Lead-to-Sales Conversion in B2B Transactions

Many of the discussions that Dick, Tom and I have with clients and potential clients center on the lead generation processes and the conversion of  leads to sales.  Most companies have a combination of “older” programs (trade shows, direct mail, advertising, etc.) and  “new” programs (email, blogging, webinars, SEO, etc.) that generate leads.  Whether old or new the recurring question is some form of “how do I do a better job of converting a lead to a sale?”

Under the “older” programs, all leads are turned over to sales, or “qualified” leads that went through some screening process, are turned over to sales.  Once in the salesperson’s hands, it was up to him or her to follow up, understand the potential customer’s pain points and close the sale.

The emergence of the “new” programs and the rise of Customer Relations Management tools and programs add complexity to this process.  Now leads are followed and nurtured until a certain criteria is met, i.e., 3 visits to the web site, 4 downloads of white papers, 2 or more people from the same company looking at pricing, etc.  Then the lead is turned over to sales, who files reports on his contacts, both with the lead and other people in the company, ranking the probability of a sale.  The highest probability are recorded, ranked and followed, with additional resources, i.e., sales management, executive management, being called in at the appropriate time to close the sale.

The CRM tool makers will tell you that their following and nurturing process is more successful than the older process.  Yet we see many companies who employ the older process who are doing well.

Stepping back and looking at the conversion process from a high level, several aspects are clear:

  • Today’s buyer has much more information about the vendor, his products and competitors than he has had in the past.
  • While price is always important, other elements have significant influence in the buying decision, i.e. pre and post sale service, reference accounts, specific features that match the buyer’s needs, etc.  Conveying these differences to the buyer is difficult.
  • Most B2B buying decisions are made by multiple people or a committee.  Frequently a lead that is generated is by a heavy influencer, not a decision maker.
  • Reaching all members of the decision making team through digital marketing is problematic.
  • Finer customer segmentation is required today to achieve continuing growth.

Our 2011 recommendations for lead conversions mix the old and new processes.

  1. Make sure that your web site is current and that you are close to the top via SEO.
  2. Understand that the buying cycle will be shorter, and therefore transfer leads to the sales force as soon as it appears to be qualified.
  3. Make sure the sales force is trained and/or that there are sufficient SE resources to augment the selling process.
  4. Use multiple channels to reach your customers.
  5. Use contact information developed by the sales forces to expand the digital process, but don’t depend upon it to impact the sale.
  6. Obtain sales and customer feedback via social media.
  7. Focus on all high probability sales that fall within a 90 day window.

In short, use the new tools to improve processes that are already in place.

What are your experiences?  Do you think that digital marketing and in-house telesales can take the place of field sales people?

RHM   1/7/2011

1 comment to Lead-to-Sales Conversion in B2B Transactions

  • Tom Frangos

    Clearly, whether the older or newer marketing processes are more effective is a function of the product or service being offered. If the product is tangible, there’s nothing like seeing and touching it. Outside salespeople are essential in this case and “older” processes win the day.

    In construction, our commercial customers want references of similar jobs they can call and often see some completed projects. This will likely never change. However, and this is by impression only, less tangible products or services likely can do without the personal “touch and feel” aspects of the follow-up and sale.

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