Contacting Prospects: Mix it up a Bit!


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Sales people love selling stuff to other people. For them it’s about the conversation, a handshake, reading body language and the thrill of the close after overcoming major challenges. They are gregarious by nature and typically passionate. Personal relationships are paramount. They are, in essence, practicing psychologists. Some may feel that selling is more of an art form than a scientific discipline. Metrics tend to be an annoyance.

Demand generation is a one-to-many discipline that is scientific, measurable and impersonal. Marketers look for a needle in a haystack by evaluating every piece of straw in the pile. Yes, some marketing activities do in fact involve direct conversations with prospects (e.g., phone calls, email), but those touch points are typically a mass production effort. Personal relationships are neither the objective nor the result.

The process of generating sales-qualified leads (SQLs) is usually cast with very hard-edged boundaries: Marketing finds prospects and ultimately creates SQLs; and sales takes over late in the selling cycle to close deals. Expressed in baseball terms, marketing loads the bases and sales is the clean-up hitter. This way of generating revenue seems very efficient.

At the same time, it begs an interesting question: Should the boundary between marketing and sales activities be so rigid? Many sales folks assert that building personal relationships with prospects much earlier in the purchasing cycle can yield more sales. There is no substitute for an in-depth conversation or a handshake. More to the point: Sales can help prospects with assessing needs and solution research on their path to building a shortlist of vendors. Successful reps understand that pitching products should not always be on the agenda. They’ll strive to be genuinely helpful and position themselves as a trusted partner before selling something. All other things being equal, a potential customer is more likely to purchase something from the person and company with whom he/she has the longest relationship.

Is this the most efficient use of a sales rep’s time? Maybe. Much depends on circumstances, but we like the idea of mixed mode nurturing (i.e., incorporating sales contacts into drip marketing). It’s important to understand how (or if) a prospect wants to receive communications and content. Keep in mind that a whole spectrum of personalities is out there. At one extreme are people who demand nothing less than in-person sales calls. At the other extreme are people who use the Internet and their personal network for research and refuse to speak to any vendor personnel. And of course, there are many in between those polar opposites.

What’s the best way to contact prospects initially? There are no standard guidelines. Ultimately, sales reps will need to try different approaches. For some prospects, email will be useless due to the excessive volume, spam filters and overzealous secretaries. For other prospects, cold calls and personal visits are akin to the Ebola virus. How about postal mail? Some may like having paper in their hands, while others will put it in the circular file without a glance. In any case, an interesting transformation is underway: Email is evolving towards a relationship-sustaining medium rather than a way to make first contact.

If you try email first to establish a relationship, keep it short and focused on setting up a phone conversation. Don’t make overt sales pitches up front. The prospect already knows you want to sell something. If he/she perceives a “hard sell” is coming, you’ll get nowhere. No reply to an email means trying a phone call; and very likely leaving a message on voicemail or with anyone who is screening calls. A lack of response from that attempt may mean your time is better spent elsewhere.

Should sales stay out of the picture until a prospect shows clear intent and urgency? Or should sales be involved in the early stages? Consider experimenting with (and measuring) a mixed approach. For example:

  • Start with a cold call from sales to confirm interest, and then use classic lead nurturing to sustain interest and build a relationship.
  • Sprinkle a nurturing campaign with a couple of sales phone calls to ascertain interest, intent and budget.
  • Start with a couple of emails, then make an introductory sales phone call, then begin classic nurturing.
  • Nurture leads the old-fashioned way until such time that a prospect shows sufficient interest and intent. Then begin a separate sales-specific nurturing effort.

Remember one key thing: Don’t define drip marketing narrowly. At the end of the day, we are most concerned with effective touch points. All methods and mechanisms should be on the table for consideration.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Shreesha Ramdas
Shreesha Ramdas is SVP and GM at Medallia. Previously he was CEO and Co-founder of Strikedeck. Prior to Strikedeck, Shreesha was GM of the Marketing Cloud at CallidusCloud, Co-founder at LeadFormix (acquired by CallidusCloud) & OuterJoin, and GM at Yodlee. Shreesha has led teams in sales and marketing at Catalytic Software, MW2 Consulting, and Tata. Shreesha also advises startups on marketing and growth hacking.


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