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My Key Takeaways as a B2B Summit Clinic Coach: Top lessons from real-world marketers and actionable ideas to drive marketing success

November 1st, 2011

Originally published on B2B LeadBlog

I just got back from this year’s round of MarketingSherpa B2B Summits in Boston and San Francisco, where I provided one-on-one coaching to attendees, marketers from Fortune 500 organizations, leading private companies, and emerging businesses. (You can read more about who attended here.)

Frankly, I don’t know who walks away more enlightened — the marketers I was coaching or me. Every year, I receive a personal introduction to the struggles they’re facing every day. And even though the latest MarketingSherpa B2B Marketing Benchmark Report essentially reported that it’s tougher than ever to be a marketer, you really can’t grasp how challenging it is until you’re working one-on-one with someone who is essentially a lone ranger for marketing within a large, complex organization.

Here’s what I learned during my coaching sessions this year: to advance in this economy, the C-suite absolutely must recognize the value of marketers and marketing. As part of that, they must give them the time and resources to set the foundation for best-in-class lead generation efforts. Especially considering that, year after year, attaining the highest quantity and quality of leads consistently remains marketers’ highest priority — just check out the graph at right.

Unfortunately, after too many coaching sessions with marketers who had neither the time nor resources to set strategy, I suspect too many CEOs think that most of what they learned in the marketing 101 course they took decades ago still applies today. The reality is (forgive me for preaching to the choir) is that marketing has been transformed in the past ten, even five, years! In fact, as with most everything these days, change is the only constant and you better keep up, or else. You can thank the cut-throat economy for that.

Revenues are scarce. So smart organizations are scrutinizing how they’re spending every penny of their resources. They want to make sure their highest-compensated sales professionals are spending their time closing the biggest deals they can, not qualifying leads or prospecting. They know that’s marketing must lead the way in ensuring this happens, so they allow their marketing organizations the time and resources to set the foundation to do so effectively and efficiently.

Their CEOs establish the directive for marketing to develop:

Unfortunately, very few marketers I spoke with in Boston or San Francisco had the executive support to set this foundation for marketing success. So it became challenging to provide advice that would lead to sustainable, long-term optimization. Nonetheless, we had plenty of “ah-ha” movements. But those quick wins were often centered on strategy designed to circumvent or overcome a flawed foundation. This felt like the equivalent of telling someone what color to paint the walls on a building with a crumbling infrastructure. After all, you can have the perfect messaging, but if that message is going to a list that’s filled with inaccurate data and contacts, or doesn’t include those who are most likely to buy, you’re wasting time, energy and money.

So what did I tell those marketers?

For the most part, I advised them to do what they could with what they have.

  • Even without executive support, marketing can document the state of their current lead management process; and they should do so immediately. Without precisely knowing what’s happening with leads right now , marketers can’t identify the greatest bottlenecks or areas for improvement. But they can’t make any assumptions. This mean they need to meet with their sales and marketing leaders, along with their practitioners. Only then will marketers have a clear understand of the current state of affairs. By the way, getting all of the stakeholders together to agree on the issues and prioritize solutions is the perfect start to a funnel optimization process.
  • Even without executive support, marketing usually owns the data. They can make sure it’s up to date and free of duplications. They can quarantine new data before it’s entered into the system to ensure its accuracy and make sure they’re valid leads. They can analyze and clean their lists to ensure that messages are targeted to those who are most likely to buy.
  • Even without executive support, they can analyze their existing customers to create an ICP.
  • Even without executive support, they can build a content library. They don’t need to be great writers; they just have to understand their value proposition and personas, and then repurpose existing content or identify third-party content that fit both. That’s not as overwhelming as starting from scratch.
  • Even without executive support, marketing can demonstrate their value to sales through only sending them qualified leads. If marketing delivers a great “product,” sales will want more.

When sales begins noticing that they’re closing more deals faster, they’re going to be eager to collaborate, revenues will grow, and leadership will fully realize the value and power of marketing. After all, businesses that thrive in the new economy will be the ones that give marketing the time and resources to set the strategies upon which successful campaigns are built.

Do You Expect Your Inside Sales Team to Practice Alchemy?

August 15th, 2011

Originally published on B2B LeadBlog

Too many marketers think that their inside sales teams are alchemists. They dump data that’s absolute garbage into the top of the sales funnel and expect sales lead gold to come out the other side.

This came to mind when my teleprospecting team was struggling with one of our lead-generation clients.

They had promised us a “high-quality list” from their database: tens of thousands of names of c-suite executives who were in their target-market sweet spot.

The reality: nearly half the contacts had disconnected phone numbers and another 30 percent definitely wasn’t in the target market for this particular product. Think fast food joints and mom-and-pop businesses. The remaining contacts had missing or inaccurate information. My team spent at least 80 percent of their time doing research and investigation to make the list usable so they could do what they were actually hired to do — generate leads.

Unless you want your inside sales professionals to be mere data entry clerks, test your lists! It takes about 30 hours of calling to attain a fairly accurate understanding of list quality by answering these questions:

  • Is there duplicate data?
  • Is the information current and complete?
  • Are the contacts truly in your product’s target market?

If more than 1 out of 20 contacts fail this test, I advise cleaning this list before you pass it along to a lead-generation team. Unless, of course, you don’t mind your team spending their time tracking down and entering data instead of generating leads.

Here’s the crux: you may think you have this awesome, robust database, but only a small segment of it may actually be the customer you want to reach. Unless you’re constantly updating your lists, too much of the data is likely old and unusable.

Your team may, indeed, be alchemists, and generate impressive numbers of leads regardless of the garbage you’re giving them. My team did. They ended up giving the client with the horrifically bad list an 800 percent return on investment, but not without a lot of extra work and stress. I can’t help but think how much higher their ROI would have been if we were given a better list. Think about what your teams could achieve, too.

To Call or Email? That is the Question

June 28th, 2011

Originally published on B2B LeadBlog

When Brian Carroll and I present webinars on adding the human touch to lead nurturing, like the ones last month for the B2B Lead Roundtable and Marketo, we inevitably get these questions:

“How often should we call? How often should we email? What should we do first?”

The last question always guides me to the best responses for the first two. That’s why I always call the prospect before sending an email.

First, a phone conversation is a prime opportunity to gain opt-in. You can hear Brian and I role play how it’s done at timestamp 47:34 in the webinar replay from the B2B Lead Roundtable event. Listen in and you’ll be surprised at how natural it is to gain permission to send more information, which, of course, requires an email address.

Second, emails cannot do discovery. An email can’t tell you:

  • Whether recipients are influencers or decision makers
  • Their roles in the company
  • What they’re most interested in knowing
  • Their buying process

In contrast, a thoughtfully planned conversation is the ultimate discovery tool. It can reveal the answers to all of these points so you can identify the best:

  • Follow-up cadence and frequency: You’ll know their buying cycle and how to ideally align contact — phone calls and emails — to it.
  • Content: You’ll know what they care about and why, that’s the knowledge you need to create emails that are meaningful to them.

Third, real-life conversation is the best way to build connection. Thanks to your conversation, prospects will be looking for your email and will be more likely to open it because they know it will have content they can use. Your relationship will be off to a flying start. And, remember, whoever has the strongest relationship ultimately wins the sale.

Traits of the Best Teleprospectors

June 2nd, 2011

Originally published on B2B LeadBlog

Last month’s webinars on leveraging the human touch to drive leads, presented for the B2B Lead Roundtable and Marketo, prompted a great question: “What should I look for in a teleprospector?”

Unfortunately, that can’t be answered with a fast, convenient sound bite. That’s why I’m going to do my best to respond here in my inaugural blog post.

Over the past 15 years, I’ve been involved in hiring hundreds of teleprospectors. Along with Brian Carroll, I was one of the co-founders of InTouch, now MECLABS Leads Group. Fortune 100 companies from a broad base of industries hire us to do teleprospecting for them; they know the value of the human touch to optimize their lead generation efforts. It seems like we’re always on the lookout for powerful teleprospectors to support these accounts, and over the years, we’ve pinpointed some of the critical traits that are inherent in every top performer:

An abiding desire to serve. Teleprospectors must sincerely want to help others, because that’s what they’re going to be doing all day, every day. When they conclude a conversation with a prospect, we want that prospect to feel like the call added value to his day — regardless of his timing to buy. To make that happen, teleprospectors must have an attitude of service, a sincere eagerness to help others. Furthermore, not only must teleprospectors serve the people they call, they must gain real satisfaction from serving their colleagues as well. There’s no room to be territorial, because they’re going to be passing leads to someone else who will take them to the next level in the sales process.

The focus to follow process. A full-time teleprospector can expect to make 80 to 100 calls a day. This entails far more than simply smiling, dialing and spouting a script. After all, we use call guides, not scripts; read this or watch our most recent webinar to find out why. Our team must be fully engaged in each and every call to successfully execute proven, tested tactics that drive opportunity. It doesn’t matter how clever or charming a candidate is; if he’s unwilling to follow process, you don’t want him calling.

Tenacity and patience. We’re not bell-ringers here; people aren’t getting leads every three minutes. It can typically take 8 to 19 calls to reach a prospect. Teleprospecting is not for someone who thrives on instant gratification.

Empathy and strong listening skills. They must be able to put themselves in their prospects’ shoes and anticipate their needs. That means listening intently to pick up on the subtle signals that indicate where a prospect is on the buying process. You would be impressed at the engagement we get from prospects who can sense that our teleprospectors are paying close attention. People know when they’re genuinely being listened to.

Curiosity coupled with a love of learning. People with this combination like to be informed; they’re well-read and take pride in keeping up with what’s happening in the business world. This is a key trait for our teleprospectors because they can ultimately work with a variety of clients. While we train and coach them extensively, they must be ready to intelligently discuss any number of topics ranging from manufacturing devices to educational programs.

A clear, measured, confident speaking voice. This is lower on the list because, more than any of the other qualities, it can be taught.

Obviously, you’re not going to be able to scan a resume and identify these skills, and you can’t take someone from outside sales, plop them down with a headset and a script, and expect success. Road warriors are accustomed to closing; hunting for opportunity requires a completely different skillset and very few people have both.

To find great teleprospectors, we have candidates undergo multiple interviews and tests, including role-playing and psychological analyses, to identify strengths and opportunities for growth. You just never know where you’re going to find out a stand-out employee. Case in point is Mark Wicka, our Senior Business Development Representative. He came to our company as a temp and had never worked in any kind of lead-generation role. Eleven years later, he’s still here. (And talk about work ethic — he’s never called in sick during those entire 11 years!)

He began his career here generating leads for our clients. But these days, we’re using his skills to generate leads for MECLABS while mentoring and supervising a team that is doing the same. He thrives on learning; when he worked for our clients, he dove into educating himself about their industries and products. Now that he drives business for MECLABS, he has become expert in all aspects of lead generation. Yet, he’s the most humble guy you’d ever meet; he never comes across as a know-it-all, just very informed and authentic. His spirit of service shines through in everything he does. Consider what he has to say about what motivated him to come to MECLABS:

“I feel like fate brought me here. I worked in print advertising, but it didn’t resonate. I didn’t think it was very effective and I wanted to work for a company where I knew their solution worked,” he recalls. “I was doing more than look for a job, I wanted to work for an organization that I believed in. I’ve found that at MECLABS.

“My goal is to be an intelligent follower. There’s no disgrace in following, the person who follows leaders most effectively is the one who develops leadership most rapidly. I’ve had great mentors here — when I started it was my program managers. Today, it’s Brian Carroll and Flint McGlaughlin (CEO and Managing Director of MECLABS). Their success is my success.”

I would love to hear your thoughts about the qualities you think are essential to be an effective teleprospector. Are you surprised by my conclusions? Are there other skills you think are just as important as the ones I’ve listed? Do you want me to expand on any of these thoughts? Feel free to comment below.