Guest Column: Bolster Leads With Targeted Support

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Business marketers in today's economy face numerous challenges, but with no additional money. Companies are asked to turn on a dime and deliver qualified leads as quickly as possible. How can marketers overcome these challenges?


Progressive business-to-business marketers are adopting a new, more cost-effective approach to lead generation, one that involves a multi-touch, multichannel marketing strategy focused on generating qualified leads. Sophisticated marketers take it further to nurture leads beyond initial acquisition all the way to conversion.


To illustrate, here is a description of a four-step process that one hi-tech company, let's call it NanoData, used to optimize the capture, management and conversion of leads across its sales and marketing groups.


Step 1: Target the right audience. The audience -- not the messaging, creative or medium - drives 40 percent of a marketing program's success. Finding the right audience is critical.


To understand the value of its target audience to NanoData, it helps to know some background. The company sells database technology solutions and targets global midsized and large companies from headquarters to branches. Its sales and marketing teams are particular about reaching the right contacts in the right departments at the right division, especially when multiple decision makers and influencers are involved in buying the product.


NanoData compiled a deep, robust list of customers and prospects through two actions:


· A review of historical wins.


· The leveraging of customer accounts.


First, NanoData examined each winning account. What marketing and sales strategies were used, and what were the results? Who was involved in the decision-making process, and at what stage were these individuals in the buying cycle? Who tends to respond to promotions, and which customers tend to purchase incremental services?


NanoData recognized that answering these questions required a thorough analysis of its customer base. Analyzing this data required diligent capture and standardization of information across all touch points. The solution: consolidate disparate customer data into a single, multilevel view of customers, which formed the foundation for future relationship marketing initiatives.


The software employed supported the standardization and identification of all name, address and geographic data in order to support accurate record matching at the individual, site and headquarters level. The resulting profile included size, job title, needs, industries, recency, value, organizational structure, database software and Web presence.


After developing customer profiles based on historical review, NanoData could leverage contacts to identify "like prospects" for targeting. Using its new profile, NanoData identified appropriate direct mail and e-mail lists. From the database emerged two broad audiences: business executives and IT executives at both mid- and senior-level audiences.


Step 2: Collaborate with sales. Collaborating with sales and getting its support is the second step to creating targeted sales support programs. The trend is to deploy a marketing management system that integrates customer and prospect relationship management with the sales team's activities. An MMS should be assigned laser-like focus to develop relationships with key markets and to capture sales. To collaborate with sales, NanoData ranked customers by their value and required its sales force to chart accounts based on each customer's needs.


Potential and existing customers were sorted into a quadrant mix of need types that described the database savvy of each account: CRM progressive; shackled and pained; marketing followers and low-involvement outsourcers. The needs-based segmentation scheme was combined with a revenue score (current spending and projected spending) and a revenue change score (comparison of year-to-year spend).


A composite score was created, and individuals were grouped into deciles. The goal is to ensure that the sales force recognizes the personality and value of the individuals it deals with and adjusts selling, marketing and communications strategies accordingly.


Step 3: Convert leads with a multi-touch campaign. The third step is to generate qualified leads and convert them to customers. Of course, this is rarely a one-touch process. The buying process is normally time-extended and requires multiple touches, all focused on moving an individual along the continuum from awareness to purchase. Before starting any marketing initiative, it is important to have a cultivation plan that leads prospects down the path to customer conversion.


A cultivation plan is founded on the principle of dialogue marketing - a communication methodology focused on engaging prospects, customers and partners through a sequenced, two-way personalization conversation. Communication is seamlessly conducted across various points of interaction including Web sites, portals, phone calls, e-mail, wireless devices and direct mail. The goal is to establish and maintain loyal, productive relationships.


NanoData maintains 22 simultaneous active dialogue paths ranging from Web inquiries to call center drivers. For example, individuals who registered on NanoData's Web site and downloaded a product demo were tracked. If they met predefined audience segment criteria, a sales representative called within two days after the product demo.


Step 4: Measure marketing and sales performance. The final step lies in accurate measurement and performance. Leveraging the full potential of an MMS requires continuous evaluation and refinement of marketing and sales activities.


Metrics for evaluating success include: measuring lead quality, categorizing lead quality by sales region and individual sales representative, maintaining touch point and response history, and measuring the likelihood of response rate and conversion to sales.


Measuring marketing and sales performance requires a focus on the quality of marketing-driven leads and the effectiveness of sales capture efforts. Timely reports generation supports sellers in better managing and nurturing leads and lets sellers more accurately project sales forecasts based on early insights into campaign performance.


NanoData was able to measure marketing and sales performance by predefining objectives and creating a series of reports designed to provide timely insight into key marketing metrics. As a result of targeting the right audience through consistent acquisition programs, the company grew its database to 6,000 customers and 250,000 prospects.


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