Any company that cold-calls me by phone instantly disqualifies themselves (and don't even think of doorstepping or trying to sign me up on the street). A company that can afford to pay sales people to cold-call must have margins so good that the product or service has got to be a huge rip-off. Either that or the business is rapidly on its way to bankruptcy.
That may sound like a hard-nosed attitude, but customers are web-savvy these days, and they expect their suppliers to be web-savvy, too. There's no reason for any B2B sales person to go cold-calling now that most buyers are using the Web as the first port of call when they go shopping for new suppliers or requirements. Businesses have to be competent at using the Web as a marketing tool that lets prospects identify themselves, and then know how to intelligently handle those prospects so that the ones who are ready to buy become customers.
Unfortunately most businesses still operate processes that are so unwieldy that cold-calling often looks cheap by comparison. This isn't a problem that's new in the Web era. The divide between marketing and sales is a dysfunction that is so ingrained in the culture of many companies that it's almost a standing joke, dating back to the days when direct mail and print advertising were the primary tools of demand generation. But it's gone beyond a joke now that innovations like keyword search advertising have started to produce a surge of sales leads that few companies are well equipped to process effectively.
The good news is that there are automated solutions from companies including Eloqua, Genius.com and Marketo that help connect web marketing to sales, thus eliminating many of the efficiencies and leading to much better sales performance.
One of the most significant impacts such systems can make is in improving the timeliness of sales contact. Many B2B prospects first visit a website long before they're ready to purchase. A good marketing automation soluton will apply best practices to keep nurturing those leads until they've reached the point where they're ready to buy and only at that moment put a live salesperson proactively on the case. Phil Fernandez, CEO of Marketo, which yesterday announced a new release of its software, believes that automating this process reaps enormous dividends:
"This is an amazing resource sink. It's the most inefficient process in any business today. and it's something that if companies can get it right, it can have a transformative effect on revenues."
Marketo's own track record is an impressive testimony for its own tool, having signed up more than 100 customers in its first year of trading. Its prices are set per-company, based on the number of leads in the database, starting at $1500 per month. The company already estimates it holds the number two position as a SaaS provider of B2B interactive lead management, behind market leader Eloqua, although Genius.com retorts that its user base is bigger than both.
"Marketing has to be everywhere a buyer is looking," says Fernandez. Marketo uses best practices in web marketing, including search engine optimization to make the site rank high on searches, a significant Google AdWords campaign to proactively pull in prospects, and Web 2.0 content such as a thought leadership blog, YouTube videos and webinar archives. "That's all free content to help the buyer research," explains Fernandez. Once they've made a decision to register, either they're ready to buy right away, or the lead needs nurturing and the system will keep tabs on the buyer's interest levels until their scorecard says it's time to re-engage.
Marketo has developed 30-day, 90-day and 50-week 'nurturing tracks' for cultivating leads. "It's only when leads get above a certain threshold that the prospect gets a call," says Fernandez. "At that point, our call completion rates are about 80 percent." (That's completion in the sense of successfully progressing to the next level of engagement rather than necessarily a closed sale).
"Every month, five percent of our activity comes from old leads that one day, they raise their hands, say 'I'm ready,'" says Fernandez. "That's five percent most companies don't capture."