January 18, 2008

Score a Lead, Build a Relationship

Recently I have been stressing the importance of becoming a "trusted partner" to your leads by providing them with a steady stream of informative and educational content that matches their needs according to their place in the IT buying process. If you can reach your users without using sales pitches (especially once they've become a lead), than you can appeal to their needs, on their terms and build your relationships with potential buyers over time.

Relationship building is crucial to cultivating leads, especially those that are relatively "cold." By reaching out to your C and D leads, you start to build brand-recognition and integrate yourself into your leads' research processes. By approaching your A and B leads in a more aggressive manner, you recognize that they are closer to making decisions and may be swayed according to the content you can provide.

There are different ways to nurture leads once they've been scored, and automated lead scoring systems can help you define your parameters and set your lead nurturing strategies in to motion. Perhaps you can program your lead nurturing efforts to automatically deliver new messages to leads that fit certain criteria and have been in your sales pipeline for longer than x months. Or consider that when scoring leads you could design your system to automatically move leads up or down levels according to their age, the number of times they have engaged with your content, and the types of content they have accessed.

Lead scoring does more than let your sales team know which leads are ready to make sales and which leads are cold. By combining a well-developed lead scoring system with an automated and carefully tailored lead nurturing program, you can use technology to help you reach out to your leads and start building relationships. It's crucial that you build and nurture relationships with all of your prospects, and the process of scoring leads before you start building those relationships can help you understand the needs of your leads before you try to satisfy them.


December 11, 2007

Organization is the Key to Campaign Success

As more and more lead practices are automated on the back-end, implementing these new practices into your campaign management can be tricky. With the advent of complex lead scoring systems, email nurturing programs, and long-term lead management, keeping all of the details straight is both difficult and essential to the smooth operation of your campaigns.

With so many details for each campaign, the lead generation team at Web Buyer's Guide determined that the best system for our needs would have to contain information for each campaign (assets used, custom questions and filters, etc), allow us to store, scrub and score all leads, and serve as an archive for past campaigns that could be used to analyze the success of each program.

After reviewing the available lead management tools on the market, we realized that the best way to implement such a system was to build it ourselves. Our outstanding in-house developers and client services team created a robust lead management tool that allows us to manage campaigns from initiation to completion, generate leads according to our client's scoring needs, and analyze the success of campaigns once they've been completed.

By combining campaign specifications, promotional information, reports and lead scoring details in one central place, we can spend more time generating and nurturing leads and less time juggling details and hand-scrubbing reports. At the same time, we have control over our system, and can change it as our needs change.

Juggling campaign details and managing leads can take up all of your time when done manually. By implementing an automated lead management and cultivation system to help you organize your programs, you regain control over the process and free up time to help your clients achieve a maximum return on their investments.


November 12, 2007

Turn Off Filters and Start Scoring Your Leads

Increase your sales opportunities and build your relationship with prospective buyers by changing how you approach leads once they've been generated. If you run lead campaigns and only accept leads once they've been geographically, demographically or otherwise filtered, you may be hurting your chances of catching leads while they can be nurtured and turned into sales.

Instead of limiting which leads you'll accept, try purchasing all of the scrubbed leads generated through your campaign. Once you have these gross leads, you can then apply filters and score the leads accordingly. By grabbing all of the leads generated in a campaign, not only do you get a handful (or more) of sales-ready, fully qualified leads to hand your sales team, but you also have less qualified leads that can be nurtured and moved through the sales pipeline.

Scoring leads from A-D (with A leads being sales-ready and D-leads being "cold") helps you sort out which leads are ready to be telemarketed, which leads require personalized e-mail follow-ups, and which leads can be "drip-marketed" over time. By holding off on filters and fences until you have all a campaign's leads in hand, you expand your marketing reach to leads that would have otherwise been scrubbed out of the process.


November 08, 2007

The Process of Managing Leads

According to Wikipedia, Lead Management is defined as "the methodologies and systems to manage customer prospects and inquiries, generally generated by a variety of marketing techniques. Lead management can be considered the connectivity between advertising and customer relationship management that facilitates the acquisition of customers."

In other words, lead management is the series of steps undertaken from the time lead data is captured, until the lead is passed along to the sales team and moved into the sales funnel. For those engaged in generating leads, lead management is an integral part of our jobs - and involves everything from scrubbing junk leads to scoring leads, to delivering leads for your client or sales team to close.

According to Brian Carroll's B2B Lead Generation post, Lead Management is Far From An Easy Task, lead management should be viewed as a process that includes the following steps:

1. Lead Generation (generating inquiries)
2. Lead Qualification (are they a fit? Are they sales ready?)
3. Lead Nurturing (cultivating early stage leads)
4. Lead Distribution (hand off from marketing to sales)
5. Lead Pursuit (sales process and pipeline)
6. Lead Tracking and reporting (closed the loop between sales and marketing)

Do you have lead management procedures in place at your organization, or does lead management involve minimal lead scrubbing and delivery? While automated lead management software is available to help marketers with this process, successful lead management procedures can be implemented without the purchase of these automated systems. If you want to start managing your leads, start with Brian Carroll's six steps above, and ask yourself what you're doing to address each step.


October 29, 2007

Lead Quality and the Human Touch

Lead quality is becoming increasingly important as technological advances are moving the IT marketing industry toward automated lead scoring, reporting and nurturing systems. Because of this push towards automation, technology sellers need to be assured that leads entering their sales pipeline are of the highest-quality possible.

Understanding what makes a quality lead (or an "A" lead) is key to running a successful lead generation campaign. Here's how we provide quality leads at the Web Buyer's Guide:

1. We have a pre-registered database full of IT-interested leads who are subscribers to one or more of the Ziff Davis Enterprise Web sites.

2. When promoting campaigns, we target leads according to their self-selected interests, and we provide a variety of content to match our leads' needs at each stage in the buying process.

3. Once a user has expressed interest in a topic and their lead data has been captured, our lead generation team hand-scrubs our lead files to remove false, misleading or junk prospects.

This final step - of hand-scrubbing leads - cannot be understated. Even with automated CRM systems and databases, it's crucial that someone screens your leads before they get delivered. After all, it still takes human intervention to recognize the difference between Mickey Mouse and Mickey Smith.


September 26, 2007

Don't Scrub Your Leads Before You Start!

The traditional model of qualifying leads based on a prospect’s title or role in the buying process is losing ground. In a 2006 study, “Web Lead Evaluation and Scoring,” KnowledgeStorm set out to “debunk” standard lead scoring practices in the B2B market. By analyzing over 15,000 technology vendor leads, KnowledgeStorm found that vendors who “select-out” leads based on title or role in the buying process often eliminate qualified prospects.

[I have to admit that I first thought this study was simply a self-serving attempt by KnowledgeStorm to cover up what was otherwise a bad IT database - or at least an attempt to suggest that there was value on the fringe of the buying process.]

According to the study, leads with professional or functional titles are better prospects than those with C-level or executive titles. Prospects with professional titles (HR, Operations, Finance/Accounting and IS/Tech) are often tasked with researching solutions to company-wide problems and briefing other team members on their findings. These prospects have a better chance of becoming qualified leads than their C-level counterparts.

Highly qualified leads are also rejected based on the prospect’s role in the buying process. Instead of targeting leads that authorize purchase or select vendors, try targeting leads who are recommenders. In the study, KnowledgeStorm found that prospects who recommend technologies and solutions produce the highest number of leads that are the furthest along in the buying process.

If you want the most qualified leads, think outside of C-level executives. While a lead in the finance department or a lead who recommends solutions may not have final purchasing authority, what they do have are their C-level executives’ ears.


January 21, 2007

Lead Scoring: Don't throw away the low scores

Mike Wallen, CEO of The Lead Dogs, defines lead scoring as "a method of classifying a sales opportunity by assigning points to responses from qualifying questions based on the importance of each criteria (response) in determining a sales opportunity's overall value (score)." Once your leads are scored, you'll use that score to determine if you should transfer the lead to sales; nurture the lead further; or you might want to just discard the lead if the score is too low.

However, don't be so hasty to trash leads with low scores. Bill Babcock of Babcock & Jenkins details the 5 most common lead scoring mistakes, including throwing away leads that have a low score. His survey found that except for the truly unqualified leads (students and competitors, for example), 80 to 90% of the respondents within a year's time had bought a solution, be it from the client or from a competitor. So, those low scoring leads could very well translate into a sale for you, instead of your competitor, if you engage in a comprehensive lead nurturing program and give those leads the necessary time to ripen.

November 17, 2006

Lead Generation Campaigns vs. Branded Landing Zones

One point of clarification for my followers...

The Lead Generation Showcase Program that I designed will meet the lead generation goals for clients with a limited set of marketing assets [1 or 2], or where the client’s marketing objective can be met by a single engagement with a content asset. We provide targeted online campaigning within WBG, across the ZDE online network and through our network of targeted newsletters to showcase specific assets and meet the required lead generation goal.

The Branded Landing Zone program is designed to meet more complex demand generation objectives – especially where the product marketing objectives are best served by encouraging buyer engagements with multiple educational assets that build a business case. The BLZ helps to structure the seller’s online sales pitch and the IT buyer’s research process. The BLZ program is designed to engage IT buyers at all stages of the buying process and move them to the next logical step to accelerate the sales process and move prospects closer to a purchase.

The Branded Landing Zone Program actually includes all elements of the Lead Generation Showcase [i.e. we provide the same targeted campaigning to showcase key assets and to meet the lead generation goal]. In additional, the BLZs also provide the following unique features:

[1] Structuring to the online sales pitch: through the development of a dedicated microsite

[2] Lead Nurturing: Effective online strategies designed to encourage additional buyer engagements [link maps and triggered e-mail follow-ups]

[3] Additional Behavioral Data: additional intelligence to support any Lead Scoring Model

As always, send me your questions at barry_ harrigan@ziffdavis.com.


October 20, 2006

Branded Landing Zones - Demand Creation Monsters!

Branded Landing Zones [BLZs] are Demand Creation Monsters and can be designed to meet the most complex demand generation objectives – especially where product marketing is best served by encouraging buyer engagements with multiple educational assets that build a business case to accelerate the selling process. The BLZ helps to structure the seller’s online sales pitch and the IT buyer’s research process. The BLZ program is designed to engage IT buyers at all stages of the buying process and move them to the next logical step to accelerate the sales process and move prospects closer to a purchase.

In addition to targeted showcasing of your most compelling content assets, a Branded Landing Zone provides additional unique features that accelerate the sales process:

[1] Structure to the online sales pitch through the development of a dedicated microsite.
[2] Online Lead Nurturing to encourage additional buyer engagements through link maps and triggered e-mail follow-ups.
[3] Collection of additional Behavioral Data - critical intelligence to support any Lead Scoring Model.

If your solution-sell benefits from multiple engagements to prepare your prospects for sale - consider a BLZ program vs. any standard lead generation initiative. Below is graphical representation, but simply e-mail me at Barry_Harrigan@ziffdavis.com and I'll outline the strategy for you in detail.


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October 18, 2006

Critical Purchase Influence: Seek Triple Filtered Sales Leads

The secret to quality online lead generation with any media company as your partner is to focus on leveraging your partner's resources with technology buyers who have already verified their critical purchase influence.

The lead generation process used at the Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide is essentially triple-filtered - like a fine vodka. And, the critical purchase influence is double verified. Using this methodology the lead impurities are naturally eliminated through the process and the end result won't give you a hangover.

Filter one: The primary campaigning source for the Web Buyer's Guide is against the Ziff Davis Enterprise database [3.1MM records] that has already subscribed to and qualified for one or more of the top enterprise technology magazines in the world, including eWeek, Baseline Magazine or CIOInsight. Each magazine provides an incredible filter system via their controlled circulation process as each subscriber must verify their critical purchase influence.

Filter two: Each lead generation campaign targets that ZDE database to drive clicks to a gated set of marketing assets [white papers, case studies, webcasts, etc.] and the Web Buyer's Guide registration process must be completed, which includes an update of all contact data, demographics and a definition of their individual role in the technology buying process. By this point, critical purchase influence is being double-checked - and regardless of title, that involvement in the purchase process, is above all, the most critical.

Filter three: Only after passing through these first two filters is a contact permitted to access the sponsored content assets and a download of those assets must next be completed to qualify them for the lead generation program.

Are their ways to take short cuts? Yes, other media firms are mastering all kinds of strategies to short circuit this approach to get results, but the quality and commitment of the sales leads generated will suffer accordingly. For example, the triple-filtered method provides considerable advantages over approaches that rely exclusively on database sources without verified purchase influence, Web traffic networks or search marketing techniques. All these techniques will produce some results, but they aren't triple-filtered, critical purchase influence is not double checked and lead scrubbing is essential.

Hint: If you lead generation partner makes 'lead scrubbing' a key service, you may be dealing with a low-quality supplier. If you want to spoil your sales force - convert them to sales lead programs that use the Ziff Davis Web Buyer's Guide.


August 08, 2006

Don't confuse lead generation with lead scoring

Lead Generation campaigning that imposes filters to limit (and target) results can be useful to consider, but not at the cost of some very profitable sales opportunities.

Last week, an ad agency (new to the Lead Generation game) proposed a campaign for one of my clients. The campaign required qualifying sales leads through a series of white paper efforts for a critical enterprise software technology. The target was exclusively prospects within companies with 5000 or more employees.

Sounds ok, right? Not at all!

I discovered that the software was actually being sold to companies of all sizes and that all of those companies had completely different objectives. The director of sales for the software firm was proud of some recent wins with larger firms (and no doubt had waxed enthusiastically at a meeting) and the agency ran with that tidbit of information.

The client – during a more sober moment – actually had an entirely different objective. In fact, smaller firms represented the largest opportunity to close business during the quarter (think public company needing to report better results this quarter!). Smaller firms were making decisions faster and implementing the software quickly. Therefore, they represented the most lucrative near-term business opportunity and were the highest priority. Once agency, client and I were able to get on the same page, the client reversed the agency’s size filter and focused the campaign on companies with 100 or more employees.

The agency had simply never been introduced to the company’s Lead Scoring approach (they were actually new to the entire concept of prioritizing leads rather than eliminating sales opportunities). In fact, prospects from larger firms, while valuable, were not valued less – just differently – than prospects from smaller firms. Smaller firms represented sales results – now! Larger firms represented bigger results – later!

The agency was confusing Lead Generation with Lead Scoring. Agencies adapt quickly and that particular agency will be savvier for the next campaign. Until then, we continue to guide agencies to serve their clients in a fashion that provides them with the fastest sales results.


August 06, 2006

Buying technology is a process

The sales cycle for Information Technology is getting longer.

From 2005 to 2006, IT sales executives overwhelmingly indicated that their sales cycles were increasing, according to MarketingSherpa's Business Technology Marketing Benchmark Guide 2006.

That is a very disturbing trend. Setting aside the macro impact on our national and global economies, the micro affect is even more curious to me. When you consider the inherent company benefits that are promised by the implementation of new technologies (i.e. increased productivity, speed and cost efficiencies) - I wonder why we aren't in more of a hurry to make technology purchases which can offer real gains for our companies.

The truth is, we are in a hurry - both as buyers and sellers

As buyers, we want all the benefits of the purchase - but the decision process 'pre-purchase' is getting more complicated, powered by online tools, flowing information and a more collaborative work environment. Companies (both large and small) report more people than ever are involved in the decision process.

As sellers, we are even more impetuous. Rather than recognizing a new dynamic selling environment - we are using our powerful new online tools to drive dated 'targeting' techniques - a wishful strategy that presumes that there is a single purchase influencer, neatly organized by job title, function and size of firm, who will immediately approve an order (so we can play more golf). We are, in effect, guilty of skipping the necessary steps, people and dialogues in today's buying process. And, by leapfrogging the natural order, we are actually slowing down a sales process that is ripe to accelerate.

Doing this blog is labor of love. For more than 25 years I've been a student of the buying process and a self-professed 'speed freak'. I've always used my analysis of the buying process to guide my marketing and sales strategies. And, with this blog, I'll be using that same approach.

I hope that my simple observations and the analysis of our many contributors will help you unlock the buying process for your products and accelerate your sales process.

Let's get started!