How To Convert More Sales Leads with Lead Nurturing

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Lead Nurturing

Are you converting enough of your sales leads to customers?  A study by the CMO Council estimated that companies waste up to 80% of sales leads because they don’t follow them up effectively.  Sales teams do a good job pursuing hotter leads that look like they will buy in the next quarter.  But a lot of other contacts are lost, ignored or discarded.

Lead Nurturing” is a way to automate your follow-up so that more of your sales leads become customers.  You can convert an extra 20% to 30% of your leads by automating your follow-up this way, and it has other benefits too, like more efficient use of your sales team’s time.

In this post I’ll look at how to get your first Lead Nurturing program up and running.

What Is Lead Nurturing?

Lead nurturing means automating communications, usually via email, with your sales leads.  The goal is to keep your company ‘front of mind’ with prospects until they are ready to engage with your sales team.  You define a chain of communications you want to send out to leads and specify the time intervals between each email or call. Then you automate the sequence using a marketing automation tool or your CRM (if it supports nurturing).

Lead Nurture Track example

Goals and Principles

The main goal of lead nurturing is to convert more leads to sales by being consistent in the way you follow-up.  I think it is also useful to set out some principles before you start lead nurturing for your company, spelling out what you want to achieve:

1. Ensure we respond to all leads (i.e. that none of them go un-contacted).

2. Make sure this response happens faster than at present (e.g. minutes or hours rather than days).

3. Ensure we respond to all leads consistently.

4. Ensure this response is based on information we have about the lead (who they are and what they show interest in).

5. Ensure that our lead nurturing communications convert leads to customers – that each communication increases their engagement, not decreases it.

6. Record sufficient information about how we manage leads so that we can analyze our activities and draw accurate conclusions about how to improve our approach.

Getting Started – Lead Capture

The first step is to make sure you capture leads from your website and blog. (This is because four of the five top sources of sales leads are online, according to research from DemandBase and  You set up lead capture using registration forms next to “calls to action” on your web pages. For example, you can ask visitors to register their email address in exchange for a white paper or video.  When they register you automatically record their details.  Marketing Automation systems like Motarme take care of this for you.

Landing page example

Score Your Leads

Some leads are more likely to convert than others.  For example, you may find that leads from particular industries or countries are better quality. A lead score is a number you use to represent how ‘hot’ you think the lead is.  You base the score on a mixture of information you can gather about the person (such as their job title and company) and on their subsequent behaviour (such as repeat website visits and response to emails).  A lot of this information can be gathered automatically.

Lead Scoring Example

Categorize the Leads as “Personas”

You can categorize your leads into different “Buyer Personas”.  A persona is a simplified description of your target buyers. For example, one of your target personas could be “IT Managers at Engineering firms”, or “Finance Directors at mid-size software firms”.  Different personas will have different interests.  When a new lead is created, you decide what kind of persona matches that lead.  This helps you choose what kind of information they will be interested in during your follow-up.

Lead nurturing and personas

Choose What Kind of Content to Use for Lead Nurturing

Content is just another word for information that your buyers use when they are researching a product or service. Content includes case studies, white papers, presentations and videos.  Your sales leads will be interested in different kinds of content depending on their role, their business and their stage in investigating a product or service.  Typically prospective customers move from “awareness”, “interest” and “evaluation” through to “decision”.  As they learn more they require different types of information.  For example, at an early stage a general overview of a product might be useful.  As someone gets closer to making a purchase decision they may want to see technical specifications and pricing information.

Use a ‘Content Table’ to map out the kinds of content you think will appeal to the Personas you are targeting as they move through the buying process.

Content Matrix

Setting Up Your First “Nurture Tracks”

A Nurture Track is a sequence of emails and phone calls executed to a pre-defined schedule. For each persona map out which emails and content you want to send and specify the delay between mails. For instance, for a “Sales Director” persona you can start with a ‘Thank You’ email, followed by sending them a link to a white paper. Then a week later you could send out a link to a blog post or case study.

Lead Nurture Track example

You can automate these follow-up steps using a marketing automation system.  Now as people register on your website the system automatically scores them and allocates them to a nurture track, and they receive a predefined sequence of emails.  Where a phone call is required the system will notify your sales or marketing staff who they have to call and when.

Monitoring Progress

Once you get up and running you can check how your leads respond to your nurture.  For example, are they opening the emails and responding to your offers? If they respond positively e.g. by visiting your website and downloading more content then you can automatically increase their lead score.  Your goal is to get them to a point where they become “sales ready” i.e. they fit your target profile, they have shown serious engagement with your emails and website and they have given some indication that they are in a buying process.

As you monitor your nurture tracks you will find that some emails work and others don’t. Identify emails or content that get a good response and eliminate emails that don’t get opened.

Automate Your Follow-Up to Convert More Leads

Lead Nurturing is a straightforward way to convert more sales leads.  By defining your target buyers, identifying content that interests them and then running a series of automated emails, you can increase sales conversions by 20% to 30%.  Getting started now could give you an edge over your competition.

What are “Inside Sales” and Sales Development Representatives?

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What Is A Sales Development Rep

Inside Sales” is  rapidly growing model for business-to-business (B2B) sales.  Sales Development Representatives (SDRs) are a key part of that model and there is a big increase in hiring SDRs, especially among technology companies.  This post provides a simple explanation of ‘Inside sales’ and describes what a Sales Development Representative does as part of the sales team.

In the Beginning There Was Field Sales

20 years ago, most sales people in business-to-business companies worked in “Field Sales”. They spent a lot of their time on the road meeting with prospects and clients.  They did a lot of their own sales prospecting or else worked with a lead generation team. Those lead generation teams (often known as ‘telesales’) worked their way through cold calling lists, trying to identify potential prospects. But the model was centred around the concept of sales teams identifying and pursuing customers in person, face-to-face.

So What is Inside Sales?

Inside Sales can be defined  as sales where leads are mostly generated, pursued and closed using the web and phone.  Inside sales teams originally focused mostly on generating sales leads, but now they can demonstrate products and close sales too, usually for products in a price range of $5,000 to $100,000.  Field sales are still used in a lot of industries, and for higher value deals, but Inside Sales teams are growing across almost all sectors.

The Rise of Inside Sales

Sales has changed in the past decade, both in the way sales teams sell and the way buyers buy.  Where most of the process used to be face-to-face, now a lot of it happens over the phone and online.  This has happened for a few reasons:

Buyers do more research online – where people used to rely on vendors to supply product and market information, they can now gather this information themselves.  Even in more traditional sectors buyers are becoming more comfortable using the web and social media when looking for solutions or products. This is illustrated by research from the Savvo Group that found between 58% to 70% of the buying process is completed before talking to a vendor.

B2B Buyers do more research online

Sellers are looking for more efficient ways to sell – there are huge savings for companies if they can close most sales over the phone and web versus in-person sales calls.  This diagram from David Skok of Matrix Partners highlights the relative cost of moving from an online sales model to a high-touch face-to-face model.

Cost of Customer Acquisition by Sale Type

Sales Role Specialisation – sales teams that break the sales process into separate, specialized functions are more effective. So teams now allocate functions such as lead generation, lead qualification and subsequent lead management to different roles in a sales team.  The Sales Development Rep is a good example of that new specialized type of role.

There are better tools – 10 years ago tools for web based selling were limited – for example video web conferencing was relatively expensive and pretty flaky.  Today a sales person can easily demonstrate a product over the web to a customer, have a video call, chat directly with them on live chat or connect via social media.  The tools are better, faster and lower cost and it’s possible to get close to a ‘virtual’ face-to-face experience.

How are Inside Sales Teams structured?

Inside Sales teams are structured in an assembly line layout, with lead generation at one end and sales qualification and follow-up at the other.

Inside Sales Team Structure

The process starts with lead generation.  There are usually two flows for lead generation – outbound and inbound.

Inbound lead generation starts with web marketing execs who drive traffic to the company website to generate leads and inquiries.  They review these enquiries before passing ‘sales quality’ inbound leads to an Inbound Sales Development Rep.  (Leads that aren’t ‘sales quality’ can be sent to a ‘Lead Nurturing’ workflow to keep in contact, or else rejected). The Inbound SDR’s role is to establish contact with the lead they received from marketing, confirm there is an opportunity and schedule an initial call or demo, before passing that lead to an Account Executive (AE).

Outbound lead generation starts within the Inside Sales Team, with the Outbound Sales Development Representative preparing lists of potential prospects through online research.  The reps then make contact with these prospects, starting usually with initial outbound ‘cold emails’ followed up by phone calls with prospects who respond positively.  Again, the SDR will try to confirm there is a real opportunity before passing the qualified leads to an Account Executive.

Follow-up and closing belongs to Account Executives, who manage the qualified leads until they are ready to become paying customers.  For B2B companies this may involve multiple interactions over weeks and months until a sale is agreed.

What are the key tasks for a Sales Development Representative?

The goal of the SDR is to identify and qualify as many candidate customers as possible in as short a time as possible. You measure their success by monitoring how many qualified appointments and/or demos they schedule for your account executives.  Breaking this down a little, their main tasks are:

Understand the ‘Ideal Customer Profile’ – the SDR needs to be clear on who he or she is trying to target.  This means target industry, role, company size, geography, region etc.  There is good information on how to create your ideal customer profile in the books “Predictable Revenue”, by Aaron Ross, and “Lead Generation for the Complex Sale” by Brian Carroll.

Create prospect lists: once they know who to target, the key task of an SDR is to research online and build lists of contacts that fit the profile.  This can be through a combination of web searches, LinkedIn searches, association membership lists, 3rd party database providers like Jigsaw, and purchased lists from list providers.  The SDR can use tools to improve the accuracy of their lists to ensure the names and contact details are correct.

Run outbound emails and calls: once they are fully up-and-running, SDRs can be contacting 30 to 60 people per day, in a controlled process.  These initial contacts are brief and exploratory – the SDR is trying to establish if there is a potential interest and requirement for your solution, not actually trying to sell it.

Handover to Account Execs: when an SDR is sure that one of her contacts is worth pursuing, they capture all relevant details and then do a controlled handover to one of their Account Exec colleagues.  This handover can include confirmation by the Account Exec that the new lead meets all the necessary criteria for them to pursue.

Make use of technology at each step:  there are tools available to help SDRs do their job better and faster.  From prospect databases, email verification, outbound email automation and CRM systems, SDRs should use tools at each step to identify prospects, contact them and record their interactions, and to measure their overall progress.

What makes a good Sales Development Representative?

This person needs to be (a) good at written communication, (b) great at phone communication, (c) efficient in researching lists, (d) rigorous in the use of tools and (e) disciplined in managing their time and monitoring results.

For example, your SDRs will be emailing and calling senior executives at target companies – you need to be comfortable that they can represent you professionally. They need to be able to give an online demonstration of your product where necessary, and they should use your CRM and other automation systems effectively so they can automate as much of their work as possible.

Beyond these skills, the SDR should have certain characteristics.  They’ll be working as part of a team and need to have good interaction and collaboration skills.  They are going to be trying to investigate whether a prospect has a business problem you can solve, so they need to be curious and good at probing for useful information.

Perhaps the most important characteristics are optimism and persistence.  By the nature of the job, they are going to hear ‘no’ a lot of the time from people they contact, so they need to be determined, focused and optimistic.

What Is the Business Case for Marketing Automation?

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Business Case for Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation systems help you automate repetitive tasks linked to acquiring new customers. In this post I give a quick definition of what marketing automation systems do, and then put together a business case for implementing the technology.

What is Marketing Automation?

Marketing automation systems automate steps for acquiring new customers, usually focusing on online channels like your website, email and social media. They automate activities required to make potential customers aware of your products and services and then communicate with those customers over time until they are ready to purchase.
For B2B companies, Marketing Automation systems can help you

  • Generate more sales leads and
  • Convert more of those leads to sales.

How does Marketing Automation relate to CRM systems?

Marketing Automation systems usually integrate with a CRM system. Both types of technology have a different focus and different types of users. Marketing Automation systems are focused on getting an initial contact or sales lead in the first place, and then ‘warming it up’ until the lead is ready for a sales person to take over. CRM systems are usually focused on managing live sales opportunities, managing your sales team, creating sales forecasts, and managing ongoing customer support. This diagram via David Raab shows the relationship:

Marketing Automation and CRM

How do Marketing Automation systems work?

For B2B companies, Marketing Automation systems help in 3 overall areas:

  • Lead Generation –generating leads online via your website and social media, and managing leads from other sources like trade shows
  • Lead Profiling – marketing automation systems automatically help you profile your leads, building a history of their previous online interactions and pulling information in from 3rd party sources. This helps you decide which leads match your target profile.
  • Lead Nurturing – based on the lead’s profile, marketing automation systems put them into a follow-up sequence, usually based on personalized emails with some phone calls and other touches in between. This is known as ‘Lead Nurturing’. These Lead Nurturing sequences are based on sending high quality information – ‘content’ – to your prospective customers. For example eBooks, reports, white papers, blog posts, videos and industry analysis.

In practical terms, most Marketing Automation systems have these features:

  • Lead capture forms – online registration forms that you can plug into web pages and your blog to collect visitor’s registration details.
  • Landing Pages – a web page designer that lets you design and publish special web pages – ‘landing pages’ – with integrated registration forms that collect a visitor’s details
  • Lead Profiling – capture and recording of information on web visitors’ locations, where they have been on your website, what they have downloaded, their social media profiles, the company they work for etc.
  • Lead Scoring – creating a numeric “score” for each lead to indicate how “hot” it is, based on their job title, their company, the number of times they visited your site, what they downloaded etc.
  • Lead Routing – rules for sending a new lead either to a sales person or to an automated follow-up sequence.
  • Lead Nurturing – the ability to design one of those follow-up sequences, usually by defining a sequence of emails and phone-calls over a period of weeks or months.
  • Reporting and Analytics – tools and reports to help you identify which of your web marketing activities generate leads, and which kinds of leads are likely to convert to customers. This helps you figure out which activities to increase or drop.

So, What’s The Business Case?

To build the business case for any new system you need to identify the potential benefits and balance these against the potential costs.
The key potential benefits you can get with Marketing Automation include:

  • Greater volume of leads – generate more leads, mainly through online web-based lead generation
  • Better quality leads – because you profile and score the leads automatically, you should be able to improve the quality
  • Reduce the cost per lead – by reducing the manual steps and generating more leads online
  • Drop fewer leads – because the process is automated, leads won’t get dropped or mishandled
  • Increased automation / less manual steps – automation of processes for lead capture and lead management means you can scale up without adding staff.
  • Better insight – automated reporting to give you better insight into what activities generate good quality leads that are likely to convert to customers.

Business Case inputs

You normally start by looking at your existing performance without the new system. You collect indicative numbers such as

  • Average number of new leads required per year e.g. 6,000
  • Average number of new customers needed per year e.g. 120
  • Average value per new customer e.g. €10,000
  • The number of marketing and lead management tasks per customer acquisition
  • Average cycle time to acquire a customer from start to end e.g. 90 days
  • Number of staff engaged in lead generation and qualification and their % utilisation
  • Average employee salary
  • Number of customer leads that fail to convert

Benefit assumptions

Now you make some reasonable assumptions about the improvement you could achieve by standardizing and automating your processes:

  • Number of customer acquisition tasks could be reduced by 30%
  • Improved end-to-end process can reduce cycle times by 20%
  • Number of staff engaged in manual lead generation tasks can be reduced by 30%
  • Average utilisation of lead generation staff is reduced by 40%
  • Number of leads who convert to sales is improved by 20%
  • Improved throughput capacity increases the number of good quality leads by 10%
  • Successful cross-selling opportunities will increase customer revenue by 5% annually

Example RoI case

  • 6,000 sales leads generated per year
  • 120 paying customers generated per year from those 6,000 leads
  • 5,880 leads do not convert to paying customers
  • Average new annual revenue per customer is €10,000
  • Average start-to-end customer acquisition cycle time is 120 days
  • Customer acquisition cost per new customer is €2,000
  • 20 distinct steps in the lead generation and follow-up process

Assumptions for Calculation

  • A seamless marketing automation lead management process would convert an additional 10% of leads to customers
  • 30% of the lead management costs could be eliminated
  • An employee costs €35,000 per annum

Cost / Benefit Figures

  • Increase in customer conversion – assuming a 20% increase in the number of leads who convert means 40 extra customers, at 10,000 each = €400,000
  • 30% reduction in customer acquisition costs is 30% of (240 x €2000) = €144,000
  • 10% additional leads because of the automated process generates 10% extra customers i.e. 10% of 200, which is a value of 20 x €10,000 = €200,000
  • Staff costs will stay the same or reduce on introduction of the new system

So the Total benefit is €400k + €200k + €144k = €744,000

Potential costs are:

  • Annual cost of new system
  • Once-off cost of implementing new system
  • Once off cost of linking new system to existing CRM system


These example figures illustrate the kind of benefits you can gain from implementing a marketing automation system to streamline and automated your lead management processes. To gain these benefits you still need to apply effort and time to implementing and using the system – it won’t drive itself.
But there is a clear business case – if you adopt marketing automation you will generate and convert more leads than you do today, and you will be able to scale-up that lead generation without scaling up staff numbers.

Calculating The ROI for B2B Social Media Marketing

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Marketing budget - coins

B2B firms are increasingly using social media liked LinkedIn, Twitter and other channels to drive sales. But how do you justify the time and effort? And how much should you spend on social media in comparison to your other sales and marketing activities?

B2B Technology Marketing research firm MarketingSherpa published a report in 2011 that answers the question.

To calculate the potential Return on Investment, they suggest you use the formula

(Value Gained from Investment – Cost of Investment) / Cost of Investment = RoI

Social Media Return on Investment

For example:

  • Allocate marketing time and effort of $15,000 to a social media marketing campaign
  • Generate 500 qualified leads from this effort at a value of $150 per lead, giving a total value of $75,000
  • then your RoI = (75k – 15k)/15k = 400% return on investment.

You can read more in the MarketingSherpa report “CMO Perspsectives on Social Media RoI

Quick Guide To Outbound Lead Generation

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Outbound Lead Generation

If you are a B2B technology or software company, there are 2 main options for lead generation:

  • Inbound lead generation (aka online lead generation)
  • Outbound lead generation.

Inbound should be a source of 30% or more of your leads.  But there are times when Inbound Lead Gen isn’t enough – that’s when you also need to use Outbound Lead Generation.

Quick Recap – why Online Lead Generation is important

Online lead generation is really important because today when anyone starts searching for a product or solution, they look online.  According to a DemandBase report from 2011, 4 of the top 5 sources of leads are online.

Sources of B2B leads

According to a Savo Group research study, 58% to 70% of the B2B buying process is completed before a buyer speaks to a vendor.

B2B buying process online percentage

And in a 2012 DemandGen report, 25% of B2B companies said they only initiated contact after they had already established a preferred list of vendors.

So for all these reasons, you need to make sure your prospective customers find you online or they’ll find your competitors. And when they do find you, you need to capture their contact details – that’s online lead generation.

When Do You Need Outbound Lead Generation?

If your product category is mature then potential customers will be searching for it online. For example, CRM is a mature category. People who want a CRM solution will search online for relevant terms.  There will be a lot of search traffic.  So CRM vendors should concentrate on inbound marketing for online lead generation.

But if your product category is new, or you operate in a highly vertical/niche market then potential buyers may not be aware of or searching for your type of product. There will be a low volume of search traffic looking for terms related to your product and  you won’t be able to generate enough leads online.

In that case you will have to reach out to prospective customers in a targeted, efficient and cost effective process – Outbound Lead Generation.

And sometimes Outbound Lead Generation can  produce faster results for early stage technology companies who are only beginning to establish a presence online.

How Does Outbound Lead Generation Work?

Outbound Lead Generation involves a set of clear phases, managed through a well defined process and supported by automation.

The main steps are:

Motarme Outbound Lead Generation process

1. Define Target Customer Profile

Clarify who your ideal target customers are. This definition should be clear and focused – type of companies, roles at those companies, territories, sectors etc.. Looking at your best existing customers helps with this definition.  The output of this step should be enough for an intern to use as a guide when searching for prospect names and contact details.

2. Value Proposition for Campaign

Clarify what your pitch will be for this campaign. This step helps when preparing the draft emails in step 3.  You can start with some bulletpoints covering what value your product provides, how quickly do customers obtain that value, why it’s better than alternatives, why it’s better than doing nothing.

3. Build Targeted List

This is the second most important step after defining your ideal customer.  The more effort you put into producing a good list the higher the likelihood your campaign will produce results.  You should try to sell high, so it’s important to get C-level / Director level names on your list.  Confirm that every name and every company on your list is genuinely relevant – they meet your target profile and you have good reason to expect they will be interested in your proposition.

4. Draft Emails 1, 2, 3 and 4

Draft the text for your outbound emails.  There should be a first email, then a second, third and fourth for follow-ups. This is because quite often you only make contact on the third or fourth attempt.  The emails should be simple, direct and text based, and should look like they come from a specific named individual at your company, not the marketing department.

5. Prepare Follow-up Material(s)

When prospects respond they may not be ready to engage, or they may want some information to assess whether your proposition is relevant to them.  You can send follow-up materials to prospects as a way to maintain their interest.  Example materials include presentations, case studies, white papers and industry news or analysis.  The goal is to have 4 to 5 items of content that you are sure will be of interest to your target customers.

6.  Send the Emails

Send emails to blocks of your prospect lists.  About 50 to 80 per day, 3 days per week for each sales person.  The goal is to generate 5 to 10 responses per day. Sales people won’t be able to deal effectively with more than that number of new responses per day (as each week progresses, the total number of prospects to manage quickly increases).

7.  Manage Responders

As a percentage of prospects respond, handle those responses consistently and record what’s happening. Typically the first interaction will be by email (the prospect emails you back). In some cases the prospect will call you – make sure you can access their details and know who you’re speaking with if they do call.

8.  Schedule Call

If the first response is by email then your next goal is to schedule a call.  You are not trying to sell on this call. The purpose of the first call will allow you to gauge whether the prospect is genuinely a good fit.  Are they interested?  Are they the right person to talk to at their firm? Are they ready to take a next step? The key point is to focus on their business to ensure you have a clear understanding of how they view the world.  Then your objective is to (a) get agreement to have another call or demo or (b) get introduced to the right person to talk to.

9.  Send Follow-Up Materials

In many cases the prospect is interested but not ready to engage e.g. they are in the middle of some kind of project, or under pressure to complete quarterly or annual reports.  If the time delay is likely to be 6 to 12 weeks then send follow-up materials over that period to maintain contact.

If the time delay is likely to be significantly more than 12 weeks then the lead can be put in a Lead Nurturing track.

10.  Schedule Demo / Meeting

For most technology companies part of the sales process will involve an online or in person demonstration of your product.  If that is the case, then in this step we schedule and then execute that demo. This means an email exchange and, when the date and time is confirmed, immediately putting this in the client’s calendar.  Other steps include confirming the client can take a web demo / Skype video call / Google hangout.  The demo format should include a short intro presentation (‘tell them what you’re going to tell them’); the demo itself (‘tell them’); and a wrap up (‘tell them what you told them’).

For other companies the goal will be to schedule an initial meeting. The format of this meeting will differ, but the key rule when meeting a new prospect is to gain further insight into their needs – “listen before you talk”.

11. Hand Off to the Sales Process

If the demo has proceeded well and we have confirmed genuine interest then the prospect can be added to your sales automation / CRM system as an opportunity and it should be passed to a named sales person.

This handover is very important, so closing this step should only be allowed when the sales person confirms they are happy to accept the new contact as an opportunity. If not, then the reasons why not should be recorded.

Useful Outbound Lead Generation Resources

Aaron Ross has written a great book on Outbound Lead Generation called “Predictable Revenue” – you can find out more at

Brian Carroll, author of ‘Lead Generation for the Complex Sale’ wrote a detailed guide on building an Outbound Lead Generation team for OpenView Partners – you can access it here (registration required) 

And David Skok of Matrix Partners has a good introductory presentation on Outbound Lead Generation here.

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