Executives at Belgium-based Barco Visualization Systems recognized that the company’s sales force automation application had its limits. The sales staff did not think highly of leads generated by marketing; marketing could not justify lead-generation investments in terms of increased ROI; and the only insight into the early stages of the sales cycle involved loose forecasts and non-reportable notes in the SFA system.
So management at Barco, which provides projection and visualization, decided to complement the SFA application with a marketing and sales effectiveness (MSE) solution. With it, sales reps were notified when high-value prospects visited key pages on the web site and interacted with collateral sent by both the marketing department and individual sales reps.
The company saved countless hours it would otherwise have spent in trying to contact elusive prospects. As a result, reps could time their phone calls and act on bounces or opt-outs of high-value prospects to re-engage potentially lost opportunities. With unique reporting on the cultivation productivity of reps—and even distributors—management gained insight into the early stage of the sales cycle, and marketing can more efficiently support the lead-generation process.
A simple question
It all started with one simple question, “How can we optimize marketing’s support of the sales cycle, instead of just focusing on boosting response rates?”
All too often marketers believe their role is to generate the initial interest, and sales’ role is to close the deal. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed this consistent trend throughout my 15 years in B2B sales and marketing. As CEO of LeadGenesys, I’m finally seeing this trend being reversed. Companies are hitting revenue and profit objectives more quickly and more efficiently by aligning marketing with the sales process and putting metrics in place to continuously improve marketing’s support of the sales team.
The solution is a blend of process refinement and technology that solves the two most consistent problems we see:
- Marketing does not understand or effectively support the sales process.
- Optimizing marketing and sales collaboration within the confines of an SFA application just doesn’t work—unless your time and budget for customization are unlimited.
Of course, overcoming those problems is easier said than done. Here are some recommendations I have developed that can help align marketing efforts to the sale process.
- Understand the sales cycle.
This is a key step in fostering collaboration between sales and marketing. Understand the different cycles for different target audiences and then define what and how marketing resources should be applied to key steps in the sales cycle.
- Recognize that lead generation and cultivation processes are unique.
Nearly every established company has a unique lead-gen management process defined by the unique selling proposition, decision makers, influencers, resource mix and a host of other factors. So don’t try to apply a cookie-cutter approach or confine the process to the limitations of SFA applications, which are great at forecasting but not so great at accelerating the sales cycle or optimizing marketing’s ability to support lead cultivation.
- Realize that sales reps know best how to cultivate prospects.
Some marketers may doubt this. However, in the unlikely event that sales management thinks sales reps don’t know best, it’s time to retrain or replace the sales force. Ask for sales’ input on what they feel is actionable prospect data that they would like to be notified of. Should a sales rep be notified when a high-value prospect he or she has been cultivating for more than three months suddenly opts out of an email campaign or visits a page on the web site? Deploy a solution that flexibly triggers notifications, so the sales cycle can be accelerated.
- Understand sales’ definition of a qualified lead.
Once this is uniformly defined, assign scoring to the key attributes of a qualified lead. Once a solution is in place to auto-score initial lead quality, marketing can reallocate lead-generation dollars to the sources driving the best quality leads—instead of simply the most leads. Routinely validate sales’ definition of lead quality. Attributes can change, and it takes only a handful of poor quality leads to sour sales’ opinion of marketing-generated leads.
- Enable sales to rescore initial lead quality.
Deploy a solution that enables sales to rescore the true quality of a lead based on key qualification attributes. This keeps marketing in check and feeds marketing with real-time data needed to optimize targeting.
- Establish clearly-defined lead-cultivation rules.
Who should follow up on “A” quality leads? What happens if the sales rep rescores an “A” lead to a “C”? How should a sales rep be notified of a qualified opportunity when you’re using an outsourced telemarketing firm? What are the follow-up procedures? The answers should translate into a documented lead management process to be understood at all levels of the prospect and customer-facing departments.
- Provide “track-able” sales-cultivation tools that are self-serving to the sales rep.
The last thing you want to do is turn sales reps into data administrators. They are not and should not be incented to maintain marketing data. Marketing data should be generated automatically by such tools as email templates and collateral leveraged by the sales rep. Real-time metrics should indicate to marketing which tools are most effective and which tools need to be adjusted. Likewise, an initial marketing source and a unified contact history should automatically be built on each prospect record. This not only aids the rep but also gives management insight into the productivity of early-stage lead cultivation.
- Protect the investment you’ve made in your SFA application.
If you want marketing to better support sales, stop driving all leads directly into the SFA. This clutters the application with low-quality leads, wastes valuable sales time, turns sales reps into data administrators, erodes forecasting accuracy and limits marketing’s ability to refine efforts. Rather than scrapping your SFA solution for another, simply leverage a complementary MSE solution at a fraction of the cost of customization efforts. Because marketing can improve support of the sales process only when that support is measurable, look for a solution that gives the marketer all the detailed metrics needed to optimize marketing support and accelerate the sales cycle.
Aligning marketing efforts to the sales process requires much discussion with lots of open-ended questions. Before undertaking this venture, consider working with a consultant or vendor exclusively focused on this challenge. The vendor should help you apply measurable goals to the resulting blend of process and technology that justifies the investment.