All Aboard the Lead Engine!

The sun painted sparkling shadows through the clear fall air, bathing the afternoon in riotous red, yellow, and faded green.  The carpet of fallen leaves beneath my feet crackled and I climbed the old wooden platform.  A lonely whistle pierced the silence…the platform jumped, rattled, and shook as the train pulled around the bend.  The braking hiss, the smell of ashes, dancing veils of steam…the working man winked at me as he said “all aboard!”

It’s been a while since I last rode the rails, but the images linger with me.  Nothing represents power, potential, and progress like a steam train.  I know it’s 2012 and we’re firmly in the “digital age”, but trains are somehow more gritty, earthy, and real.  Real men getting their hands dirty and getting it done.  Let’s ride the rails that built a nation, it’s time to talk about lead generation.

There are many theories, practices, and processes around lead generation.  No one in any organization is exactly sure who, i.e. which department or group, actually owns this function.  Is it Marketing or Sales?  Is it more cost effective to outsource it?  In recent years I’ve watched the lead generation function become devalued to the point where many companies subscribe to the “volume” theory.  This theory holds that finding the correct or best person (title or role) to sell to in an organization is largely a numbers game.  Therefore, if you have enough people pounding the phones, sending out mass mailers, or attending tradeshows, your organization will eventually find the right people and deliver the right message.  This theory comes from a very reputable source…who also believed that the sun revolved around the earth…

I believe the first step is to make sure that everyone, and I mean everyone, in your organization has the the same definition for what is a “lead.”  You should be able to ask anyone and get the same (or a very similar) answer back.  I touched on this previously in discussing the challenge of Sales and Marketing alignment, but agreeing on the elusive lead definition should include every department / group / function in your organization.  Brian Carroll, in his B2B Lead Blog, gives an excellent outline for creating this Universal Lead Definition and getting everyone on board.   Ok!  Let’s fuel the fire!

  • Cold Calling– In many companies this is usually the responsibility of an Inside Sales team or department.  I’ve helped create and been a member of a number of these teams with varying levels of success.  The vital role of Inside Sales will be discussed at length in future blog posts, but it’s clear that Cold Calling will always be part of the Sales process.  Whoever is calling needs to have a direct, concise message (and value proposition) that they are able to articulate in a few sentences to the right person / title / role– the infamous elevator or thirty second pitch.  The caller needs to engage with the prospect, rather than reading from a prepared script, and site relevant examples of products and/or services delivered to organizations in the same vertical.  The caller should also make sure to cover the various qualifying steps and always have a specific objective in mind, e.g. close for another discussion, rather than trying to “sell” the prospect on this first encounter.  Quantity vs. quality is always a concern.  The caller should do enough research to be familiar with the prospect and their company, but not spend alot of time trying to understand the entire organizational structure initially.  It’s important to remember to actually converse and communicate with the prospect and to practice some active listening.  B2B calling is how things get done!  If the prospect doesn’t want to speak with you it’s because you are speaking to the wrong person / title / role, haven’t prepared adequately, or your messaging is unclear.  Also, always ask for a referral!
  • Tradeshows / Events / Seminars– Let’s be honest…these events are exciting, interesting, and usually alot of fun.  Who doesn’t like to be in a room (or an auditorium) full of people walking and talking about what you’ve been living and breathing on a full time basis?  There are always opportunities to engage with industry experts, checkout the competition, and pitch to some prospects.  Unfortunately, it’s easy to get alot of business cards, but very difficult to qualify the prospects with so much activity going on around you.  You probably have your big guns (your executives) at the event, but it can also be difficult to get them in front of the right people (decision makers).  I have found that in most cases- less is more.  You can be more effective by researching and creating a list of target prospects before the actual event and trying to schedule face time onsite.  This will allow you to muster all your resources and apply them in the most effective manner.  This will yield much better results than delivering the same bland pitch to people who stop by your booth hoping to win an iPad.
  • Webinars (Web Conferencing)- I like to think of webinars as distinct from other Social Media tools because they’ve been around longer and I’ve had alot of success leverging them for lead generation.  Webinars are excellent because they are convenient in terms of time and very inexpensive to prepare / execute.  I’ve generated numerous conversations just by calling prospects to invite them to attend and following up with them to ask- “How was it? Useful? Why? Why not?”  In addition, offering to share webinar slide decks with prospects is a great way to schedule conference calls or discussions.  If you’re new to an organization, ask for the lists of people who registered for a webinar in the last two years and give them a quick call.  Even if a different person answers the phone, it’s very likely that they’ll be interested as well.

    I realize that I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to lead generation.  El tiempo vuela however and this train’s leaving the station.  I hope you get your whole team on board, fuel the fire, turn up the boiler, sound that whistle, and head out towards the horizon.  We’re almost halfway through Q1 of 2012!  Time to ride the rails!

Happy hunting and buen viaje,

Paul Williams

COO

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