issues?
Is it because lead follow-up is perceived as not being a marketing issue and therefore sales has the problem and therefore needs to find the solution?
Unfortunately for many organizations, that seems to be the common excuse to which I call bullsh*t – let’s just use common sense and see if that blame game make sense :
Who’s catching hell when leads don’t convert to sales?
When was the last time you heard sales budgets were being cut due to lack of ROI?
Compare that with what we are all dealing with in regards to our marketing budgets – At best they are flat but more likely they are being reduced due to lack of ROI and we’re being tasked with accountability measures like never before.
Seems marketing is catching hell for lead follow-up issues vs. sales, but let’s revisit Lead Follow-Up responsibility.
Aren’t we all on the same team with the same objective regardless if I’m in sales or if I’m in marketing?
Aren’t we both trying to help the company sell more stuff and do so efficiently and profitably?
I continue to be perplexed as to how companies end up in these sales vs. marketing silos with finger pointing as to where blame resides.
Ultimately it appears to be a sales/marketing culture issue; to which blame truly resides with executive management. At some point; a CEO needs to demand that their sales forces become more effective and that marketing departments help them get there and equally hold them accountable.
A guy can dream…right?
In the interim; reality continues to exist and millions upon millions of ad dollars are getting thrown against lead-generation initiatives and many of these initiatives will fail. By fail I simply mean not live up to the full potential they could have through a better integrated sales and marketing culture and process.
So why do they fail to live up to their promise?
Here’s my perspective on the top 5 reasons lead generating initiatives fail:
1. No Follow-Up At All
All of us at some point have heard, read or experienced the statistics that continually tell us that less than 20% of sales leads ever get followed-up on. It’s a sad statement of business reality but most companies do not have a detailed, documented process that covers even the basics of how a lead will get nurtured or routed to sales. So when a marketing program takes place, the leads are never given the necessary attention. Test this yourself; do you have a documented process for “what happens” when an email comes into your website or a phone call comes into your office or a visitor pops by your booth?
Does it get logged and coded or does it just get forwarded as an “FYI” and left to an individual in sales or a marketing admin to ensure follow-up occurs?
Scary isn’t it?
Brian Carroll, a lead generation (and more) expert has a great quote on this – “To me it’s better to not be involved with a customer at all than to start a relationship and then drop the ball”
2. Slow Follow-Up
Like Bread or Beer – leads go stale. When people inquire, they’re interested right then and chances are they’re aren’t just looking at your solutions to satisfy their interests, especially in the B2B space. In addition to their interest in your offerings, you have to expect that your competition is also in the mix and maybe responding while you sit on the sidelines.
As communication platforms like twitter, facebook and linkedin have pervasively grown; people are also going elsewhere beyond vendors for opinions on your products and competitive options while you twiddle your fingers ignoring the lead at its source.
Who would you rather have following up on an inquiry that came directly to you? Someone from your marketing or sales group or an anonymous source on twitter?
Don’t just take my word for it; Knowledgestorm has years of research on purchase behavior in the IT and related space and they’ve repeatedly told their advertisers “Leads Get Cold Quickly”.
Almost as bad as ignoring them altogether – if leads aren’t nurtured quickly – it’s a waste, because you aren’t leveraging the original investment made to generate the inquiries.
3. Limited Follow-Up
I’m guessing some of you are thinking #1 and #2 don’t apply to you – because you have a system in place where 100% of your leads are followed up via an email or phone call within a reasonable time frame.
So why are your programs failing to reach their potential?
Maybe because that initial follow-up is all that is occurring and a process for continued follow-up and nurturing isn’t mapped out.
Let’s start with the basics – the majority of leads, even good leads, aren’t ready to buy right away. The buying process itself, depending on the complexity of the “product” or “service” being sourced, may not be a single person process and may be stretched over several months. Additionally, in the B2B space “Impulse Buying” does not exist and potential B2B buyers spend a lot of time doing research and comparing options.
How the hell are you going to add value to that complex process with one-off emails or a single qualifying phone call?
According to Reed Business Information Systems statistics – the number of personal sales calls necessary to close an order is 5.2 and an average buyer sees nearly 2 sales people per week. Factor in the realities of the buyers also hiding behind automated switchboards, voice-mail, spam and junk e-mail filters and it seems that even legitimate leads are actually discouraging sales people from trying to connect. In my world – we call that “noise”; and you have to elevate and rise above all that noise for your message to be heard….and trust me; one phone call or one follow-up email isn’t going to do it.
True lead nurturing builds relationships with the right people at the right companies through relevant and consistent dialogue and touch points, regardless of their timing to buy. This nurturing helps turn an initial lead into a sales-ready or transactional lead when the timing is right.
4. Wrong Follow-Up
One of the challenges of following up on leads is agreeing what a lead is to begin with. Ask a sales rep and they’ll likely tell you a lead is a thoroughly qualified potential customer who is ready to buy today, credit card in hand. Ask a direct marketer and they’ll like tell you a lead is anyone from a targeted potential customer who gave up their contact information, whether it was to download a white paper or they checked a box on a Web site or dropped a card in the bowl at a trade show.
Common definitional issues wreak havoc on lead generation and follow-up programs; and all it takes is one sales person calling a marketing defined lead and getting blown off to summarize that all these marketing defined leads “stink”…or what we call “poisoning the well” and you are right back to Issue #1 – leads start to get ignored.
If you are resource constrained and can’t afford to extend incremental resources to qualify and nurture leads before handing them to sales; at a minimum sales should fully understand how the leads are being generated and the context of the inquiry; not just the content of who’s contacting. A well integrated sales and marketing group, even an understaffed one, can make huge gains in lead conversions simply by better understanding how to best follow-up and nurture an early stage lead.
In other words, if you are currently just dumping leads over the fence to the sales side of the house – STOP!
Take the time once a week, once a month or once a quarter to review how the leads are being generated and have an open / honest discussion on how to best follow-up to ensure maximum success.
5. Losing Sight of the Buy-Cycle (Not Qualifying Leads)
I mentioned it in #3 above and if you’ve read much of my blog posts; you’ve probably picked up that I frequently mention the “buy-cycle” when talking about marketing trends, research or studies. I do this because I happen to be a big believer in tying marketing strategies and tactics back to common sense buyer behavior.
At the risk of sounding “basic”, essentially the buy-cycle simply means that there are natural steps or stages we go through as consumers before we ultimately decide to purchase (or not); and I think this is true whether we are talking about software, cranes or even product certification services. Some other marketers refer to this as a purchase funnel – either way…
1. We become aware of, or INTERESTED-IN a particular product or service – whether by direct need or curiosity
2. We CHECK IT OUT, maybe do some research or talk to peers
3. And then we COMPARE & DECIDE which to buy; if any.
Depending on the complexity of the “product” or “service” being sourced, this may not be a single person process and may be stretched over several months; but in the B2B space one thing is certain and that’s “Impulse Buying” does not exist. Potential B2B buyers spend a lot of time doing research and comparing options; and numerous third party studies support that this research is increasingly being done online. While online, it’s just commons sense that these potential buyers see a lot of ads, messages and brands – and those messages that are contextually related to the research they are pursuing are going to be noticed and retained; and who they ultimately do business with or purchase from is generally the outcome of these targeted multiple influences over time.
Targeted impressions and results from the first few exposures and searches done by a potential customer online create the baseline that the buyer uses to compare all options under consideration as final selection nears.
In short; if a buyer frequently sees ads, comments or references towards Brand A while they are researching Topic X…Brand A is going to stand out as a market leader or, at a minimum, a baseline to compare other options.
As a result, a marketer needs to build awareness, consideration and purchase intent before a purchase decision by the buyer is ever made.
What does all the above mean to your lead generation initiatives?
Without first qualifying a lead – you have no clue where in the buy-cycle an individual is; it’s like timing the stock market.
How can you add value to a complex buying process if you aren’t sure if they are just in preliminary research stages or narrowing down to a final few options for purchase in the next few days? Without qualifying; you can really flub your lead follow-up and waste your time and your potential clients time if you try pitching an early stage buyer just as bad as you can by trying to re-educate a late stage buyer.
All lead follow-up activities; regardless of who is handling it, should have minimum qualifying questions.
Whenever possible; use a phone – nothing can compete with a real, live phone dialog to qualify and nurture a genuine lead, regardless of where they are in the buying cycle. The phone is the #1 sales and marketing tool to maximize any lead generation program.