Good habits lead to better lead generation

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By streamlining their lead generation processes and establishing best practices, smart marketers can gain a competitive advantage when the downturn ends. Four experts discuss what should be your top priorities.

Kevin Joyce?
CMO,?Market2Lead Inc.?

If you emerge from the down cycle with better-segmented lists, you'll be in a more competitive position. Here are three simple things you can change in your lead management process to segment better:?

First, on your Web forms, start using a picklist-based "job function" field instead of just a job title text field. Limit the picklist to fewer than 20 values. Job function is much more helpful for list segmentation, because if there are 50,000 job titles in your database, 25,000 are probably unique. You still need the title field in your database, but whenever possible present the job function picklist to prospects.?

Next, add a "contact type" field to your database. Possible values could include analyst/press, competitor, customer, employee, partner, prospect and vendor. Ensure that all of your customers are appropriately flagged as customers; you don't want to treat them like prospects. Most sales force automation software will let you configure the system to automatically flag contacts as customers when a business exchange happens. For all new contacts, use "prospect" as the default and configure your marketing automation system to change this as appropriate. Your system might also be able to automatically flag competitors, partners, employees, vendors, and customers based on an e-mail domain lookup table.?

Finally, a "lead status" field will allow you to segment records differently than the more common call disposition field. Possible values for a lead status field include raw, new/open, remarket, marketing qualified, sales accepted and disqualified. This will allow you, for example, to treat a "sales accepted" lead much differently than a "new" lead or a "raw" lead in a campaign.?

A raw lead is one that has had no incoming interaction with your company; perhaps you purchased a list of names and imported them. It is important to distinguish these "raw" leads from "new" leads since any outreach to the former will be a "cold call". Disqualified leads are leads that marketing and sales agree will never again receive any outbound communication because they are unlikely to ever represent an opportunity for the company. Don't delete these because they do contain useful information; simply exclude them from all your segmented lists. ?

THE TAKEAWAY?
Better lead data results in better segmentation and more successful campaigns?

Christopher Petix?
President,?Clash-Media?

As in the past, many companies look at recessionary cycles as an opportunity to streamline internal processes and establish best practices for the end of the downturn. It is important, especially at a time of economic uncertainty, that organizations maximize the size of their prospect pool and take advantage of new markets.?

Companies can achieve this through an online lead generation campaign. This campaign can be further optimized by implementing a transparent lead generation ad serving solution, which gives organizations the ability to accurately match advertisers and Web publishers to generate large volumes of high quality leads. ?

This is a very good habit because a transparent revenue path enables businesses to see exactly where their ads are placed — consequently enabling them to better trouble-shoot sale issues and generate more customer flow. The revenue path can be precisely targeted at any market or geography around the world and dramatically increase the ROI of an online lead generation campaign by being entirely based on the demographics of each Web site's traffic. ?

A revenue path service matches Web publishers with the right traffic to advertisers who have the offers to appeal to that traffic - making it mutually beneficial and highly cost-effective.?

Online lead generation campaigns can prove very beneficial for companies whose marketing managers need to keep a close eye on their budgets while still delivering positive results. With fully opted-in leads that produce far higher conversion rates it is easy for companies to fall into bad habits and not maximize their online lead generation campaigns — this is where businesses' rapid response is vital. Companies need to understand their marketplace and act on a lead straight away, while it's still hot. If not, this can give the competition a window of opportunity to steal your lead.?

A proactive online lead generation campaign provides companies with highly qualified leads vetted to ensure quality and relevance. Where those campaigns use a rapid response approach, they are likely to benefit from considerably higher conversion rates,?as they have contacted the customer while he is still in the mindset of purchasing.

THE TAKEAWAY?
A transparent lead generation ad serving solution makes accurate matches?

Stephan Dietrich?
President,?Neolane Inc.?

For many organizations, the lead management process is often oversimplified — consisting of basic, repetitive lead generation practices that are linear in focus and only cover e-mail and Web channels. As companies strategize about the best approach to prepare for the eventual economic upturn, it's important to re-evaluate traditional lead management processes and make the necessary adaptations to get out ahead of new market dynamics. ?

One of the first pieces of advice we emphasize with customers is: "nurture now." As marketing organizations mature to address more complex business models and changing economic pressures, there must be an unwavering focus on customer retention. This means turning to more sophisticated means of generating leads, then nurturing them in a consistent and coordinated way across communications channels.?

By using technology to help sustain conversations, then capturing interactions with prospects across in-bound and outbound channels including e-mail, direct mail, mobile or Web sites into a single, centralized data mart, marketers can take decisive, personalized action. This could include offering a product discount, limited time offer or cross-sell opportunity. If your company spans a variety of departments, products and languages, automating the lead nurturing process takes on particular importance in terms of building more efficient, consistent and repeatable processes into your lead generation initiatives. ?

Related to the idea of "nurture now" is the importance of helping companies understand how to evolve their approach to lead management to meet more intricate lead capture, scoring, and reporting requirements. During strong economic cycles, many b-to-b marketers could afford to run lots of campaigns to fill their pipeline with large volumes of leads, knowing that a certain percentage would naturally convert. ?

Today, it's a different story. Marketers need to maximize resources and really understand each part of the buying/selling cycle. Marketers are running fewer campaigns that must focus on generating quality leads that have a high probability of converting to sales. As a result, they must learn how to maximize their use of lead management systems to help generate and cultivate those high quality leads, and make every program count. ?

THE TAKEAWAY?
Use technology to retain customers and nurture leads across channels?

Finley Foster?
EVP and GM of business development, American Systems?

In the current downturn, the search is on for new markets. The public sector is often given short shrift during boom times, but more b-to-b companies are pursuing this market for leads due to its significant revenue potential. However, success is not a given and requires that companies listen to and cultivate relationships with government customers. These efforts pay dividends in the form of a business opportunities pipeline that will position companies for revenue growth in good economic times and bad. ?

First, business development staff should identify government customers' true needs and align their company's offerings with those needs. Usually, the latter maps back to specific mandates and compliance issues agencies face, such as in healthcare (digitized records), energy (renewable sources and fuel-efficient vehicles), infrastructure (road and bridge repairs) and e-government (Web 2.0 and enterprise architecture).?

Public sector business development also involves more stakeholders than the commercial sector: program managers and end-users evaluate and recommend solutions, whereas contracting and acquisition officers make the procurement. Consequently, businesses should be mindful of the diverse "pain points" in the decision-making chain, which can make listening to challenges harder. ?

One term that businesses are likely to hear repeatedly is "past performance" — a requirement for bidding on contracts whereby companies demonstrate that they've deployed similar solutions in the past — which is a make-or-break selection criterion in the risk-averse procurement process. When businesses lack past performance examples, they should partner with a well-known player with this experience. Public sector procurements are often awarded to a "prime" contractor that subcontracts to other companies. As a subcontractor, companies can leverage the prime's existing relationships to get their foot in the door.?

Lastly, although agencies solicit vendor solutions through RFPs, these are not the first step in the business development process. Program managers often consult industry whitepapers outlining solutions to the specific challenges agencies face. By publishing a non-promotional, solutions-based whitepaper, companies can position themselves as legitimate vendors before the RFP comes out. ?

THE TAKEAWAY?
Government customers offer high revenue potential, but are challenging to reach?

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