You're a hot new growth company with a great product, service, or technology—and you need customers. Or maybe you're an established company that's attempting to launch new products or open new markets: You've done your research and you've even managed to land a few customers, validating your go-to-market strategy.
Now the stakeholders and investors are clamoring for more deals. You've hired salespeople and they've managed to open up a few new opportunities. But the pipeline doesn't measure up to the company's revenue and budget objectives, and the cost of rapidly expanding your sales staff is prohibitive.
What do you do?
If you're like some companies, you lean on the sales force, ratcheting up the pressure to develop more opportunities, first trying the carrot and then the stick. Productivity falls off, the good salespeople leave, and the pipeline gets stuck in neutral.
Marketing then hires a telemarketing firm, which guarantees "500 new leads." The leads come pouring in and the sales team starts calling. To everyone's dismay, many of the companies contacted are outside your target market. The 500 "leads" are now more like 25.
Deploying a sales force and supporting their selling efforts are processes that should be embraced by the executive and senior leadership. There are too many companies knocking on too few doors for you to believe that brand and product alone will keep a sales pipeline full.
Lead generation is a critical subset of a company's strategic sales and marketing plan. The goal of lead generation is the creation of a sales opportunity. A sales opportunity puts the company's sales representatives in front of prospects and maximizes their use of time.
1. Make lead generation part of your strategic sales and marketing process
Don't undertake a lead program unless it's tightly coupled to your strategic sales process. Begin with a targeted sales plan and visualize it all the way to deal closure.
Conduct a thorough sales audit by bulletproofing your messaging and positioning in the market, then define the goals, build the plan, and execute. If necessary, hire a consultancy to manage the campaign and even participate in high-level calls.
2. Choose lead generation over telemarketing
Telemarketing is a volume-driven outbound calling model that measures success by number of contacts. These contacts are mischaracterized as leads, even though the callers know or learn nothing about the target decision-maker's business.
When the frontline salespeople start calling leads obtained from mass market callers, they quickly find that the data quality is poor. The sales process breaks down when unqualified leads are thrown over to senior salespeople.
3. Establish measurable lead generation goals
Lead-generation goals must be easily quantifiable. As obvious as this seems, companies still tend to embrace goals such as "increased pipeline," "more opportunities," and "more sales activity," which are vague enough to avoid measurement and are ultimately unattainable.
A specific goal such as "two online meetings per week" is easy to grasp, measure, and support. Progress can be tracked using weekly reports and sales meetings with the lead-generation team.
4. Keep your frontline salespeople selling
If the frontline sales representative has been adequately equipped to engage the prospect in a buying discussion, the sale will move forward, dependent on meeting the buyer's requirements and timing. But many companies still believe that their sales professionals should create their own leads, often leading to reduced productivity and lost opportunity.
For illustration, assume a seasoned sales executive makes 50 calls per day for a week. Of the 250 calls, she probably makes contact with about 20 decent contacts, of which about 5 may be in the buying process, if she's lucky. Once she's exhausted her focus five, the top of the sales funnel is empty and she has to start over, possibly creating lost selling opportunities, not to mention the sheer amount of work involved in repeating this process.
5. Put your prospect data to use
Many companies fail to make use of the data they have. A company's prospect database is a continual source of contacts for lead-generation initiatives. A good lead-generation campaign should revisit people who were contacted in the past but were probably too early in their buying cycle. These are contacts who were interested enough to respond. Marketing should continue to develop these contacts with permission-based marketing programs. Handing these contacts off to the sales force before they're moderately developed is premature and will fail to get results.
6. Understand your lead-generation targets
Greenfield is a term that refers to undeveloped land. Used in the lead-generation context, it means that a company has not developed specific markets and target buyers. All that is known is the general area of buyer influence.
A Greenfield campaign requires an agile caller, able to take direction from the initial contact and turn that into a referral. If you don't have an inside lead-generation team, you'll need to recruit experienced salespeople, train them in the company's positioning and products, and coach them through the process.
The goal of lead generation is the creation of more selling opportunities. Therefore, lead generation is a critical subset of a company's sales and marketing strategy, and it must be carefully managed to ensure that the sales team is in front of qualified buyers, selling and closing.