How Well Do You Manage Leads?

Holding on to your existing leads, just as retaining your customers, is vital today more than ever before. The importance of this cannot be re-emphasised more.

All business-to-business (B2B) marketing involves generating sales leads through various activities including social media, print media, journals, exhibitions and trade fairs among others, and following up on these leads until it fructifies into a profitable relationship. Strange as it might seem, business marketers, caught in the chaos of their marketing programmes, frequently forget to track all their sales leads. It is not as if they take total leave of their senses and ignore otherwise serviceable enquiries, which does occur among the least enlightened B2B marketers. But by failing to properly log and track enquiries from all sources, they commit the next worst sin of lead management: benign neglect.

Useful marketing information from a company’s potentially best enquirers goes unrecorded and never reaches the sales lead management database, if they have one. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) is more applicable to B2B than B2C although the differences are increasingly getting blurred in this age of social media. As a result of non-recording in the database, a company gets a distorted picture of what is actually happening in its lead-generation programme.

Typical scenario runs like this: A company's lead-tracking system records the source of publication reader service card enquiries because those ‘bingo’ leads come from publishers. And direct mail, catalogue, and bound-in business reply card enquiries, along with coupons clipped from ads, usually carry special codes to indicate their origin. In fact, it is very simple to make this coding. All one needs to do is putting the initials of the publication in one corner of the reply coupon. Even B2C marketers are doing this for many years now to gauge the effectiveness of ads in different publications. With digital media different codes could be used too.

But the sources of inbound telephone leads, whether to landline or mobile, toll or toll-free numbers go unrecorded and unknown. It is a frequent problem in sales and marketing departments, even though inbound phone leads tend to be better qualified than most other types of enquiries. Phone enquirers are more likely to want to see a salesperson, make a decision, and buy now. But when the specific advertisement, publication press release, direct mail piece, or other source fails to get credit for inspiring that enquiry, it appears to be less productive than it actually is. A good lead source might even be dropped from a programme if it mistakenly looks as if it is not pulling its weight.

What might be causing such problems in companies big and small? I can list out a few.

Companies outsource their enquiry fulfillment, hiring a firm adept at sorting computerised lead information provided by publishers and then mailing all those brochures. They then rely on fulfillment house enquiry counts as the base for their lead-tracking databases. They keep their inbound telemarketing in-house or outsource it to another supplier.

Information from inbound toll-free calls, and especially enquiries to the company’s main telephone number, do not get included in the fulfillment house reports at the heart of the lead-tracking programme.

Companies often do not ask telephone enquirers how they learned of the company; which ad, catalogue, mail piece, etc sparked the prospective buyers’ interest. Providing a different telephone number for each enquiry source can help gather the information automatically, but the number of phone lines required to collect comprehensive data can get out of hand in an active marketing programme, leading to compromises that dilutes the data.

Conceptually, such problems are easy to fix. But they do take some information-management elbow grease, proper staff training, and a disciplined approach to enquiry handling. Those are the tasks that get left to late Friday afternoon in the fog of marketing warfare.

Under battle conditions, fussing about attributing leads to single sources when an enquiry actually can be motivated by several different sources can seem like a waste of time. The prevailing sentiment in the trenches is to be glad the leads are there in the first place and to pounce on them now!

So, simple as the lead-tracking process might seem on paper, it does not hurt any marketing manager to double check the assumption that ‘of course’information from all enquiries reaches the sales lead data base. This is vital for any business to prosper – and even survive – today.

The writer spearheads execution and innovation for clients@CustomerLab

M Muneer