Following up on Business-to-Business Sales Leads and Turning Them Into Sales Opportunities

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1 Following up on Business-to-Business Sales Leads and Turning Them Into Sales Opportunities Brought to you by emedia Accelerated B2B Lead Generation On Demand 1

2 Executive Summary Our Paper Illuminates the Following Points Sales function its reason for being is to provide clients with a satisfactory solution to the problem at hand. To help drive this, the post-acquisition follow-up works best when it emphasizes Problem and Solution. A. Focus on the prospect s problem B. Focus on your solution to it Come Prepared Research the Prospect Prior to Follow-Up 1. Create a Great Follow-up Message Focus on connecting with the contact, rather than on explaining the features of your product. Keep conversations and s light, and demonstrate that you re interested in helping prospects solve their problems. With s, remember to lead off with a purposeful, enticing subject line. emedia finds that a quick-response , sent within one day from the account executive s address, is a great way to begin following up with someone that came in as a sales lead, with a phone call at a later point. However, there is no single correct follow-up schedule for everyone. 2. Figure Out How Your Lead Found You and Make it Work for You Your prospect downloaded your offer for a reason. Your account executive should find out why. You don t have to directly reference the marketing promotion. Instead, offer to answer any questions he may have, and look to get to the root of why this prospect was interested in your collateral. 2

3 3. Adapt Your Follow-up to the Lead Every sale is going to be different, so don t fall into a formulaic approach. Take a look at the role of your contact in his organization. Be prepared with financial facts and figures for CFOs, holistic strategies for the C-suite and technological details for the operations staff, for example. 4. Follow Up Promptly Make a follow-up schedule and stick to it. Staying in the customer s mind ensures that your product gets top consideration. When ending a call, offer a follow-up timeframe. Try to use multiple methods to follow up. Send an introducing yourself, and follow up with an invitation to LinkedIn, if you can. 5. Get a Commitment to the Next Step During the first conversation, get a verbal commitment from the prospect to take a particular action towards the next step. Or, set the next meeting. Follow this principle with each conversation. 6. Make the Most of Every Prospect Don t throw away a single lead. Even if your contact does not have a current need for your product, by keeping in contact over time, you ll create a rapport that can turn into a sale. Moreover, the more contacts that you, in tandem with Marketing, nurture within an account, the better you ll penetrate the account over time. There are four primary variables impacting how companies follow up: A. Type of Offer White paper, guide, webinar, product trial, podcast, etc. B. Prospect s Point on Sales Cycle Just researching, problem identification, budgeting, vendor selection, etc. C. Who You Are Reaching Audience, industry vertical, job titles, etc. D. Lead Source bulletins, Google Adwords, syndication sites, broadcast , print, website traffic analysis, etc. Feel Free to share this with colleagues: Each of these variables affects how you will design and implement your follow-up plan and communications. This paper illustrates this process and how to approach these variables. Subscribe to emedia s Marketing Bulletin: 3

4 Following up on Business-to-Business Sales Leads and Turning Them Into Sales Opportunities Lead Generation is a step-by-step process that does not stop with lead acquisition. Once Marketing acquires a lead, the next step is to properly reach out to the contact there, in a way that further drives engagement and spurs interest in your company s solution. For those companies whose motive is to identify customers that have a need now (or in the near future), and pursue them, there are some best practices they can follow to maximize returns. These companies continue to nurture the rest of their leads those with potential but not yet ready to buy. If your follow-up conversation is positive, move forward with the prospect. If the prospect s timing is not right, circulate the prospect back for further lead nurturing. The quality of your initial follow-up helps determine whether you get the sale sooner, later or, regrettably, never. THE MOST IMPORTANT TIPS OF ALL The Two Most Important Points to Remember When Following Up: 1. Focus on the prospect s problem 2. Focus on your solution to it Some account executives initiate the follow-up call or with a reference to their marketing offer, to the website or marketing vehicle, where it was accessed, or to other ancillary points. However, Sales function its reason for being is to provide clients with a satisfactory solution to the problem at hand. To help drive this, the post-acquisition follow-up works best when it emphasizes Problem and Solution. RESEARCH THE COMPANY PRIOR TO FOLLOW-UP Sales needs to go into the follow-up call prepared. Sales can learn the essentials about most companies from their websites. The experienced account executive can also often glean a little about why they may have a need for your solution. REACHING PROSPECTS With B2B leads, you need a plan for following up. This entails making choices regarding following up by or by phone, and follow-up schedules. 4

5 Who do you call and who do you ? Should you do both? If so, which should you do first? How persistent should you be in attempting to reach the prospect? You need to answer all of these questions subjectively. The majority of marketers need to both phone and their prospects. Marketers and sales managers need to develop, through testing and sales experience, a Follow-up Protocol a schedule of s and phone calls that is right for their settings and fits their lead nurturing plans, too. FOLLOW-UP MESSAGE Structurally, the follow-up message will be similar for phone and (we ll discuss a few key differences below). Both will have an initial introduction. Let s look at an example, for a marketing automation solution. The prospect downloaded a white paper discussing the company s marketing automation product for IT marketers, and its ability to help marketers justify marketing spend and document marketing ROI: I understand you are looking to learn more about marketing automation solutions or, at least, options for reporting results and justifying ROI. Then mention an attractive point about your company s solution: We have a new version for the IT vertical that s been receiving accolades from users; in fact, Gartner rated its dashboard best of breed this year [point mentioned in paper]. Now, your pitch or trial close the goal of the follow-up communication: I d like to learn more about what you re looking for and what you d like to see improved in your own marketing infrastructure or systems. Can we set up a time to get together briefly on the phone this week? A phone follow-up should be structured likewise, though spoken English is usually looser and more informal than written English. You may elect to mention the white paper title, where the prospect accessed the white paper or even the fact that you know he downloaded the white paper but only as an afterthought or if asked. This is key. Many prospects don t remember the source or title of the paper. Many haven t read it yet; some, even some eventual customers, never will. Focus on the prospect s problem and your solution. Anything else can disrupt the flow of your sales effort. 5

6 SUBJECT LINES Your prospect will read your follow-up only if you grab him with a well-crafted subject line. One can write a book on how to craft successful subject lines. We felt it important enough to list three of the most useful subject line guidelines here: 1. clients usually have a maximum of 50 characters for the subject line. Use this constraint to create concise, meaningful subject lines. 2. The most important words your main point within your subject line should be at the front. 3. Subject lines should be catchy, but always mindful of your audience. Remember, their purpose is to get the reader to open and read your within a very crowded inbox. For more on subject lines, see Write_ _Subject_Lines_Right. POINTS TO REMEMBER IN YOUR INITIAL CONVERSATION Connect with the Prospect. When you are able to have a phone conversation with the prospect either on the initial follow-up call, after several attempts or according to a meeting scheduled in Outlook rarely will you close the prospect on this call. The vast majority of B2B sales are complex and protracted in nature; the goals of your first meeting are modest. Getting the prospect to agree on a specific next step is your main objective. To this end, and with the goal of further understanding his needs, get him to talk about the issues and problems he s experiencing. Connect with the prospect by showing that you understand his needs. Eventually, when the time is right, you aim to get a presentation before the prospect and relevant associates. You may also send them appropriate written information furthering your product/service as the solution. Use the information you obtain on the prospect s problems to set up this presentation. Inform the Prospect. In addition, as you learn about the prospect s issues, you need to give him information about your solution to up his interest level. Your focus is on learning about the prospect, and ideally, you will probably do more listening on this call than talking. But, like sales in general, this meeting is a give-and-take. 6

7 Get Commitment to the Next Step. Finally, when the time is right, close the prospect on the next step to take. Ask him to send you something appropriate towards solving his problem something specific. Or, tell him that you ll send him something to review and respond to, something germane to establishing product fit, and get his verbal commitment to do so. Or set up a follow-up meeting with him. This next step is subject to your line of product and his situation, but it is vital at this time to get his commitment to take this next step. FOLLOW-UP SCHEDULE Most companies follow-up protocols consist of a combination of phone and messages. Sometimes the account executive gets a meaningful conversation on the first attempt to reach the prospect. More commonly, it takes multiple tries. Your company should develop a follow-up schedule for reaching prospects. This should usually consist of a set of and phone attempts, in a sequence that fits your sales situation. Most account executives can alter this to fit their own personal style. But each should at least have a followup schedule and continue to tweak it over time. Follow Up Promptly. Most companies should strive to follow up within 24 hours (though this depends on your business). This still sets your company apart these days, because many companies are less attentive than they should be, and people notice speedy response. Call and . Should you call or first? How many follow-up attempts if a prospect is hard to reach or not immediately responsive? For someone difficult to reach, emedia finds that calling, leaving a voice mail message, then ing the next day tends to move the discussion further in a large percentage of cases or, vice versa. From that point, its up to the individual account executive. Is he good at crafting short, pithy subject lines and brief s that hook the reader? Or is he a better talker? For hard to reach prospects, account executives should use a combination of s and phone calls. But what they rely on depends on personal skills and the environmental factors discussed below. Risk management services company DNV calls leads within 2-3 days, then sends a second touch , according to marketing manager Marc Berger. In this , DNV thanks the prospect again; provides an opportunity to download the offer again; and presents a new, related piece as a value-add. In the end, you should set up a follow-up schedule according to what works for your company. Also, keep in mind that different sales managers have different styles. Sales is an art more than it is a science. 7

8 VARIABLES SHAPING COMPANIES LEAD FOLLOW-UP TACTICS This paper consists of general prescriptions and best practices. No two companies experience the same follow-up environment. A number of factors clearly influence how you follow up on sales leads. Your account team should customize its calls with these variables in mind. There are at least four primary variables that impact how companies approach and execute their lead follow-up: 1. Type of Offer White paper, guide, webinar, product trial, podcast, etc. 2. Prospect s Point on Sales Cycle Just researching, problem identification, budgeting, vendor selection, etc. 3. Who You Are Reaching Audience, industry vertical, job titles, etc. 4. Lead Source bulletins, Google Adwords, syndication sites, broadcast , print, website traffic analysis, etc. HOW TYPE OF OFFER OR COLLATERAL AFFECTS LEAD FOLLOW-UP Your Prospect Downloaded Your Offer for a Reason. The Account Executive Should Find Out Why. White Papers, Guides and ebooks. Companies commonly write white papers, guides and ebooks to address specific business or technological issues. In follow-up communications for such offers, the account executive comes armed with the knowledge that the prospect s organization is experiencing such an issue. This should be the focus of the follow-up call. For example, for an eguide offering a framework on making the employee review process easier, the account executive can begin the call with: I understand you are taking a look at upgrading or improving your employee review system. He may mention, You downloaded a white paper on making the employee review process easier, as an afterthought. But this should not be emphasized. It can distract from the objective of discussing the prospect s pain and your solutions for it. In other cases the collateral piece is more informative or educational in nature. Examples of this include industry reports, glossaries, Tips & Tricks pieces, surveys, and a wide range of other offer types. Here, your account executive may need to probe deeper. Does the prospect have a project in mind? Is he concerned about possible future problems? Or did he get it just for his own personal interest? 8

9 Webinars or Videos. Webinars and videos, even more frequently than white papers, operate with a tight problem: solution focus. Many marketers treat webinar prospects as more highly-qualified than white paper and other prospect categories. After all, each webinar participant spent an hour s worth of his precious time learning about the issue or solution. In following up with a webinar prospect, the account executive may elect to more freely refer to the offer itself. But the focus should still be on ascertaining the nature of the prospect s pain points and your solution. Product Trials. Someone downloading a product trial is even further up the hierarchy of interest. In this case, the prospect knows he has a problem and has identified your solution as a potential cure. The follow-up can be very direct here. Did it work for you? Did it have the functionality that you need? Or, if before the trial, Can I help you get through any portion of the trial, or show how it can do what you need? Evaluation Guides. These tend to be head-to-head comparisons of several vendors solutions, generally created by a respected third-party research firm, like Aberdeen. While useful, these reports are seldom enticing summer beach-reading material. So you can expect that those who access them are quite interested in solving a problem and may be close to a buying decision. I understand you re looking at image spam solutions; you recently downloaded the (hypothetical) Image Spam Security Bible from Gartner. We suggest not mentioning your sponsorship. Find out which product benefits may be most critical for the prospect, then emphasize your strengths in these areas. Tools. Some vendors make good use of specific online calculators, analysis tools, widgets, gadgets and other genuinely useful tools for leads. How an account executive follows up on a tool is subjective. Some tools are great branding opportunities, but lukewarm at pulling leads in the consideration stage. With others for example, a free spyware analysis download you may identify prospects with pressing needs. I m calling to discuss the spyware issues you have; you recently downloaded our spyware analysis tool. HOW THE PROSPECT S POSITION IN THE SALES CYCLE INFLUENCES FOLLOW-UP Prospects seek useful information from offers at all stages of the buying cycle. Certain offer types are meant for advanced points on the buying cycle, such as product trials and evaluation guides. More general offer types can be created for any type of prospect those just identifying a problem, others already comparing vendors, etc. and marketed to these target groups. 9

10 Both Marketing and Sales should understand the typical sales cycle of their product, and then be open to help at all points. Sales should be willing to offer whatever help the prospect needs to move forward to the next stage. Marketing should have a range of collateral available for Sales to use to help address prospects diverse information needs. Just Researching or Just Curious. Many people download white papers or other written collateral at the early stages of the buying cycle, when they are just exploring an issue they are facing or one they feel they may face soon. When the prospect reports that he is just researching, probe more about what s behind his efforts. He can occupy his time with any number of other projects; research is a response to a current or foreseeable need. Does he have a growing problem that he wants to nip in the bud before it gets out of hand? Does he have more budget coming his way and want to take care of some of his unfulfilled needs? Does he have an upgrade on his project list? Or is the need indeed more urgent? Could he use materials and information to help him propose your solution to upper management? Problem Identification. Marketers implement a variety of offer types serving prospects in Problem Identification mode. In fact, the same offers tend to reach those just researching, too. The difference is that prospects in this category have a more pressing issue and are acting to line up a solution. Urgency is greater. The account executive must ask the right probing questions to differentiate those with more urgent needs those studying a current problem from those with future needs. Budgeting and Vendor Selection. In lead follow-up conversations, after discovering that the issue has a high priority, the account executive should determine how far along the prospect may be towards its resolution. Has the prospect allocated budget for this situation? Is he at the point where he is comparing vendors? These prospects may download a variety of white papers to enhance their knowledge, but they are also likely to invest more of their time during these stages. Also, can you help them with more information? Use cases? Material addressing functionality questions, integration capabilities or ROI? White papers produce larger lead volumes and a greater variety of opportunities. Webinars, product trials and other evaluation pieces are more apt to produce leads that are closer to purchase decisions. All offer tremendous utility for the marketer when used appropriately, with intelligent follow-up by the account executive. Sales should qualify each lead on its own merits, gather as much useful information as possible and move each lead as far as possible towards a sale but always with the prospect s best interests in mind. 10

11 HOW THE AUDIENCE IMPACTS FOLLOW-UP SCHEDULES AND MESSAGING Different industry verticals require different follow-up protocols. In addition, the account executive may have one follow-up schedule for the project manager, for example, and a very different one for the CFO. As with all aspects of the sales process, you must be mindful of your audience when following up with one of its members that responded to an offer. There are at least three factors to consider with the audience effect: Position Within Company. Most leads for most campaigns are midto senior-level managers. Some have technician or other specialist titles. Mid-level managers often make the purchase decision, but require sign-off from someone in the C-suite. Technicians may do the same, or they may be key influencers or recommenders in the decision process. CFOs may be high-level influencers or sign-offs on certain big-ticket sales, such as ERP systems. Most spend decisions are made by a team. Consequently, the account executive may adapt messages for different prospects. Within a followup for the IT manager, an account executive selling a Business Intelligence solution might emphasize low risk and savings in man-hours. To a technical lead, he may mention ease of implementation. With the CFO, he could touch on greater transparency and decision power. Phone follow-ups likewise come with expectations. Senior-level managers may have internal gatekeepers sales veterans know to build rapport with these individuals. Others may require more follow-up calls, or varying degrees of formality on the calls. The account executive should understand the prospect types in his industry, and be mindful of their generic differences during follow-up until he gets better acquainted with prospects as individuals. Prospect s Industry. Similarly, different industries and verticals require adapted follow-up practices. Many account executives have to take a more polished approach with managers of banks, where it seems like every other manager is titled vice president, than with floor-level managers in manufacturing, for example. Follow-up schedules are at issue as well. Construction managers are notorious for being hard to reach during a workday. On the other hand, certain IT personnel and technologists are commonly at their desks and even apt to answer their phones. Competitive Situation. If you have evidence that multiple competitors are clamoring for your prospect s business, you will often find, in addition to strong business potential, a heightened sense of urgency from the prospect. In response, exhibit greater attentiveness and concern for the 11

12 prospect s needs. Try to schedule your follow-up communications a little bit sooner, and match the prospect s sense of urgency with your own. Work even harder to learn about his problem and position your solution as the solution. These are just a few variables to keep in mind when initiating follow-up. All are trumped by the style and preferences of the individual prospect. As the account executive gets to know the prospect better, he should adapt his communication to suit this person s behavior and preferences. HOW LEAD GENERATION VEHICLES AND MEDIA INFLUENCE FOLLOW-UP Prospects respond to marketing offers from a host of channels these days. bulletins and their cousins, newsletters, present escalating volumes of targeted offers to diverse B2B audiences. In addition, prospects download offers from search engines and directly from vendor websites, or they visit syndication sites. Almost all B2B prospects receive opportunities from vendors house lists via direct . Plus, print and direct mail still bring them as well. With modern web analytics tools, marketers can even harvest leads from website traffic logs. Some Lead Sources Are Better Targeted Than Others. Where you market your offers clearly affects how the account executive follows up on them. Leads from some sources are more likely to approximate the ideal customer profile than leads from others. Search engines pull from a universe of potential respondents; therefore, lead accuracy overwhelmingly depends on marketers skills (or the skills of hired specialists). Syndication websites or industry-focused portals of various types still face similar issues. Marketers depend on whoever happens to visit the site and on the site s profiling capabilities. Website leads selected through traffic analysis pull visitors exhibiting certain website navigation and interaction patterns. From these, marketers deduce intent and interest levels. These are often accurate, but missing profiling information and intent based on actions (like offer download). Direct , bulletins and newsletters usually cull from better targeted audiences. Direct to house lists mandates that Sales and Marketing mind list-building best practices. bulletins and newsletters, provided they reach the right audiences, have a solid track record of providing highly targeted prospects and the ability to profile them. Essentially, some lead generation vehicles tend to produce more ambiguously qualified leads than others, although this is also highly dependent on the marketer s skill in setting up the placement, the focus of the offer and other factors. With this variability in mind, the account 12

13 executive should be on the lookout for a larger percentage of unqualified or less robust leads from some types of marketing vehicles, all other things equal. This affects how specific he may be in follow-up s or phone calls, how diligent and forceful he should expect to be in pursuing some of them, and the rate of turning leads into solid opportunities. LEAD FOLLOW-UP AND LEAD NURTURING Of the leads that your account executives contact, some percentage will have zero sales potential. Perhaps they are in a market for which you have no product, or perhaps they are geographically incompatible, in academia or some other situation. These are leads you eliminate. Others have future potential, but are unable to purchase anytime soon. These are leads you should cycle into a lead nurturing program. Textbook lead nurturing programs are managed by Marketing. Sales sends its unready leads back to Marketing. Marketing then builds a relationship with these prospects by periodically sharing appropriate collateral and other information. The goals are to educate prospects on potential issues, warm them up to the idea that your company offers the best options for addressing these issues, and hopefully, sell to them in the future when the timing is more favorable. Lead Nurturing Program to Fit Your Needs. Most companies nurture leads in some fashion. Many with complex, long-cycle sales operate under this model. Others share nurturing activities between Marketing and Sales. At any rate, you need to operate a lead nurturing program that fits your needs, and develop the leads to a state of readiness. Over time, you will find that it enhances ROI. When the account executive determines that a lead should take the nurture path, following one or more conversations, either he or Marketing should get the prospect s permission to receive useful information from time to time. Nurture Everyone Possible. Nurture All Other Respondents to the Offer. The other prospect types to nurture are the ancillary role players working with the primary contact and the primary contact s superiors. Almost all B2B decision makers work as part of a team. Colleagues serve as influencers, recommenders and similar roles, contributing expertise towards the final decision. Your company should nurture these individuals, as well as their bosses (who have final sign-off on purchase decisions). Do you have an offer the respondent cannot purchase in the foreseeable future? Add him to your database and nurture him. The IT manager within a company responds to your offer, as well as a senior programmer and the company VP? If the IT manager is the primary contact and decision maker, add the senior programmer and company VP to your database and nurture them keep in contact with them, too. They are 13

14 part of the decision making team, and modern B2B sales is all about account penetration. The more relevant people within an account that you interact with, the more likely you ll retain mindshare and get them talking about you. As Brian Carroll, lead generation pioneer and author of Lead Generation for the Complex Sale says: If they re talking about you, they ll find it harder to ignore you. For more on lead nurturing, see asp?articleid=162. This paper has been brought to you by emedia, North America s most reliable B2B lead generation company. ABOUT EMEDIA: emedia has specialized in generating B2B sales leads and building demand since We reach more than 3.5 million decision makers across over 70 niche-oriented audiences within the following B2B areas: Information Technology Supply Chain/Logistics Corporate Finance Human Resources Marketing/Sales B2B Events Manufacturing Small Business Procurement Electronics Occupational Health Environmental Management Project Management Packaging/Converting Construction & Architects Professional Development Printing Our company s expertise and personal service permit effective implementation of Guaranteed Cost-per-Lead programs for our clients offers and collateral. Or we can drive highly targeted traffic to clients web pages. Feel Free to share this with colleagues: Contact emedia at , or ACCELERATED B2B LEAD GENERATION ON DEMAND Subscribe to emedia s Marketing Bulletin: 14

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