Most of you know that I’m a recovering sales rep turned marketer, but the more I learn about good marketing, the more I find myself thinking: I wish I knew this stuff when I was selling. Since I wish I knew more about marketing when I was selling, and I think marketers can learn a lot from sales reps, I wanted to share an idea with you here.  If you’re in a business-to-business (B2B) or other lead-gen based sales and/or marketing role, this bud post is for you.

B2B Sales - Lead Soup

Too many small and medium sized businesses share a common word to describe their business growth strategy: random. Their leads are random, their quotes are random, and—big surprise—their sales are random. I spent a little over 3 years in B2B sales, and most of the time I felt like I was swimming through a random sea of leads, and I couldn’t really predict when a big sale was going to come to help me hit my goals each month. I was swimming in lead soup.

In the image above, the different colored dots represent people who are in very different places in the sales cycle. Yet we seem to approach them all in the same way: close the sale. In looking at all those dots, it’s no wonder that my sales felt random. The engaged person is ready to hear that sales pitch, but it’s important for sales rep’s to learn to ask questions to figure out what the person on the other end needs to hear.

The “sale” pitch is not what the grey, red, or orange leads need to hear, and trying to close them will be a frustrating waste of your time. These people will likely appreciate useful information about your industry, tips and tools on how to make their life easier/better/more efficient, etc. They may want to know background information about your company (but don’t flatter yourself – be brief), or as they become more interested they may want to know about your pricing so they can set budgets for next year. Either way – if you bring the same pitch to all of these different people you’re going to have a tough time navigating through lead soup.

So how do you ditch the random lead soup strategy? It’s much easier said than done…the answer is the funnel. Marketing nerds talk about it all the time, and a jerk like me can spout off and put up a great visual (or in my case, piss-poor “3D” PowerPoint art), and make it seem easy. But it’s not easy. If it was, you wouldn’t be swimming in lead soup. Here are a few very (very) basic steps you can take to meet the needs of these people, and give them the right message at the right time.

Awareness:

Crawl before you walk. Your future customers need to hear your brand name before they’re going to buy from you. This is probably the easiest problem to solve, as long as there is sufficient budget to “get your name out there.” An awareness campaign might include:

  • TV/Radio Ads (B2C)
  • Print Ads in relevant publications or trade magazines
  • Outdoor Advertising (billboards) (B2C)
  • Display (Banner) Ads Online
  • Text Ads on Search engines on relevant industry terms
  • Contests & Prize Giveaways using Social Media

I’m partial to the bottom three because they are digital, and with some web analytics in place you will be able to measure effectiveness and quickly make changes to make your campaigns work harder. The first three can also be very effective, but you may not really feel the effects of your efforts until weeks or months later, and you won’t be able to make changes at that point.

Interest:

Ok, they’ve heard of you. Congratulations – but don’t try to get in their pants just yet. People who are at the beginning of the purchase cycle are in research mode. They need to know what they need to know – and if you can help them learn how to be a smart shopper, you will gain their trust and respect. You can help these people with things like:

  • “Intro to [Your Industry)” or “[Your Industry] 101” whitepapers & articles
  • Useful tools to help identify their needs
  • Glossary of industry terms & jargon
  • A blog or newsletter (email or snail mail) covering industry news & trends

Sales reps can help marketers understand what’s useful by sharing what common questions are asked of them when talking to new prospects. Hint: Setup goals in your web analytics system and measure how many people are downloading your whitepapers, or spending time using these tools. You can learn a lot by comparing these numbers, to the numbers of the more obvious actions like leads from web, sales, etc (because you are measuring these already…right?).

Engagement:

Once a person knows a little more about what they need (or need to know), they will want to hear all the goodies about your specific product or service:

  • Price Guidelines or Rate Card
  • Competitive Specs (why is your product better than your competitors?)
  • Technical Specs (our Whiz-Gadge-Mo’s run at 256,000 Kilo-Blams per second)

This is the stuff that sales rep’s love to talk about (and they should), and it will be well received by the right audience. This audience.

Ready to Buy:

You sales reps who have a big deal on the line should have a much easier go at landing it if they’re right up next to the boat (switching to a fishing analogy now) than if they’re way out across the pond. More than likely if you’re working with an engaged consumer, they will come to you and ask you for the quote. You may need to clear up some final questions, or eliminate some small obstacles, but if they’ve been worked through a good funnel you and your customer will probably go home happy.

Thanks to a few friends who let me bounce these ideas off of you before posting. I’ll post a followup soon(ish) sharing some ideas on putting the funnel into practice.

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