I've written before about why B2B companies should no longer rely exclusively on salespeople to generate new sales leads. Business buyers have fundamentally changed how they make buying decisions, and these changes require a new approach to B2B demand generation.
So, before you invest in more sales reps, there are three other steps you should take.
Step 1: Improve Lead Acquisition Marketing
If your marketing programs aren't producing at least 40% - 50% of your qualified sales leads, it's likely that you aren't investing enough in lead acquisition marketing or your marketing programs aren't as effective as they need to be. Marketing must play a larger role in generating new sales leads because in the current environment, business buyers are less receptive to traditional sales prospecting techniques, making such techniques far less effective and efficient.
For most B2B companies, effective lead acquisition marketing should include a mix of inbound and outbound marketing programs. In both cases, persistence is an important key to success. In today's environment, marketers must assume that multiple contacts will be required to entice a potential buyer to respond.
Step 2: Implement a Sound Lead Management Process
Research continues to show that most new sales leads are not ready or willing to engage with a salesperson. We also know, however, that most "qualified but not ready to buy" prospects will eventually buy from someone. Once a new lead is acquired (meaning that the prospect has identified himself/herself and indicated some level of interest in your product or service), the big challenge for B2B companies is to build the relationship with the prospect until he or she is ready to make a buying decision.
A lead management process encompasses all of the marketing and sales activities that you use with prospects "from curiosity to close." The objective of a lead management process is to prevent valuable leads from "falling through the cracks" and out of the marketing/sales funnel. While a comprehensive lead management process includes many components, the three core elements are:
- A lead nurturing program that provides prospects relevant, primarily non-promotional information in multiple formats and through multiple channels. The primary objectives of a lead nurturing program are to support prospects throughout the buying process, establish and enhance your credibility, and maintain "mindshare" with prospects until they are ready to have a serious sales conversation.
- A lead qualification system that defines appropriate buying process stages and provides a mechanism for estimating where each prospect is in the buying process.
- A selling process that's designed to identify legitimate sales opportunities and convert those opportunities into closed deals.
Rather than adding more outside sales reps, hire one or more lead development representatives to support your demand generation efforts. Lead development representatives have two primary responsibilities:
- They provide the "human touch" components of your lead nurturing program. In this role, their objective is to use multiple conversations to build rapport with prospects in ways that automated, content-based lead nurturing cannot accomplish.
- They play a major role in the lead qualification process, and they can be primarily responsible for determining when a prospect meets the criteria to be considered a sales-ready lead. When that occurs, the LDR may also be responsible for arranging the first meeting between a prospect and your sales rep.
Hiring more sales reps may be necessary to achieve your growth objectives, but take these three steps first to ensure that you're getting the most out of your existing sales force.