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Real-Time Collaborative Prospecting
By Jeff Kostermans, CEO, LeadGenesys

A well-orchestrated multi-touch B2B marketing campaign should include outbound telemarketing as part of the plan and ...

Picking up the phone after disseminating multiple impressions is essential to optimizing campaign ROI. Unfortunately, many sales team members dread making cold calls. To sell B2B products and services with relatively high price points requires very skilled sales reps that should spend more of their valuable time closing sales rather than prospecting. For these reasons it's more efficient to outsource early stage cold calling instead of trying to accomplish it in-house.

When initial prospecting efforts are outsourced, companies can save costs related to: salaries and bonuses, benefits, management and human resources infrastructure, physical space, cubicles, computers, databases, telephony infrastructure, and the numerous hours involved with hiring, training, monitoring and reporting.

Unfortunately, some outsourced cold calling efforts fail to produce the desired results. Often, how the relationship with the outsourced telesales vendor is structured and managed is a factor. Traditional set-ups allow the vendor to work independently off of a list and pass along leads that are graded according to the client's specifications. A better, more collaborative approach is possible by tapping into a web-based real-time lead generation platform shard by either your sales or marketing department and the telesales vendor.

Collaborative prospecting works best when the platform is customized to your particular prospecting program. Your program can take many forms and may include:

  • Carefully sequenced messages from multiple marketing mediums that drive decision makers to landing pages with forms that custom score leads according to your specifications.
  • Leads with certain scores or attributes are followed up on by either your sales team or the outsourced agents.
  • Agents and/or your sales team can send dynamically assembled and highly personalized HTML emails to prospects that request more information. These emails drive prospects back to landing pages.
  • Emailing activity is tracked to measure agent performance as well as the prospect's level of interest.
  • Responses to emails trigger a notification to your sales team to view the responder's profile.
  • Profile forms include the option to opt-in to further email communication so you can rapidly build your opt-in database.

However you structure your prospecting program, consider outsourcing early stage lead cultivation to a full service lead generation firm that can leverage other campaign elements into a real-time platform. This makes the calling process much more productive and ultimately increases your campaign ROI.

To help you get the most out of your integrated marketing campaigns, we've developed the following short list of details to consider when evaluating outsourced telesales solutions.

1.) Enable Agents to Cultivate with Email & Build Your Opt-in Base.
Empowering agents to send highly personalized, dynamically assembled HTML emails can dramatically boost overall results. Often times a prospect will decline to be qualified but will permit you to send information via email. The outsourced agent or your inside sales rep should be able to quickly send information tailored to the prospect's interests with the intent of driving that prospect back to a landing page that will custom score the prospect's profile.

Outbound callers should spend their time calling - not crafting HTML emails. They should be able to very quickly assemble a professional looking, branded email, free of typos, by choosing various types of email templates and pre-packaged content.

When the email includes an incentive to respond such as a valuable white paper or other information, busy decision makers will often pre-qualify themselves on a landing page with a form that custom-scores the profile according to your specifications. By tracking the delivery of emails as wells as opens, responses, and profile submissions, you can better gauge the prospect's level of interest - even after they declined to be qualified over the phone.

One very effective method is to have your outsourced telesales firm conduct the initial cold calls and send the branded emails. As soon as a prospect responds your inside sales team can be notified and, based on a glance of the lead grade, contact history and notes, decide whether or not to call the prospect.

This collaborative process not only boosts response rates, it saves valuable time. HTML emails project a very polished and responsive impression.

An added benefit is that you can quickly build your opt-in email marketing database when the profile form includes an option to opt-in to future email communications. If the prospect scores a lead grade of C or lower, you may decide to cost effectively cultivate the new prospect via periodic email marketing campaigns.

Avoid sending a text-based email message with an attached document unless the prospect specifically asks for it. HTML emails can better extend your brand, but more importantly they have significantly higher response rates. Rather than sending information in an attached document, entice the prospect to click on a link to get more valuable information in exchange for a scored profile. Without appending open, response, and profile submission activity to the prospect record, you can't record the prospect's level of interest.

2.) Outbound Callers Should Have Real-time Insight Into Prospecting Efforts.
With a multi-touch campaign, each targeted prospect is receiving multiple impressions via different marketing mediums within a short time span. Knowing whether or not the prospect has already responded to one of the other marketing mediums is essential. To prevent calling a prospect that has already responded to a direct mailer or email campaign, marketers will let a sufficient amount of time pass before suppressing responders from a call list. Unfortunately, this lapse can be very lengthy especially when mailing third class. So marketers will often pay considerably more for first class postage just to ensure mail is delivered within 5 to 7 days.

When callers can see responses and profile submissions real-time they can be much more responsive and don't have to worry about calling someone that may have already responded. A mailer that can be sent third class can now reduce campaign budgets and improve the cost per lead and overall campaign ROI.

Callers that see the prospect's complete contact history can have more intelligent conversations. They can mention the emails and direct mail that were previously sent and even the specific version of offer they received. This is particularly handy when prospects respond by either calling the outsourced telesales vendor or your inside sales team.

Enabling insight into total outbound contact history also helps callers identify prospects that will likely be more familiar with your company. As your campaign progresses, contact history trends may begin to reveal which prospects have likely received multiple impressions. The more impressions - the better the recall rate and the "warmer" the call.

3.) Enable Your Sales Team to Tap Into the Same Real-time Platform Used By Your Outsourced Cold Callers.
This ensures everyone is on the same page. If you structure your campaign such that calls or responses are handled directly by your inside or outside sales team, those team members should also be able to see a complete contact history as well as any notes that outbound callers may have made. <>

4.)
Streamline the Follow-through Process and Accurately Measure Vendor Performance.
Outbound telemarketing firms typically provide you with:
  • an export file of leads
  • enable you to view your leads via the web
  • email leads individually or in batch mode directly to reps or a central point of contact

Unfortunately the grade associated with each lead is occasionally not in line with the criteria that the marketing or sales team stipulated. In most cases when this happens, a dialogue with the sales team member occurs, but the grade originally assigned to that lead does not get updated. This skews performance analysis of your telemarketing vendor.

The sales person following though on the lead should have the ability to change profile attributes after speaking with the prospect. These profile attributes or "qualification criteria" should roll-up into a dynamic score that can be instantly updated. This collaborative process keeps the telemarketing vendor honest and enables the marketer or sales director to better evaluate performance. As qualification criteria gets validated, the pool of leads and notes associated with those leads stay current.

Many telemarketing vendors will explain they "QC" every lead passed on to ensure it meets your criteria. B2B callers should be adequately trained and have a level of professionalism that ensures qualification criteria is correctly noted. When your telesales vendor and sales team share a real-time lead generation platform, there is no opportunity to "fluff" the leads. If there are any discrepancies among leads passed, they are immediately noted in grade changes by your sales team. The transition between vendor and sales force is instant, seamless, and accurately reflects vendor performance. Enabling dialogue directly between your sales team members and the outsourced agents that support them improves the collaborative process even more.

5.) Understand the Incentives Used by Your Telesales Partner.
Be careful of individual productivity incentives or any incentives that may skew the accuracy of lead grades -- especially when your vendor is not operating on a real-time platform that you can access anytime. A better approach to incentives is to reward outsourced agents for quality issues such as accuracy of input, speech performance, objection handling and low rates of lead grade adjustments by the client. Consider a telesales partner that awards group incentives based on client satisfaction and renewed business. <>

6.) Focus on Key Metrics within an Open Platform.

Larger telemarketing firms produce robust reporting via computer telephony integration (CTI) that highlights metrics such as the number of attempts made as well as the number of conversations per hour. These metrics are nice but at the end of the day, you are paying a telesales firm to produce leads. If a firm does not have the infrastructure in place to make agents more productive and support a carefully sequenced multi-touch campaign, detailed "attempts" reporting just doesn't matter.

A better indicator of productivity is the number of emails that an agent sends out. Assuming emails are only sent after live conversations, you can gauge how many conversations occurred based on the number of emails sent. Seeing a breakdown by agent of emails sent, opened, and responded gives you more insight into individual agent effectiveness. Telesales vendor agents or your inside sales reps with higher email response rates are talking to more engaged prospects.

Reporting should also indicate which prospects actually submitted a profile in response to receiving an email from the cold caller.

Real-time lead reporting should identify elements such as the performance of lists, the distribution of leads by territory as well as the specific break down of prospect attributes so you can pinpoint where your "sweet spot" is and refine future efforts.

7.) Use Your Telesales Partner to be More Productive.
Using a shared real-time lead generation platform enables you to outsource the validation of leads and/or the follow-up on lower scoring leads. Sometimes a prospect interested in valuable information will quickly fill out a form with little regard to accuracy or may intentionally skew their profile. Your sales team's time is too valuable to be spent following up on low scoring leads. It often makes more sense to have your telesales vendor do this. When your marketing campaign has a less targeted component, consider driving that response traffic to a separate landing page and form that collects those lower scoring leads. With a shared real-time platform, you can determine exactly how you need to leverage your outsourced resources. <>

8.) Work with Outbound Specialists.

There is a significant difference between inbound and outbound callers. The outbound callers attempting to secure appointments or stimulate interest have a very different mentality and approach from inbound reps that answer questions and take orders. Firms that have agents conduct both inbound and outbound calling can offer a good solution when you require both services. However, when your campaign is strictly lead generation oriented, make sure you work with a firm that specializes only in outbound lead generation. <>

9.) Find a Small "Boutique" Firm.

Firms with more than 25 stations are better equipped to handle multiple large projects. These large firms use speed dialers to "burn" through lists. When your target list is highly targeted and fairly small in size, burning through the list quickly is not the objective. Getting in touch with decision makers and soliciting interest is what counts. When your sales pitch is targeted at high-level decision makers, small "boutique" firms may be a better solution. Smaller boutique firms tend to specialize in sub-segments within industries. Boutique firms have fewer clients and are often more responsive and able to implement a customized solution. <>

10.) B2B Agents Should Think on Their Feet.

Many large shops deploy scripting software and train their agents to follow a script. This is acceptable when the offer and decision making process is fairly straight forward. However B2B sales require agents to answer a variety of questions while qualifying the prospect. A better approach to scripting is the use of talking points. Well-trained agents think on their feet and use talking points to overcome objections and keep the qualification process on track. When you listen to sample calls, focus more on how well agents think on their feet rather than on how well they can read a script.

Jeff Kostermans is CEO of LeadGenesys ( www.leadgenesys.com ) a B2B direct marketing and lead generation firm, he can be reached directly at jeffk@LeadGenesys.com. He is a direct marketing veteran with over 12 years of experience managing lead generation and relationship marketing programs for companies ranging from technology and service start-ups to Fortune 100 firms. He is author of the Email Marketing Imperatives and has written numerous other best practices papers. A UC Berkeley graduate, Mr. Kostermans also serves as an Army Reserve Psychological Operations Major, consulting allied governments and militaries in target audience analysis and influence methods.

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