Congratulations! The lead machine is up and running. Your marketing programs are bringing in new prospects and you're starting to have an impact on the revenue line. You have a bigger budget this quarter, and more target audiences to add to your list. The stakes just got higher.

With untested audiences, programs, and media, you're adding new variables to the mix. There's no guarantee the increased spend will have a proportional increase in leads. How can you avoid being a victim of your own success?

Case Study: Too Many Variables, Too Little Time

A software company that sold directly to IT managers believed it had a successful formula for consistently generating leads: email marketing and whitepaper offers. The formula stopped working when it made CIOs its new target audience. The company used new email lists and developed whitepapers and webcasts for the CIO audience.

In the first two weeks of the CIO program, response rates had dropped 80%, and lead flow had slowed to a trickle. By week three, the VP of Sales lobbied to stop the CIO marketing campaign altogether.

What went wrong?

Although the CIO campaign looked like a subtle variation of the successful IT manager programs, it was a drastic change. Almost every aspect was different: the audience, the offer, and the media. How could the company possibly expect the same outcome? Three weeks was not enough time to generate awareness with the new audience, let alone get them to raise their hands.

How did the marketing team reset expectations, and keep the leads flowing?

It reallocated 90% of its marketing programs budget to continue marketing to IT managers with proven media and incentives. The remaining 10% was spent on awareness and educational offers for the CIO audience. To offset the slight reduction in lead flow, salespeople increased their number of outbound calls.

Venturing into new markets always carries some risk, but expecting the same programs to work again and again can be equally risky. How can you test new ideas without putting your reputation on the line?

1. Hedge your bets: Keep proven programs in your portfolio

Diversification works both for stock portfolios and for marketing budgets. Don't abandon your strongest-performing programs just because you're targeting a new audience. Use some of your new budget to test new audiences, offers, and media vehicles, but reserve the rest to augment lead flow with consistent performers.

2. Learn from others: Get input from your new market

Create an informal focus group of your target audience to test new ideas. If you're reaching out to CIOs, start by asking your company CIO for input. Start building relationships with publications in your new market by soliciting their input on which campaigns have (and haven't) engaged their audience. Use A-B tests for new messaging, copy, and graphics, not just media and incentives.

3. Be patient: Take the time to court a new prospect

Don't expect new audiences to respond immediately. Offer educational content first, before employing hard offers such as free trials and purchase discounts. Give each program at least six weeks (or three impressions, whichever is greater) to get traction before passing judgment.

4. Make market development a team effort: Set expectations and share successes

Marketing and Sales share both the risk and the reward of market development. Involve sales managers in defining success criteria for engaging new audiences early in the buying cycle (e.g., whitepaper downloads, information requests, and product demonstrations). Make new program launches an "event" with pizza or ice cream. Recognize the "trailblazers" who secure the first appointment, generate the most qualified leads, or make the first sale.

5. Track the "lead lab" separately from the lead machine

Don't let "lab results" distort the overall performance of the lead machine or the sales machine. Assign a new category for test programs within your CRM system, and report results separately. Set up a new campaign whenever you make a change to isolate and track new variables. Publicize the fact that test programs inevitably drive overall market share and revenue growth—beyond this month's numbers.

* * *

The road to opportunity doesn't come with a map. But by managing risk and measuring your progress, you'll feel comfortable venturing into new territory.

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Su Doyle is a go-to-market strategist who has served as CMO and GM for high-tech and media companies. She writes on marketing and product strategy at Email her at