Posted on by Chief Marketer Staff

IGNITING SALES WITH DIRECT marketing strategies is more challenging than ever before. Survival means not just generating response, but building confidence and trust with customers and prospects without ever having face-to-face meetings.

It requires making investments in customer acquisition and relationship programs just to yield a continuous revenue stream-and achieve the goal of firing up sales by generating qualified sales leads. However, what’s often overlooked is that creating the lead is only half the marketing battle.

The most common area where business-to-business marketing programs fail to live up to management expectations is after the initial sales inquiry is generated. This “back-end” of the lead-generation process is where marketers realize the return on the “up-front” investments. Nurturing a sales lead to fruition is the most challenging aspect of B-to-B marketing. However, back-end marketing often lacks the glamour and sizzle of the up-front campaign, and the detail and attention required to create an effective lead-conversion program is commonly overlooked.

There are four aspects of back-end marketing to be considered for every lead-generation program:

* Inquiry capture systems

* Lead qualification

* Hot-lead distribution and fulfillment materials

* Relationship marketing

Inquiry capture systems should allow prospects to request product information any way they want; phone, fax, e-mail or reply mail. An effective system allows a prospect to request information 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. It is important to remember that the information collected during this initial contact will be the foundation for future follow-up sales actions. This determines how a phone call or Web lead is going to be handled and what information is going to be given out; what data will be collected must be planned in advance of campaign implementation.

Every sales inquiry must be qualified so your sales people don’t waste time trying to sort the ready-to-buy prospects from the tire kickers. The best methodology to help identify opportunities is to establish a set of lead qualification questions to determine a prospect’s time frame, budget, purchase authority and sales potential/opportunity. Then, a point score is associated with answers to each question.

With this point score matrix system, marketers can eliminate the traditional hot, warm and cold lead definitions. Instead, leads now are assigned a total point score that determines their disposition. For example, leads that score 20 or more are sent to the field. Leads with a score between 10 and 19 are sent to telemarketing. Leads with a score of fewer then nine are just sent fulfillment literature.

A company never gets a second chance to make a first impression. The speed and quality of your response to sales inquiries reflect on your company and the way you handle customers. Rapid distribution of leads to the field for follow up is essential. Same day fulfillment of printed literature to inquirers received before 3 p.m. is the standard of business.

Remember, your fulfillment material is your first chance to close a sale. This package must to be designed and written not only to inform and educate prospects, but to persuade and motivate them to buy now. Fulfillment materials should be marked right on the outside envelope to let prospects know this is the information they requested.

A compelling sales letter that moves a prospect through the steps of attention, interest, desire and action is a must. Include testimonials, application stories and product information to create confidence. Most importantly, give the prospect a clear and compelling reason to take the next step. If you are selling a product, make an irresistible offer to buy, or at least connect a prospect with a salesperson.

Lastly, people take time to buy, especially for business-to-business products or services. Most marketers give up too easily and quickly. A 1997 study by Cahners Publishing of 40,000 sales inquiries shows only 11% of people bought within 90 days after their initial inquiry date. Another 17% bought between four to six months after their inquiry date. And another 25% bought six to 12 months after inquiry. Almost 50% took a year to make a purchase This means that longer-term inquirers (those who plan to buy after 90 days from inquiry date) offer four times more sales opportunities than short-term prospects.

Reaching 50% conversion rate requires an aggressive and persistent relationship marketing follow-up program, which must be designed to keep your name and your product’s benefits top-of-mind with sales inquiries.

A comprehensive program will include a combination of media: phone, e-mail, fax and direct mail. Strong relationship marketing programs include a branding theme under which elements like newsletters, product benefit postcards, quick applications stories, birthday notifications, humorous postcards, and relevant articles can be sent to inquirers on a consistent basis.

Marketers often assume prospects remember them. The truth is prospects don’t remember exactly why they responded, as priorities change and new projects come up. It’s up to the marketers to create a stream of communications that build goodwill, trust and confidence between the potential buyer and the marketer.


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