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IT Lead Generation
The sales lead generation process for technology companies is very different from lead generation in other industries. Technology sector needs are much more precise: the target audience is much more difficult to reach; the products or services are generally complex, high value, and high end; and the evaluation and selection process can be quite long, taking months, if not years, to bring the target from initial contact to closing the sale.
Leads in the technology sector “are not” discovered simply by a reference or a cold call. Leads are nurtured from simple possible interest in services right until the final purchase decision. In traditional lead generation, the target could be anyone from a low level employee to a CEO, and you can span the entire range of B2B. In technology sales, however, the target market is almost exclusively B2B, and the target individuals are usually decision makers high up the corporate ladder. Identifying the target isn’t always difficult, but reaching them can be.
As a sales representative in the IT industry, you need to identify and reach the key influencers, evaluators, and recommenders, or you stand no chance of moving towards a sale.
Even when you do get to speak to the key decision makers, unless you completely understand the client’s internal structure and can distinguish between Line of Business (LOB) and Technical Contacts, you will not gain success.
Regardless of how well you know your own products, to sell them you will need to understand the systems and processes of your potential clients. In order to accomplish this, you will need not only a broad understanding of enterprise software & enterprise technologies, but also a broad understanding of the underlying business issues and goals of your potential client. Unless you fully understand this situation, you can’t fully understand how your products and services can fit their needs.
Enterprise prospecting is a multi stage process that allows a company to systematically narrow in on the correct individuals to speak to in an organisation, and subsequently discern the current or future fit for their services in the organisations they wish to prospect. Enterprise prospecting consists of several distinct stages which, when implemented effectively, help grow basic leads into full opportunities, and allow a business to target their full sales pitch on companies with a definite need and a definite interest. This means sales time is spent closing deals, and not trying to find them.
Stage 1 List Development
While it seems a very basic starting point for enterprise prospecting, effective list development is often overlooked. Effective list development can be the key to the success or failure of an enterprise prospecting campaign. If you don’t define the basic parameters of your target audience properly at the beginning, the rest of the prospecting process can be futile. Simply, if you are talking to the wrong customers, it doesn’t matter how good your sales process is, or indeed how good your product is. Enterprise prospecting is about finding potential customers with the right budgets and/or needs that make them possible future leads. Once the criteria for the target audience is established, a list of companies that meet the basic target criteria (geography, industry, systems in use, turnover, employees, etc.) should be drawn up. This can be accomplished from existing data, internet searches, purchasing from list brokers, or utilising a professional lead generation agency.
Stage 2 Account Profiling
From the outline list of companies developed in Stage 1, the next step is to profile the data. Even if you used current data from your own databases, the details on the lists must be re verified to help progress the campaign as smoothly as possible. Nurturing a lead for weeks, only to find that an internal change in the company has rendered them outside your target market is an expensive mistake.
Once the basic details are re verified, the main process, major account profiling can begin. The first step in this process is to profile the companies to ascertain suitability for your company’s solutions. This can vary greatly between companies, but here are a few examples:
Company A is using suppliers X, Y and Z and is therefore a suitable target.
Company B utilises a Unix operating system and is therefore suitable.
Company C has no customer complaints department and is therefore unsuitable.
After each company’s information has been verified, the next step in this process is to determine the key decision makers in the target company. Key contacts may have been established as part of the list development process, but they need to be re verified. In addition, their responsibility needs to be established. An IT Manager will not necessarily have the decision making power over IT Infrastructure projects, so may not be the key contact for your prospecting.
The establishment of key individuals and their responsibilities allows prospecting efforts to be as targeted as possible, since prospecting to the wrong person is a waste of time and resources. However the key contact for a company could still be several people in the organization, depending on the project. For example, if you are prospecting for an ERP system, IT, Finance and Data managers could all be relevant key contacts.
Cleaning, verification, and enhancement of your data should be done systematically, and requires the skills of an experienced operative to acquire the relevant data without falling foul of corporate data restrictions such as “no name” policies. In addition, the person doing this enhancement must be experienced in enterprise prospecting and sales lead generation. Although the object is to gather data, and not to speak to key individuals at this stage, invariably you do sometimes get put through to the key contact. This could be your only opportunity to speak to them, so you have to be ready to nurture the prospect as the opportunity arises.
Another vital process of major account profiling is to establish internal relationships. Without knowing the internal relationships in the company, a prospector will find it difficult to target the correct areas and correct individuals at the correct times. If the IT Director reports to the Finance Director, you would target your prospecting differently than you would if the IT Director reports to the CEO.
The account profiling process will leave you with a list of highly qualified leads. This will save you time by helping you avoid chasing leads that are only marginally qualified or completely unsuitable for your products.
Stage 3 Sales Lead Generation
Once the major account profiling has been completed, the sales lead generation process begins. Each company must be prospected as an entity. The relationship between the key contacts in the company (who reports to whom, etc.) must be established, and the decision making abilities of each discerned. The sales partnering relationship begins here. Get off on a good foot here, and your job later will be much simplified. Remember, not every company may be a good prospect now, but if your list development process was correctly specified, they are in your target audience, and may be a prospect in the future.
Once the introduction of your product/service is completed, and the establishment of possible needs/requirements is completed, all leads must be classified to allow them to be tracked. You need to know what leads are ripe for your sales team to try to sell to now, which leads may be ready in a medium period (6 12 months), and which leads are possible future buyers, but with no definable time scale. Use a customer relationship management (CRM) system in some form to record all contacts with each of your leads. This will allow you to track the effectiveness of your sales process and to eliminate redundancies.
Correct classification of your prospects is key. Without this, your sales team will expend efforts on what are not current possibilities, while red hot leads in other companies may slip by. Strategic Selling is part of the overall approach, not just part of the closing.
Stage 4 Lead Nurturing
Not all Leads are ready to close directly after the lead generation process. In fact, very few are. Most leads enter into the nurturing process, where you have made the client aware of your services, established a possible need, and you decide the optimum time period before follow up contact should be made. Again, this is where the expertise of the individual is paramount. Follow up too soon, you risk annoying the customer, and being eliminated from any future sales. Follow up too late, and even if the decision hasn’t been made, you may not be able to get your services on the table for consideration. It is a fine line, and one that is difficult to judge. However, getting it wrong at this stage costs your company medium and high probability opportunities. 3rd party agencies in this area can be an excellent source of expertise without the need for in house up skilling and the associated problems of staff retention and skill set acquisition.
Following the four stages of enterprise prospecting will get you on the right track. However, even if you do effectively complete the list development, account profiling, sales lead generation, and lead nurturing stages, sales can still leak from the pipeline quite easily. In fact, this is the most expensive stage at which to lose a sale, as you have already invested the time and effort to develop, profile, prospect, and nurture the lead all the way to the point of sale. If you are exploring the route of enterprise prospecting, you should also ensure you reduce leaks from your sales pipeline.
Sales lead generation in any sector, but especially in the IT Sector, is the critical method of driving revenue, increasing sales, and growing your company. However, the sales lead generation strategy is only as effective as the analysis, design, and implementation stages that are undertaken to put the strategy into action. If you take the time to properly analyse your own company and products/services, design a solid SLD Process, and implement it on a phased basis with on going review, you will be on the right track. If you carefully manage the process on an ongoing basis, and ensure you have effective sales pipeline management, then you should see a significant increase in leads being nurtured and indeed closed sales.
Constant review of the process is essential. A process that works today will not necessarily work in six months. The market is constantly shifting, and just as your products and services must evolve, so must your sales process. You must manage all partners in the process (marketing, account profiling, etc.). If carefully managed, your sales lead generation strategy will be a key part of your recipe for success.
Enterprise prospecting should be part of an overall integrated marketing/relationship marketing strategy. There are many facets to the process of driving sales. Just as direct and targeted sales lead development work can drive revenue, so can more general marketing efforts. Direct mailing, email newsletters, website promotion, search engine optimisation, and, where appropriate, trade shows are all elements of the general marketing process that should also be explored to get your products and services in front of as many key decision makers as possible.
Michael Kelly is Managing Director of IT Lead Generation Company TSL Technology Marketing. TSL provides a range of IT lead generation services including online marketing and telemarketing. Further information http://www.tslmarketing.co.uk
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