Small.Business.Marketing

New marketing demystified for Indian SMEs

Archive for the tag “b2b”

How to generate productive sales leads

.. a unique solution to a universal problem for startups

When we set out to build Salesgenie CRM++, we were actually onto our second inspiration.

We had set out to build a different product/ service and as we were creating the specs, we started thinking of marketing it. The challenges and the process of overcoming those.

Lead generation was key. We were confident of closing business if we knew who to talk to, but, not on a large scale, we did not.

So, we abandoned the idea, well, not quite. It is still there and probably some day we will give it a go. But, we got together to crack what we consider fundamental to any startup success.

1. What are sales leads?

2. How do you generate them?

…and
3. How do you prioritize on the ones to follow up so that you maximize the returns on your efforts and time spent?

It was clear to us that visiting cards were poor leads. Most people we called hung up on us. If the folks who had willingly passed on their calling cards on us could be so unreceptive, what would be fate of phone numbers obtained from purchased mailing/ phone lists? We knew the answer, and did not even bother.

Think of your own situation as a buyer. Other than daily essentials, how many times and how many minutes (not even hours) do you spend in a year in actively purchasing something (figuring out that you need something, figuring out what you need, researching the market, talking to others, comparing alternatives, technologies and prices and so on)?

Very few times, in a full year or even years, on any single class of product. And, when you are not buying, you could not be bothered.

When we think as marketers though, we think we and our product is all our customers think about. All the time. Let’s get real. They don’t. Unless you are in the business of selling pipeline valves. And, then, it may not be good news, if your product is always in his mind!

In a B2B product category, you want the customer to keep you in mind when they are actively considering a purchase.

The challenge is to stay engaged in the long interim period between two purchases.

Another challenge,  is to court a first time purchaser through the entire pre-sales consideration period.

And, consider that the customers have little time to spare when they are not ready to buy.

With our CRM product, we take a crack at the first problem: how to stay engaged with your installed base, nurture them, read their signals before your competition does. Which is why, we have a automatic lead scoring algorithm, that identifies a lead based on what you, an experienced sales manager would have called a lead, when the evidence piles up, in terms of customer actions, that the customer is actively seeking a solution.

Often, these are subterranean, seemingly disconnected events that point to an inquiry on its way. Salesgenie logs these signals, connects them up using our unique and smart algorithm, and alerts you to the possibility of a lead and the contacts to follow up to bring that lead to fruition. This leaves your salesmen free to sell, not worry about which are the contacts he must chase to create or nurture an opportunity. We think, this is the single biggest contribution that Salesgenie CRM++ makes today among all the other competing products in its class. And, for a small business, unable to invest in large-scale “lead qualification” processes to separate the wheat from the chaff, this is a boon.

As for the second problem? How to engage with a first time buyer?

Watch this space!

PS:

If you have a startup, you will run into brand-building soooner or later. Here’s a nice post, to get you started.

Functionality for a Marketing and Sales Management system

.. a comprehensive feature-set minus the fluff for B2B market

It is important to nail the lie at the outset that more information makes for better decision making or, by definition a better management of your sales and marketing operations. Information is of no use, unless it is current and easily actionable. Your ability to take action on information or insight is not trivial. If as a Small or even Medium sized enterprise, you do not have the resources (people, money, collaterals..) to pursue opportunities that are surfaced from customer data, then what good is that data to you?

I set out to define the marketing to sales continuum for small to medium companies and this is what I came up with.

Sales cycle mapped to communication strategy and media

Sales cycle mapped to communication strategy and media

Notice the megaphone mnemonics; one at the top left hand corner and the other at the top of the box called “existing installed base”. The one on top left corner signifies broad “outreach” campaigns, mostly limited to mass media like advertising (on web as well as paper), tradeshows and social media initiatives. The aim at this stage is to get the uninterested folks interested enough to permit one to one engagement. The megaphone at the top of the “existing installed base” signifies the enormous power of using loyal customer testimony to get the dis-interested or the fence-sitters make up their minds in our favour.

The SME segment of the B2B market will need a system that not only logs each stage of the sales cycle and its “participants” (the “contacts” working in various capacities for customer “accounts”) but, also makes possible the delivery of many of the communication activities and reporting and analytics from the same integrated platform. Such systems exist; primarily delivered over SAAS. But, while not as expensive or complex as many of the traditional desktop versions deployed within large enterprises; these still end up costing a lot more than what most SMEs are expecting to pay.

Simplicity of use (minus the large workflows that are designed into many available systems today), affordability (certainly much less than Salesforce.com), comprehensive feature set and ease of configuration are what SMEs are looking to get. Salesgenie CRM++

Pitfalls in current sales lead logging methods

.. and a solution

There are essentially 2 ways most CRM systems currently recognize a “Lead”.

New contacts as leads: Many systems simply log any new contact name with address as a lead. The contact name may have been sourced from any place: web-form, trade-show attendant, purchased list, telephone directory; no matter. They are all “lead”s and are fed to the top of the funnel for further action by sales or marketing.
The benefit of this apprach is it has the widest reach; because it casts the net really wide. For a new company, this closely matches the business process as well. Very few existing customers/ contacts; so, any which way to expand the circle is useful.
The problem of this approach is that it can overwhelm your lead-processing system by putting the onus of swiftly “qualifying” all these contacts onto the sales or marketing. And since the quality of the input (the list of contacts) is never good, leading to a frustration with the qualification process.

Contacts with tasks as leads: An improvement on the above system is logging contacts with specific actionable requests as leads. In this way,  a contact who has asked for a quote or a demo or a salesman’s visit or even attended a seminar or clicked on a link in a e-mailer is tagged as a lead.
The benefit of this approach is that this makes available for qualification a smaller list of contacts to start with. Also, the contacts have qualified themselves somewhat by professing a level of interest. This is as useful for a new company as an established one, with existing list of clients.
The problem with this approach is that it still leaves the bulk of qualification tasks open. And, there is still no systematic way to prioritize which leads need attention ahead of others.

Over-riding issue with “metrics”: Marketing gets measured by leads that they manage to “create” while sales is measured by revenue. For a detailed discussion read my previous posts, here and here. So, even under the second scenario above, marketing has an incentive to “stuff” the funnel with contacts as leads who have shown even the slightest desire to engage with us. Unless there is a clear understanding of the minimum state of qualification at which the lead gets passed on to sales, such leads will continue to be held in contempt by the sales function.

In B2B scenarios, we need to recognize that decisions are normally collectively undertaken. Also, by attaching a lead to a contact, we are re-stating the obvious: this contact can potentially give us business. Well, that’s why he was in your contact list to start with, isn’t it?
A lead, thus:
1. Is not a contact but is associated with one or  more contacts in the same customer account.
2. Needs to be nurtured and progressed into a deal.
3. Needs to be jointly “owned” and seen as having resulted from sales and marketing efforts in order  to have credibility.
4. Needs association with a product or service that we can sell into that account.
5. Needs to result from activities performed by the contacts in an account – as logged in the system and sales and marketing activities targeting those contacts related to the same class of products and services.
I discussed this in more depth in my post called A better way to recognize “leads” in CRM systems.

What do you think? Is a shift of focus from contacts to their activities warranted? Do share if you spot challenges in either the thought or its practical implementation.

Social media mesh with conventional CRM- Part 2

Slave to metrics? Is that bad?
As I was sitting down to write this post, my new Twitter friend, @poojalapasia sent me this link on Twitter CEOs Are Social Media Slackers. This, of course, comes as no surprise. Most big-company CEOs tend to be conservative and deeply suspicious of social media. Even if they are convinced of the disruptive potential of Social Media, they may not be so convinced of its ability to help consolidate an existing market position.
But, if you are running a small to medium enterprise which sells to other businesses and you need to establish a connect and build and nurture those connects with empoyees of other enterprises to prosper, social media will help a lot more than older means of communication.
The trouble is that while marcom metrics have remained Web 1.0 (very transactional), social media is all web 2.0. The simplest way to understand the difference is that Web 1.0 is largely quantitative; how many visitors, how many clicks and so on. Social media is more “qualitative”. It is not so much how many people follow you on Twtter any more (that matters too!) but more like, how well do they fit the target profile, the quality of the conversation and finally is your audience going to actively spread the word about you.
Do you see ads on Facebook?
I have seen lots of discussions and articles lately where this question gets asked. But, that is a wrong question which is being asked because of the inability of media houses to stop looking at every piece of real estate as a bill-board. Social media is about engagement over a long time; it is not about transactions. I may not see ads, but I am becoming a fan of something or other everyday, I am adding applications and games to my profile and I am joining various groups and forums.
If the only possibility you see in Facebook is a banner ad, then you really need a rethink.
How many leads did you get or “close” from Linkedin?
Let me answer this by saying, even though, it is possible to mark the source of a lead as Linkedin (or FB or Twitter), the real value of social networking sites is not the number of leads that you get through them, but the credibility that you build on them so that your messages (or messengers!) find a willing recipient.
Is there a meeting point?
My take is that CRM should welcome social media as social media should welcome CRM. CRM can include a lot of the more qualitative parameters from social media engagements with customers. Like trending topics in Twitter can help drive discussions in a forum which can be hosted on your website. You have to drive engagement with your key prospects or advocates on these fora to progress the sales cycle.
Where is this useful? One clear area where this can work is funneling the “backflow” leads (leads supplied by marketing, rejected by sales as premature) which need to be put into a nurturing system. Forums and blogs which have a lively participation, even if not all of it complimentary, finally convince prospects a lot more about the “support system” than individual actions from company people will.
There are metrics, and there are metrics..
I guess, what I am trying to get at is that it is wrong to apply old style transactional metrics to Social Media.
But, even without the metrics, I am convinced that social media is a great new way and effective way of connecting with people that matter and that include customers. Because it mirrors the way we actually connect to people in real life.

Acknowledgements:
1. Prem K Aparanji for pointing to this great resource on CRM on the web. Great discussion underway, right now, over a period of 30 days on social media. Certainly the place to visit if you want more in-depth discussions on social media.

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