Sunday, September 6, 2009

Optimize your Lead Flow Process

Almost all businesses today rely on their public web site to generate solid sales leads, and much of their marketing is focused on driving prospects to the web site. I work with many companies who are pushing their Marketing teams hard for more incoming leads, but haven't taken the steps to optimize the efficiency of how these leads are processed.

An analogy - your lead funnel has a certain efficiency of "raw leads in" to "qualified leads out". This can be compared to the efficiency of a motor vehicle in miles per gallon (MPG). If you need to drive a certain distance (qualified leads), you'll need more gas (raw leads) with a gas guzzler than with a fuel efficient vehicle. Traveling 100miles in a Hummer takes 7 gallons of gas, but a Prius takes 2 gallons. Which one would you rather drive? So instead of telling marketing you need another "1000" new raw leads every day", why not optimize the process and get more qualified leads out.

All companies have an event that they work towards on the web site (and track through systems like Google Analytics) - for IT companies it is generally an evaluation, but it may be a sales contact, reseller request, online purchase, etc. Whether you sell software or hardware products you must focus on a complete understanding of what a customer does to reach the "request point". For the rest of this article I am going assume that we're working towards a product evaluation.

The place to start is a series of customer interviews to understand what problem they are solving, how they found your web site, and what they needed to evaluate. Everyone has customer advocates who want to help - interview these people and if possible video tape them to show to engineering and other stakeholders.

Design your product to have a mode to make for an easy evaluation, and specifically turn off or hide advanced functionality that complicates the process. Riverbed is recognized as a the leader in WAN Optimization appliances, and are well known for winning evaluations - their box is designed to drop into a customer network and "just work".

If a product is extremely complex to evaluate or takes a lot of time, your sales force may not want the customer to evaluate, in order to prevent deals slowing down. Sales are trying to meet their quarterly quotas, and will do what is needed, including avoiding a lengthy evaluation of a very complex or difficult product. This is what I would do in their shoes - Sales has an extremely difficult job, and the last thing they need is to bog deals down, especially near the end of the quarter.

What we really need is a deliverable that is specifically targeted at the evaluator, is easy to install and evaluate, and does not slow deals down. A package that can be evaluated quickly changes opinions. As previously discussed, Riverbed has designed their product to be very evaluation friendly (unlike other WANOpt products), so the Riverbed sales team can push for an onsite evaluation, knowing that they will perform well (and likely win the deal). The Riverbed eval simplicity has actually become one of their key differentiators.

Here are some things to consider whaen designing products for evaluations:

1. Make an install mode for your product aimed at evaluators. Hide all advanced, risky, and/or complex functionality. Turn off features that may be easily misunderstood, or could cause problems in the customer network (you can leave these capabilities under the advanced menu if needed). For an excellent example of how BMW simplified the process configuring their m5 sports check out this segment from Top Gear - it takes some time, but notice the complaints from Jeremy until he finds the "M Button" - (does your product have an "M Button"?).

2. Provide a document to step a customer through a typical evaluation. This is also invaluable for channel partners, press and analysts to review your offering.

3. If your product is hardware based and/or expensive and difficult to evaluate, take a prospect through other steps on the web site before the evaluation request is fulfilled. YouTube videos of the product being installed and used are very valuable, but don't forget product documentation, white papers and customer success stories. All of this can be extremely useful.

4. Don't necessarily ignore leads with "non-corporate" email addresses like GMail. Many corporate staff setup personal email accounts to request evaluations as they specifically don't want to be contacted by a sales person (I do this myself, and I brief survey of my technical friends uncovered quite a few others.

5. If you are concerned about piracy, and don't have the licensing mechanisms to prevent, don't deliver full functionality. Hold something back from the evaluation so that the potential customer must purchase to put into production.

Finally, we live in a world where people want instant gratification. When they ask for an evaluation send them the link to the software, documentation, YouTube videos etc immediately. Show them that you have received their request, and then follow up during the process to offer support, direct to resellers or sales people. There is nothing that turns potentially customers off more than not replying to their requests.

So next time Marketing is pounded to increase the number of raw leads, check whether you have an efficient lead flow process, or do you need to retire the current "gas guzzler" and drive a Prius?

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