Making Lead Generation Programs Work

Companies that have field sales forces generally want to feed leads to their sales force to help drive the sales effort. There are many important considerations in making lead generation programs work for distributed sales forces.

First, given the shorthand used in specific industries, we need to clear up any misconceptions about the word “lead.” In some businesses, insurance among them, individuals on a list of names who meet basic demographic criteria are often called leads. In others, a name and address become a lead when a mail piece is sent and there is a chance to follow up. Finally, some salespeople do not consider a name and address to be a lead unless the person responded to a mailing and requested information.

We’ll take the middle ground, defining a lead as someone selected to receive direct mail, and the mail has been sent.

Who pays? It generally is unwise for the company to foot the entire bill on behalf of the salesperson – particularly if the salesperson is not an actual employee of the company, such as an independent insurance agent – unless the salesperson qualified for “free home office support” by virtue of hitting certain sales goals.

Salespeople do better at following up leads and trying to work them to a successful conclusion if they have “skin in the game.” Most successful implementations set up varying levels of co-op that reimburse salespeople for lead generation costs based on their performance.

The list. This is an application that requires a list licensed for unlimited use and made available to the salespeople on demand to order leads in relatively small quantities. That makes it a database application.

Usually, consumer and business-to-business lists used for lead generation are compiled rather than vertical lists. This is because such lists are updated regularly, the firms that own and manage them license them regularly, the price is right for the application and because compiled lists generally deliver what the salespeople need in this situation.

It is important that the list compiler be very effective at ensuring the names and addresses are correct and deliverable. It is not enough to NCOALink a file, because roughly one-third of consumers who move do not file a change of address with the postal service. Given that salespeople have high expectations from mail ordered in small quantities, even a few undeliverables can shake the salesperson’s confidence.

What salespeople want. Ask marketing directors who work with a distributed sales force, or sales managers who manage one, and they’ll tell you that their salespeople have very simple needs regarding lead generation. They only want to talk to prospects who are ready to buy and have the means to do so. Fortunately, most of them know that is an unrealistic expectation. But there is some consistency across companies and industries in terms of what they ask for:

· Ordering via a Web site, with an easy user interface.

· Accurate lists.

· A choice of list selects.

· A way to choose geography, typically by ZIP.

· Phone numbers in the prospect records and a call list for follow-up.

· A choice of direct mail package formats and packages.

· Personalization for the salesperson (for example, putting a photo on the letter).

· A small minimum order size, 500 to 1,000 pieces at most.

· The option of paying for the leads with a credit card.

· Don’t let anyone else solicit the selected prospects for a while.

· Fast turnaround. The mail should go out in 10 days at most. A week is better.

· A way to send mail over several drops to control lead flow.

· Some level of co-op reimbursement.

· No upfront setup charges to participate.

· A method of recalling and reordering a past mailing.

· A way to upload a personal list to include in the mailing.

· Suppression of current customers.

Lead handling. In some cases, responses to the mailings come to a central source, the lead is recorded, fulfillment materials are sent if needed and the response information goes to the salesperson for follow-up. In others, the lead goes directly to the salesperson. There are two schools of thought regarding which method is better.

Having responses go directly to the salesperson reinforces the salesperson’s “ownership” of the lead, which (in theory, at least) creates an environment in which personal follow-up is more likely to happen. However, if responses come to a central location, the sponsoring company knows that the prospect responded for measurement purposes and it can follow up with the salesperson for disposition after the fact. This approach works best when the salesperson is an employee rather than an independent agent or distributor, and when a sales force automation system is in place that can handle contact management.

In either case, remember that an inverse relationship exists between how long it takes to contact a prospect who responded and the likelihood that the prospect buys something. Leads are perishable and must be worked quickly to have value. If you can’t turn a lead around and get it to the salesperson within 24 hours, opt to have responses go to the field.

This is by no means everything you need to know to implement a leads program to support your field sales organization, but it is a beginning checklist of some considerations. As you begin developing such a system, a high-order objective would be to partner with a vendor experienced in lead generation.

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