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Reverse engineering is the process of working back to a solution from an end result. In the era of result-oriented marketing (how did we ever afford to do it differently?), reverse engineering can help marketers refocus their efforts and resources to ensure marketing delivers results that are in line with business goals.

Let's take a simple scenario.

It's time for your quarterly board meeting. This time, you're going in with a spring in your step. Last quarter, you really nailed it with your marketing programs. You did a webinar and a whitepaper promotion, and you had your biggest tradeshow of the year. Together, these programs generated over 1,000 leads for your sales force. You did your job. Now it's up to sales to follow up on these leads and convert them into real opportunities.

You present your numbers and sit down with a winning smile on your face. Next is the VP of Sales. After presenting last quarter's results (they didn't quite make the numbers, but "it was a good quarter"), she talks about next quarter. The pipeline is dry, she says. There are not enough marketing leads. You hold yourself not to bolt out of your seat, but you politely ask what about the 1,000+ leads you just passed to sales. These are 1,000 names, she says, but they are not good leads.

You've heard this before. Who is right?

The biggest problem is that nobody knows. The conventional process of sifting through thousands of leads and trying to figure out which are the good ones is time-consuming and expensive, and in most cases there is no follow-through. Much of your marketing effort goes to waste, but you don't know why.

Here is how you can do it differently with reverse-engineered marketing.

Stage One: Figure Out WHO Sales Wants to Talk to

Before you spend a single dollar on outbound marketing, sit down with sales and clearly define who sales is trying to reach.

Agree on the target

Define the industries, company size, and any other characteristics that describe the companies your sales people are calling on. For them, these will be the only leads worth pursuing. Then get down to the individuals. Who are the decision makers, influencers, and gatekeepers they want to speak with? Write down these definitions and hang them on your office wall. From here on, everything you do will be focused on these targets.

Get the names of these companies

Most enterprise software companies have several thousands companies in their target market (how many companies are in the Global 2000?), so getting the names of these companies is a manageable task. Still, most companies don't bother doing it. If the task seems too daunting to begin with, break it down into smaller chunks—by vertical, geography, solution—whatever makes sense.

Analyze your target market coverage

Run your contact database against the list you have created. What percentage of the target market is currently there? How many more do you need to reach? Do the same for Individuals. Do you have the type of contacts your salespeople are looking for?

Establish metrics

The end result of this analysis should be a measurement of coverage: "we have contacts at X% of the companies we are after, and Y% of them are at positions of interest to us."

From this point on, marketing has two goals:

  1. Move the dial on these numbers to increase target market coverage.

  2. Generate repeat responses from target individuals at the target companies to create multiple opportunities for sales dialogue.

This is not a one-time analysis. These are numbers that you need to always have on your dashboard. Many executives are now adding demand generation metrics to their dashboards, so having agreed-upon metrics is critical to establishing a common language for the boardroom conversation.

Stage Two: Figure Out HOW to Reach Them

Now that you know who you're after, you need to figure out how to contact them and how to get them to respond to your message.

Get additional contact information

There is no easy or cheap way to add new target contacts to your list. However, if you have to spend the money, at least you're better off now that you know exactly what you're looking for. You can buy lists of names that will match the specific companies and titles you are after. One way or another, you'll need to put someone on the phone to use your existing contacts within an organization to get these additional contacts you need to reach.

Look at past results

Go back to your database and see what those who fit your target profile responded to. What marketing vehicles seem to generate better response from your target prospects? Do certain messages seem to resonate better for specific segments?

Ask them what they care about

At times, we get so engrossed in analyzing our campaign data that we forget there is another way to find out how to get across to the people we are trying to reach: Just ask them. Put together a short survey; ask them what their burning issues are and how they prefer to learn more about them. Have someone outside the company call them up; you'd be surprised how many people will give you a piece of their mind if you ask for it in a non-sales situation.

Stage Three: Execute and Measure

Get started!

With all this information in hand, you are ready to start creating the content, messages, and campaigns that are targeted at your desired audience. I know I make it sound simpler than it is. You can have a good starting point, but don't expect to have all the answers up front. You cannot wait for that. Just start executing to the best of your knowledge, then continue to test what works best and experiment with different ways to reach your target audience.

Measure against your goals

As you start generating leads, make sure you measure against the goals you have defined up front:

  1. Target-market response: how many TARGET MARKET responses have been generated?

  2. Target-market coverage: how many NEW target market leads have responded?

As long as you keep hitting these goals, you are generating opportunities for your sales force to start a dialogue with the people they want to talk to, and you are helping them move forward dialogues that are already in place. And as long as you keep doing this, chances are your next board meeting is going to go much better.

Some Additional Practical Details

As leads come in, you will need to figure out whether they fit your target market profile. The following chart describes a process you can use for that purpose.

Expecting sales to be responsible for the process is risky. I strongly recommend that you make this process part of marketing's role in generating leads BEFORE they are passed to sales.

So put your gears in reverse, and get your engines going!

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Eran Livneh ( is president of MarketCapture (, which provides results-based marketing services to B2B software companies. He also publishes the MarketCapture blog.