Tuesday, November 27, 2012

3 Steps to Better Lead Qualification for Marketers

Lead qualification is a skill only a few marketers seem to have mastered.  While seeking higher volume returns on their efforts, marketing campaigns become a numbers game where more is better. Like ice cream - more leads are only better temporarily.  Too much ice cream makes you fat and slows you down.  Trust me. I love ice cream.  Too many leads can have the same impact - especially too many of the wrong leads.

My first job after college was in sales - disguised as admissions - for a business skills/secretarial school.  My role was to go into high schools and deliver presentations on interviewing skills, writing resumes and choosing a career.  For this service, high schools allowed us to spend 5 minutes pitching the school, and have each student fill out a card with contact information.  Then we were supposed to throw the whole batch of cards at our telemarketing team to call that evening.

 Lead Qualification is More Important than Lead Generation
This whole process didn't make sense to me.  So I experimented.  I began asking students when filling out the cards to put a star on top of the card if they thought that the school I represented was something they were considering as a next step after high school graduation.  Each day I would bring in my stack of 150+ cards and put those that had a star on them at the top of the pile.  I would give them to one specific telemarketer who I trained in my system.  Her goal was to reach each of the stars and schedule them for an interview with me.  It didn't matter to me if she called any of the others - though she often had plenty of time to shake one or two additional appointments from my cards.

Within a year, I had tripled enrollments from my territory.  The telemarketers prioritized my leads.  I didn't waste their time calling leads that would never convert.  They had more success. They made more money.  Because I was considerate of their time - they always scheduled the most qualified interviews with me, and didn't waste my time.  I got better bonuses.

Over the next year I got more sophisticated and would leave 5 minutes at the end of class to allow students who were truly interested to gather as a smaller group and ask questions. I took notes and passed these on to the telemarketer.  Things like "money is a concern" or "no one in the family has ever gone beyond high school" or "parents really want this student to go to a 4 year school."  Then I began to develop strategies for common concerns.  We had a degree program that allowed you to transfer credits to a 4 year school and sometimes that was very helpful to parents who were having trouble convincing a student they should attend college at all.  Scholarships and financial aid were available through the school, but I would also contact the high school to find out what kind of options they had to support students in pursuit of higher education.  At the time, many schools had scholarship dollars available specifically targeted to students pursuing secretarial skills.  I helped students connect to these opportunities.  I had lots of extra time to do this because I wasn't spending time with students with no real interest in the school.

I also started spending more time where the right students spent their time.  When I visited high school, I visited classrooms with lots of students who would never be pursuing this type of education.  But there were many clubs and organizations that catered to this type of student.  So I became a judge at Distributive Education conferences or a speaker for Future Secretaries organizations.  I also spoke to groups of women who after raising families were ready to rejoin the workforce and needed to develop skills to make a successful transition.  This was a better use of my time than to spend hours speaking to classrooms full of ivy-bound students who took a couple of business courses to help with future term papers.

Gamification in 1985
Later I developed a game for students.  It was a board game and would take them from their first interview with me right through graduation - with lots of stops along the way - from meeting with financial aid, to high school graduation, to the day they sent in their enrollment fee, to their first job interview through the school's placement office, equipped with all the skills the school would help them develop over 1 or 2 years, to their first paycheck.    It worked.  What I gave them was a project plan with all the steps defined for their success.  I continued to place more students in the school than any other recruiter.  But more importantly, these were the right students.  They were the students who chose this path on their own. My job was only to help coach them through the steps to achieve their own dreams.  It wasn't selling. It was enabling them to get what they wanted.  They became the ideal graduates.  Loyal, happy customers provide many referrals.

Sales Enablement Means "Don't Waste the Valuable Time of Your Sales Force"
I was fortunate to experience marketing and sales in a single job early in my career.  It taught me that as marketers, our role is to enable our sales force to enable our future customers to realize their goals and become happy and loyal.  To be successful, you need to do 3 things:

1.  Identify the places you find the right prospects and spend your time there.
2.  Provide potential prospects with a clear call-to-action that further qualifies them by being specific and screens out the wrong prospects.
3. Provide the paths to enable your sales people to enable your prospects to become happy customers.

If you use this approach you will use your time more wisely, enable your sales force to convert leads to customers, and have a greater impact on your company's bottom line.

I'll try to write a future post on how this applies to social media.  I've seen social media practitioners get all excited about how many people took a call-to-action on a tweet that included a celebrity name. The celebrity had no connection with their target audience.  So, are people interested in the celebrity really leads? Wouldn't it have been better to have a fraction of those people who have a genuine interest in the product as responses?

How do you enable your sales force to convert more leads to happy customers?  Would love you to share your experience here so we can all learn from it.

Now off to Portland for me.  I am attending the Maine Internet Marketing Meetup.

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