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Archive for July, 2011

What is the “Service” in “Software as a Service?”

Friday, July 29th, 2011

The virtues of Software as a Service are many. When people think about Software as a Service, it’s not uncommon for them to think about the ‘Service’ element in terms of technical support. And to be sure, customer service is a critical component of successful SaaS; but a less obvious part of this service is the speed and intelligence with which the software can develop in response to client needs. In the case of lead management software, data is generated whenever the software is used by clients. With software as a service it is possible to continue developing the software in response to how it is being used. When it is discovered that lead close rates are dramatically better when the prospect is contacted in under a minute, a solution is developed to ensure that you’ll be the first on the phone with the prospect. When it is discovered that the effectiveness of contact attempts drops off after the sixth contact attempt, leads are prioritized to be contacted six times by phone and only by email thereafter.

Companies using lead management software are able to create a winning workflow and maximize ROI for their company. It’s fully configurable, but out of the box it is set up to leverage the analysis of the massive amount of accumulated data. The accumulated data, its analysis, and the product features that are added are an often overlooked but major part of the service. And it should go without saying, that the more clients a SaaS provider has, the more data, the better the conclusions drawn about best practices.

The part of the service that contributes most directly to client success is one that most people rarely consider; that a SaaS platform is developed directly in response client use and client need.

The New Customer and the Existing Customer

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Lead Management Software has some common elements with Customer Relationship Management software. So companies that are looking at SaaS solutions for the first time sometimes ask, “Which one do I need? Which one will work for me?” It is a question that should be answered by looking at what each solution does best, making an honest and realistic appraisal of your business needs and capabilities, and finding what fits. And if you are scratching your head and asking, what’s with the honesty and realism? This is business, not couples counseling; I understand and I’ll speak to that briefly. The reason why it is called out explicitly to be honest and realistic about your business needs is because there is a tendency for prospective CRM buyers to get caught up in all of the possibilities of what CRM can do. In short, the promise of CRM is that it fully revolutionizes the way you work and delivers better results throughout your business. The reality of CRM is that it fully revolutionizes the way you work, but it’s a top down revolution that hits significant obstacles in terms of acceptance and use by rank and file employees.

What lead management does best, in a nutshell, is get sales reps on the phone with the leads more intelligently and more quickly than any other solution. What is meant here by “more intelligently” is that Lead Management Software distributes leads based on configurable rules that match sales rep to lead according to criteria of your choosing. Is licensure and issue? Do you want the biggest opportunities to go to your most effective rep? Leads are sorted automatically according to your rules. Lead Management Software can even help you identify soft skills in your reps that make them more likely to close leads based on lead information; as in, “Oh you’re from Missouri? So am I! Great to meet you!” As far as “more quickly” goes, with Lead Management Software, the moment a prospect submits his online inquiry it is posted to the lead management system and all the phones of eligible sales reps ring. The quickest rep wins the lead. There is no faster way to contact a prospect and the effect of speed to contact on close rates is well known.

Lead Management Software also prioritizes leads and automates follow up, making it easy for reps to reach out to the right lead at the right time. Lead Management Software also has simple but powerful reporting capabilities to make it easy to see what’s working and what isn’t. Which lead sources, marketing efforts, sales reps, sales messaging are making you money and which aren’t.

What CRM does best is manage customer relationships. If you need to manage ongoing orders and keep track of your all the interactions an existing customer has with your company, than CRM is the right solution.

If your business needs are that you are trying to gain more customers, grow your business, close more deals, then Lead Management Software fits the bill. When weighing your options between LMS and CRM, Your North Star should be this question: “Do I want a solution that helps me get new customers or manage existing customers?”

Sales Reps and the 80/20 Rule

Monday, July 25th, 2011

In case you’re not familiar with it, the 80/20 rule states that 80% of the work on your sales team is done by 20% of your sales reps. This rule is not hard and fast, and the quantities may shift a bit over the months. But the point of the 80/20 rule isn’t to be a substantive analysis of the division of labor as much as it is to be a reminder for managers and small business owners that not all agents are created equal.

So the 80/20 rule reminds us that achievement is uneven on the sales team. But what can be done with that information? In what way is it actionable? How are high-performing sales reps rewarded? Clearly, the built in reward for high achieving sales agents is a higher income. That is no small motivation. Other prizes and accolades may incentivize the team to try harder, and reward those who are high performers.

But since these high performers are boosting company income, not just their own, it really makes sense to reward them with more opportunities. More chances to make connections with prospects and make deals. It makes sense to reward them with more leads. This does add a layer of complexity to lead distribution if you are distributing your leads by manually. It becomes necessary to monitor agent performance pretty closely and reward those who hit exceed defined goals with more opportunities.

But for sales teams using lead management software, this can be done automatically. Lead management has features that route leads based not only characteristics of the lead, but based on the performance of the sales reps. Two such features that reward high performing reps are Performance Based Lead Maximum Adjustments and Pipeline Thresholds.

Performance Based Lead Maximum Adjustments - This works by dynamically increasing or decreasing maximum lead allotments based on agent performance. Let’s say a sales rep is normally assigned three new leads a day. It is possible to increase his allotment based on a number of different performance measurements, for example, Speed to Contact Attempt or Conversion Rate. Here’s how Performance Based Lead Maximum Adjustment work.

Pipeline Thresholds – This works by temporarily pausing the flow of new leads to an agent whose pipeline is experiencing a bottleneck. The most common example of how this is used is when a user has too many leads that are New” and “Uncontacted.” If a threshold is reached, then the agent should become temporarily ineligible to receive new leads. Here’s how Pipeline Thresholds work.

So one feature looks at how the particulars of how a sales rep is working her leads. Is she fast? Is she successful? While the other feature looks at the state of her lead pipeline. Does she have too many leads backed up in a given status?

With these features, it is possible to reward your top achievers with more opportunities while reducing the load for reps who are underperforming. There really is no better way to motivate a sales team and reward top performers.

How Much Can One Button Do?

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

What’s the point of having sophisticated technology if it’s too difficult for your people to use? The age of the iPhone is upon us and people are used to the iPhone experience. It is an experience where you point at what you like to select it. You make it bigger by moving your fingers apart. You dismiss it with a swipe. It’s easy. And this way of interacting with computers is everywhere. People have this intuitive experience with their phones dozens or hundreds of times a day.

Then they get to work and log into their computers at work and, well, business software isn’t quite on the level of usability Angry Birds. Managing your sales funnel just isn’t quite as easy.

But it’s not really realistic to compare the experience of a smart phone to the experience of a desktop computer where a person is expected to do real work, and achieve real results. Closing all the sales in your pipeline is a task that is suitably complex that a smart phone cannot achieve it alone. A smart phone can help, but it’s a supporting player.

So when a smart phone can’t handle all of your business needs, we don’t hold it against it. It’s just a phone, after all. The computer, however, doesn’t get a free pass when compared to a smart phone from a usability standpoint. Why can’t computers and business applications be as easy as smart phones? Why can’t they be intuitive like a smart phone?

The reason for that is that computers have bigger more complex jobs to do. Smart phone to Computer is, strange as it may seem, not an ‘apples to apples’ comparison. So that’s the short answer to the question of why the computer and business applications can’t be as easy as the smart phone and it’s battery of apps.

But that’s not the whole story. The smart phone has set a high water mark for usability that business applications are striving to match. One such example exists in lead management software. Lead management software is highly configurable to allow sales managers and small business owners to create rules that govern the distribution of leads.  This creates a pipeline of leads for the sales rep that they are best suited to work with and most likely to close. Really useful, but by itself, not super usable.

But when a sales rep is ready for a new lead, that has been handpicked for him, what steps does he have to take to get it? If there is navigation, multiple pages, decisions, etc, involved in getting a lead, each obstacle will see more sales reps distracted or obstructed. When a sales rep wants a lead, she should be able to click a single button to be connected to the best available lead, as determined by lead prioritization and distribution rules. With a feature called Demand Connect offered by Leads360, leveraging all the business intelligence that goes into making the quickest and most strategic matchups between lead and rep is as easy as clicking a button.

Lost a Sale? Gather Intelligence

Monday, July 18th, 2011

When a sale is lost, unequivocally, irrevocably, lost; it’s time to move on. It’s not a happy occasion, so most sales reps are all too willing to put it behind them. And sales managers are keen to have their reps move on, too. What’s the point of beating a dead horse? But there may be a point to a little bit of dead horse beating; i.e., a lost sale post mortem.

There have been several posts on this blog that have addressed the topic of learning from leads that close and leads that don’t. The best way to do this is to leverage the reporting and analytic capabilities of lead management software to find out which of your lead sources, sales processes, and sales reps are performing and which aren’t. But there is more that lead management software can do to extract value from leads that didn’t close.

With lead management software you can create drip email campaigns that can be triggered when it becomes clear that the lead is not going to close.  A few emails and a phone call or two where the sales agent asks how he could have better served the lead can yield some pretty useful information. The lead record is usually thought of as containing information that will be needed to make a sale. But using lead management software to systematically capture this post-mortem data can help small business owners and sales managers collect information about lost sales that can be used to improve the sales process going forward.

Not every lead closes. When one doesn’t close, find out why. It can help you close more in the future.

The Inbox Is Alive

Friday, July 15th, 2011

If you’re doing email marketing to your prospects, congratulations. Just when email skeptics were starting to say that email is dead, the inbox has become a place of renewed possibilities. Not that the doomsayers were coming out of nowhere, it’s easy to see why the skeptics thought they saw the importance of email waning. With the rise of text messaging, Twitter, messaging on Facebook and other social networks gaining ground at the same time that email inboxes around the world were being increasingly choked with spam, it’s easy to draw the conclusion that email is becoming obsolete. But along came Groupon; A simple service that sends deals by email. Suddenly there was something in the inbox that could cause genuine excitement. Not to mention genuine revenue.

Judging by Google’s (rejected) $6 Billion offer to buy Groupon, it would appear that the email inboxes of the world are not a bad place to conduct business at all. So just as spam fatigue threatened to diminish the vitality of the inboxes everywhere, Groupon, and other services like it, have people looking at their email again as a place where great things can happen. (If you consider half off a meal at a good restaurant a great thing.)

So it may be a great time to redouble your efforts on smart email marketing. Sending professional emails at strategic intervals that provide engaging and useful content are more likely than ever to catch the eye of your prospects. And if you are using lead management software, there are some great tools you can use not only to send emails, but to find out which emails are getting responses. You can put links in emails that point to campaign-specific landing pages on your website. When a prospect submits an inquiry on a campaign-specific landing page, they are associated with the corresponding campaign. This helps you focus your efforts on the email campaigns that yield results. And email reporting helps you to see which emails are turning customers away.

The inbox is alive. Are your email marketing campaigns?

Who’s Next?

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Are you spending too much time figuring out who to sell to and not enough time selling? I’m not talking about trying to figure out where your leads are coming from. I’m talking about of all the leads you have, you stall when trying to figure out who gets your attention right now. Who gets the next call? It’s difficult to keep in your mind exactly where you are in the sales cycle with all of your prospects. Someone is due for a call back today, and you aren’t calling, because for whatever reason, the lead just isn’t on your mind at the moment. A lead that isn’t contacted quickly is a missed opportunity.

It’s well known that leads need to be contacted quickly, that overwhelmingly customers choose to do business with the company who reaches them first. But what do you do when a customer can’t be reached quickly? Do you assume that they have been reached by another company and give up on them, or do you keep placing calls? Almost as important as contacting leads quickly is making a consistent effort to follow up on leads that are not reached quickly. Specifically, it’s important to make six call attempts to a lead before determining the opportunity does not warrant further effort. Why six? Read this Leads360 white paper on lead response to get the full story on lead follow up best practices. A lead that isn’t followed up on is a missed opportunity.

Lead management software comes with a feature called Lead Prioritization that allows sales managers or small business owners to create lead follow up rules. These lead follow up rules put all leads assigned to a sales rep into a single queue that is dynamically re-ordered based on the current ripeness of every opportunity in a sales reps pipeline. For example, your lead follow-up rules might dictate that a brand new lead requires three call attempts, each an hour after the last on the first day that it is assigned to a sales rep.  When the lead is assigned to the sales rep it will appear at the top of his queue, indicating that it is his highest priority. When the sales rep places a call to that lead, it will disappear from the queue and return to the top of the queue when an hour has passed and the rules indicate that another call attempt is required.

The benefits of using Lead Prioritization are that no lead falls through the cracks. Every lead is followed up on in accordance with company policy. Lead management software ships with pre-configured prioritization rules configured around the quick contact/consistent follow-up paradigm. Because of this, it is easy to adopt the proven system based on best practices even if you have no established company policy on lead follow-up.

Or you can keep trying to organize your lead follow up in your head, or with post-its, or outlook reminders. Even if that is working for you, it takes time; time that could be spent selling.

Reports Find Weak Links

Monday, July 11th, 2011

Everyone knows that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. It is not possible to build a successful business when nine links in your chain are strong and one is weak. The weakness of one aspect of a business is the weakness of the business as a whole. Creating strength and ensuring success means making sure that weak links can be identified and fortified. Fortified when possible, replaced when not.

Focusing on sales and marketing. How are the different links in your chain performing? If each is performing well, then your end result is a tidy profit. But what if you feel that your profit is not what it should be, or what you want it to be? How do you go about finding out if you be working more efficiently and making more money by doing things differently?

When a small business owner or sales manager takes on the task of increasing profits, identifying weak and strong performers is the first and most important step. A big part of finding success is finding the things that work, and doing more of them, while finding the things that don’t, and doing less of them. This analysis is not groundbreaking. But like with many things in business, it’s not the idea, it’s the execution.

When you set out to execute this identification of weak and strong links, how do you do it? How transparent is your transparency? How accountable is your accountability? It’s critical to be able to indentify strengths and weakness in all aspects of your business practices; ranging from employee performance, branch performance, marketing efforts, lead provider, etc.

Lead management software ships with canned reports that make it easy to gain immediate insights into the performance of every link in your chain. And since no solution can ship with enough reports to yield performance data on every conceivable situation, the best lead management solutions have a custom reporting tool. Custom reporting enables the quick creation of ad hoc reports that return performance data based on any set of criteria you can think of.

A chain may only be as strong as its weakest link, but with the reporting capabilities of lead management software weak links can be identified a lot more quickly.

Leads360 Lead Distribution: Push, Pull, and More

Friday, July 8th, 2011

What’s the best way to get a lead from a lead provider to a sales agent? Quickly. Quickly and intelligently. It’s a well known fact that speed to contact is the single most important contributing factor to lead close rates. How important is speed? Close rates for leads that were contacted within one minute of submitting an online inquiry showed an improvement of 391%.

For a sales manager, getting leads to agents quickly requires a few necessary tools. The quickest way to get leads from lead providers to sales reps is with lead management software. The best lead management software solutions have multiple methods of distributing leads, i.e., Push distribution and Pull distribution. Leads360 uses both Push and Pull distribution programs. Each has their strength, and working together they ensure that every lead is connected to a sales rep as quickly as possible.

Push distribution programs push leads to sales reps who qualify for them.

Pull distribution queues up leads for sales reps to pull as they are ready.

Both Push and Pull distribution can be configured with lead and user filters. Adding filters to distribution programs enables sales managers to route leads intelligently according to any criteria they can conjure up. Get the biggest opportunity to the best sales rep; Make sure reps only receive leads that correspond to their areas of expertise and licensure. And with skills based lead routing, it’s possible to match leads with sales reps based on soft skills that maximized lead-rep compatibility. This debunks the claim made by it’s detractors that Push distribution assigns leads randomly.

This article demonstrates the process of setting up both Push and Pull distribution programs in Leads360.

When combined with Dial-IQ, Leads360’s intelligent lead dialer, these distribution methods deliver even more dramatic results. Dial-IQ’s Shotgun Connect feature rings the phone of every eligible sales rep and only the first rep to get the call wins the lead. This method of distribution is a hybrid of push and pull distribution. Demand Connect is the Dial-IQ feature that is pure pull distribution. With Demand Connect, the sales rep clicks a button and is connect to the best available lead.

Read this testimonial to see how Leads360’s pull distribution has resulted in an astounding improvement in this clients close rates.

Another erroneous belief about push distribution programs is that “In a push system, leads are simply put into queues and it is up to the individual sales agent as to how–or if–he or she follows up.”

One of the features of Leads360 is that leads that are distributed by either Push or Pull distribution can be recycled, or redistributed if they are not followed up on by the sales rep who received them. This ensures that leads get the attention that they need quickly.

Push and Pull distribution work together to ensure that leads are matched to reps as intelligently as possible and that the leads are contacted immediately.