Doing More With Less
Selling can be a delicate process requiring the finesse of a diamond cutter.
I was approached recently by someone who wanted to sell me a service I have no need for now, but might at some time in the future. I told him I have no clients in this sector right now. He continues to e-mail me every couple of weeks, telling me how great his service is. I don’t need those e-mails; I have his contact information. And now he’s beginning to annoy me.
On the other hand, I was approached a few months ago by another person who sells office furniture. My company is moving soon, so I took his call. I had to tell him I needed to work through the purchasing department of my corporate office. Despite that, he continued to stay in touch by e-mail, and when the deal through corporate started to go sideways, I asked for a bid from my persistent friend.
What was the difference? The furniture salesperson understood that timing and relevance were as important as any other factors. The time was right to be more aggressive. I was in the middle of negotiations, and he knew anything could happen until I signed a contract with someone else.
Lead nurture is a tricky business. Automating the process sounds like a great idea, but you need to be very careful. And sometimes it works best if you eliminate the lead generation process entirely!
When Less Is More
Several years ago, my company began working with a new client. It sold a service to small businesses and had a large, national sales force. Naturally, I assumed it called my agency because it wanted a bigger, better lead-generation program. After all, that’s what we sold them.
But then I took a look at what the client had been doing—it wasn’t true lead generation. Salespeople didn’t ask for appointments, and they didn’t want to send out a fat fulfillment kit in response to a postage-paid reply card. They wanted to talk directly to prospects who were already close to buying.
So we restructured the test campaign we had planned. Rather than keeping one test cell as the control selling structure and moving everything else into lead generation—as we’d intended—we tested lead generation in about 15 percent of the program and drove the rest of the responders to make phone calls.
As you probably guessed, this revised approach saved us. Adding a lead-generation step to the process only added extra cost. In addition, while we were able to get far more leads, it didn’t significantly increase total sales.
When it comes to selling systems, no matter how frustrated you are, you rarely want to throw out everything you’ve been doing. It’s far easier—and more likely to have a positive impact—to retool your marketing program than to revamp your sales process.
But there are times when change is called for. If you’ve been tweaking your marketing here and there but nothing makes a big impact, maybe you need to walk away from lead generation entirely.
The market for your product or service may have changed. As the product matures, prospective customers understand the value proposition. They know they’re going to get your product (or something like it) one of these days. Prospects don’t need someone to hold their hands through a drawn-out sales presentation. They just need some specs, an offer, an order form and a credit card.
This is actually great news. You can start selling direct. Stop teasing; stop making offers for appointments or raising a hand. Just sell.
When to Keep Going
What if you’re not there yet? If you have done the due diligence and recognize that you still need to work through your sales team to make the final close, how do you get your program to work harder?
You have to do the obvious: build on what’s worked before. This is no time to be a hero. Dig into the data. Find out what’s been working. Repeat it; test it; tweak it. Test a few more things. It’s a continual job of incremental improvement. We’re talking about evolution.
At a certain point, you may feel more like an accountant than a creative marketing guy, but that’s OK. Your program is going to work, and you’ll make money.
But Wait, There’s More
Even if you can’t eliminate lead generation, you have plenty of opportunity to streamline your marketing systems and make them more effective. Start by talking with people on your sales team. Ask them how they close sales and how they get prospects to the point of closing. Ask about the step before that … and the step before that. Ask them about your marketing and what they’d change or fix. Ask them who they think you should target with your marketing efforts.
The answers are marvelous clues that will help you guide leads through the whole process. You’ll find steps you never knew happened and figure out ways to push the prospects through the funnel more quickly. If leads can’t get to point C without information you provide late in the process, maybe you need to give them the forms a little bit earlier. It’s unlikely a little information will scare them away. (Although too much information might—so be careful.)
Eliminating steps in the sales process is almost guaranteed to reduce effort, costs and heartache.
Timing and Relevancy
When the timing isn’t right for selling hard, you do have options for staying in front of leads without annoying them.
One way is to create dynamic, data-driven microsites that can be accessed by personalized URLs (pURLs). When the lead responds to your marketing effort and gives you a little information, relevant content appears on the microsite. When you have more relevant content ready, you can contact the lead and inform him or her of the new information available on his or her personal site. Leads will know how to find you when they want you, and they’ll have all the information at their fingertips, without it being overwhelming.
Even with a personalized microsite, you still need to reach out to leads. You can’t sit passively and expect them to come looking for their sites. So a schedule of communication should be set up in advance—best of all, using multiple media.
The content of these communications should be considered from the prospect’s point of view. You may want to talk about the new bells and whistles added to your product, but that may not be important (i.e., relevant) to the lead.
Sometimes the medium actually is the message. For example, when a lot of content is served in an electronic format, it may be more effective than pounds of printed collateral. On the other hand, sometimes printed material can give a sense of solidity and credibility that electronic media can’t.
At times, the relevancy and timing of the message is the message. In direct marketing, we know that the right offer to the right target can come from almost any channel and still be effective.
It’s important, even crucial, to think through every communication and make each touch prove its worth in the sales process.
Spyro Kourtis is president and CEO of direct marketing agency Hacker Group, a subsidiary of IPG. Kourtis brings more than 18 years of direct marketing experience to the position and has used this expertise to leverage the agency’s new business development and account planning efforts. Hacker Group works with Fortune 500 clients that include AAA, Expedia, Intel, Microsoft, VISA and Washington Mutual. Kourtis can be reached at (425) 454-8556.