Your Sales Funnel Is Leaking: Four Ways Solution Providers Can Plug In The Right Marketing, Sales Strategy


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Solution providers that define and separate the roles of their marketing and salespeople and put in place plans for managing leads will find it easier to turn a potential opportunity into an actual sale.

That's the word from Ginger Clay, marketing and demand generation architect at IgniteRM, an Omaha, Neb.-based company that helps MSPs and solution providers develop marketing strategies.

Clay told solution providers at this week's XChange Solution Provider conference, hosted by CRN parent The Channel Company, that traditional marketing and sales models -- with cold calls, campaigns and lunch-and-learns -- too often do not lead to results.

[Related: Solution Provider Nth Generation Outlines The Need For Digital Transformation]

Clay suggests that the reason for this is that the "sales funnel is leaking." There are several areas where this can happen, she said.

Marketing people see opportunities, maybe via cold calls, warming up leads or setting appointments, and hand them to salespeople, she said. With a good opportunity, the result is either the customer makes a purchase or doesn't. And if the result is not a purchase, it is likely because the customer either stayed with an incumbent provider, purchased from a competitor, or decided to put off the buying decision.

When a sale is lost, it likely goes into one of several "black holes," Clay said. Sometimes the salesperson decides to sell the customer anything just to get the sale, or just goes on quickly to the next prospect, or gets no response. What should happen, and what usually doesn't happen, is that such leads get sent back to marketing.

Clay, citing a number of studies, said data makes it clear that poor management of leads between sales and marketing people leads to missed opportunities.

Annuitas Group, an Atlanta-based organization focused on demand generation, estimated that 47 percent more sales are generated from nurtured leads versus non-nurtured leads. And ReachForce, an Austin, Texas-based developer of marketing database management technology, estimates that 50 percent of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting while sales reps ignore 50 percent of marketing leads.

Clay outlined a four-part process for getting sales and marketing teams to work together.

The first is understanding the buyer's journey, which moves from awareness that the buyer has a need and starts looking for information, to considering who can provide help and at what cost, and then to deciding whether the solution provider can provide what was promised.

Clay said it is important to provide the right information to meet prospective customers' requirements. For instance, she said many solution providers offer free assessment tools on their website's home page, which a customer might access in the awareness phase, when in reality assessments should come more at the decision phase. "The buyer hasn't even made a decision yet," she said.

The second is to very clearly define the roles of sales and marketing teams, Clay said. For many solution providers, salespeople are also doing marketing jobs and marketing people are often doing sales jobs. "And neither is doing a good job," she said.

Marketing people should attract leads, offer a clear path to convert those leads into potential sales, nurture those leads so that they are "warm leads" when they get to the sales team, and make sure those leads are "sticky," she said.

"We've spent so much time warming up the leads," she said. "Now let's keep them."

Salespeople should be qualifying the leads, setting up the scope of a potential sale, negotiating for better margins, and committing the lead to a contract, she said.

The third is to build a model for funneling sales leads, Clay said. "This is where it gets fun: Build the model most of us never follow," she said.

Each part of the model needs different tactics as the marketing team works to create awareness of the solution provider and brings leads to the next step in the process, converts those leads into potential customers with offers specific to their requirements, and ensures the best leads bubble to the top, Clay said. "These are the people the salespeople should be talking to first," she said.

If a qualified lead does not make a purchase, it is important for salespeople to pass it back to marketing as there may be other opportunities to connect with a potential client, Clay said. "Maybe they will have buyer's remorse," she said.

The fourth is to benchmark the model against which success can be measured and allows the model to be tweaked as needed, Clay said.

Marketing people should have benchmarks such as search engine optimization as well as keyword, online, web, social media and campaign performance, she said.

Salespeople, on the other hand, should be measured by how well they nurtured leads and turned them into opportunity, as well as how they did in terms of revenue generation, including such key performance indicators as the number of leads closed and the close ratio, she said.

"I really believe people should be paid for what they do. … Start benchmarking," she said. "You need to know what they are supposed to be doing. And compensate them for doing it."

Solution providers peppered Clay with several questions after her presentation.

One solution provider asked what happens at smaller solution providers that cannot afford to have separate sales and marketing people.

Often in this case, the default activity is to sell, but it's just as important to have good marketing campaigns in place. "Don't expect to have good sales without a good campaign," she said.

Another asked about how to work with outsourced marketing people who may not understand the target industry, to which Clay said don't follow that path.

Instead, it is important to find someone, even if outside the company, who has industry knowledge to handle marketing, she said. "I would start with a good outsourcing person if I were just starting today," she said. "Then bring it in-house as soon as possible."

A couple of solution providers who attended Clay's presentation told CRN that her emphasis on clearly separating the market and sales roles are borne out in their own experiences.

Ian Evans, president and CEO of E-Tech, a North York, Ontario-based provider of managed cloud services for SMBs and not-for-profit organizations, said his biggest takeaway was that marketing and sales roles are completely different.

"We see salespeople who want to do too much marketing, and marketing people who want to do too much selling," Evans told CRN.

Evans said his company needs to look at how those roles are defined, starting with himself.

"I do sales, and have a marketing coordinator," he said. "My marketing person is sending pretty good leads, but I need to do more on the sales side."

Kyle Wentworth, founder, executive vice president, and chief technology officer at Fusion-IT, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based provider of services to small and midsize businesses, told CRN that more clearly defining the marketing and sales roles and how the two work together is on a list of priorities he will take back to his company.

"We need to make sure salespeople return cold calls to marketing," he said. "We get salespeople who say a lead is warm, but when we check, the lead may be cold. Those leads need to get sent back to marketing."

 

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