"Many old school sales managers and business owners cherish this approach because they have seen it work in the past. That’s the scary thing about it (and why it won’t die). It will work if you absolutely commit to it and do it consistently for long enough. We occasionally take on campaigns like this if there is a good reason (perhaps our client's list is only found in a print format). We call them “brute force campaigns” and make them work but they’re tough sledding.”
I think about lead generation and sales prospecting all the time. I’m always trying to find better, cheaper, faster ways to generate leads for our clients. We look at lots of different things and try to select the best tools and practices and bake them into our campaigns.
I also think about this topic because all businesses need sales and most small and medium sized businesses are subject to the feast/famine paradigm. When they’re busy, the first thing that gets pushed to the side is prospecting for new business. Until business slows down. Then there’s a flurry of sales activity and soon business is back where it should be. For a while. I’m very aware of this so we try to be very disciplined about ensuring we have consistent lead generation, no matter how busy we are. I have some specific thoughts on this topic and decided to write this article on what I consider to be Lead Generation 2.0. But first a short review of the 1.0 iteration.
Lead Generation 1.0
This approach is characterized by the phrase “pound the phone” or "dialing for dollars". It involves making scads of calls to all kinds of companies, which mainly occurs once business has begun to slow. Maybe a little emailing is mixed in but without a plan or consistent execution. Working very hard is emphasized. It's completely "push" selling since all the leads are by definition cold. There is no capability to understand which leads are more interested than others unless the sales team connects with the person live. Finally, there's no ability to spread to other contacts (perhaps the right contact) since people will rarely forward voice mail messages as they forward emails.
Many old school sales managers and business owners cherish this approach because they have seen it work in the past. That’s the scary thing about it (and why it won’t die). It will work if you absolutely commit to it and do it consistently for long enough. We occasionally take on campaign that fall into this category if there is a good reason (perhaps our client's list is only found in a print format). We call them “brute force campaigns” and make them work but they can be tough sledding.
Lead Generation 2.0
Anyone who has ever done any kind of lead generation knows that the most important variable is the list. You can do everything else perfectly but if your list is no good, you are in trouble. If a client or prospect has a list, I always ask to see it (or a sample of it) before I commit to a particular performance level. We’ve learned there are many ways lists can be bad and people who don’t work with lists regularly really don’t have a good grasp of the details. Here are some scary things our clients say about lists.
“We bought a great list 4 years ago but never did anything with it.” (Half the people on the list will be gone)
“We know the data is good because we’ve been emailing it every month for the last 2 years.” (Most everyone who would have bought will have already done so)
“This list is great but it has no contact info or names.” (It’s hard to call them without a phone number or name)
All of the above can be addressed or remedied. The point is that you don’t want to throw good money after bad by using a questionable list. In the big picture, the list is normally towards the lower half of the cost totem pole. So try to get the best list you can buy or build, with the exact right kind of target company, in the right geography, of the right size, selecting the exact title (or as close as you can get) with the direct dial phone and email address. And it should be as fresh as possible.
It’s hard to know where to begin with this one because there are so many choices. There are terrific CRM systems, mass emailing tools, dialers, social media portals. All are available at a variety of price points, some practically free. These are tools to help you reach out to larger numbers of potential prospects and figure out which are more interested than the others. Then you can isolate the more interested group for extra calling and emailing.
If you have these tools, learn how to use them or find someone who can run them for you while you learn. If you are a manager or business owner, make sure your sales team is trained and that they are using what you are providing. I understand it’s a little harder in the beginning to do things the new way but definitely worth it in the long run.
Follow a Proven Process
I love sports and sports analogies because they tend to be visual and easily grasped. Athletes who want to play their game at a high level follow a routine. They try to do the same things that help their performances in the same way consistently, varying only when there seems to be an issue that won’t go away. Then extra effort is applied and things are tweaked. Think David Ortiz taking extra swings in the batting cage to remedy a slump.
You can run your business, your sales team or your marketing department the same way. Some kind of sales and marketing needs to happen consistently every week (every day is even better). On occasion, extra effort can be brought to bear to address a short term opportunity, requirement or deficiency. I’ll outline a simple but effective process for your sales team below.
Load a list into your CRM system (we use Salesforce.com). Begin calling. With anyone you reach live, you can discuss your product or service, striving to ask open ended questions to keep them engaged and closing for a sale or advance at the end. Depending on your business and target, you may reach voice mail 80-90% of the time. Leave a message, telling them you will be sending an email with a link and explaining briefly why they might want to review what you're sending them. For the leads that click on the link to view your information, use your technology to pinpoint and isolate those “warmer” leads. Then call them repeatedly but gently until you reach them live. Repeat this process every week, adding fresh leads and making adjustments as needed to hit your goals. And don’t forget to respond immediately to any email or phone responses that you receive.
I like to use multiple tools when communicating with potential prospects. Obviously the phone has value as does email but why stop there? With so many tools available why not use them? Here are some simple ways to communicate across multiple channels.
First, get some social media accounts if you don't have them. LinkedIn is a good choice if you’re a B2B company. I like Twitter too. Some industries are better served by Facebook. Make sure they look good and are complete. Remember, you will be displaying your personal brand so you want it to be professional and polished. Make sure you have a good quality photo (if you don’t your brand projects “I’m lazy” or “I’m not tech savvy”).
When anyone who is interested in your product or service contacts you in any way, invite them to connect on LinkedIn. Why? First, they are at their highest point of interest and more likely to accept your request. Second, if you have an attractive, well completed profile, it will burnish your identity in the prospect’s mind. Third, as you work through your sales cycle, they will see your activities and posts, further establishing that you’re a “go to” person in your space. Fourth, if the sale gets delayed, postponed or the sales cycle gets extended (or they decide not to move forward now), the prospect will see your posts and update as the months roll onward as a consistent, low key reminder that you are still there.
Try to post periodically. I like to post new original content every week (articles, top 5 lists, other "how to" pieces). If you don't have the time or inclination to write your own articles, you can certainly post links to articles written by others that you think your prospect base would be interested in that relate to your business. In fact, I think it's a good way to get started. Either way, whatever you post can also be posted on your blog.
I think small and medium sized business should have a Blog as part of the online presence. This allows people who are interested in the topics relating to your company to follow your blog and be notified when you post a new article. Anything you post on your blog can also be posted on Social Media. You can also email everyone on your email list whenever you post a new entry, which is a good, low impact way to keep in touch. Track who's reading your articles using your technology and follow-up with any prospects by phone.
"The old saying “begin with the end in mind” has real value in implementing Salesforce. Management wants increased sales. They understand that increases in certain actions, activities and behaviors will yield increases in sales. Salesforce.com was brought in to measure these elements and make them more visible (and therefore manageable) in the form of REPORTS."
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Many companies bring Salesforce.com into their organization with high hopes that they will receive increased sales, productivity and visibility into their company’s sales activities. With the right help and cooperation from management, some of these implementations go very smoothly. Sometimes, the opposite happens. Six months later, the system is not meeting expectations or worse, barely being used at all. In short, the ROI seems marginal.
Why do these other implementations fail? I’ve got news for you. If you have a failed implementation and you’re reading this, it's probably you!
Humor aside, we use Saleforce.com every day, in a high production environment, making thousands of calls and sending thousands of email. We love it. And while it’s not perfect, frankly we could not do our job without it.
Here are the major reasons Salesforce.com implementations fail and how prevent or remedy them.
1. Management does not have clear goals and objectives (other than to increase sales). The reports needed to manage sales activities are not available, either because Saleforce.com is configured in an incomplete way, the process does not match the requirements, needed data is not being captured or needs have simply evolved.
The old saying “begin with the end in mind” has real value in implementing Salesforce. Management wants increased sales. They understand that increases in certain actions, activities and behaviors will yield increases in sales. Salesforce.com was brought in to measure these elements and make them more visible (and therefore manageable) in the form of REPORTS.
Reports are the “end” described above. They contain details or summary information that is very useful in managing the actions, activities and behaviors of the sales team. Reports are derived from data captured (i.e. if a piece of data was not typed or imported into the system at some point, it generally can’t be included in a report (at least not in a simple way)). So all Salesforce.com implementations should begin by deciding what reports will be required by management and the sales team.
I like to sit with the stakeholders and write what's needed on paper, one page for each report. I ask “What will the report be called? What is its purpose? What will the column headings be? Will it contain details or will it be a summary? Will it be grouped or sorted in any way? How often will you run it? What will you want the sales team to do with it once it’s run?” I sketch out each report on paper and that becomes the beginning of the blueprint of the Salesforce.com design.
This can be a difficult step since management often has a hard time pinning down the exact actions, activities and behaviors they are trying to encourage and measure. That being said, the success of the implementation depends on how successful they are at this step.
Here’s a practical example. Maybe management believes that offering free webinars will increase sales since it worked well in the past. So the goal is to run well attended webinars.
How will Salesforce.com be used to promote these webinars to prospects and clients? Will a set of emails be sent, starting a few weeks before the first webinar? Then a prospect list with email addresses will need to be purchased and loaded and a compelling email invitation created.
Will prospects be called and told about the webinars? Then phone numbers will be necessary, a script will need to be created and a person designated to make the calls. To track call results, an activity report should be created and run on a regular basis to test the messaging, to make sure the calls are being made and to analyze the prospect responses. Will the report be grouped by prospect type (or industry)? Then that data will need to be captured or imported for each prospect.
Finally, reports should measure the success of each webinar, so that results can be tabulated. How many people registered and attended are important to measure, as well as what happened to the prospect once the webinar was complete to determine the ROI of running the webinar.
The devil is always in the details with these kinds of things since any one piece missing here can stop the project in its tracks.
Each major element in the “make more sales” process should be analyzed and implemented in a similar fashion. I realize that this can sound like a daunting process but don’t be intimidated. The first major element is always the most challenging. Once it’s complete, views and reports can be copied and edited for new campaigns and email content can tweaked and repurposed.
2. Salesforce.com does not support the way the sales team wants to use it so they view it as an obstacle rather than a tool to help them accomplish their goals.
If sales management and the sales team are expected to use Salesforce.com every day as a primary tool, they need to be involved in the design of the system. It's better to take a staged approach rather than to try to solve all of management's problems and concerns at the time of roll-out. Here's an example. Let's say that management has dictated that it's necessary to get the email address of any prospect entered into the system. So the email address is set up as a required field, which will keep the sales team from saving a record without a value being entered. What will they do? They'll make up email addresses so they can save the record. This is a good goal but situations and circumstances will occur in which the sales team will need to enter a record (perhaps even temporarily) without entering an email address.
3. Lack of administrator level knowledge (mass importing or updating leads, sending mass emails, tracking which emails have been opened, configuring Salesforce.com) causes utilization to get bogged down. Helpdesk support is lacking so questions or problems that come up are not addressed immediately, forcing work-around solutions by the sales team.
Businesses need their implementations of Salesforce.com tweaked all the time. These tweaks are the result of new management requirements, data irregularities, new campaigns and sales team requests. There needs to be a mechanism to address these requirements quickly and painlessly. The same mechanism should also provide a Help Desk capability for the sales team so that questions and problems are addressed immediately. Having an administrator on-site is ideal but really only practical for larger organizations. An administrator can be trained but this can be a long and expensive process and it doesn’t happen overnight.
Salesforce.com offers various levels of support and there are companies that offer support. This will allow the small daily bumps in the road to be addressed quickly and keep Salesforce.com humming along.
4. Management does not stand behind the implementation (meaning get help as needed) or require that the sales team use the tool completely.
If the implementation gets off to a rocky start and the sales team is offering resistance, sometimes management caves and the effort is soon abandoned. They fear that the sales team may lose productivity, get frustrated and perhaps leave the company. The answer is to get the sales team to help drive the use of Salesforce.com rather than be at odds with it. The way to ensure this is to use a “pull” methodology rather than a “push”.
This can accomplished in a number of ways. Creating a contest in which the sales team members who complete their Salesforce.com work in a satisfactory way win a prize is a good one. In these situations, I’ve learned that prizes are better than money for the following reasons. 1) People like gadgets 2) People who would yawn about $39 extra in their paycheck will go to tremendous lengths to win a $39 item in a sales contest. 3) They will tell all of their friends, neighbors and relatives that they won the item in a sales contest. Try this:
Buy a few cool new gadgets that you think your sales team will find desirable (ipod docking stations, AM/FM radios emergency radios, digital cameras, portable LCD TVs, etc.) priced in the $25-$100 price range. The items should have an increasing value up to the limit so some are more desirable than others. Set them somewhere where they are visible to the sales team and the whole office. This is important since seeing them and having the whole office talk about them really stirs up the competitive spirit. Explain that you will be awarding these prizes to any sales team members who complete all the things that you are requiring in Salesforce.com weekly (keeping Opportunities updated, completing prospect records, sending out one mass email, adding 15 new prospects or whatever actions drive sales). Whoever does the best job (should be things that are measurable and objective) chooses 1st, 2nd best chooses second and so on. Try to have enough prizes so everyone has a chance to win something.
Repeat this process as needed, varying the requirements and prizes. For example, August could be “cold call month” (most cold calls wins). October can be “demo” month (most demonstrations wins). Just make sure that ALL of the measurement, tracking and documentation has to be done in Salesforce.com or else it doesn’t count.
5. The sales team receives initial training or attains a beginner level on their own. No additional training is ever given to makes Salesforce.com more self-service.
After a few months of using Salesforce.com effectively, the tendency is to believe that no more training is necessary. This is a common mistake. Salesforce.com has a tremendous depth of features and capabilities. Ongoing, periodic training is important as it makes unused features accessible and keeps the sales team interested in wringing the most from the investment in Salesforce.com. Enhancing Salesforce.com knowledge can also reduce supports costs.
A professional training firm can be employed or the person within the sales team with the best Salesforce.com aptitude can be recruited to prepare a monthly or quarterly lesson. There are many books and online tutorials that can help.
"Successful campaigns are really about execution, making the calls and sending the emails consistently every week and following up on any warm leads."
People have asked me from time to time about our lead generation model. Here it is below:
- Get the best list we can buy or build, with the exact right kind of target company, selecting the exact title (or as close as we can get) with the direct dial phone and email address.
- Have a well-trained, professional agent call and email the prospect list, following a tight, proven process.
- Use technology (Salesforce.com, email tracking systems and telephone dialers*) to enhance agent productivity and track the most interested prospects and isolate them for additional attention and calling.
- Work the warmest leads repeatedly (but gently) to eventually reach them live and schedule a telephone sales appointment.
- Repeat the process monthly, adding fresh leads and making adjustments as needed to hit the campaign goal.
- Successful campaigns are really about execution, making the calls and sending the emails consistently every week and following up on any warm leads.
That's it in a nutshell. It's predictable, works great and has the benefit of generating results immediately.
* Not a predictive dialer like telemarketers use when calling people at home. Those dialers don’t work for us since we must navigate voice mail systems for 99% of our campaigns.
"Sit in the audience and listen to them describe their strategy, what products and services they use and in what direction their enterprise is moving. Learn what trends are happening in their industry and how they plan on responding. It can be amazing. You'll never learn more about what’s happening in an enterprise than you will in these sessions."
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I’ve attended and worked many trade shows over the years, as a business owner, a general manager and as a division manager. Just about every show can be productive if your expectations are in line with reality, you plan a bit in advance and you have a solid approach. Below are some techniques to get the best return on your investment no matter what trade show you attend.
Driving Traffic to Your Booth
Driving traffic to your booth before the show is a simple technique but often under-valued. The idea is that you want maximize the number of prospects you talk to, to create excitement that will draw in other prospects to your booth and give your sales team a chance to close any business that has been “dangling”. Having current happy clients mingling with future clients can also be very productive.
So start by inviting all of your clients, anyone you have ever presented to, leads, prospects, friends of your firm and colleagues in related businesses, to stop by your booth (provide the booth number). Explain that you will have the latest information on your product or service and will be offering some element of your service for free (I prefer this as you will get people who want your service but want a deal, rather than people who just want a free iPad). If your company will be presenting in a break-out session, panel discussion or keynote address, make sure you include that information as well.
If you have or can get last year’s attendee list there’s a good chance most of them will attend again this year. It's the same with exhibitor lists (if they can be prospects for your business). If the list does not have contact information, the names and contact information can be found using an online company database like Data.com or one of the free ones (try your local library). This takes a bit of time and energy but it’s well worth it, since the list can be updated every year and used again and again. When we provide this service, if we don't have a specific name to search for, we try to match on the most appropriate title. Remember to take out competitors and other non-buying names.
Email everyone on your list, providing your booth number, inviting them to stop by and providing information on what you are giving away and your breakout session (time, location, title, speaker). Provide the same information to your social media connections on LinkedIn and Facebook.
When we’re promoting an event for a client, we go a step further. We try to reach individual attendees by phone, requesting that they meet with our client on a specific date and time at the booth. Since trade shows often have uncertain schedules, we ask for the person’s cell phone number so that our client can reach them during the show to firm up the time and location. Those who provide their cell phone number are generally serious prospects.
Making Meals Productive
Trade shows offer terrific networking opportunities. You’ll want to try to meet several prospects at every meal. At the same time, you don’t want to appear overly aggressive or desperate. Remember, anyone can make everyone around them feel uncomfortable. The skill is in meeting people in a smooth and transparent manner.
First, attend all the meals, especially breakfast. Even people who skip meals like to have coffee (or something) so make sure you’re there on time. I like get there early and sit at a table that’s empty. As people approach or sit, I immediately say “Good morning, I’m Jerry” and offer to shake hands in a low key, friendly manner. After they shake I slide them my business card. If they don’t offer one back, I don’t immediately force the issue. There’s no sense in pushing if he or she is not a prospect.
So have a little small talk ready (the weather, sports, current events) that anyone would be able to relate to. It’s always useful to know where someone’s from and what company they work for, so ask them. It’s also a qualifying step but more on that later. Since I’m now having a friendly conversation with the person at my table, more people will usually approach. I’ll briefly interrupt my conversation to say good morning, offer my hand, slide them my card. Usually at least one person will offer their card in return and that can trigger a general exchange of cards, even with the people who were reticent.
When the table is mostly full, in your mind you should start to separate the individuals into categories. Are they a prospect, referrer or an information source?
If they are in the right role, in the right kind company, in the right geography, they are a prospect. You’ll want to engage in a meaningful way with all prospects at the table. Open ended questions are a good way to do this, for example “How are you involved in (product/service) for your company?” You can also ask if they’re familiar with your firm and then take the opportunity to tell them a little. Don’t take too much of their time and try to get them to accept an "advance", for example have them agree to speak by phone in the weeks after the show. Make sure you connect with all prospects (if you can) before moving on to referrers and information sources.
If they are the right kind of company but not the right role or geography, they are a referrer. You’ll want to give them enough information about your offering to help them understand who the best contact would be. Then ask for a name. One of the advantages is they may only know the name of the person in charge of your area of interest so you will be getting a high level contact. You'll also have the name of the referrer to help you get their attention.
If they are not a potential buyer but they are in a related business that also calls on prospects in your space, they could be referrer but more importantly, they can be an information source (this is especially helpful if you are new in the space). They may know the best industry groups, trade shows and have many contacts that could prove useful. As a referrer, they will need to be cultivated over time since they will be protective of their clients. You’ll want to get them to agree to talk after the show to discuss how you might help each other moving forward.
Once you've done what you can with that table, excuse yourself and make your way to another table unobtrusively. Then start the whole process again.
Prospecting Booth to Booth
If your product or service is likely to be purchased by people working in the exhibitor booths (business owners, CEO/President, VP Sales, VP Marketing of small and medium sized businesses), then it makes sense to visit each booth, dropping a card off and taking the card of the potential buyer. Some of them will contact you after the show but that's fine. Be sensitive to the fact that they are trying to make sales for their own company so don't tie them up talking about your offerings when their booth is busy. During a lull, it's fine to take a moment to introduce yourself and tell them you'll follow up after the show.
Break out sessions are terrific for meeting top executives in large enterprises. They're good for meeting people in other top roles too. Here’s how to go about it.
When you get to a trade show, the first thing you should do is sit down with the show program and a pen. Review all of the break-out sessions, panel discussions, seminars and keynote addresses looking for speakers who are potential buyers of your products or services. These could be people who are the CIO, VP HR, VP Marketing or CFO in companies like Fidelity, Bank of America or Exxon (prospects who have tremendous authority but are virtually inaccessible).
Go to their session. Sit in the audience and listen to them describe their strategy, what products and services they use and in what direction their enterprise is moving. Learn what trends are happening in their industry and how they plan on responding. It can be amazing. You'll never learn more about what’s happening in an enterprise than you will in these sessions.
At the end of the session, when everyone else is walking to the rear, walk to the front of the room. The speaker will be in a good mood since their presentation is finished and presumably went well. Introduce yourself and tell them that you really enjoyed their presentation. Hand them your card and ask if they would mind sending you a copy of the slides. Often they’ll look at your card and ask what you do, giving you the opportunity to engage for a moment. If they don’t offer a card, politely ask them for one so that you can email them about the presentation. If necessary, jot down their email address on the back of one of your cards. After the show, wait a week then email them, restating that you enjoyed their presentation and asking for a copy of the slides. Once you have them, wait another 3 weeks and email them asking if they would be interested in taking a closer look at your products and services. Be prepared to receive a referral since the the evaluation may actually begin at a lower level in the organization. With the top executive's endorsement, you should be able to parlay that into a meeting.
After the Show
There a few schools of thought on the best way to handle post show follow-up. Cherry picking the top handful of prospects and putting the rest in a drawer are not among them. But that's what many companies do. So, to quote a good friend of mine, "Do something, even if it's wrong!" This is another way of saying doing something is better than doing nothing, even if it's not perfect. So do something!
The challenge is that within 4-5 days of the end of the show, everyone who has a plan for following up will do so. All at once. The prospects will be inundated and it will be difficult to get their attention. So ideally, try to come up with a way to get the leads into your system during the show. That way you can start contacting them via email immediately, while they're still at the show. If you are getting the leads electronically, it's pretty simple but there are other ways. We use a little Cardscan device to scan business cards as we get them. This will give you a jump of the rest of the exhibitors.
You can also use social media to connect with prospects and that has the benefit of being almost immediate. For example, if you meet someone and exchange cards, using a smartphone, as you walk away, you can invite them to connect using LinkedIn.
Finally, any leads collected need to be contacted at least 6-12 times over the next year, in a sort of email drip marketing campaign. When they start clicking through your links and completing forms on your website requesting more information, they're ready to be contacted by your sales team.
We are frequently asked by our clients to help drive traffic to their trade show booths. The key is to set client and top prospect meetings in advance if at all possible. Here are some useful tips.