Entries from November 2009

2009’s 50 Most Influential People in Sales Lead Management

I promised to link to the list of the top 50 most influential people in sales lead management.

The ballots are counted. (Imagine the drum roll.) And the winners are:

http://www.salesleadmgmtassn.com/news/2009_Top50_SalesLeadManagement.htm

To those of you who voted for me, my sincere thanks! -Mac

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B2B Copywriting: Interview with Miller McMillan

This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.

Miller McMillan

Miller McMillan is a copywriter who worked on high-profile accounts at ad agencies in Atlanta and Boston before establishing his copywriting boutique in Los Angeles. Miller has worked with such clients as CNN, Hughes, Nestlé, Avery and Microsoft. His copywriting capabilities include websites, direct mail, email, ad campaigns, brochures, slogans and names.

Miller, it seems to me that copywriting plays a big role in B2B lead generation. Am I right?

Absolutely. Copywriting can attract, educate and motivate prospects through a variety of media, including websites, email campaigns, Twitter, direct mail and other options.

Based on your experience, Miller, what are some of the secrets to success regarding B2B copywriting?

It’s really critical to understand the prospect’s needs and challenges—almost like a psychologist. Then the challenge is to deliver bite-sized information that answers questions and builds confidence, moving the prospect toward action. Benefits are everything. We can talk all day about features and still not capture and cultivate leads. We need to quickly communicate how our product or service meets a need, solves a problem and helps an organization move forward.

Today our copy talks to search engines as well as human beings, so we need to address the interests of both. Ideally, well-written copy puts keywords in the right places without a lot of conscious thought. But we can do more to optimize our writing by following the evolving guidelines for SEO writing.

What must a good copywriter do to avoid the mistakes you see others making regarding copy for lead generation?

Write less and say more. Wordy copy is a turnoff. The challenge is to be concise yet complete.

Love subheads. Ideally the reader can skim through a document or web page—reading only the subheads—and get a good idea of what’s being offered. Pages with lots of uninterrupted text are not likely to be read.

Ask early and often. I see a lot of writing in which the call to action is hard to find. Big mistake. The copywriter needs to give the reader many opportunities to call, email or take other action. The skilled writer makes generous use of “exit ramps” to steer traffic to the next destination.

In fact, it’s good to have jumping-off points on virtually every spread of a brochure and every page of a website or direct mail piece. Phone numbers, email links and buttons are powerful assets to accelerate the selling process.

Be honest, avoid vagueness. It’s so important to tell the truth and not mislead with copy. Buyers have keen radar and know instinctively whether they are experiencing a credible message.

Pay attention to design. Although often overlooked, great design provides a platform that supports the copywriting message, giving it credibility, appeal and a better chance for success.

Miller, if a company wants to generate more B2B leads for the products or services it sells, it is critical for its web pages to be found at the top of the search engine results. How does this change the way you write copy for those web pages?

It’s important to be up to date on SEO techniques that drive search engine results. Using keywords, tags, links and relevant content is critical to being visible in search results.

Can a copywriter be a generalist and still be effective, writing everything from lead generation copy to search-optimized web page copy to content such as case studies, white papers and how-to guides?

That’s a great question. Sometimes a marketer may want a copywriter who writes how-to guides every day, or whose middle initials are S.E.O. In other cases, a fresh approach from a highly versatile writer who “gets it” may be helpful.

When I think “generalist,” I think “versatile.” There are copywriters who have an excellent grasp of many product categories, media and techniques—and who offer an array of writing styles to match the specific marketing challenge.

One of the little-known facts about copywriting is that a truly skilled copywriter has an ability to learn very quickly—and a great capacity to capture what is relevant and communicate it effectively across a variety of platforms.

Miller, do you have any advice to share about how to find a good B2B copywriter?

Recommendations from colleagues and designers are a great place to start. One might also try searching the web using keywords that relate to a specialty. When taking such an approach, it is important to look at relevant work, talk by phone and request references.

That said, I think the real test is how you feel when reading a writer’s copy. Do you feel engaged intellectually and emotionally? Do you want to read more? Do you feel like you’re part of a conversation rather than the recipient of a monologue? Is the copy effortless to read and understand?

From a marketer’s standpoint, is it better to work with a copywriter by the hour or by the project?

I think per project works better in most cases. The marketer has the advantage of knowing total cost up front, including revisions. An exception might be a project that is not concretely defined. For example, a marketer creating a website may not know how many pages or how much text will ultimately be needed. Here, the hourly approach offers flexibility in accommodating an undefined scope of work.

Are there any final thoughts you want to share with our readers?

Technology is great, but, ultimately, human minds and hearts make purchase decisions. Use SEO and other techniques to stand out, but remember the importance of the human connection. Make sure your copywriting is concise, engaging, honest and likable.

Miller, thanks so much taking the time to share your thoughts about B2B copywriting with our readers.

Readers, please join in the conversation.

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The Top People in Sales Lead Management in 2009: Friday, November 13th is Your Last Chance to Vote!

Don’t miss this opportunity to vote for your top five candidates to be among the fifty most influential people in sales lead management in 2009.

Why? Because the Sales Lead Management Association (SLMA) is closing the polls at Midnight Pacific Time (UTC-8) on Friday, November 13th.

Vote Online

Both members and non-members can vote. So why don’t you click this link to cast your votes right now: www.salesleadmgmtassn.com/top50_vote.htm 

Then be sure to watch for the results on November 16, 2009. I promise to publish the list of winners right here, whether I make the cut or not.

Okay, I can’t resist: I’m proud to be included among the nominees, and I sure would appreciate your vote.

Thanks much!

- Mac

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Web Inquiry Management: Interview with Mike Wallen

This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.

Mike Wallen

My guest is Mike Wallen, CEO of The Lead Dogs, a B2B lead development company that provides sales lead generation, telemarketing and telesales services.

Mike, I understand that you recently published a special report about the handling of web inquiries, titled "The Truth Behind Web Inquiry Management." What do you include under the definition "web inquiries," and why did you focus the report on them?

Today companies receive inbound inquiries through numerous sources—the web, chat, phone calls and emails. The report focuses on web inquiries specifically because the biggest percentage of inbound inquiries come through this source, and these inquiries often represent overlooked sources of revenue.

At The Lead Dogs, we define a web inquiry as a completed form on a website or landing page. Someone who completes a form may have gotten to the site as a result of a marketing campaign, online searches, social media activities or a word-of-mouth referral.

What is the truth behind web inquiry management? What is the main thing you want those responsible for B2B lead generation to know?

The truth is that people are letting good leads slip through the cracks. Whether it is due to the perception that web inquiries are low in quality and not worthy of being followed up on or purely the lack of resources to use in following up, the overall handling of web inquiries today is insufficient.

The report talks about the impact of response time on connecting with interested prospects and identifying them as qualified leads. Tell us more about that, Mike.

In the companies we interviewed, the average response time to an inquiry was 31 hours. We see this as being pretty reflective of what happens in most companies. However, this time frame is just too long. According to an industry survey and our experience at The Lead Dogs, the odds of connecting live with a prospect are the highest within minutes of the inquiry occurring. From there, the odds of connecting decrease by 10 times in the first hour.

These stats really emphasize how critical it is to have inquiry management processes in place. When the resources are set up to handle inquiries as they occur, you can quickly reach these individuals, qualify them, classify them appropriately, and then move them into or through the funnel promptly, without missing any opportunities for new revenue.

In addition to filling out web forms, lots of inquirers respond by phone or email. How should these inquiries be handled?

All inquiries should be handled with a prompt follow-up, ideally within minutes, to quickly qualify them and determine whether the inquirers are a fit and ready to engage with sales.

Mike, your benchmark study also shows that 4 percent of inquiries come from chat. As that number is so small (compared with the 43 percent that come in via web forms, the 33 percent by phone and the 20 percent by email), should marketers bother adding chat capabilities to their web pages?

Part of the reason chat represents such a small percentage is that not many companies are doing it yet. As more companies add this capability, I anticipate that the percentage will increase.

Yes, I believe that marketers should add chat to their websites, as it can be a very effective way to engage prospective customers. But chat isn’t an area to dabble in. Adding chat capabilities is resource intensive—it requires the marketer to staff the role, provide training, etc. There needs to be a long-term commitment to making chat a success, whether that involves using internal resources or external ones.

According to the report, your client data shows that for every 100 inbound inquiries, 10 are sales ready and 50 need additional nurturing. Should my readers bother with lead nurturing? And if so, how should they go about it?

Lead nurturing should be a priority for every marketer. In today’s economic times, with lengthening sales cycles and more and more people involved in the buying process, it is important to build relationships not only with prospects who are ready to buy now, but also with those who may buy in the future or who may be influencers on the decision-making process. This is really important because according to the 2008 Miller Heiman Sales Best Practice Study, the number of decision makers involved with each sale shifted up by 16 percent compared to the previous year’s study and companies are getting more sophisticated about how they make decisions. According to Bill Golder, Miller Heiman’s executive vice president of sales, "They’re getting better at internal collaboration in decision making." That means not only more people involved but more knowledgeable people involved.

To effectively nurture these opportunities, marketers should approach lead nurturing the same way they do lead generation—with a plan! Just as with lead generation, it is important to understand the target profile [or persona], tailor key messages to each profile and its stage in the sales cycle, develop an integrated set of campaigns to reach those leads, continuously monitor and analyze results, and tweak campaigns based on results achieved. Many of our clients have found success with an ongoing combination of very targeted and personalized phone conversations, emails, direct mail and even event invitations [for webcasts, etc.].

Mike, thanks for speaking with us about your benchmarking report. How can our readers learn more?

A complimentary copy of the report is available for download here:
The Truth Behind Web Inquiry Management

They also can email me at mwallen at leaddogs dot com

Readers, what are your thoughts about web inquiry management?

Are you responding quickly enough to your web inquiries? How about your phone and email inquiries?

Are you nurturing your not-yet-qualified prospects until they are sales ready? If so, is your lead nurturing paying off in more qualified leads and closed sales?

Are you providing chat services on your web pages? And if so, do you generate more qualified leads as a result?
 

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Your B2B Lead Generation Budget: Start by Cutting It Into Thirds

Here is a simple and effective way to allocate your business-to-business lead generation budget.

PieChart Thirds

Use the first third of your B2B lead generation budget for Internet marketing.

Start with:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) so your web pages will be found when prospects are using the leading search engines to find companies, products or services like yours
  • Improving your website so it does a better job of helping visitors move from awareness to inquiry to consideration to purchase (Help yourself to my complimentary Web site design checklists for B2B marketers.)
  • Adding your company and its products or services to appropriate online directories

Use the second third of your B2B lead generation budget for direct marketing.

Use it to fund:

  • Building a well-targeted list of prospective customers 
  • Ongoing, multitouch email, postal mail or telemarketing for generating and nurturing leads until they are qualified as being sales ready
  • Making offers designed to move prospects from awareness to inquiry to consideration and purchase

Use the final third for everything else.

The lion’s share of this final third should be spent on creating content (e.g., white papers, how-to guides, checklists, decision-maker kits, webinars, newsletters, articles and web page content optimized for key search terms).

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B2B Email Marketing: Interview with Stephanie Miller

This is one of a series of occasional interviews with top practitioners on topics of interest to B2B lead generation, marketing and new business development professionals.

Stephanie Miller

My guest today is Stephanie Miller, email expert and co-author of Sign me up! A Marketer’s Guide To Email Newsletters That Build Relationships and Boost Sales.

Stephanie describes herself as a customer advocate who, through her work with email performance company Return Path, helps marketers reach the inbox and connect with prospects and customers via email and social marketing.

Recent research sponsored by Google and Forbes found that on average 27.6 percent – more than one in four email messages – never reach the businesspeople they were sent to. Stephanie, why is this happening and what should this blog’s readers do about it?

This study tracks with Return Path’s Deliverability Benchmark Report on the first half of 2009, which is based on the data Return Path manages for ISPs and corporate system administrators.

It found that about 28% of B2B marketing email never reaches the inbox, which is higher than B2C email (20% of that gets blocked). This is true for even the best of marketers.

Remember too that it is not always the same 28% – you will sometimes reach the inbox of a particular subscriber and sometimes not. So you can count on the fact that some portion of your audience is not seeing every email. Witness your own Junk folder. You will see lots of stuff in there you sometimes see in your inbox.

Why?

Put simply, email marketing messages get blocked because they are sent in bulk, which makes them look like spam. This is bad because marketers can get trapped by the same systems put in place to stop spam by the postmasters at ISPs like Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail, and by small business and corporate system administrators.

The way to avoid being blocked is to improve the reputation of your domain as well as the engagement of your subscribers.

The good news: This also optimizes response and revenue. Engage and delight your email recipients and they will respond with clicks, downloads, sharing to their networks and longer session lengths.

The bad news: It’s not about content – so changing words like "Free" or "Click here" won’t make much of a difference.

More bad news: There is a whole gauntlet of filters between "Send" and inbox. There is hardware at the receiving gateway; there is software on those machines; there are reputation-based filtering services like Postini and Cloudmark; and then there are filters in software such as Outlook 2007. Yikes!

What can B2B marketers do?

  1. Track your sender reputation. Use a service like Return Path, directly or via your ESP. If you don’t see actual inbox placement data, then ask for it. Inbox placement is a new number – the number representing the difference between what gets reported as "delivered" or "accepted" by your service provider and the open rate. You can get a quick overview of your sender reputation free at www.senderscore.org or dnsstuff.com.
     
  2. Map your domain footprint. Know which domains are most important to you. If you have a large percentage of web-based domains on your file or if you market to small businesses you will see a large number of Yahoo!, Gmail and Hotmail addresses in your file. That is good – because data on inbox placement to those ISPs is readily available and is a good proxy for how the corporate administrators handle your email. We have done this analysis for global marketers and identified the top 20 companies on their file – and then we reach out to each of those companies and find out what sort of filtering is happening and try to become whitelisted. This is a manual but very effective strategy.
     
  3. Build your confidence. When a CEO or one of your brand managers says, "Our message went to Junk," or a subscriber says, "I’m not getting your event invites," many B2B marketers feel as if they have been hung out to dry. It’s hard to know how to address that. However, by tracking your ability to get past such filters as Postini, Cloudmark and Outlook 2007, you can say, "Yes, I know the message didn’t reach your particular inbox, but the data shows that we are reaching about xx% of all the inboxes at businesses we target."
     
  4. Watch rendering. Be sure to know how your message renders – with and without images! – in the various versions of Outlook and on mobile devices. Lotus Notes breaks nearly everything, but it’s worth tracking that too, especially if you have a lot of subscribers at companies that use that system. Be sure to create versions specific to the email clients that are most important to you. A publisher may want to optimize for the lower capabilities of mobile, while a technology company might want to optimize for Outlook.

Stephanie, what tools are available for increasing the deliverability of email and which will make the most difference?

Tracking of inbox placement and rendering. Get this data directly, or ask your ESP to provide it. Also, lots of data can be gained when marketers become certified and placed on various whitelists. This last option is available to only the best senders who qualify.

Can you share some email best practices that B2B marketers should be following?

Here is a quick checklist. See how you rank on all these, and use the results to develop a plan to refresh and update your email program. You’ll quickly see higher results.
 

  1. Focus on the subscriber. Mail less frequently but with more value in each message. Tailor messages to the behavior (e.g. recent download) or demographics.
     
  2. Track your sender reputation and inbox placement rate. If you don’t get this data from your ESP today, ask for it.
     
  3. Make it easy to see what the call to action is.
     
  4. Keep it simple – no one has time to read a lengthy newsletter, even if the content is interesting. Break it up into shorter, pithier messages and guide subscribers to the website.
     
  5. Get permission and actively engage to ensure that subscribers still want to be in your file.
     
  6. Use a Preference Center to give subscribers choices, then communicate that they can visit the Preference Center frequently as their needs change.
     
  7. Treat prospects differently from customers. Use unique content and a slower pace.
     
  8. Highlight and nurture your most active and most socially networked subscribers. Email and social marketing are natural allies. Use them together to build relationships and encourage dialog.
     
  9. Carefully vet the sources of your email file – e.g. are some partners sending data that turns out to be unresponsive?
     
  10. Include links to your LinkedIn profile and other social network sites, and encourage subscribers to "Share this" by providing auto-status update links at each article or call to action.

Are there email practices that our readers should avoid?

Avoid high frequency. Avoid all image-HTML messages (your subscribers will see a big gray box instead of your call to action). Avoid lots of links and images if you think your audience is reading email on mobile devices. Avoid generic messages. Avoid sharing lists between brands or companies – treat the permission grant with respect.

The Golden Rule of email marketing is to treat your subscribers the way you would like to be treated – only sending them information that is relevant, timely and helpful.

Stephanie, is B2B lead generation a good application for email? How about lead nurturing and qualification?

Yes and yes. Email is the first and still most widely utilized dialog channel! Email is great for customizing the "storyboard” – aka: sending drip marketing campaigns. For prospecting, keep it very simple and offer a compelling call to action that has a low bar of commitment. “Download a whitepaper” is certainly simple, but may be too ordinary to break through. “Submit three questions to our expert and we’ll provide custom answers in two days” is more compelling.

Email is also great for moving prospects through a sales cycle. Again, customize. For free trial downloaders, send a series that guides them through getting started and then to exploring cool features that you know help close a deal. As the free trial ends, segment by those who have actually opened the software vs. those who did not. Later in the cycle, focus messaging around making a business case for the product purchase, since most B2B expenditures have to be approved by some committee or some executive.

If that sounds like a lot of work, remember that you create this series of messages once and then use it over and over again.

Are there any tips you can give for selecting the right email service provider?

There are so many providers, and it has become a commodity business so you won’t find many big differences between them all. (Note: My employer is NOT in this business, but we do partner with the best ESPs to provide inbox deliverability data.)

My recommendation is to start with an audit of your own needs – is segmentation the most important thing? Data integration? HTML templates? Then seek out four to five of the ESPs who best serve marketers with your size lists and ask them to show you how they would address that most important requirement. They need to be able to show you how they can do the whole service, too, but frankly, almost every one of them can check off every box in your RFP. If you focus on the one factor that drives your email marketing success, you will then have a point of differentiation.

Another deciding factor is to meet the person who will be your internal advocate – both account service and executive levels.

There is lots of buzz about video email. What are your thoughts about it?

I love the idea, but honestly, the only way video in email can be used for any significant reach is via an animated GIF that mimics video and links to a web page for the full experience. Technically, it’s not that cool, but it can be very effective if done well.

Don’t use video just to use it, however. Without it being central to the call to action, you will find that video can distract subscribers and actually reduce response. Instead, use it when it helps tell your story and close the conversion. Then it can be powerful.

To wrap things up Stephanie, are there any final thoughts about B2B email that you want to share with our readers?

Don’t put your email on autopilot. It’s too important to your revenue and customer engagement and nurturing efforts. Just because it’s easy to hit send and it’s cheap to broadcast, please, please, please don’t neglect your subscribers’ interests. These are your customers! Take the time to engage them. Help them be smarter and more productive, earn more revenue, and look good in front of their boss and they will reward you with more response and revenue.

Stephanie, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview!

Thank you so much for having me as your guest! Please tell your readers to email me at stephanie DOT miller @ returnpath DOT net, or to reach out to me at @StephanieSAM on Twitter.

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Need help with B2B lead generation, marketing and sales?
For more information, please call Mac McIntosh at +1-401-294-7730, send him email at or visit www.sales-lead-experts.com