B2B lead generation: pumping your sales in 2015

Lead generation services are great for businesses needing to get more traction with their marketing effort. A powerful way to fill the sales pipeline – particularly in B2B verticals like business technology and IT – lead generation campaigns do more harm than good if placed in the wrong hands, or not handled the right way.

I’ve had many years of experience managing tailored B2B lead generation programs for clients who use lead generation as a part of their marketing mix. This is where lead generation works best – in synchronicity with all other marketing efforts, combining push and pull strategies. Here are just some of the things I’ve learned about successful lead generation. Feel free to take them on-board:

Spamming is out – just don’t do it

Don’t listen to lead generation people trying to tell you that they’ve got their hands on some list, and they intend to email the names on that list for you, without each person’s specific consent. What they would be doing – in your company’s name – is quite possibly spamming, and spamming is against the law in Australia. Quite a lot of big-name companies have been heavily fined and publicly shamed for emailing people illegitimately – notwithstanding that the company might have been using a lead generation agency to do their outbound marketing for them. The rules about spam are finely drawn, and you can read about them on the ACMA website, which is where anyone annoyed by receiving unsolicited marketing emails can go to report the emails as spam.

Not only is spamming against the law, it doesn’t make sense commercially. To fill the sales pipeline, you need to win friends and influence people. Cluttering some person’s inbox with unwanted emails is hardly going to get a new relationship off to a great start.

Another issue we’ve noticed with some pre-produced lists we’ve been given is the inclusion of generic email addresses (info@, mail@, etc). These email addresses don’t land anywhere near decision-makers in a large enterprise. Generic email addresses are vetted by gatekeepers. For example, at the publicly advertised email address of Ginormous, we receive stacks of unsolicited emails every single day. Our gatekeeper, Kate, sifts through them. Hardly ever would Kate bring any unsolicited marketing emails to my attention. As it is, I’ve seen enough unsolicited emails from offshore SEO services and lead generation companies to last a lifetime, and it’s one of Kate’s jobs now to spare me from them.

Message to email-marketers trying to get to me, personally, the chief decision-maker at Ginormous: you’ll have to work harder for the opportunity to tell me all about your business than just sending an auto-marketing email to our company’s generic email address.

Prepare to make your best offer

The way we do B2B lead generation at Ginormous is different from most other lead generation companies. Firstly, we don’t go outbound for a client without first developing a great offer. I’d say to anyone thinking about doing lead generation: do take the time to develop your offer. Put yourself in the shoes of your target and ask yourself: “What’s in it for me?” It’s not enough for your company to get around telling people all the wondrous things it can do for their company. Every other show-pony in your game is telling them the same thing, one way or another. Many of your target contacts might think that you don’t need to tell them anything at all really, because if they ever wanted what you’re selling, they’d Google it, and look around for who they might to speak to. And if they don’t find your website when this happens?

Chances are that your website isn’t in the top rankings of Google for what you’re selling (and if this is so, talk to me about website design and/or SEO packages). For want of a strong pull strategy (like when your website is generating sufficient inbound leads), you’ll need to put some resources into outbound marketing (‘hunting’ for leads). Put down the shotgun, however – that’s not how it’s done in 2015. Pick up your net, and bait your prey. Offer something relevant and irresistible. Make it sound exciting, and laden with value. Give it immediacy. The quality of the bait matters (not necessarily the cost of it). Which bait works best depends on who you’re after; what is most relevant to achieving your objectives; and what’s going to come across as most alluring. I don’t want to give away too many trade secrets here! The Ginormous way of developing offers is partly what makes us so special in this field. If we’re not working with you, you’ll have to develop some alluring bait for yourself.

Hit the phones first, don’t cold-email people

The email describing your offer is the centrepiece of your outbound collateral. But don’t go sending unsolicited emails (even if you believe they’re not spam), or few will be read, and most will be trashed. What’s the point of that? Do make a phone call first. It’s only polite to knock on the door of someone’s inbox and see if they’ll welcome you in. Why do so many lead generation agencies have issues with being respectful towards their targets (ie: people)? A former colleague (who is still doing lead generation services in Sydney) once tried explaining to me that the risk he saw was targets saying “no” on the phone to receiving an email, and with few emails being sent, his KPIs would look bad. So, the client is selling managed DBA services or something, and the person targeted by the call has no intention of using outsourced DBA, or switching from their current provider, and they do not want to receive an email even if you’re offering a free night on Richard Branson’s private island (return flights included) just for giving you some feedback on the free guide to spurious oscillations that you’d like to slam-dunk into their inbox? What if you asked them before emailing, and they just said “no, thanks!” and hung up? “Well, then what?” this guy asked me.

Stop selling. Start helping.

Zig Ziglar

Cool, that’s what. “No” means simply “not now”. C’est la vie. Let it be. There are plenty more fish in the sea. At Ginormous, we would be tagging this resistant target contact for recycling at a set time in future, and withdraw from the encounter, leaving warm and fuzzy feelings behind on behalf of your company. We wouldn’t tag these resistant targets into an auto-email marketing system as consolation for campaign metrics, because it could annoy the target contact into complaining, unsubscribing, or blocking your company’s marketing email address (and that’s very hard to recover from). Don’t be afraid to hit the phones. Focus your resources on the target contacts who are open to receiving your offer by email. Those who actively consent are going to be closest to the point of conversion – their openness probably means that the timing is right for them, or approaching, and your offer sounds good enough for them to take a look.

Chase evasive and hard-to-reach targets by all means, always trying for direct conversational engagement with them – but rest the resistant people, and keep their positive regard for your company in the lead-bank as an investment for the future. While they keep rolling along either without a solution, or with a competitive provider, get on with selling to other target contacts who might want to buy now or soon, and delivering your products and services to existing customers in ways that keep them delighted with your company and its people. Over time, things often just turn around.

So many times we’ve gone back to a target contact who had been resistant to engaging with us in the first, second, and maybe even third year we approached them on behalf of a client. We’d keep in touch from time to time, on some pretext or another, but our approaches never wore thin, because we weren’t pushy when they weren’t feeling open to hearing us. It has very often happened that one day we’ve reached out again to the previously-resistant target contact, and the timing has been just right – something has gone wrong with their previous provider, or business priorities have suddenly changed. Next thing the excellent front-line relationship we’ve established with our target contact, and then smooth follow-through by the actual Sales executives, has delivered the target company into our client’s sales pipeline. An unlikely-looking sale has been ultimately achieved!

So, don’t make a nuisance of yourself if you’re calling people with an invitation, or offer of any sort, and they say “no, thanks”. Just leave them in peace, right there. Thank them for their time, wish them a great day, make notes on anything you’ve learned from the engagement, set a task to re-contact them on a certain date in future, and move forward!

When “140 outbound calls a day guaranteed” means “fail”

If I’m recruiting for an additional lead generation agent, and the hopeful candidate promises to make something like 140 calls per day for our client, they are not going to get hired. A candidate like this would have been working in call-centres for so long, they might have had the personality sucked right out of them. They probably couldn’t have a warm, spontaneous chat on the phone with one of our target contacts, because they’ve never got past the first few lines of their script (we don’t work with scripts here – points to cover, yes – but not rigid scripts – our people are expected to intuit their way through their conversations with contacts and the difference shows in the degree of engagement).

If a lead generation company promises to make 140 outbound calls a day for you (using just one agent), your campaign is bound to achieve little in real terms. 140 calls a day would only allow about three-and-a-half minutes for each call. If it takes about one minute to pull up the next contact record, read the notes and have a sip of water; about one minute to dial the number and wait for it to pick up, or for your call to be put through to your target contact (or their personal gatekeeper); in the minute or so left of remaining time, your agent is either being hung-up on, failing to get through to the target contact, or failing to engage in any meaningful conversation when they do get to the target contact.

One-minute-or-so is not enough time for us to plant the seeds of a meaningful relationship for your company with a client contact, and that’s what we’re trying to do here in the very first instance. It’s relationship-building, in fact. From there, with a relationship established, when the timing is right for an opportunity to exist, your company is already positioned for consideration.

Most of our lead generation work comes out of referrals from our B2B marketing clients (or as repeat business). On occasion when I’ve been asked to submit a proposal to a firm that we don’t already know, I’ve mentioned that we aim to touch about 32 contact records per day. The response has sometimes been “but we’ve been talking to another agency, and each of their people can make 140 outbound calls a day”. I’m entirely unfazed by this sort of competition. “You’re welcome to use the other agency,” I’ll say, and mean it, as I’m always prepared to walk away from the opportunity and get on with my beautiful day, pursuing excellence in B2B lead generation. Our 32-per-day benchmark was set by me, when I spent a few days personally working in the seat of one of our agents, as part of a front-line experience experiment. I did our agent’s job the way that I wanted it to be done. I had meaningful conversations with almost everyone on the list that I’d called – often first with a gatekeeper or two, before finally getting through to the target decision-maker. I don’t want our calls to take less time. If any of our outbound agents want to win gold stars for performance around here, they’d be striving to spend more like 15-minutes on the phone with every open contact, listening attentively to their business stories, and hearing about any problems or frustrations they’re having (while taking detailed notes).

We don’t just call and move to the next procedural action either. We use our time spent on every contact record to deepen our knowledge about the target contact and company. The person might have changed jobs or had an internal promotion (LinkedIn research). The company might have been in the news lately for something that’s relevant to your mission (Google research). The company might have been acquired, merged, floated, or placed under administration (more details we find on Google). We write detailed notes about every conversation we have with people at the target company. It’s amazing the depth and value of market intelligence we can gather this way, particularly with regard to people’s perceptions of competitors. These qualitative insights really help us, and our client, to take a more strategic approach to the whole marketing effort.

An example of this is the lead generation function we’ve been performing for one client for a very long time. We suddenly became aware of the opportunity being created by a “Stephen Bradbury effect” in the race between our client and their major competitor. What happened was this: our client’s competitor was entrenched as the market leader. Our client’s highest ambition had been to sustain and build on their place as the first runner-up. By continuing to make outbound calls on our client’s behalf to users of their competitor’s services, and being able to get into conversations with target contacts – listening to them rather than talking at them – we started hearing about major pain points that many contacts were having with their provider, the #1 competitor. The competitor had been going through some internal changes, apparently, and we were the first outsiders to know of a tsunami of discontent rising among their long-term customers. After quick consultation with our client about what we were all learning from our lead generation activity dashboard, it was pedal-to-the-metal for us as we moved through contacting all of the target contacts in our database that were tagged as customers of the afflicted competitor. So began the ascension of our client into the #1 leadership position in their market, with abundant growth in their annual sales!

Insist on transparency, not black-box lead generation

Lead generation accomplishment reports which cite as if end-results the number of outbound calls made, or the number of emails sent, can look impressive. We’re not just looking to rack up the numbers with our outbound work, however – we want qualitative results for your company. That’s why we give you a login to our lead generation activity dashboard. You can see everything your agent is doing for your company in real-time. Read your agent’s notes on individual interactions, interpret what we’re learning from our conversations, get into the detail of people’s responses. Make a comment, have a chuckle, add some inside-intelligence, nominate someone for special attention. You won’t need a sheet-full of statistics to see the value and productivity of your lead generation activities (although statistics are nice to show too).

Being a lead generation client of ours is like being a plantation owner, of sorts. You can get on with your day but also keep a close eye on the ‘sales farm’ of your outbound marketing effort. It’s a very rewarding feeling to watch the seeds of a delicate sales relationship being planted and nurtured, and see it growing – quickly or slowly, at its own natural pace – into a mature opportunity that lands in your sales pipeline.

Get your sales follow-through on the same page

To make a success out of lead generation it’s vitally important for pre-sales and sales to work together as one functioning organism. And I mean as an organism, not like a machine. We like to hand-over warm contacts directly to the sales representative, and to know that they’ll seamlessly follow through from the conversation with the target contact that we’ve started for them. If we’re calling outbound with an offer, and we happen to strike someone who’s ready to talk with one of your sales people straight away, then this call-back needs to happen on the same day, or the very next morning – no later. Sales people need to respond enthusiastically in the earliest stages of direct relationships, even when there’s no immediate scent of low-hanging fruit. Do make sure that any real interest gets followed-up on immediately.

There might not be a definite opportunity at this preliminary stage, but when a target contact is only just ready to engage with one of your sales people directly, it moves them one degree closer in the intensity of their relationship with your company. Preliminary contact with sales might not feel rewarding in the short term, but that’s okay, put the target contact back into our pool and we’ll keep them in the loop. When an opportunity actually ripens, if your people have been in there with us your company is more likely to be top-of-mind for immediate consideration, short-listed for further exploratory discussions, or included on the list for distribution of an RFP.

For a good time with lead generation, make it a long time

You wouldn’t guess how many times we get an enquiry about B2B lead generation because, as it turns out, the marketing department has some funding left over in their annual marketing budget, and marketing management has decided to throw this surplus budget at some B2B lead generation campaign for three months or so. This is not the kind of B2B lead generation situation we’re generally interested in taking on. Within the B2B lead generation scenarios we’re engaged with – higher-value products and service offerings in the industrial, technology, IT, and professional consulting markets – the average buying-cycle for products and service providers is measured in years, the sales pipeline typically nine months from the point of ‘game on’. There is only the very slightest chance that when we make our very first outbound call to a target contact within a target company – and send them our very first piece of email collateral (by consent) – it will just so happen to coincide with some immediate need on the contact’s side.

There is usually little to be gained in material terms from three-month lead generation packages. However, a short-term lead generation campaign can certainly achieve measurable awareness-raising, the distribution of introductory collateral, and possibly some introductions to direct relationships with Sales. Short lead generation campaigns are also very useful for time-targeted events, for example, direct-marketing for function attendance (putting bums-on-seats at a seminar or conference). But even then, three months would be the bare minimum period of engagement to allow for driving attendance, and then following through afterwards with both attendees and non-attendees – offering appointments to the former, and post-conference collateral to the latter.

However your business might find itself getting started with lead generation, and whichever lead generation service you’ve decided to work with, remember that your B2B marketing targets are mostly very busy people (much like you), working in demanding roles for high-performance companies. If they’re not interested in what you have to offer today, they won’t engage with you. Persisting when you’re unwelcome will only insult the delicate relationship you’re attempting to establish. It’s marketing 101 really! If the target company has no want for your products or services right now, or on the horizon, there is no way you can sell to them by continuing to hammer away at them as if there is no tomorrow…

Because there is a tomorrow! And if your lead generation effort is a campaign running for only three months, when tomorrow does come, and opportunities with potential new customers have ripened, you won’t be there for the harvest. Someone else will be positioned close to them, ready for them to reach out to, you can be almost certain of that, and it will be some competitor of yours with a long-term commitment to lead generation. The most effective lead generation is not just a campaign, but a way of life.

* * *

PS: I checked, and it’s “dos and don’ts”, not “do’s and don’ts”. 😉

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