Lead Qualifying and Nurturing
Our sales department is only interested in A leads from shows. So how do I properly qualify leads, and what do I do with the B and C leads that our sales team doesn't want?
Understandably, salespeople want to focus their time and attention on top-quality leads, as opposed to spinning their wheels with those that are less likely to result in a sale. So it's critical to provide them with the best of the best, particularly because failing to do so could jeopardize your success in the future. After all, if you continually give them a mishmash of high- and low-quality leads - which salespeople have to qualify for you - they'll soon start ignoring your leads altogether, and your program's return on investment will pay the price.
Thus, qualifying leads into various categories is of utmost importance to everyone involved. The key to success here is to ensure that the marketing and sales departments agree on the criteria that define each category - and that you periodically check in with each other to ensure the criteria are the same. Variables such as new products, market trends, company revenues, etc. can affect lead criteria so that what was a B lead this year might qualify as an A lead in 2014.
Qualifying and Organizing
There are countless criteria you might consider to rank your leads as A, B, and C leads (or whatever names, or number of categories, you choose). However, one successful strategy is to use explicit data that you gather as part of your qualification process along with anecdotal key words. The combo typically provides salespeople with the data they need to prioritize their calls and have something relevant to say during the interaction.
Explicit data includes hard-core facts you can discover via attendees' badges and/or conversations with them. This can include everything from their geographic location and purchasing authority to their budget and timeframe.
Staffers can also note key words used by attendees during their conversations. For example, you could qualify A leads as those that express an immediate or critical need for the current year or quarter, along with those that are in the RFP or procurement process. Your B leads might use terms such as analysis, competitive review, updating, and transitioning to describe their purchasing plans for the next year or the next quarter. And C leads may indicate they're in the information-gathering stage and they're looking to see what's new.
Once you've established criteria to qualify leads, you need a system flexible enough to capture both the anecdotal and explicit data, and one that will assist you in lead follow-up and tracking. There are an infinite variety of systems available to manage this information. Some are low tech and require only a piece of paper, a pen, and people to manage the data. Others are high tech, such as cloud- and app-based programs that capture information, rank the leads automatically, start the communication process, and deliver the data to all arms of the company in real time.
The key is to determine the type of lead-management system that's compatible with your company, both technologically and culturally. For example, if your staffers are not working with tablets, then don't force them to use them. Opt instead for more low-tech methods. However, if your company offers high-tech products with a cutting-edge brand aesthetic, a pad of lead forms and a No. 2 pencil isn't likely the best option.
B and C Nurturing
With sound criteria and a lead-management system in place, you can easily hand off A leads to the salespeople immediately following the show. The question then becomes: What do you do with the B and C leads collected in your booth?
Simply put, you don't discard them. You establish ongoing communication and provide information that's relevant to their needs. And at the very least, you invite them back to the booth again the next year so you can requalify them and hopefully move them from the B and C stacks to the A team, assuming their needs, budgets, or purchasing timeframes have changed.
Here, then, are a few ways to nurture B and C leads. But as you implement each one, remember these leads live in "Short Attention Span Theater." They don't have a vested interest in what you have to say just yet, so be concise and keep your communications relevant to the products and services with which recipients have expressed interest.
Send personalized notes via email or mail. If you're dealing with a large quantity of leads, use a lead-management system or software to mass customize your communication. At the very least your missive should address the recipient by name, and if possible, try to customize the content to each attendee's needs as indicated during his or her booth visit. If you only have a handful of B and C leads, make your messages even more personal. Enlist your marketing team to send emails directly from their accounts (rather than from a general marketing-related address, e.g., info@abc_marketing.com), and include information referencing their booth visit, such as the product demonstration they viewed, the specific problems they mentioned, or even a personal conversation unrelated to the business at hand.
Forward specific product info that speaks directly to each attendee's area of interest. This could include product-demo videos, URLs to specific areas of your product catalog, or even press releases about new products or line updates and extensions. Don't, however, merely send people a corporate brochure unless they ask for one. This screams "impersonal," and in these times of data overload, anything that is not relevant will be ignored and will prove that you were not paying attention to the attendee during the booth visit.
Follow up periodically to gauge the attendees' current levels of interest. Include some kind of call to action that will help you assess their purchasing plans. Perhaps their interest has now risen to A-lead status, at which time you can pass them off to your sales department. Or, you may want to eliminate this prospect from your database altogether because they are no longer interested in your offerings or have opted out of future communications. But, at the very least, make it a point to check in with each prospect once a year to see if you're making inroads or losing ground, which will allow you to adjust your strategy accordingly.
Invite them to your exhibit at subsequent events and programs. Many attendees are annual trade show visitors, and getting personalized invitations from an exhibitor they saw last year dramatically improves the chances that they will visit your booth again. During their visit, you can requalify them to determine if your efforts have moved them further down the sales pipeline.
So before you hand off your leads to sales, make sure you've done your qualification homework and that you're sending salespeople the cream of the crop. Then, focus on the leftovers - and on turning your B and C leads into A leads within the year. And remember, today's B- and C-level castoffs are more than likely next year's revenue base.
- Dean Hills, digital strategist, PRMconnect Inc., Las Vegas