In many industries, the slowdown in the economy has created longer selling cycles and smaller deal sizes. Executives, in turn, are questioning the value of demand generation campaigns, and sales and marketing teams are searching for ways to improve lead-to-sale conversion ratios.
While there is no silver bullet, there are four practices that will generally help improve the results at each phase of your pipeline. Each represents a different discipline and will require input from both sales and marketing teams to really have an impact on the pipeline.
Consider these four practices and how they can best be applied to your business:
1) Research: Rather than rely on anecdotes, sales and marketing should conduct research to understand precisely why sales are stalling and what possible incentives and tactics might create more urgency. The research should also focus on the customer decision dynamics: are they changing (in many industries, executive scrutiny is occurring for much smaller transactions)?
In addition to standard qualitative and quantitative techniques, this research should be an integrated component of the overall nurture strategy. For example, marketers can send out context-sensitive surveys at different stages of the buying cycle to quantify the findings from interviews with customers and sales people. B2B companies must then translate this insight into customer buying behavior and the reasons customers have for delaying, cancelling, or reducing purchases with promotions, tools, and other tactics to improve results.
2) Lead Definitions: While sales and marketing teams at many companies have developed a universal definition of what constitutes a qualified lead, that definition cannot remain static. A lead council should convene quarterly to tweak the definition, based upon market realities and channel requirements. In a challenging economy, such an approach is critical. Often, sales teams’ pipelines are smaller and so their collective need for qualification diminishes. In short, they have time to talk to customers earlier in the buying cycle. Revisiting this issue quarterly and adjusting lead scoring rules can help.
3) Scalable Nurturing and Re-Engagement Tactics: More progressive companies are mapping content and data capture tactics to the business buying cycle in order to better gauge the depth of interest and to nurture the prospect with lower-cost and more scalable capabilities. These same capabilities can be integrated into the sales process to re-engage “dead” opportunities and bring more of them back to life. For example, survey all the “dead” leads and find out what changed and use those answers to offer solutions in subsequent email campaigns to get the opportunity back on track.
4) Phone Follow Up and Re-Engagement Tactics: No matter how sophisticated the automated nurturing process is, there is no substitute for human interaction. Well-trained telemarketing representatives can leverage a response event to engage more senior decision makers and other buying influencers, make important judgment calls about customer needs, purchase intent, and other mission-critical lead qualification criteria. While this effort can and should be part of the lead qualification and nurturing process before sales engagement, there’s no reason that many stalled and “dead” leads can’t be re-worked by the telemarketing team in this same fashion. A good place to start is with the larger accounts and larger opportunities.
Professional telemarketers can approach these “dead” leads as a market research project, simply trying to understand what the problem is and then using what’s discovered to offer incentives that address the problems of delay. For example, if prospects lack capital budgets, perhaps special financing will help or “buy-now-pay-later” programs.
While no one can change the economy, many companies can increase the yield from demand generation investments by following these four principles. It all starts with having a deep understanding of the buying behavior and the obstacles that are preventing customers from moving forward. Only by understanding these issues can B2B companies develop legitimate reasons to overcome these objections and the tactics for communicating such issues. Invariably, economic downturns create renewed creativity that ultimately leads to the end of the economic downturn.
For more information about improving results in a challenging economy, download our white paper: “A Challenging Economy: Financial Considerations for Go-to-Market Executives” http://www.pipealign.com/filevault/financialcaseeconomy 2009.pdf or go to Amazon to order our book, The B2B Refinery®.