Timing is the crucial in lead-generation programs.
The first challenge is to fulfill inquiries in the shortest time possible, ideally in less than a day from the time the lead is received. Delays will cause the prospect to lose interest, give him a bad impression and consequently waste precious advertising dollars.
The second challenge is to put lead information into the hands of the sales force in the shortest time possible and to provide tracking and follow-up on the quality and disposition of the lead.
It's easy to see that the key to successful lead tactics revolves around shortened fulfillment, deployment, contact, disposition turn-around time and analysis of status. Lead generation traditionally revolves around eight functions: creative, acquisition of leads, database management, fulfillment, sales force distribution, disposition, management reporting and analysis of results.
All lead programs involve strategies built around the acquisition of prospects. Some also involve additional relationship and loyalty building by using multiple contact mailings, incentives and other techniques to turn prospects into customers. Many programs attempt to complete a sale in one promotional effort, and others require several contacts and lead refinements by releasing new messages and fulfillment in several steps. The sales force usually plays a role in the process, and communications and timing are critical in providing proper support.
Over the past few years, newer technology has allowed us to apply fresh ideas to these challenges and reduce the amount of time it takes to process, fulfill, deploy and analyze a lead. Two specific areas have been the use of decision support systems (DSS) and Internet technologies. Both have provided levels of marketing intelligence and faster distribution techniques to be applied to lead programs.
Data acquired from a lead program contains a wealth of information the marketer can use to evaluate the status of a program in a relatively short time. An example of a DSS is one that was developed for a publishing service company. Operational data from its lead program was loaded into relational data structures suitable for high-speed analysis on a specialized client/server platform.
Some of the uses of this DSS are to profile promotional efforts and to identify successful “prospect-to-customer” conversion patterns. This is accomplished by obtaining answers to questions such as the number of promotions, dates and advertising efforts required to close the sale; the profile of the prospect and comparison to customers in terms of geography and demographics; and the number of leads closing by media and promotion.
These answers also can be obtained by using traditional reporting techniques, but this may take days to get answers. When using a DSS, most of the results come back within seconds or minutes, allowing follow-up questions or drilling through the data to obtain additional clarification.
Other results may be obtained from a DSS by using cross-tab, graph, modeling and pattern-recognition software to help spot areas that may be worth further exploration. The possibilities of analysis are based in large part on the variables captured in the initial inquiry or appended separately to the database. Most can be obtained quickly by using data drilling techniques that enhance the analysis and thought process.
Another dynamic changing the world of lead processing is the Internet. It is being used to “close the loop” of communication from receipt of inquiries through the distribution of leads to and from the sales force while providing capabilities for the delivery of reporting and analysis of results. Another client uses the Internet along with toll-free telephone, TV and print advertising for data acquisition and distribution. Inquiries are validated, added to the database and distributed daily to more than 1,500 sales locations via the Internet. Routing tables are used to correctly source the inquiry and send it to the closest location that can close the sale.
After the lead is “worked” by the sales location, a disposition is transmitted back to the main system on the Internet. Analysis is performed using a combination of DSS and regular reporting techniques. Reports and other statistics are distributed to branch and territory management through e-mail, telling the recipient that a report is ready to be sent. Upon receipt of the e-mail, all that is required is a simple click on the hyperlink to set up an efficient Internet/FTP transfer to the branch in spreadsheet or word-processor-ready format. These procedures save time, which is the most significant variable in closing a lead.
Louis E. Krassen is executive vice president of Marketing Communication Systems Inc., Ivyland, PA, a service bureau specializing in lead processing, marketing database, list fulfillment and telemarketing.