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Archive for January, 2011

The Long View

Friday, January 28th, 2011

Some time ago, at the beginning of the poker craze I read a book about the game and the people who play it. The book was Poker Nation by Andy Bellin. It was an entertaining read: a survey of a subculture that at the time was still outside of the mainstream. The book only dealt briefly with how to play poker, but it was that section of the book that yielded an enduring insight.

The principle that the author espouses is to consider all the poker games that you play in a given year as one long game. Don’t get too worked up about any individual game because isolated from the greater trend, a single game is really pretty meaningless. Meaningless not because it can’t be learned from, but meaningless because the events of one day are too small of a sample size to make any worthwhile judgment about a players overall ability.

Instead the author suggests, take the long view. Ask the question, “Are you up or down for the year?” This is a much better way to measure your success than the outcome of the game you played today. Because today, no matter who you are, you could have won or you could have lost. Elite players have bad days, and losers get lucky.

This advice is so obvious, it’s common sense. So I wonder, why did it even need to be said? And why did it stick with me after the rest of the anecdotes in this book passed from my memory? I think the reason is partly because it is human nature to celebrate a victory and bemoan a loss. Further, any particular win or loss is a potent emotional experience because playing poker, like sales, is a short view activity. To succeed in poker or in sales, you must bring your entire focus to what is happening in this hand, in this moment, on this sales call. Not feeling victorious after winning, or feeling defeated after losing requires making an immediate mental shift from short view to long view.

So taking the long view is a way to get better results in poker and sales? Yes. Well partially yes. I think in a certain respect it’s more of a matter of “First do no harm.” Because poker, like sales, is a game of confidence. No matter how steely your nerves, your confidence simply will not benefit from the roller coaster ride of “Today I’m up! Today I’m down!” It is important to not be too affected by short term successes and failures because they can lead to changes in your behavior, and changes in your confidence. Changes that are inherently impulsive and not strategic.

Taking the long view allows for incremental improvements and more strategic thinking. And here is just one area where sales is a much better enterprise than poker. In sales and marketing it’s easy to take the long view.  Taking the long view means measuring results of marketing campaigns, sales reps, lead sources, lead distribution strategies, etc. Find out what works and repeat it. Add up all the successes and failures to find the trends in your strategies that are yielding results.

Using a lead management system that has robust reporting capabilities enables you to see what works in terms of marketing campaigns, lead contact strategies, email nurturing campaigns, agent performance, etc. Moreover, it’s possible to leverage your winning strategy as an enforceable sales process for all of your reps. The benefits of using a lead management solution are many, but one of the best benefits of all is that adopting an intelligent lead management system doesn’t require you to start at zero and begin a program of trial and error. Lead management software comes with baked in best practices that have been proven to increase contact and close rates.

So if you have in your hand a lead management SaaS provider that continuously researches and analyzes what patterns of behavior lead to higher close rates, and then optimizes the software to encourage or require those behaviors, you should go all in.

Every Lead, Every Time

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Here’s a blog post that describes an encounter between the author and several small businesses. The author submitted requests for a quote to four different small businesses for a print job. Of all the different types of interactions between buyer and seller it goes without saying that a quote request is one of the better ones. It comes from a prospect who is knows what you sell, and is interested in a particular product. Generally, quote requests come from prospects who are ready to buy.

In the linked article, three of the four print shops from which the author requested a quote did not reply at all. Zero response. It was this experience that led the author to ask, “Can you afford to waste a sales opportunity?”

That question lies at the heart of lead management software. Lead management software is built on the precept that prospects are lifeblood of a business. Mismanaging leads is worse than wasting almost any other quantity that a company is charged with managing. Customers are your revenue. Customers are your word-of-mouth advocates. Satisfying the needs of customers is the alpha and omega of your business activity.

So given that there is really no way to justify ignoring prospects who are knocking on your door trying to become customers, how can this behavior be explained? It would appear to come down to two things. 1) Ignorance of the basic mechanics of running a business and 2) Disorganization; i.e., not having a system in place to capture inquiries and follow up on them without fail.

Fortunately there is a solution to both of these issues in lead management software. Lead management software is built on best practices that automate lead follow up in accordance with proven best practices. Since the business intelligence is baked into the software, every lead experiences optimal follow up. It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, there is a solution to help you achieve the best possible results in terms of contacting and following up with customer inquiries.

Generating new customers can be an expensive and complicated enterprise. Allowing the spoils of such efforts to be wasted is just bad business. And every customer you lose is not just a customer in terms of revenue, but also in terms of advocacy. Building the reputation of small businesses is critical to their survival.

There’s an old song that says, “It only takes one tree to make a thousand matches. And it only takes one match to burn a thousand trees.” This adage applies to the efforts you make in building your businesses reputation. It doesn’t make sense to work so hard to satisfy 1000 customers and then risk that the 1 customer that you ignored is going to spread negative word of mouth about their experience with you. The margin for error is small, but lead management software helps you to operate within it: every lead, every time.

Customer Experience, an a la Carte Approach

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

Customers choose where to take their business based on a number of factors not all of which can be accounted for. In days gone by, it may have been sufficient to leave it at that. But now, a change in how companies are communicating with their prospects is sweeping through the business world. The change can be summed up in the idea of Customer Experience.

According to Wikipedia Customer Experience is “the sum of all experiences a customer has with a supplier of goods or services, over the duration of their relationship with that supplier. From awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy.”

It is not news that customer experience is what drives a company’s success, but what is new is the explicit effort on the part of smart marketers to engineer the customer experience, rather than allowing it to unfold somewhat randomly.

Designing your customer experience is a complex undertaking. It first means identifying your target customer and then articulating what kind of experience you’d like that customer to have. Then it is necessary to develop methods of creating that experience for your customers.

To begin conceptualizing the ideal customer experience; think about ways you’d like prospects to experience your company at different stages. Using a pared down list of the stages from the Wikipedia definition of customer, here’s an example of a first glance of the ideal customer experience.

Awareness- A prospect becomes aware of your product through word of mouth, seeing it in use by people he or she identifies with or desires to emulate. They gather information as they are ready to assimilate it on the internet and elsewhere. Your presence on the web and among the buying public is a positive one.

Interaction- A prospect interacts with your company by visiting the website and/or physical location, and by speaking to customers of yours who have become advocates. Their interactions are timely, targeted and leave the prospect feeling that they are dealing with someone they can trust.

Purchase- The prospect becomes a customer in a transaction that they feel good about. Throughout the transaction process, they feel that they are being treated fairly and with respect.

Use- The customer uses your product or benefits from your service in a way that increases their quality of life. It performs as promised and meets or exceeds their expectations. They derive ongoing satisfaction as a result of having brought their business to you.

Advocacy- The customer’s satisfaction has been so complete in terms of product and service that they recommend your company. They are knowledgeable about your product and service and speak about it without reservation to friends, family, etc.

Engineering your customer experience is a significant undertaking and requires the bringing together of several different disciplines; disciplines that may be managed separately in your company. But developing the ideal customer experience and constructing the infrastructure to bring it to fruition need not be done overnight. There are some axioms that can be leaned on to begin an a la carte approach to delivering your prospects a better customer experience.

One such axiom is that prospects are happier the more quickly they are contacted. This evidenced by studies performed on lead close rates where leads contacted in under a minute of their online inquiry were 391% more likely to close. One reason for this is that reaching out to a prospect immediately enables a salesperson to speak to the prospect while they are still thinking about shopping for your product. Put another way, when reps reach out to prospects immediately they connect with the prospect while they still have the prospect hat on. Call them an hour later and they have removed their prospect hat. Call them an hour later and you may not be reaching a prospect as much as you’re reaching a mother trying to give her child dinner. At that point you’re not going to engender much good will; even though you are calling to give her information on a good or service that she requested. Even sales reps who are following all your rules of engagement, speaking politely, trying to be helpful are at a marked disadvantage when the timing is off.

Getting on the phone with prospects fast is a critical component to creating a positive customer experience. And it is a step that can be taken immediately, even in the absence of an overarching customer experience strategy. The best way to achieve improved results with speed to contact rates is to use a lead management system with an integrated dialer.

Behavioral Therapy for Sales Call Reluctance

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Sales Call Reluctance affects many sales reps in all kinds of businesses. It’s a problem that is defined mostly as a psychological issue that prevents sales reps from making enough calls. I’ve read in a few places that there are as many as twelve types of call reluctance. I am always a fan of naming things in order to get control of them. I was excited when I came across this thing called “Sales Call Reluctance.” I was hoping it would hold the answer to a problem everyone has experienced. Because I believe we’ve all hesitated. We’ve all procrastinated. We’ve all not made a call that we should have made.

The fact that someone has given this problem a name and endeavored to develop some techniques for combating it is great news. When an obstacle has a name, it’s easier to recognize. When it’s easier to recognize it’s harder to be surprised by it, or controlled by it.

The thing is, though, delving into this complex topic seems to require a willingness to dive pretty deep into sales psychology. Psychology is all fine and good, and sometimes yields insights that can save people huge amounts of time and effort when they look deep into the mirror and learn how to focus on succeeding and removing the barriers to success that may have been persisting.

But if I remember psychology class from school, there is a thing called behavioral psychology which focuses less on delving deep into the mind to identify the root causes of one’s woes and focuses more on changing ones behavior. If you act better, you’ll feel better. If you build it, they will come. So here comes a little piece of technology that can help the salesperson afflicted by sales call reluctance change their behavior. In this case, the behavioral change that is sought is to spend less time hesitating and more time making calls.

Using lead management software with a lead dialer can automate the placing of calls in such a way that the salesperson does spend more time on the phone. Some lead dialers leverage business intelligence to automatically call leads in order of importance. Calling through a list of leads that has been automatically arranged in order of importance enables a salesperson to click through calls without spending undue time searching through leads to identify opportunities.

This way of working benefits the salesperson suffering from call reluctance particularly. This is because it is in those moments, when he or she shifts out of selling mode and into administrative mode that the call reluctance begins to take hold. The longer the salesperson spends deliberating over which lead to call next, the harder it becomes to make any call at all. Staying in selling mode, by clicking through calls with an intelligent dialer helps keep sales reluctance at bay, and keeps contact, qualification, and close rates high.

LeadCritic: Excuses Will Put You Out of Business

Friday, January 21st, 2011

At Leads360 we obviously stress the importance of having a LMS system in place to help businesses achieve maximum results. Although the value and the necessity of utilizing an LMS has been proven many times over, some companies still are skeptical of methods and best practices encouraged by implementing it. LeadCritic recently wrote a great article explaining how companies that start make excuses from the get go and who are unconvinced that measuring things like speed-to-contact and contact rates are relevant, will ultimately fall behind their competition.

See below for an excerpt or click here to read the whole article.

“I have seen this too many times. I can predict exactly what will happen. The company will continue sputter along wondering why they can’t quite get the ROI they are looking for. Mostly likely they will hire and fire people thinking it is a personnel issue. They will continue to grow, because the demand for their product is at an all time high, but as soon as conversions take the slightest dip they will begin to panic. They will finally make the decision to bring on an LMS and work on an integration with their legacy system. This will take a few months and by the time they have the right tools implemented and optimized it is too late. They are behind the eight ball and playing catch up.”

If You Just Want to Know What Works

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

When your want to figure out the best way to close the most leads, it is important to keep track of what works. But if you haven’t done so, don’t despair. That type of knowledge is available. There are lead management solutions that have been built on best practices to help automate as much of the repetitive work as possible. When work is being automated, it’s important that the rules governing the automation were intelligently conceived. In light of this, it is important to select a lead management solution that has a strong emphasis on being a business partner, and not merely a software vendor. Using a lead management solution that conceives of its role as that of a partner has many benefits, particularly is the partnership comes in the shape of software as a service. First of all, there is an emphasis on service that won’t exist from a traditional software vendor. In the SaaS model, client success is as much in the interest of the vendor as it is in that of the client. Helping clients to get the maximum benefit from lead management SaaS is an ongoing process that involves close consulting with the client to understand their business needs and configure the software to work for them.

But this day to day client interface is only one side of the service that clients should expect when using SaaS LMS. Taking a step back and looking at it from a little further away, what is provided to SaaS clients as part of the partnership is of even greater value. Having so many clients and so many leads under active management, an LMS has a lot of strategy and intelligence built right into its features. When an LMS company analyzes what works for clients they can bake the results right into the software. Take for instance a lead prioritization feature. This is one of the best examples of SaaS getting smarter as it’s being used. Lead Prioritization is based on well researched best practices that dictate, among other things, that 1) speed to contact is the single most important factor in lead close rates and that 2) six calls attempts is the optimal number before contact rates drop to the point beyond which the results don’t justify the effort. These facts were learned by analyzing how leads closed, and how they didn’t. And the sample size is huge. Leveraging this type of intelligence with a lead dialer enables users to contact the right lead much more quickly than any competitor can.

A partnership with an SaaS LMS is hugely beneficial for a company looking to benefit from strategies gleaned from in depth analysis of a vast number of leads. If you’re not sure what works best, it’s not something you need to worry about. You have a partner waiting for you in Lead Management Software as a Service that will show you the best practices that have been proven to work over and over again. You still have your secret ingredient, the thing that differentiates you from your competitors. LMS doesn’t seek to replace that, it just bolsters your approach to selling with a set of tools and strategies that work extraordinarily well.

More Leads

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

It seems so simple. Just keep the leads coming in, and keep the reps on the phone and deals will come down the pipeline. It’s a simple plan, but it’s a plan that doesn’t scale well. Until now.

Take for example a situation where there is only one sales rep who has a small number of leads. He or she may be able to keep tabs on where the ripest opportunities are and where each deal is in the pipeline. If this sales rep is doing his job well, he’s closing deals, so he’s probably being given more leads. The sales reps success can scale up only a finite amount. If he’s able to keep track of 10 leads, and he’s earning, then maybe you give him 20, and he continues to deliver. It may be tempting to give him thirty, but he just can’t keep up with that many without some tools designed specifically to help him scale his sales efforts. Lead Management Software is the type of tool that enables him to work more efficiently. Using lead management software, it’s become easier to stay organized, easier to know which lead to call when, easier to be the first person on the phone with a lead. Lead Management Software stretches an individual’s time and attention to help him get results beyond what he could get keeping track of leads by ordinary means.

With lead management software, sales reps can manage far more leads than they could using email, pen and paper, etc. Now, instead of being able to keep 20 leads straight, they are able to keep up on 500 leads. The reps effectiveness will go through the roof. And if they can handle 500 leads, it won’t be long before they’ll be asked to handle 1000. And then they’ll be back with same problem. Too much time will be spent hunting through all the leads that a rep owns to find the one that needs attention most. This is where it becomes important to make sure that your lead management system is intelligent and can identify opportunities. Some lead management systems are able to bring the leads most deserving of attention to the top of the pile, effectively prioritizing leads in real time.

Putting the right leads in front of reps at the right time is one way of keeping reps focused on the leads most likely to generate revenue. But that is really only part of the a truly intelligent lead management solution. It is also  necessary to get leads on the phone as soon as possible to catch them while their interest in your offering is highest. An intelligent lead management system also has dialer capabilities that can leverage the competitive nature of a sales team to ensure that leads are contacted as quickly as possible.

Pursuing Best Practices

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Inertia can be a powerful force.  Often times in business, the decision not to act and to stick with the same practices is the easiest one to make.  However, the ease of sticking with the same shouldn’t allow sales managers to accept the status quo.  Maximizing ROI and finding best practices are not the sort of goals that a sales team can expect to reach without stepping out and aggressively pursuing them.   In order to find the most efficient way to pursue leads and react to customer service, companies need to constantly question their practices, always seek out better methods, and embrace the use to software systems and emerging technology that help identify their practices.

The nature of business is changing rapidly and anyone standing still can expect to be left behind.  This is particularly true for customer relations and sales.  Many sales managers aren’t comfortable with the way the relationship with their customers has evolved in the last ten years.  More than ever, customers have more control over the nature of the relationship, and many sales managers haven’t been able to adjust to what it means.  However, inaction is an easy way to let your competitors streak past you, and getting the most out of your marketing spend involves action.  In many cases, the mistake is to ignore emerging technologies and not turning towards the new systems and software that can streamline the way you deal with customers.  Stodgy sales managers will insist on seeing immediate results in ROI and won’t venture into a new technology like Social CRM or a Lead Management System until the evidence is overwhelming.    Worse, any failure involving these new technologies, no matter how modest, will fuel the desire to stay away from any new methods that could be employed in pursuit of best practices.  What’s missing from these arguments is the realization that best practices are discovered not by waiting until there’s a sure thing, but exploring and testing in order to constantly stay ahead of the curve.  Any manager willing to wait until a technology is so successful that it’s a no brainer can probably count on being one of the last in their industry to adopt it.  LMS and CRM are both excellent systems that can not only automate the sales process and increase efficiency but are designed to record all relevant data and metrics in order to constantly seek out more ways to improve.

Another way that conservative managers can keep themselves from finding best practices is through the idea that it’s best to wait until the appropriate technology develops.  Once again, this is a recipe for failure that will allow your competition to pass you by with ease.  With the rate at which customer relations are evolving, waiting on taking action can be fatal.  In order to capitalize on a new trend or get a leg up on the competition, it’s essential that your company be adopting best practices before it’s clear to everyone that that’s what they are.  The most successful managers, in the end, are the ones who are opportunistic and aggressive enough to stay ahead of the trends and be the one developing new practices rather than simply copying their competitors.

On the whole, it’s a simple fact that best practices and maximum ROI are the sorts of things that can’t be waited on.  Best practices are not going to come to you, it’s up to the wise manager to seek them out and seize them when the opportunity arises.

Learn From Failure. Learn From Success. Learn From LMS

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

It’s often said that failures are opportunities to learn.

The reason failure can be so instructive is because when all the pieces fall, and you’re left to sweep up the carnage of whatever enterprise that you tried so diligently to make succeed, you might only then, give your full attention to questions like: “What went wrong?” “What could have been done differently?” and “How can I do better next time?” Failure, it would seem, sharpens and focuses the mind around important questions of how and why we do what we do.

So, let’s examine the flipside of that phenomenon: Success. What if we’re all too busy high fiving each other after we close a deal that we don’t take time to ask the question; “What went right?” It’s a challenge for even the most dedicated sales rep to look back on successes to make an inventory of what was done right, and what could have been done better. It’s far too easy to store ones successes in the “I am great at my job” file and leave it at that. But choosing not to extract information from ones successes is nearly as negligent as not learning from ones failures.

What type of information, specifically, can be gleaned from ones successes? Most readily, there is a lot of quantifiable data that can be observed around your sales behaviors. What if you could look back at all of your past successes and get answers to questions like these “How quickly did I contact this person?” “How many times did I try to reach them and at what intervals?” “What time of day, and day of the week did I try to reach them?” and “How many emails did I send, and at what intervals?”

If you could observe trends in the data revealed by these questions you could maximize your advantage by adopting these best practices that led to successful sales. You could maximize your advantage if you knew for instance, that calling a lead as quickly as possible was the best way to ensure that you made the sale ahead of your competitors; and further if you knew that six call attempts was the optimal number, after which the chance of connecting with a lead diminishes to the point that it no longer justifies the effort. If you had access to all of this information, you could work in a way that would lead to even more success. And you could use tools that help you leverage the advantage that the analysis of all these successes had given you.

The good news is that you don’t have to go through all your past successes and failures to find a set of best practices. Lead management software is designed around insights garnered from the analysis of more than 20 million leads. It is built to help you be the first to contact a lead and to stay in contact until the lead closes. If you were too busy high-fiving to learn from your successes, don’t despair. Help is on the way. Lead management software has learned from millions of successes and built a solution around the findings.