In this article, I’ll explain how to set up a lead capture process, sales team engagement, and optimize the two by sharing a case study based on my own experience doing just that at the Guardian.
My name's Josh Smith, I'm Head of Sales Enablement at the Guardian newspaper and in this article, I'm going to be talking about sales and marketing lead optimization.
I worked on this project with my team about 18 months ago, at the end of the project when we moved it to business as usual a couple of them remarked it was such a successful project and such a great example of what sales enablement can do, working with sales and marketing teams, that it would make a really good case study.
But everyone's busy, time moves on and strangely enough, a window in my diary never opened up to write the case study. I use the project management system Trello which I think is really good and I get their monthly newsletter, which I also think is excellent.
About two months ago, I got their monthly newsletter, and it was talking about a Ulysses pact. It comes from the Greek god Ulysses, who, back in the day was trying to get from A to B and knew he was going to get distracted by the harpies.
So he got his men to tie him to the mast of the ship so that he couldn't get distracted and he would get where he needed to get to.
A more office-based example would be if you had a lot of training to deliver but couldn't quite bring yourself to write all the training materials, because you find it extremely tedious writing training materials.
You would create a Ulysses pact by inviting all the delegates, booking the room, sending out the invites, inviting your manager to it, and then all of a sudden you'd find the energy, time, and prioritization to write the training materials.
I thought that was a really interesting concept. Two days after reading about the Ulysses pact, I got an email from the Sales Enablement Collective asking if I would like to write this article, I thought, well, that's a great opportunity to test if the Ulysses pact works and I can say that it did.
Knowing an article was expected of me meant all of a sudden I found the time to turn it into a case study.
It’s all in the name
My next question was, what am I going to call it? I read a book by a guy called Charlie Mullins, Britain's most successful plumber, a multi-millionaire plumber who runs the company called Pimlico plumbers.
The premise of his book, which is called A Bog Standard Business, is that by doing a number of really basic things but doing them really well, he got an extraordinary result.
As I go through this case study, in all honesty, we really did some pretty basic things, but we did them pretty well and we did get an extraordinary result. So I thought I could probably call this 'basic lead handling on a CRM'.
I thought that's probably not going to be hugely helpful for the Sales Enablement Collective in terms of people showing interest so I thought most of us in sales enablement come from a sales background so I could call it 'our road to increasing leads and doubling conversion rates'.
Maybe that's a bit too salesy. I chatted to Karla at SEC and she suggested 'sales and marketing lead optimization'. I thought that sounds great, we'll go with that.
What I'm talking through today is how initially you set up a lead capture process. It's worth noting that this is an incredibly top-level view run-through of how the whole process works.
How we then worked with a sales team to get them engaged so we had the data from them we needed.
What that data then enabled marketing to do.
A side story on failing fast and hopefully an interesting example of that.
What we then did with the sales data and the optimization that enabled us with that team.
A new approach we took at the end I thought was interesting.
An important note on the data in this case study
Because this is an actual live case study the data is commercially sensitive. I've used example data, it's not the real data from the actual process, but it's illustrative and the trends it shows were exactly what happened.
Setting up a warm lead capture process
It's worth noting this case study is talking about a warm lead capture process. We do other processes to capture stone-cold or strategic leads, as we call them. But these ones that I'm talking about here are really warm ones that you'd probably describe as almost inquiries.
The first thing we did is when we did an audit, we realized we had a huge number of places where clients could arrive via our advertising website. So we literally went through all the various areas where they could arrive and refined them all.
- One of them was ensuring we were standardizing all the email addresses we were using. So we were aware of all of them, we could get rid of any ones we didn't want anymore, and merge them with others so we could have a few really standard email addresses.
- We used online chat for a while, which I'd really recommend but we upgraded how we were using it, we put a new call to action on, we put it in more places, we made it a bit more visible, and we got more information captured off the back of it. That worked really well.
We also slightly changed the way we work the sales teams with it as well, which again, was successful.
- Response to marketing emails - we improved the process where we did data capture when we were sending out white papers and so on.
- Online inquiry forms - people could come in and submit their inquiry, we made that really easy for people as well as really visible - that worked well.
- Dedicated phone numbers - we standardized the various phone numbers we were using so we could track all of them.
- We did a bit of a deep dive on the self-service activity our clients do to pick up which activity we would define as a credible lead.
- Requested callbacks - a really simple process where clients could request a callback, you'd be amazed how many people still do want that.
- Event signups - a new process for events be it online or physical events.
Full live visibility on all warm leads
That enabled us to have full visibility on all warm leads. Previously, we'd done a lot of activity, but because the lead source hadn't been particularly well captured, we weren't really sure what it was driving.
Now, we really knew through all the various ways we captured leads, we could really see minute by minute how many we were getting:
- How many email inquiries we were getting.
- How much online chat.
- How many online inquiry forms.
- What type of self-service.
- And so on.
It was working really, really effectively and you can see at the bottom, exciting new lead source and by week five we were getting really high volumes of that, which we were all extremely excited about.
How do we close the circle with conversion data?
We can see in week one we created 169 leads versus week five which was 288 but what happened to all those leads?
Getting the sales and sales management team engaged with the process
For that, we really needed the sales team and we really needed them to engage with the process in the same way that the marketing team had done. For any of you who've worked trying to get sales teams to use Salesforce, that's probably one of the biggest challenges on Salesforce - getting the teams to fully engage with it.
We've all been there in those meetings where you're trying to get the sales team to click a few extra boxes and you can see it's not going to happen. We tried to change the process here.
What we did is worked really hard and really early on with the sales and sales management team right up to the senior leadership team, to get them engaged with the process so they really understood what the benefits were for them.
Lots of training with marketing in attendance
It really helped to have marketing so aligned with us on this because they came to all those training sessions and they really showed what work they were putting into these sessions and the benefit to the sales team.
Then the information they were hoping to get out, what that enabled them to do, and then obviously, it would benefit the sales team again. That really helped.
I think as well not having a sales manager or sales enablement person or someone from the operations team talking about it, but having one of the senior market team talking about it really helped us.
Complete buy-in and support from sales management at all levels
We got complete buy-in and support from sales management at all levels. That's extremely important for this project.
Upskilled management team on CRM use
We upskilled the management team on CRM use. We spent a lot of time so they didn't have to ask us for reports, they had their own dashboards where they could get live information and they were really comfortable using them.
It's tempting sometimes in these projects to build hundreds of dashboards for people, but we built some really standard dashboards with key information on they needed.
We worked with them, attended one to ones with them, and attended team meetings with them. They became really proficient in using the data, which obviously really helped with enforcing it and working with the sales team.
Processes to track where sales team aren’t following up or following the process
There was a daily process where we put in some email alerts when the sales team wasn’t following the process, so we could really nip that in the bud early. We worked with managers where necessary on that.
Weekly, monthly, and quarterly targets and prizes
Some really big carrots, we ran weekly, monthly, and quarterly targets and prizes based on conversion rates, because it really is a level playing field.
If you send two people 10 leads each and you know what the conversion rates are on those, you can see who converts the most. If one converts three and one converts five, the person who's converted five over a period of time has done a better job, so you can be strategic with your rewards.
Constant daily follow up from managers and enablement
That's a sort of constant positive nagging from managers and enablement and it's all designed to support speed, quality, and persistence, which we think are the three key things you need for success with leads.
Speed, quality, and persistence built into the system
If you look at this chart here, this is put together by Harvard Business Review a few years ago now but it looks at some really interesting stats.
It mirrors the thinking and experiences we were having with leads that if a client starts Googling a particular product or particular service, the likelihood is because they're on Google, they're going to find three or four sensible providers and then they're going to put their details in on those three or four providers.
Speed; response time
If you're the last provider to go back, it doesn't matter how good your proposal is you're at a real massive disadvantage in terms of conversion rates.
Response rates in chart 3 show if you're slow on your response it just drops off a cliff.
The other thing is that people are busy so you might get your response back quickly but suddenly the client’s objectives or priorities change for a few weeks or a few days, even a few months.
If you keep persevering and trying to make contact because often the sales teams don't do that, then other organizations drop away, and in the end, you're the only person still making contact.
Obviously, quality needs to underpin all of that but it's just making the point that it doesn't matter how good the proposal is, if you're last back, and there's no persistence in it, your conversion rates are going to be terrible.
So we built all our processes around this.
Some leads you just can't capture (or we couldn't)
Sometimes you might run some fantastic marketing activity, but a client might get hold of an old long-standing relationship via WhatsApp or something that you just can't pick up.
Or it might be that they come directly through to someone from LinkedIn.
Or it might be that they've just come from a random source that we just haven’t tracked.
Although we felt really confident that we had the lion's share of lead sources captured, so we had that double benefit of we've captured all but we also worked really hard to make them more visible and more sticky, we did also build a catch-all that sat underneath all that, that tracked the total volume of inbound activity.
We used two different data sources to make sure that was as robust as possible so then we could see what was happening to the overall trends as well as every specific lead source.
Because the sales team are following the process
If you think back to the initial image from earlier where you could see what volumes of leads we were getting from all the different sources, you have the full circle now.
If you look at email enquiries, initially, we knew in week one we had 23 but we know actually, in week one, what happened was 15 of those turned into opportunities, eight of those turned into bookings, of which we made a total amount of revenue X, the yield was Y, we had a conversion rate to bookings of 35%.
You can see that over time so you start getting really accurate views of the value of each of the various lead sources.
That meant marketing could now put their energies into the stuff that made the money and move their energies away and their spend away from the stuff that wasn't making the money.
That meant almost immediately the decline we were seeing would stop and it put almost all the lead sources back into growth, which is just phenomenal, obviously for marketing, the company, and the sales team.
You can see here that exciting new lead source we had.
I think this was a really interesting process for us because lots of companies are much more interested in good news than bad news, I think that's fair to say. So often then something like this, with all the leads, the sales enablement team qualifies them all, they're all marketing qualified leads before they go to the sales team.
We can see with these leads we had the contact details, permission to contact, the client had a current relevant need. We felt these were really warm leads, marketing qualified, and we would send them to the sales team, but the conversion rates were consistently really low.
I think, previously, that would have been all run by anecdotal conversations in terms of why that was and what we needed to do about it. But we just really quickly picked that up, we were able to dive into that and make a decision after a very short period of time, maybe even a month, to stop that activity, which meant marketing saved a load of money, sales saved a lot of time because they weren't spending time on stuff that wasn't really working.
That was hugely useful for us, even though that particular thing didn't work.
The mirror of that data was the information we had on the sales teams now. We could see for each of the teams, as we were getting decent numbers of these leads, what their conversion rate was.
You can see here the overall department average was running at 28% (example data, obviously) but some teams are running at almost half of that and some almost double.
That meant we could really direct our efforts accordingly in terms of sales training and making sales material, but also for team meetings and where management needs to get involved.
It was extremely helpful.
A side note
Be wary of obsessing too much on conversion rates though, certainly, it's very true in the short term, we became really focused on conversion rate and I think that did impact on yield because the teams were really pushing us to get a quick win for the client versus doing a proper needs analysis and maybe getting a bigger deal out of the client.
So we did see the yield slipping for a few weeks but we quickly tweaked that to make sure we were looking at both things.
Because we had the information for the team, we also had it for each individual rep. You could see each individual rep, what their conversion rate was per overall for leads and per lead source.
You would literally see stuff like teams converted at double the department average, individual reps converting at maybe triple the height of other people.
That enabled us to bring in those top-performing people to run training sessions. Because if something's not going very well, and you're being told by someone from operations you need to do it differently, you might not really engage with that.
But when you've got a colleague, who's been given exactly the same set of leads as you, and they're converting at two or three times that you're converting, and they're talking about doing that, we found that extremely impactful.
That was very beneficial for the training and for the overall conversion rate.
Data-led management, coaching, interviews...
The managers were then bringing this data into all their team meetings, one to ones, the coaching they were doing, and also interviews, which I'll come on to.
Because we were getting more of these leads, and they're really critical to our business, we had such visibility on them, we started thinking what happens if they all get dealt with by top quality converters?
A new approach
So we ran an interview process to create a new warm leads team. We made it a really aspirational team so people wanted to be on that team.
We ran an interview process where obviously people were interviewed to be on that team, but also the key data we were looking at was how they had viewed leads historically.
You won't be surprised to learn the conversion rates rocketed. We ended up with the perfect setup where:
- Marketing had everything they needed to do that with the lead volumes.
- We had the best converters looking after those leads, so we were confident when the leads came in if there was any chance of booking them, they were going to get booked.
That worked phenomenally well.
Capture as many leads as possible
It's really important for this to be effective that you really go line by line through all the various weird and wonderful ways that clients can get in contact with you and all the advertising you do to clients to make sure you're tracking those leads when they're coming in.
Build them all into your CRM
Obviously, you've got to build them all into your CRM, and you've got to do it in a way that they hit your CRM really before they hit the sales team.
If the sales team is getting an email and then a day or two days later it hits the CRM, then the chances of them doing the activity of this on the CRM is very low. So everything needs to be real-time in the CRM and going out to the sales team via the CRM.
Ongoing sales team engagement with them and the process is absolutely critical
Things are changing all the time, new lead sources are coming in, teams changing, territories are changing, the market's changing. So you need to be working really closely with those teams, run weekly meetings with the team in question, and still meeting with people regularly and making changes.
Use the data in all your training, coaching, team meetings, and one to ones forever
One of the big learnings for us was how much easier it is to deliver messages or feedback within the teams because a lot of teams are just smashing it. But when you're telling someone anecdotally 'I just feel you do a really bad job of leads' it's an extremely difficult meeting.
When you have to say to that person in a one-to-one situation, 'I have a concern with your lead conversion because you're converting at half the average for the team' it's a much calmer conversation because you're looking at the data.
That was really powerful for us. That's something we continue to do.
Decide what data is and isn't important - over-analyze to paralyze
It's quite tempting to build a whole array of dashboards showing every possible angle of it but you get a bit of brain freeze, understandably, with people.
We decided quite early on what key data we were going to look at and we built those into the dashboard. Stuff we didn't need and felt was over analysis we didn't use.
Ensure everyone works off the same reports wherever possible
It sounds pretty obvious but it's quite tempting sometimes if your sales manager says 'Oh, can you just give me a one-off bespoke report? Can you change this?'
Or a sales rep might ask for this and then all of a sudden, you've got a whole different array of reports showing slightly different versions of the same stuff, maybe slightly different views of it, or slightly different filters on it.
It causes loads of confusion so make sure everyone is working off the same report. So when the junior rep looks at it, the senior rep, the manager, the CSLT, everyone's looking at a different version of the same report.
Embrace the ability to fail fast in equal measure to success stories
It's so tempting every time you have some success to jump on that. But also when stuff isn't working, really jump into that and that'll save the marketing teams and sales team time which means they can put their energy into stuff that is working.
Liaising and working hand in hand with the sales team never becomes less important
Without the sales team engaged with it and tracking the leads to the CRM, you don't have any data, all you know is how many leads to get in, you don't know what they're doing.
Working hand in hand with those guys and making sure it's continually working for them never becomes less important. That's a critical piece.