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Are Your Sales Reps Butchering Early Stage Leads?

swedish-chefMany lead-to-revenue practitioners are struggling to find the right process to manage the inbound leads (well, just traffic really) that their content marketing and thought leadership initiatives are generating.

The most commonly mentioned challenge is whether or not to pass these leads to inside sales (or business development reps) to sort out the “hot leads” from the nurturing candidates. I generally recommend against using traditional inside sales reps for this because they can’t stop themselves from making late-stage offers like meetings, demos, and free trials to pre-emergent leads. These offers not only alienate buyers, they frustrate the inside sales rep, who then complains about lead quality. Here’s a wonderful example that dropped into my inbox earlier this year.

From: Joe “BizDev” Rep
Date: Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 2:20 PM
To: “Wizdo, Lori”  

Subject: Meeting Next Week

Lori, hi!

I was excited to see that you have signed up (or simply filled out a form) to review some of our storytelling and customer conversation marketing content. I wanted to reach out to you personally to learn if our concepts inspired more questions, and I’d greatly enjoy a dialogue about the things that matter most to you.

When would be a good time to talk next week?

To your best success,

Joe

Like most professionals, I usually just delete these emails. Sometimes, if I have a moment, I respond — generally to let the rep know that I’m not a prospect. But I can’t always resist making a remark on some good or bad practice they’ve demonstrated.

From: Wizdo, Lori
To: From: Joe “BizDev” Rep

Date: Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 2:22 PM
Subject: Re: Meeting Next Week

Joe, I am not a prospect for your company.  If I were though, I would wonder why you think I would respond positively to a request for a meeting next week.  As you noted, I simply filled out a form.

Regards,

Lori Wizdo

VP, Principal Analyst, Forrester Research, Inc
My Blog
 |My Tweets My Research The L2R Playbook | LinkedIn Profile 

Perhaps my response was a little terse. I had meant to congratulate him on the other content of his email, which was helpful and concierge-like, despite the off-putting subject line. But, hey, I had three minutes before my next phone call — just enough time to grab a cup of coffee — and it’s not my job to coach him.

Well, apparently it isn’t anyone’s job to coach him, because this is how he responded to me.

From: Joe “BizDev” Rep
Date: Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 2:40 PM
Subject: RE: Meeting Next Week
To: “Wizdo, Lori”  

Lori, I detect that you are not happy that I reached out to you. I am sorry if this caused you frustration. As a marketing professional, I’m sure you understand that lead generation is a huge function of the web.  Most marketers are genuinely interested in learning more and feel confident determining and communicating whether or not they would like to continue and are grateful for appointments to help them plan their knowledge growth. Also, many marketers appreciate the request for a meeting to help them learn more about the sales and marketing process. I encourage you to reach out to your cohorts such as Sangita Patel, Senior Vice President of sales at Forrester, to learn how marketing and sales efforts are coordinated at Forrester and how those requests for meetings are part of building revenues to pay for vital salaries, such as, those required Marketing Analysts. 😉

Have a great weekend,

Joe

Teachable Moment

I think what we have here is a “teachable moment.” Let’s tease this apart into some best practice observations. My advice:

  • No “human” follow-up until you have at least a marketing qualified lead. The only action I had ever taken with regard to this vendor is to attempt to download one piece of content via a landing page I visited from a bit.ly link. I had never visited their website before. I didn’t visit any additional pages on this visit. All information in the download form except my email address and company name was rubbish data (e.g. mandatory phone # field was “999 999 9999”). I didn’t even open the link to the white paper that was emailed to me. In short, I didn’t look anything like a marketing-qualified lead. Unless you are desperate for leads — which is a harsh reality you might want to hide from your prospects anyway.
  • Provide tools reps can use to follow up. If it were my marketing shop, I’d have a practice of creating a follow-up strategy (consisting of at least an email and a short introductory script) along with every landing page. Why? You want the follow-up actions to reinforce the messages and offers that triggered the original download behavior.
  • Make sure that sales understands your lead gen strategy. Joe’s email mentioned “some of our storytelling and customer conversation marketing content.” The content that I attempted to download had an edgy title about sales and marketing alignment (ironic, isn’t it?). It’s up to you to make sure your reps understand your thought leadership strategy, are prepared to have a conversation about those topics, and are trained to convert interest into intent.
  • Encourage reps to do some rudimentary research before responding. There’s a lot of info in my signature line — including a link to my LinkedIn profile. Had Joe bothered to click on any of the links I provided, he would have learned that I lead the lead-to-revenue research stream at Forrester. And perhaps he would have used that to put a bit more nuance into this statement: “As a marketing professional, I’m sure you understand that lead generation is a huge function of the web.
  • Create a culture that respects customers. I shouldn’t even have to say that. But this email response started off being patronizing and descended in a few sentences to a dismissive insult: “requests for meetings are part of building revenues to pay for vital salaries, such as, those required Marketing Analysts.” So, apparently, it does need to be said.

What B2B Buyers Really Want

The data is very clear that B2B buyers favor do-it-yourself options for researching products and services. By a factor of three to one, B2B buyers say that gathering information online on their own is superior to interacting with a sales representative. And 59% of B2B buyers explicitly indicate that they do not want to interact with a sales representative as their primary source of research. (Source: Forrester/Internet Retailer Q1 2015 US B2B Buyer Channel Preferences Online Survey.) Generally, these meta trends are attributed to the more digitally engaged buyer. But my digital tête-à-tête with Joe made me wonder if these trends are being exacerbated by inept sales engagement.

The human channel is the most expensive — and the most potentially effective — channel. Use it well.

Lori Wizdo is a principal analyst serving B2B marketing professionals at Forrester Research. Read all Forrester blogs here.

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