Target Account Profiling and Pre-qualification: Why Don’t We Just Ask the Questions?

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Some weeks come and go without major, or even minor revelations, and some weeks have the those exhilarating and sometimes humbling “A-Ha!” moments in them. Those moments that expose a simple truth & basic solution to a problem that we have created complex, and often times expensive, solutions for. (Picture the expensive and complex wine opener, can opener, or bottle opener in your kitchen that does not work as well as the basic opener you have had for 20 years and cost 1/10th the price of the “fancy” new one)

This week for me, offered one such A-Ha!. This may be an A-Ha you realized long ago, but none the less it is a basic solution that has been ducked, dodged, and avoided by almost everyone at the front end of lead lifecycle management for the past decade (since about the time much more complex, and often costly, solutions have become en vogue)



The “A-Ha!”: If we want to know if a targeted account and contact is a fit for our products & services we should call them and ask!

B2B sales and/or marketing organizations like to spend little time and less money these days calling (yes actually speaking with) targeted accounts to validate and profile the companies and contacts they are targeting. Worse yet, many of us fool ourselves into thinking someone else, “a 3rd party expert,” has figured out the secret to validating & profiling our potential users, influencers, and decision makers for us without actually speaking with them. Assured these 3rd party experts have it figured out we spend 10’s of thousands of dollars for the data generated by “3rd party expert’s” and their highly sophisticated profiling systems.

Hope is not a Strategy

We essentially “hope” ourselves into believing someone else has come up with the answer. An accurate and targeted master database and set of algorithms which filters on our company’s specific user, influencer, and decision maker contacts. Stealing from the title of a book I recently read, “Hope is not a strategy.”

My intent here is not dismiss or de-value the services provided by database and list service providers. Their services are a critical component in the lead lifecycle management process and all of our jobs would suffer without their services. My “A-Ha” is a rip on those of us, myself included, who have relied on database and list services to deliver results they are not intended to, or capable of, delivering. Specifically, the list and database service providers cannot deliver Contact Validation, Target profiling, and Pre-qualification. Unfortunately we fall into the trap of believing that if a Contact has the title we are targeting, works for the “right” organization, within our targeted industry, and has an annual spend of $X on services we provide that the contact is pre-qualified, is the decision maker, and Sales just needs to call them and start the sales process!

The result is almost always the same when we fall into this trap. Sales, and especially the good sales people, will rarely call a “target account and contact” generated from a list or service provider. In Sales defense, why would they? If they are worth their income they have a strong pipeline, referral network, and incremental revenue opportunities within their existing accounts.



Marketing Opportunities Have to be Better

Don’t get me wrong, sales people are more than open to engaging in new opportunities delivered from marketing. However, marketing delivered opportunities need to be at least as good, or better, in quality than the opportunities sales can, and do, create for themselves. At a bare minimum this means marketing needs to deliver a validated current contact which has been profiled and has been pre-qualified by parameters outlined and defined by the sales organization. I have not found a list or database service that can meet this standard, but we as marketer’s continue to send contacts from these lists and database service providers directly to our sales teams.

Why? We won’t make a simple phone call and ask some simple questions because we have sophisticated segmentation, profiling, analytics, and algorithms to do this simple work for us!

Marketing Budget Vs. Sales Expense

To be fair, another reason we purchase lists and database services as a replacement for phone based contact validation, profiling, and pre-qualification is the perceived cost delta and ill conceived budget constraints. What do I mean by ill conceived budget constraints? While a list service may cost $5,000 up front for very good database information on 2500 contacts it may cost $25,000 up-front to speak live with the 2500 contacts to perform validation, profiling, and pre-qualification. The $20,000 delta is a big hit to most campaign marketing budgets and they opt for the less expensive option. Unfortunately, the $20,000 saved in the marketing budget is spent twice over, not including opportunity costs, by the Company’s sales force as they now must perform, in a non-process driven fashion, the same steps of contact validation, profiling, and pre-qualification. That is, if the sales team calls them at all after finding out the first (5) calls lead to dead ends.



Brian Steel – VP Sales & Marketing, Performark, www.performark.com

3 COMMENTS

  1. Agreed that “hope is not a strategy.” But here’s a subtle–but vital–distinction to one of your points.

    As a salesperson, I don’t expect marketing to provide qualified leads. I never have in over twenty years of selling. What I do expect is that marketing will provide leads that have a higher probability of being qualified than random leads. This is an iterative process, and is not achieved overnight.

    There are too many dimensions to qualification for Marketing’s one-to-many tools to be effective–at least for complex B2B sales. Many nuances take a salesperson’s expertise and fact-finding skills to uncover. A recent blog, “Asking To Send Literature is not Lead Qualification” describes what must be converted from unknown and assumed to known in order for an opportunity to be considered qualified. Even then, a purchase order is far from certain.

  2. Andrew,

    Thank you for the clarification. I fully support the notion that Marketing is not responsible the deliver a qualified lead/opportunity to Sales if we are measuring qualified in terms of sales stages.

    The word “qualified” in sales and marketing can mean too many things to too many people even within the same organization. I like to use the term “Sales Ready Lead Development” as the descriptor for what Marketing’s responsibility is specific to lead generation. “Sales Ready,” as I define it, does not mean the lead/opportunity is ready to make a purchase. Rather, Sales Ready = The point at which the sales force of a given organization would like to (should) engage with a lead generated and nurtured via the marketing department.

    This is where the hard work begins as each organization and, in many cases, each product or service line within an organization will have a unique “sales ready” definition. Once to definitions are in place Rank & Score needs to be aligned to the definitions to drive measurement, monitoring, analysis, and modification as necessary.

    Brian Steel
    VP Sales & Marketing
    Performark
    http://www.performark.com

  3. Brian: As you point out, “sales ready” is a good descriptor. But maintaining a consistent, useful, and operational definition of “sales ready,” “qualified,” or other term, across departmental boundaries can be like trying to pick up a raw egg with a fork. That said, it’s worth tackling.

    Many organizations are simply inconsistent in vetting sales leads through qualification processes–however “qualification” might be defined. What looks like a “sales ready” lead to me, isn’t one to you–or vice versa. The result: wildly variable sales performance between salespeople, territories, and market verticals.

    Here’s one conundrum: Before reaching sales, if leads are vetted by asking the prospect “do you need a machine that die cuts 1,000 units per hour? and the prospect answers “no,” is the lead unqualified? Is it “marginally qualified?” How would you score it if you were using a numerical ranking?

    It’s a fair question to ask my prospect, because Engineering tells me that that’s what my machine does! But it might yield a false negative. Based on the answer, which decisions and actions would Marketing make in managing this prospect–and potentially thousands of others like it? Who should have decision rights on this qualification issue in light of how corporate budgets are divided? Who should have input? The answers partly depend on removing the blurriness from terms and understanding attributes of leads that represent the best possible risk exposure for the organization (that isn’t necessarly the lowest risk) as the sales cycle progresses and the collaborative investments increase.

    Part of the solution requires understanding that an excellent lead changes form throughout the sales cycle. In the earliest stages, my prospect probably won’t express an explicit need for my 1,000-unit-per-hour machine. (I recommend vetting on outcome-based criteria, rather than feature-based, as I’ve given in the example–but unless you use the right assumptions, that information can also send vendors down errant pathways.)

    So we wind up with another Marketing-Sales loggerhead. Because as a salesperson, if I can just get in on the strategic discussion within my prospect’s organization, we’ll have a much different conversation when he or she understands that my machine is mission-critical to achieving his business goals and objectives. Adding to the discord, there are other critical, non-product related matters that I use to qualify. But how many organizations implement any regular process to transfer this tacit knowledge? So, sales knowledge stays in sales and marketing knowledge stays in marketing. It doesn’t have to be that way if the information pathways are in place–and used.

    Where is the right point on the sales process continuum to insert qualification decision boxes? What are the subsequent actions? How are the decisions applied consistently across salespeople in the same group, territory, and enterprise wide? It depends . . .

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