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The Lead-Generation Process

Lead generation is, frankly, more a science than an art. It is based on process, best practices, and continuous testing and improvement. As noted, the company with the best process wins. Smart marketers focus on each step in the process, looking for ways to make it more efficient. The end result pays off in lower costs and higher conversion rates to sales. The following sections describe the steps, in planning order, but not necessarily in order of importance (they are all important). Each of these process steps is discussed in detail in this book.

Inquiry Generation

Reaching out to prospects and generating an initial response begins the process. To break inquiry generation down, you can look at it, too, as a series of steps:

  1. Set campaign objectives. Most lead-generation campaigns select from the following objectives:

    • The number of leads expected.
    • The degree of qualification.
    • The time frame during which they will arrive.
    • The cost per lead.
    • Lead-to-sales conversion ratio.
    • Revenue per lead.
    • Campaign ROI or expense-to-revenue ratio.
    • Choose one primary and no more than two secondary objectives, and make them very specific.
  2. Analyze and select campaign targets. The tighter your targeting, the higher your response is likely to be. Current customers, of course, respond better than cold prospects. In fact, some companies find that much of their lead-generation work involves finding new opportunities in accounts they already have relationships with. So, it's not cold prospecting, but it's still an effort to generate business for new products, new buyer groups, or additional divisions or business units in the account. That said, most B-to-B marketers focus on entirely new accounts for their lead-generation programs.

  3. Select campaign media. For generating leads among new prospects, the best choices are SEM, telemarketing, and direct mail for ongoing campaign work. Trade shows, web-based lead generation, and referral marketing programs can also be effective. Among inquirers and current customers, you will find telephone and email most productive, telephone being more intrusive and email being the less expensive option.

  4. Develop a message platform. The platform is the key benefit that appeals to the target audience. Your response improves if you keep the message simple and focus on a single benefit.

  5. Develop a campaign offer. This subject is discussed in detail in Chapter 6, "Campaign Execution." For now, suffice it to say that the purpose of the offer is to motivate the target prospect to respond with an indication of interest in your product or service. Don't be fooled into thinking that you can get away without a motivating offer of some sort. You can't.

  6. Create communications. Unlike general advertising communications, the copy is the most important element of your lead generation creative treatment, so use a professional direct-response copywriter who has B-to-B experience.

  7. Plan fulfillment materials. Speed is of the essence. Studies show that the faster the fulfillment materials are received, the more likely the lead is to be qualified. The need is still fresh, and competitors are less likely to be in the way. As a rule of thumb, inquiries should be fulfilled no later than 24 hours after receipt, if using printed materials, and instantaneously if using a landing page with downloadable materials.

Response Planning

Planning for response management is a critical and sometimes sorely neglected part of preparing a lead-generation campaign. You will not regret the effort you put into ensuring your prospects' responses are properly handled and tracked. In fact, some would argue that if this work is not done right, you are throwing your marketing investments out the window.

Start response planning early in the campaign-development process. Make sure you have a unique code that identifies responses from every outbound communication. This can be a priority code, a special toll-free number, an operator's name, a unique URL, anything. Offer multiple response media, including landing page, phone, business reply card (BRC), fax, and email. Don't be shy about including qualification questions on your reply form or your inbound-phone scripts. Response planning is covered in detail in Chapter 7, "Response Planning and Management."

Response Capture

The response capture process works only if it's designed by the people who manage the inbound media through which the response arrives. Put together a cross-functional team. Then, consider the best strategy for each medium. Ensure electronic inquiries from email and landing pages are acted on immediately. Log the inquiries into a database and match the names against prior contacts to avoid duplicates.

Internal processes must be set up in advance to capture and record the key codes for later analysis. Make sure the teams handling the responses—whether they are internal call centers or outsourced fulfillment companies—are well trained and motivated to capture as many codes as possible. Despite your best efforts, a certain amount of inbound responses inevitably go uncaptured. The best way to handle them for analysis is to separate the uncoded responses and analyze the trackable responses on their own. Response capture is discussed in detail in Chapter 7.

Inquiry Fulfillment

Most B-to-B inquiries ask for more information, so give it to them. Make your responses snappy. Match the fulfillment material to the need and the value of the prospect.

Today, the big news in inquiry fulfillment is the new science of "content marketing," which is sweeping the B-to-B marketing world. Understanding that business buyers research the solutions to business problems online, long before they call in a salesperson to help them, marketers create vast libraries of so-called "content assets." These are available to educate and inform customers and prospects, and to demonstrate thought leadership among influential parties in their particular fields. These assets make excellent fodder for lead generation, as offers to motivate response, as content for effective lead nurturing to help move prospects along their buying journeys, and to stay in touch and deepen relationships with current customers. The fascinating new subject of content marketing is discussed in Chapter 4, "Campaign Development Best Practices."

Inquiry Qualification

Nothing is more important than correctly qualifying sales leads before they are delivered to the sales people. It is a frequent misunderstanding on the part of marketers that lead volume is the objective. In fact, it is quality that counts. The objective is to generate enough qualified leads so that each sales territory is optimally busy, productive, and fulfilling its quota. More is not necessarily better. Delivering too many leads can be as wasteful as delivering too few. Delivering qualified leads is what provides real leverage to that expense and constrained resource: the sales force.

Most inquiries require additional qualification before they are ready for handoff to sales. The secret to qualification is involvement of the sales team in setting qualification criteria. A good way to elicit an idea of the ideal prospect is to ask a few sales managers and sales reps to describe their ideal prospect, in terms of type of company, job role, and needs. Some will tell you they want to be given every response that comes in from their territory. But your job is to deliver to them only leads that are ready to take up their valuable time. Lead qualification and how to set qualification criteria are discussed in Chapter 8, "Lead Qualification."

Lead Nurturing

When an inquiry is only partially qualified and does not make the grade of readiness for the sales team, it needs to be nurtured in a process that is called incubation or lead development. Nurturing involves a series of communications intended to build trust and awareness, and keep a relationship going until the prospect is ready to buy. You can use a variety of tactics, from newsletters, to surveys, to white papers, to birthday cards.

Sources of leads that require nurturing include

  • Partially qualified inquiries. They are not ready to deliver to sales, according to the predefined qualification criteria.
  • Leads returned by the sales team. Frequently, a presumably qualified lead turns out to require further nurturing. The contact might have changed jobs, or the business need might have changed. So, the sales people return the lead to marketing for further follow-up.

The nurturing process can be fast or slow—or endless. Some prospects never get the budget, or their needs change, or they buy from a competitor. This can be discouraging. But, just remind yourself that somewhere around half of all business inquiries eventually result in a sale—for someone, anyway—so you can find the energy and the funding to put in place a robust and effective nurturing process. This entire subject is discussed in Chapter 9, "Lead Nurturing."

Lead Tracking

Let's not forget the process of closing the marketing loop to attribute a closed sale to a marketing campaign. Business marketers operating in a multichannel world are continually challenged by problems in measuring the results of their lead-generation campaigns. Without solid measurements, it's hard to demonstrate the value of marketing, not to mention justify the budgets. But, the most important reason for careful measurement is to give you the tools to refine campaign tactics and improve results next time.

When multiple people and functions are involved at various stages of the lead-generation and conversion process, evaluating the contribution of each element can be impossible. Most B-to-B lead-generation campaigns rely on a combination of activity-based metrics, such as cost per lead, and results-based metrics, such as lead-to-sales conversion rates, revenue, and ROI. A variety of tools to help you close the loop between a lead-generation campaign and an eventual sale are presented in Chapter 10, "Metrics and Tracking."

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