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

“The Good, The Bad, and…”: Making it Happen in 2012

I can remember watching this movie on TBS with my dad as a little boy.  We’d sit on the  the floor, drinking endless cans of Coke, in the sweltering heat of a summer evening in Atlanta.  Mom would roll her eyes and go off to bed, leaving Pop and me alone. The house would creak as it settled and the night was quiet, except for our occasional outbursts of laughter over the antics of Blondie (The Good), Angel Eyes (The Bad), and Tuco (The Ugly).  I always backed Blondie, but Pop loved Tuco.  I could never understand why, until he told me once-  “Tuco’s real boy…nothin’ comes easy to him.  He has to fight for everything he gets…just like people like us…”  Well, it’s been an interesting year!  Let’s see if we can sift the ashes and find some final insights we can take with us into 2012.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, some things are looking up for 2012.  Unemployment is at it’s lowest level in nine months and the US economy is outperforming almost every other region.  The media seems determined to keep preaching doom and gloom, but it’s clear that the recovery’s gaining traction.  US companies are lean and mean.  There’s also been a subtle, slight increase in business and consumer confidence in the last few months.

There are some formidable challenges looming on the horizon.  The Eurozone debt crisis will definitely hit us hard (i.e. no more crowds of German tourists outside the Apple Stores), lack of bipartisan political compromise here at home, and global political / social / ethnic unrest will have a significant impact as well- Arab spring, immigration, etc.

I must admit that I’ve painted a cursory and rather high-level picture of things in general, but let’s dig down and see what all this means for people like us.

The buzz on the street, even if people are too afraid to mention it , is that everyone is overworked.  People are incredibly grateful to be employed and therefore in most cases have been doing the jobs of two or even three people.  Trust me…this will change and organizations who don’t get it will see their most valuable intellectual capital walking out that door.  Turn it around!  You’ve packed three years of work experience into one!  Don’t forget to document it, both on your resume and on every social media outlet available.  You should be as detailed as possible, including project dates / times / deliverables etc.  When things start to move and you get an opportunity, you’ll be ready, not only to jump into the job market, but also to hold your current employer accountable.  Stop reacting and start acting by:

  • You know your Marketing budget isn’t going to increase and that you’re going to be asked to do more with less…again.  Why not investigate innovative, new approaches, such as performance marketing, which can not only strengthen customer relationships, but also provide in-depth analytics and lead generation.  These services are usually provided through a revenue sharing model, so it won’t take a bite out of the bottom line.
  • Missing your Sales quotas for 2011 should make it clear that it’s time for archaic, “hallowed” practices to change!  As we discussed in previous blog entries, embrace both existing and new resources, i.e. strive for more direct collaboration with your colleagues in other parts of the company and learn to use social media.
  • It’s time for Management to step-up and set the tone for 2012.  An excellent first step might be to identify why their organization didn’t reach its goals in 2011.  A Win – Loss study conducted by a non-biased third-party consulting firm will give any management team the insight they need to avoid previous missteps!  I even know a reputable consulting firm…

It’s never easy for people like us, but things are looking up!  Happy holidays!  I’m cooking up something already!

Happy hunting,

Paul Williams

COO

“Demented and Sad…but Social” : Social CRM

It’s abundantly clear that the subject which has garnered the most attention recently is Social Media or it’s latest incarnation- Social CRM.  Let’s delve a little deeper into this area and explore the impact that it definitely will have on you, your professional role, and your organization.

I have always been a complete skeptic when it comes to the potential benefits of Social CRM for business.  As my favorite rapper used to say “don’t believe the Hype, it’s a sequel…” or in business vernacular- don’t waste your time looking at these new tools because something new always comes along!  Yet, there are a number of ways that a coordinated, planned, and executed Social CRM practice can benefit your organization in the year to come:

  • Collaboration-Allowing various departments / teams within an organization to jointly monitor their performance and to literally adapt to changes in the market, their company, and their customers very rapidly.
  • Sales-Social CRM not only provides additional areas to exploit for lead generation, but also helps the salesperson to track prospects through different organizations.  It also gives the salesperson additional insights into the prospect or company he is pursuing which can shorten the sales cycle and lead to better customer satisfaction.
  • Marketing- Lead generation campaigns will never be the same now with real-time social media updates which can drive attendance to virtual (and real world) events.

New tools require new methods and there are a number of dangers from the expanded capabilities and reach presented by Social CRM:

  • Control- Once you introduce social media and a Social CRM practice into your organization there is no going back people.  You are constantly accountable for branding and reputation management.  There is no longer the “illusion of control” over a company’s image, reputation, or future which many senior executives seem to cling to…
  • ROI-It is often more difficult to measure the return on investment for Social CRM.  In fact it’s most likely that there will not be any immediate ROI!  Social media takes a lot of daily work!  It’s often worse to begin the process and abandon it, than never to attempt it at all…It will definitely require participation from all departments and levels in the organization to be successful.
  • Revelations-Everyone mentions the dangers of the release of information outside the company, but few realize that there will be increased visibility into the company’s processes, procedures, and personnel!  Be aware of the implications of these new insights and embrace the change.

Change is never easy!  It always comes with a cost…the most painful of which are usually unexpected.  Who would ever have anticipated the enormous impact of Cloud CRM  or even that organizations / individuals would allow a third party to manage their most valuable data?

Disruptive…yes!  But that’s often a good thing!

Happy Hunting,

Paul Williams

COO

Across the Great Divide – Bridging the Gap Between Sales and Marketing

In many organizations there’s confusion around the Marketing Department’s actual role.  “I see alot of activity, but I don’t see them producing any results…” lamented one C-Level Executive to me recently.  “They host great events which our clients really enjoy attending, but I can’t grasp how they deliver real, concrete value to the bottom line…” he concluded.

This is unfortunately a commonly held opinion in many medium to large organizations and it’s especially troubling when the large annual Marketing budgets are taken into account.  “We need them to generate leads which result in new business!” exclaimed a Senior Sales Director at a recent networking event.  “Sales can make sure the clients are happy!”

Things are even more confusing in smaller organizations in which everyone “wears multiple hats” or is expected to make contributions in many different areas of the company and budget numbers are tight by necessity.  “Do we even need to allocate a significant amount to Marketing?  Shouldn’t Sales handle this as a routine part of doing business?” said one CEO / Founder.

Across the Great Divide the tone is similar, but the perspective completely different.  I have spoken with many savvy Marketing Professionals who are completely perplexed.  A colleague confided to me that Marketing “runs multiple lead generation campaigns which produce measurable results.  Yet when we pass the fruits of our labors on to Sales…well nothing happens.  The Sales people complain that the leads aren’t good and I don’t believe they make a real, consistent effort to follow up on them!”

Ah! Yes!  So it goes…The results are countless meetings, “new and improved” Marketing plans, a lot of time and money wasted, and continuous rounds of “office politics”.  Everyone likes to make a great show of group solidarity at the quarterly / annual meetings, but anyone with any level of professional experience knows that’s just not the case.  Inevitable?  Unavoidable? “Us vs. Them?”  Let’s break it down as my daddy used to say:

Communication Rocks the Nation! (or at least can shake-up your organization in positive ways)

Sales and Marketing are supposed to work closely together. Yet often they are as far apart as possible, both physically and culturally, in a company.  “The Sales people are disruptive, always on the phone, and joking around.  I can’t get anything done when they’re around” says Marketing.  “Why are the Marketing people in meetings all the time?  They spend all their time creating charts and graphs?  What do they do?” says Sales.

I believe that this Great Divide must be bridged and therefore Sales and Marketing should be working closely together…in every sense of the word.  Marketing should be able to listen to Sale’s calls and recognize directly which messaging actually works.  There should also be an informal atmosphere of collaboration.  I know you’re tired of hearing this word, but it works.  In addition Sales must also commit to a greater level  of accountability in which they will not only make every effort to use what Marketing produces, but also give honest visibility into their pipelines.

At the end of the day everyone suffers if the Great Divide isn’t bridged successfully.  I think that people can get lost in the idea of “playing the hero” and trying to make themselves and their department look good.  In the end…everyone loses.  So climb out of those trenches and take a walk down the hall.  Ask your colleagues what they’re working on and share your work with them as well.  Here it is again:

  1. Communication
  2. Collaboration
  3. Accountability

Get it together…get together people!  Happy hunting and Happy Halloween!

Paul Williams

COO