A 2nd Chance at 1st Impressions

You know what they say about first impressions – you only get one chance. Luckily, that may not be the case for marketers. Unfortunately, many marketers don’t know they can get more than one chance to reach prospects.

One-time campaigns to a target prospect list in an effort to gain high levels of response are evidence of this belief. If the campaign is successful, the first impression will be positive, and the relationship will have begun. But with most campaigns yielding paltry response rates, prospects are obviously not impressed, at least not initially.

So how do you improve your effectiveness if the prospects you try to reach snub you and shun your first contact? Is it the message, the medium, the wrong audience?

The first step is to reject the adage. You do have more than one chance to make a first impression. Then you must measure your campaign effectiveness in different terms. Response rates are relevant, but only if they result in revenues.

So, dispel the myth that all prospects are created equal. They have certain attractions, preferences and, perhaps most importantly, top-of-mind issues. If you don’t quite hit the mark the first time and they ignore your attempts to get their attention, it may simply mean that you did not appeal to these attributes. So apply a different strategy – if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

But do so intelligently. Track your success, monitor your progress and optimize your campaigns. Marketing is much more than creating collateral, executing campaigns and monitoring response rates. You must understand your prospects’ position, pain and readiness to buy your products and services before you can appeal to their senses and make a positive impression.

Defining the characteristics that place prospects in a specific position of readiness to buy and interacting with them based on that position can make this assessment.

For example, someone who has responded to your campaign understands the problem your product solves, recognizes the value in solving the problem, has a sense of urgency in doing so and has a budget to proceed. This person is ready to buy and should be talking to a sales representative. A prospect who has not responded, who only vaguely understands what you provide, has yet to identify the need for the solution and has no sense of urgency or budget is clearly not in the same position. But this does not mean that this prospect will never buy from you. Therefore, keeping in contact with this prospect is critical – “try, try again.”

A recent Cahners Research study of business-to-business companies showed that sales representatives failed to follow up on 70 percent of all inquirers. The study also showed that 43 percent of those bought a solution within the next 13 months. If your sales organization is not following up and marketing isn’t either, then from whom will the 43 percent buy? Your competition.

The key to staying in contact is to understand your objective in the ongoing interactions. Once you have segmented your prospects by their readiness to buy, you can target your messages to that position. Think of it as placing prospects in categories: those who need more information about your products and services; those who need to identify with the problem; and those who need confirmation and quantifiable evidence of the value provided by your products and services. Now you know your objective for each category, and you can design campaigns based on those objectives – knowledge transfer, pain identification and return on investment.

As you execute your campaigns to those prospect categories and as responses come in, you are able to identify whether the prospects have evolved to a higher level of readiness or whether they need more information to educate them or prove your value.

These targeted marketing campaigns become more than awareness and lead-generation programs. They are now revenue-seeking missiles. Through this targeted, ongoing interaction with prospects, you will evolve them over time from an inquirer to a revenue opportunity for your sales team. And when you ultimately pass on that lead to sales, the prospects will possess all the attributes of a sales-ready opportunity: They understand your products and services; they have expressed a need for them; they see value in what you provide; and they are ready and willing to sign the check.

There is a hidden postulate in this approach that is important to disclose. Sales should receive only sales-ready opportunities from marketing. Too many marketers specifically design their campaigns to generate awareness and inquiries. They measure the success of those campaigns by the percentage of responses generated and leads passed on to sales. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of those leads you spent your “hard-to-justify” budget dollars on will be contacted by sales, and who knows how many dollars are funneled to your competitors with this approach.

Throwing out the old measurements and applying a more targeted series of campaigns to prospects based on their sales readiness will improve your effectiveness as a marketer. You will no longer be measured by the responses you generate with independent campaigns, but rather by the revenues produced from your program to evolve prospects over time.

In time, sales representatives will become your ally because providing them high-quality, predictable sales-ready opportunities will improve their effectiveness by shortening their sales cycle and improving their close ratios. And while taking this approach may reduce the number of leads you transfer to them, the quality and predictability of the ones you do provide will improve dramatically.

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