I Need More Qualified Leads! Or, How Can Sales and Marketing Partner More Effectively

On my way to California this week I caught up on some reading and came across this article from B2B Magazine about Sales and Marketing working together more effectively. I couldn’t agree more with the basic principles of partnership and the typical lack thereof.

Having worked in both types of organizations I am pleased that we currently have a solid working relationship with the sales organization. We collaborate effectively on themes, segmentation, demand generation activities and the like. A high percentage of the closeable opportunities currently in the pipeline came through the marketing and telesales teams efforts.

The downside to this success is that I frequently get the “directive” to deliver more qualified leads. The issue of “qualification” is a thorny one for a technology services business.  In the technology product world it’s pretty straightforward: Are they interested in your product, do they have budget and an intent to purchase.  While by no means easy, it’s a relatively binary discussion.

In the technology services business it’s much more about listening to the prospect, identifying and understanding their challenges, and then devising solutions that will solve those challenges.  Many of our best customers came from listening for those unspecified needs, and often in a completely different area from what we expected. And since it’s such a relationship based sales effort, it’s not always wise to have the front end telemarketing person lead that conversation.

Marketing delivered leads are inherently less qualified in the aggregate than something a sales person generates on their own. Why? Sales generated opportunities are more likely to come from a personal relationship, an existing client referral, or from a prior client in a new role. (And most sales-people don’t add those relationships to the pipeline until there is an actual opportunity.). So where should we draw the line on qualification? Three things to consider:

  1. Marketing activity will uncover prospects at all stages in the buying cycle from Awareness through Consideration and Purchase. Marketing needs a process for nurturing those that are only in the Awareness stage, but Sales should expect to help in determining if the prospect is ready to buy.
  2. Marketing should be tracking and measuring conversion from raw “suspect” through to actual sales opportunities. If we don’t know how many of our Awareness stage suspects ultimately move into and through the funnel, or how long that takes, We are constantly shooting blindly in the dark. These numbers also give sales confidence that we take our charter seriously to move people from Awareness to Purchase. And the time factor is critical because it’s very hard to turn on the “qualified lead engine” overnight. We can turn on the “suspect” engine instantly but it takes time to move those suspects to qualified.
  3. For these simple reasons, I believe sales should only rely on marketing for 25-35% of their closeable pipeline activity.  While I am personally happy if marketing is pushing 50%, we aren’t optimizing the funnel.  As mentioned those sales generated leads should be more qualified and should close faster.  They are also likely bigger deals because that contact has a relationship with the sales person or the company already, and will be more willing to commit big dollars without doing a POC first.

In the end, it’s a delicate balance and the integration with sales starts with a good relationship. No amount of careful strategy, begging to do ride-alongs, or setting shared goals matters if you can’t have open and direct conversations with your sales teams.

So before you push for the ride-alongs, make sure the sales team is bought into YOU and what you can achieve TOGETHER.

Launching an “x:50” Telesales Calling Strategy

I have just spent some time reviewing the detailed calling logs of my inside sales team as I work to improve their calls-to-connect ratio. The results are startling.

But first some history.

When I took over the team over a year ago I first spent most of my time trying to help them become more effective when they do make a connect. This way, when we started to tackle the connect ratio, we wouldn’t be wasting connects with poor selling strategy. We have worked on identifying stalls vs objections, using good bridging techniques to move beyond stalls to address real objections, handling the objections themselves, gathering information etc.  It’s a work in progress, but we are starting to see good results.

Much has been written about using the “power calling times” centered on the hour.  This one on the Smashmouth B2B Blog is particularly interesting. I thought that sounded pretty reasonable. So I asked my team to implement it a few months back, but beyond checking in periodically, I hadn’t really tested their use, until now.

We don’t have a large enough team to have deployed sophisticated call tracking tools. Instead, I built a simple spreadsheet with the day broken up into 20 minute segments as noted above. I asked each person to fill out their actual calling data on calls, connects and meetings secured per slot for each day, for a week. I promised them that this would not be used against them as a gauge of performance, rather just to see if there were any interesting trends that could help us pinpoint where success happens.

Not surprisingly, the data revealed a classic random walk. One person’s data is represented here, though the actual numbers are hidden as I consider that information somewhat proprietary.

Telesales results for the "x:50" power calling segments

One rep's calling "strategy" represented by a truly random walk

But as I peeled back the onion and looked at in what slots the connects were happening, the trend was clear. In what I am calling the “x:50 slots” (8:50, 9:50, 10:50 etc) a full 52% of the connects occurred. Despite the randomness of the calling, and considering that there were no obvious over-corrections in the call volumes in those slots, it’s a pretty good indicator of success.

Further when I looked at the other connects in a new light, 62% of all connects occurred after 2:30pm. If you add the slots before 10:30 together with the after 2:30 slots, a stunning 81% of connects occurred. And you can surely guess what I directed them to start doing immediately!

Others have focused on these issues, but it was interesting to see it validated even without focus.  I will definitely let the data trend out a bit to be sure we normalize for randomness, I realize that one week’s worth of data  is awfully hard to justify as proof of anything. But if we continue to see improvements in the connect rates, we will run a controlled test to confirm the “x:50” strategy in our market and institutionalize it as part of our calling rigor.

And if YOUR phone rings at 10:55am tomorrow, it just might be my team on the phone!