Outbound marketing via the telephone is enjoying a resurgence unparalleled in recent memory. The reasons are two-fold: 1) an evolving consensus on industry-wide best practices and 2) recognition that these best practices drive measurably stronger performance.
What it's called—telemarketing, teleservices or teleprospecting—is less important than how it functions and what it delivers. When the right resources use the telephone to do best-practice lead generation, qualification and nurturing, reps close more deals and drive more revenue.
For example, advisory services firm SiriusDecisions, differentiating between average and best-in-class companies, notes the latter are outperforming the former by a margin of five to one. That is, given the same target universe of 1,000 prospects, best-in-class companies close just over fourteen deals while those applying average processes close just under three. Plus, best-in-class companies are growing both year-over-year revenues and profits.
Successful employing outbound marketing via the phone is grounded in the following nine best practices.
1. Sales and Marketing Alignment
Full marketing and sales alignment is a prerequisite. When the two groups can't or won't work out a solution, a single person will need to take point on the alignment initiative.
Written service level agreements (SLA) need to be implemented so that all participants have clearly defined responsibilities and accountabilities at each step. The SLA will define a lead, the target market, the offer, lead management processes and measurement metrics.
2. Precise Market Definition, Segmentation and Testing
When a working target market is defined in a too broad, too narrow or non-prioritized manner, go-to-market strategies end the same way: Resources and dollars are wasted, prospects are missed, and deals are lost to competitors.
The answer: a micro targeting approach characterized by precise market definition, segmentation and testing. For example, a 5 percent lead rate achieved from qualifying 1,000 companies is actually an average of segments with lower and higher lead rates. Five segments may have 200 companies each with lead rates of 9 percent, 7 percent, 5 percent, 3 percent and 1 percent that, in total, average a 5 percent lead rate. Testing identifies the subgroups most likely to buy.
The keys are identifying the largest, most targeted market possible and then segmenting and testing to identify prospects more likely to buy at higher deal sizes.
3. Agreement on Lead Definition
Movement of prospects through the funnel and accountability of resources involved should be addressed in the lead framework, and these criteria are addressed in the following definitions:
- Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL): Qualified and delivered by marketing
- Sales Accepted Lead (SAL): Reviewed and accepted by sales
- Sales Qualified Lead (SQL): Contacted and further qualified by sales
In the SLA, sales and marketing must agree on the qualifying criteria—decision making authority, compelling need, sense of urgency and budgeting process—linked to each of these three stages.
The BANT framework (budget, authority, need and timeframe) tends to rule out high-value opportunities that will buy in the future because sales reps will not fully pursue them. However, authority and need are key qualification factors as they imply timeframe. Need should be supported by a compelling event linked to finding the solution to a problem within a specific timeframe. As budget is also driven by need, it's more important to focus on the process and players.
4. Agreement on Desired Metrics
Regarding expected metrics, measure the percentage of MQLs that become SALs, SQLs and closed deals. Perfection means 100% of MQLs become all three, but progress occurs the closer the percentages get to 100%.
Shift from measuring results on a cost-per-lead basis (which incorrectly incents volume) to a cost-per-opportunity or cost-per-deal basis. Benchmarks should be opportunity quality, conversion rates and revenue generated on program investment.
5. A Dedicated Group of Professionals Using the Telephone
Neither marketing resources nor sales reps are the correct resources to do lead generation, lead qualification or lead nurturing. These activities should be assigned to either an inside sales team or an outsourced teleservices provider that uses the phone and proven skills to qualify prospects and then hands then off to sales as real opportunities.
6. Multitouch, Multimedia, Multicycle Contact Strategies
The telephone professionals should apply a proven contact strategy—a multitouch, multimedia and multi sales cycle approach—to optimize results.
- Multitouch: Frequency matters. From initial engagement to lead qualification and long-term nurturing, frequent and systematic touches are essential. Our clients' prospects need an average of 12 contacts to engage, and lead nurturing can take even more touches.
- Multimedia: Use a smart mix of multiple media. Vary and integrate media—outbound calls, voice mail messages, personalized email, direct mail and landing pages—to deliver messages in consistently fresh formats and aligned with prospect preferences.
- Multicycle: Most prospects buy at more than six months out, so expand planned contact from over a few days to over several weeks and across multiple sales cycles. Mid- and long-term nurturing assures continuous coverage of high-value leads so the latest touch coincides with the prospect's need window.
7. The Sales Lead Paradox: Fewer Leads are Better
Reps don't need more leads, they need fewer leads. Or, more accurately, they need fewer unqualified, raw leads. As most marketing initiatives focus on quantity, the pipeline is flooded with too many low-value leads that don't deliver ROI.
Best-in-class prospect development-with its focus on fewer, higher-qualified leads-fills forecasts with sales-ready buyers and helps all resources operate more efficiently.
8. Long-Term Lead Nurturing
At any given time in a strategic sale process, an average of 5 percent of the market is in play. But another 15 percent to 20 percent will be active over the next six to twelve months. Sales mostly ignores these qualified companies because they are not likely to close short-term.
With a relatively small incremental investment focused on realizing the value of long-term leads, it's possible to as much as double program revenue. Let's say you found 40 short-term qualified leads in a program targeting 1,000 prospects. In addition to the eight deals that closed, another 40 long-term opportunities were identified. You could either start over to get another eight deals or nurture the 40 long-term opportunities to get eight deals at a fraction of the cost.
9. Closed-Loop Lead Tracking and Lead Management
Sales funnel leakage occurs when closed-loop tracking and management processes are missing. Leads can drop out of the funnel when MQLs have been accepted as SALs, but not engaged by sales. And SALs can be lost when they are moved to SQL status, but not fully pursued, perhaps because they did not convert quickly.
These outliers will be flagged by an effective lead management process, identified as needing immediate attention, and, if warranted, passed back to the dedicated nurturing group.
For outbound marketing via the phone to succeed, it is essential that these nine processes be integrated into calling initiatives. When they are missing, expect average results at best. When they are present, you'll join companies that are achieving best-in-class gains in closed deals, revenue and profits.